“They came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me! ” Many people told him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David! ” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; He’s calling for you.” He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want Me to do for you? ” “Rabbouni,” the blind man told Him, “I want to see! ” “Go your way,” Jesus told him. “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Him on the road.” (Mark 10:46-52 HCSB)
Light bulb moments. Aha! Those moments when confusion becomes knowledge and misunderstanding becomes insight. I’m sure you’ve had one or two of those, haven’t you? I know I have. Sometimes they come when we least expect it. The light bulb just suddenly turns on and the things we didn’t understand are suddenly understood and are very clear.
Back in my early days of tech support at Oklahoma Baptist University, we were just beginning to establish connection to the Internet, using a SLOW dial-up modem through CompuServe. I had been tasked with getting a dedicated 56k circuit established and building our first fully networked computer lab. Yes, it was the dark ages of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. To conquer this task, I needed to understand the Internet Protocol (IP) for addressing computers and to build and configure our first IP network.
None of this practical knowledge, that seems so common place today, was currently being taught in the University’s computer classes. Besides, there’s also a big difference between being taught concepts and putting those concepts into actual use. As I began designing and implementing our first network, the idea of computer IP addressing and subnetworks just didn’t make practical sense to me. I didn’t get it. I read, I studied, I struggled and I tried various things. None of it seemed to help. It just wasn’t making sense in my poor brain.
As deadlines began to loom with very little progress in my understanding, I finally resorted to prayer. I begged God for help and insight as I continued to study and read. Eureka! Suddenly, it became clear. The light bulb turned on and I finally understood what I had failed to understand for several weeks. This idea of one large network of computer systems with smaller segments of this larger network, subnetworks of computers, made sense in my head. I understood how the IP addressing and how the “subnet” portion of the address defined them. Success! I could now physically build our new network system.
To some of you, it may seem silly, foolish or even childish to pray for knowledge and understanding into something as “worldly” as how to understand IP addressing, subnets and how to build a computer network. But being able to do so was critical to the University’s success and ability to attract, retain and educate a new generation of students. Students who were beginning to live in the “connected” world of the Internet. I saw it as a part of the mission that God had given me in my work at OBU. In fact, prayer may have been the only practical response in light of my situation.
In this week’s focal passage, we encounter a man who had also sought and received God’s guidance and insight. In a very real sense, we meet a blind man who has better spiritual sight than many, if not all, of Jesus’ disciples. As always, to fully understand and appreciate Mark’s story, we need to consider it the context of what he has already told us. Jesus has been teaching the twelve about a proper relationship to possessions, suffering, servant leadership and God’s purpose for their lives and the His kingdom. Simon Peter had expressed insight into Jesus’ real identity (Mark 8:27-30), but he also failed to exercise personal faith in his belief that Jesus was God’s Messiah. That certainly cannot be said of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar.
Mark tells us that the group arrived at Jericho, which is 5 miles west of the Jordan river and 15 miles to the north and east of Jerusalem. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the road “going up to Jerusalem” is a climb from about 800 feet below sea level at Jericho to about 2,500 feet above sea level at Jerusalem. Most of you will recall that Jericho was a walled city that was destroyed by God and conquered by Joshua and the army of Israel as they began to conquer Canaan, the promised land (see Joshua 2 – 6). So, it is an old city that has been attacked and rebuilt multiple times during those intervening centuries. Herod the Great, had built a new Jericho that was designated as his eastern capital and a winter palace about a mile south of the old city of Jericho around 36-30 BCE. Mark (and also Matthew) notes that this encounter with Bartimaeus occurs as Jesus leaves Jericho, but Luke notes that it occurs as Jesus enters Jericho. This is most likely due to the encounter occurring as Jesus leaves the old city and is entering the new city.
As Jesus makes His way “up to” Jerusalem, He has the twelve disciples with Him. They are also joined by the larger group of His “followers” or disciples which includes a much larger group of men and many women. But Mark notes that there is also a “large crowd” accompanying Jesus on this journey up to Jerusalem. Most likely, this crowd consists of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover and includes many who have been hearing the stories about Jesus, His teaching and His miracles. As they pass out of old Jericho and are about to enter new Jericho, they encounter Bartimaeus – a blind beggar sitting by the side of the road.
I think it is important to note that this is the only encounter in Mark where the person healed is actually named. Mark tells his readers that Bartimaeus is literally “son of Timaeus.” “Bar” is Aramaic and “Timaeus” is Greek and that may indicate that his parents are Hellenistic Jews – Jews who are more culturally Greek than Hebrew. So, Bartimaeus’ parents were either Hellenistic Jews (due to the Greek name) or he has a Jewish mother and a Gentile father and has adopted this interesting patronymic name – a name derived from his father but with the Aramaic “bar” (son of) prefix.
I believe Bartimaeus is named for a reason, but I’ll come back to that in a bit. He is a blind beggar that was sitting alongside the road, and apparently hears the excitement of the crowd and begins to ask the others, “What’s going on?” He’s either told or overhears that it is Jesus of Nazareth and begins to cry out: “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!” Mark stresses, “he began to cry out” and this clearly indicates that Bartimaeus is repetitive and persistent in his cries for Jesus’ mercy. The crowd responds and people tell him to “keep quiet!” I’m quite certain that their words were not spoken kindly. I think they are responding to an extreme irritant and not in a gentle way. “SHUT UP, you filthy beggar! Leave the teacher alone! He doesn’t have time for you, nobody does.”
As they tried to silence him, Bartimaeus becomes even louder, crying out: “HAVE MERCY ON ME, Son of David!” over and over and over. Maybe he had heard about Jesus famous sermon and these words: “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 HCSB) Maybe, maybe not…
Nevertheless, God hears our persistent, heartfelt and faith filled prayers.
While I was pastor at First Baptist, Agra, I had a deacon who was blind and had been for almost his entire life. He had lost his eyesight as a young child due to an infection. However, this loss of eyesight had resulted in a dependence upon and enhancement of his hearing and his memory. One evening, he called and asked if I was aware that something was wrong at the church. I told him that I was unaware of any issue and asked what caused him to think something was wrong. He informed me that as he descended the stairs from the sanctuary to the basement, he recognized that something sounded different. He did not continue into the basement, but retreated up the steps and then called me from his home which was a few blocks away. I quickly made my way over to the church and as I descended the same stairs, I noticed that the basement floor was covered with about three inches of water. A floor drain had become clogged and local rain had caused water to accumulate in the basement. I had almost stepped into it, but Dale had recognized the problem without seeing it.
Bartimaeus may have been physically blind, but he had incredible spiritual insight. He was unable to see Jesus’ physical features and characteristics but he was keenly aware of Jesus’ spirit and heart. It seems obvious, Bartimaeus sat alongside the road near Jericho and had heard many stories about Jesus of Nazareth. It is not uncommon for the loss of one of our senses to cause a greater dependence upon and the enhancement of any remaining senses.
There are two specific things I want to note about this blind beggar’s insight: 1) Bartimaeus clearly attributes the Messianic title “Son of David” to Jesus; 2) and Bartimaeus is very persistent in requesting “mercy” from Jesus. Bartimaeus may not have been able to physically see Jesus when he first met Him, but he was able to SEE who Jesus was and to recognize what he most needed from Him – God’s boundless love and mercy. One who was unable to see the Son of Man standing before him, had the uncanny ability to perceive it was the Messiah, the very Son of God, standing before him and could provide what he most needed.
“Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.” (John 20:29 HCSB)
Now, Jesus responds to Bartimaeus’ plea and stops the entire caravan of people. “Call him,” he says. The people respond and they tell the blind beggar, “Have courage! Get up; He’s calling for you.” This is the point where Bartimaeus’ belief and persistence collide with God’s love and compassion. The results are explosive and life changing. Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak (outer garment – he may have had it lying in front of him to collect alms from those who passed by), jumps up and comes to Jesus. Jesus asks him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” It is important to note, this is the exact question Jesus asked James and John a few verses back. They wanted to be seen (seated next to Jesus in His glory), and he just wants to see. “Rabbouni, I want to see!”
You can hear the hope in his words. “My teacher, I want to see!” He has already declared his belief in WHO Jesus is with the Messianic title, Son of David. Now, he voices his hope in the power and truth of God’s promises as he emphatically states what had only been a dream, up to this point: “I want to see!” What had been a heart that more closely resembled a wilderness and a desert is suddenly rejoicing and blossoming like a rose (see Is. 35:1). And the prophecies of Isaiah are unfolding before him: “then the eyes of the blind will be opened…(see Is. 35:5)”
Jesus tells him, “Go your way, your faith has healed you.” Immediately, Bartimaeus was able to see! Some of you reading these words are going to struggle with them. How is it that his faith resulted in healing and mine doesn’t? A word of caution, tread carefully here. Two reasons: 1) what we think are comparisons of equality, more often than not, are lopsided and not necessarily equal; 2) healing ALWAYS involves elements of God’s will and His mercy and not just our perceived faith.
What does that mean? Let me explain…
First, it is difficult and often dangerous to make comparisons of our faith with that of characters in a Biblical story. Here’s what is obvious about Bartimaeus’ faith from what we know in this story: 1) his faith in who Jesus is as the promised Messiah was not dependent on nor contingent upon the miracle of receiving his sight. In other words, Bartimaeus was already certain that Jesus was the promised Messiah and his faith was fully in place long before this encounter with Him outside of Jericho. Bartimaeus faith didn’t result from his healing or flow from it. He was going to believe in Jesus even without being healed. Will you? We tend to base our faith and belief on the outcome of our request for healing or a miracle. “God, if you’ll just do this one thing for me then I’ll believe and give you whatever you ask.” Well, faith and obedience come first.
Second, we tend to make faith the only element necessary in our expectation of or request for a miracle. We completely leave God’s will and His purpose out of the equation. While Bartimaeus had faith, his faith was in God who is greater, wiser and better than himself. He wanted to see, but he had to place that request in God’s hands, and leave it there. In this instance, God’s power and man’s faith met on a road outside Jericho and it resulted in God’s will and purpose being fulfilled. Too often, what we want and what God wants do not meet or match up.
If God simply gave us what we had enough faith to request then I’m certain our lives would be a horrible mess, much more of a mess than they already are. Why? Because we would try and use God’s power like a genie. I have enough faith God, give me what I want. Poof! Oh man, what a mess. We even recognize this tendency in ourselves when we tell fictional tales about this very idea – just go watch Disney’s Aladdin, again.
By all means, have faith. Have unshakable faith in our powerful God. But have faith that God will do what is right, good and best for you. God is at work in all things, for your good. And He’s doing it for a purpose – to make you more and more like Jesus.
Finally, I mentioned that I believe Bartimaeus is named for a reason and that reason is because of what comes next: “Immediately he could see and began to follow Him on the road.” The real fulfillment of Bartimaeus faith wasn’t the miracle of physical sight, it was that he chose to follow Jesus as a disciple on the road up to Jerusalem. He had seen and recognized who Jesus was while he was still blind. Now, he could see Jesus and he chose to follow Him as an obedient disciple on the path to the cross. Many others had received miracles at the hands of Jesus, but Bartimaeus is unique in that he is actually named. Maybe, just maybe that’s so Mark’s readers will realize that the “Son of Timaeus” that they know was once that blind beggar from Jericho.
What will be the legacy of your faith in Jesus? I suspect that Bartimaeus’ legacy was much, much more than just the fact that once blind eyes could now see. He was a man of deep and abiding faith. Faith that went far beyond the simple restoration of physical sight. This was a man whose faith had given him the uncanny insight to see and recognize Jesus as “the Son of David” long before many others would recognize Him as such.
There is no greater legacy of faith than to “follow Him” on that road which leads to the cross. “Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 HCSB)
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