On the Way to Jerusalem
Palm Sunday, Bartimaeus. Mark, Healing, Self-Worth, Love
A large part of each Gospel is devoted to the last week of the life of Jesus. It starts with the Triumphal Entry (better known as Palm Sunday) and ends with Easter Sunday. As you read through the Gospels it may seem strange that one week of Jesus’ three year ministry would occupy such a big chunk of time in each gospel.
The reason for zeroing in on this last week of the life of Jesus is because this is where God’s plan for redemption all comes together. This is the plan God pointed to even back in the Garden of Eden. It is a plan begun with Abraham and completed by the coming of God Himself in human form in the person of Christ. His perfect life and substitutionary death are the things that make our forgiveness and new life possible.
This morning we are going to look at an account in Mark 10 that is recorded just before this week begins. Jesus and the disciples are heading to Jerusalem for this week. As always, to rightly understand anything in the Bible you have to be aware of the context.
Just before our text in Mark 10:46-52 we read a rather disturbing story. Jesus had just told the disciples that when they went to Jerusalem he was going to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, killed and then would rise three days later. Then we read,
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”
36 “What is your request?” he asked.
37 They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”
Does this seem odd to you? It would be worse than me telling Rick that I had some rare terminal illness and he responded by saying, “Then can I move into your office?” Jesus is warning the disciples about what is to come and they are angling for position in His administration.
When the other disciples heard about this request they were angry (probably upset they didn’t think about it first!). You can feel the sense of competition between the disciples. So, Jesus gets them aside and says,
43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It is at this point that Mark inserts the account we will look at this morning.
46 Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” 50 Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
52 And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.
A Blind Man In Need
Why include this story of the healing of the blind man? It is interesting that this is the only man in Matthew, Mark and Luke that is involved in a miracle and is named. Why?
I believe Mark wants us to see a contrast between the disciples who are arguing about who is going to be the most famous or powerful, and the beggar who sees much more clearly. Jesus asked James and John and Bartimaeus the same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” The sons of Zebedee (James and John) ask for fame, power and position. Bartimaeus just wants to be whole. The contrast is not accidental.
The account takes place on the edge of Jericho. This is not the Jericho that was destroyed by God in the book of Joshua. That was the first city attacked by the Israelites and God caused the walls of the city to collapse. The city was rebuilt several times. The town was about 10 miles northwest of the Dead Sea. Archaeologists believe this town is one of the two that have been inhabited by people longer than any others on the face of the earth (Damascus is the other).
Jericho is in the desert but it contains one of the richest and largest oases to be found in the region. The town contains a mass of palm trees. It was a place of refreshment and a popular stopping point for travelers.
Because of the steady traffic in and out of the city beggars would line the road. A man who was blind didn’t have any Medicaid or Social Security Disability. There were no “Israelites with disabilities act” to provide for him. The only hope was to beg and depend on the compassion of those who passed by.
Matthew says there were actually two beggars involved in the healing. This does not mean the Bible contradicts itself. There could very well have been two men involved and Bartimaeus was the most vocal, so he is the one Mark and Luke spotlight.
Mark tells us that Bartimaeus was the son of Timaeus. For the Jew this was obvious. The prefix “Bar” meant “son of”. It is likely that Jesus was called Jesus Barjoseph. John and James would have been called Barzebedee (or Sons of Zebedee). Some believe this was like their “last name”. Mark explains this because he was writing primarily to Gentiles.
I think Bartimaeus probably had an established “spot” where he begged every day. He was used to people walking on by. Perhaps he could hear some people as they walked a wide path around him so they wouldn’t have to see him. In fact, that may have been the hardest thing about being blind: he not only couldn’t see, he also wasn’t seen. It was easier for people to look past him than to confront the reality of his suffering.
Every once in a while he could hear someone stop. He would hear the sound of change and would express his gratitude. As grateful as he was there was still this sense that someone felt they could just throw a few coins in his tin and they had fulfilled their responsibility. Did they see him as just a charity case?
I have to think that this is the ache of every person who is disabled. It is the ache of everyone who has been slowed by the years and has to confront the impatience of everyone around them. I watch sometimes even at Awana and I see the way some children are simply dismissed by others. I wonder, do I do the same thing?
A LIFE-CHANGING ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS
On this particular day there was a lot more traffic than normal. The man could hear the talking, the footsteps, and the commotion. Surely he asked someone, “What is going on?” He was told that the Rabbi Jesus was coming to town.
It is apparent that Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus. In fact he seems to have a clearer vision of Jesus than anyone who could actually see. As Jesus walked by (he certainly could tell by the sound) he began to shout: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The title “Son of David” was Messianic. Everyone knew that the Messiah was going to be from the line of the Kingly line of David. So this is kind of a Messianic shorthand. It would seem then that this blind man recognized Jesus to be the Messiah. Even in his blindness He could see what others did not. He believed Jesus had the power to do for him what no one else could do.
It reminds me of the story of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector in Luke 18. Jesus said,
Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
This is the spirit we find in Bartimaeus. He seeks Jesus persistently but humbly. The people were embarrassed by the beggar and told Bartimaeus to be quiet. The implied message was this: “Look, this man is too important to care for the likes of you. There are some important people here. Stay in your corner. Keep out of the way.”
Bartimaeus didn’t listen. He just shouted louder. Then something remarkable happened. We are told that when Jesus heard him, he stopped. He stopped! He noticed and He heard. Jesus said, “Tell him to come here.” Jesus granted an audience with the beggar. In fact, the wording is such that it means, “I am not going a step further until you bring me that man.”
We are told that Bartimaeus, threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. His coat was his covering from the cold and likely his blanket at night. It was one of his most valuable possessions and he “threw it aside.” Remember, he is blind! He can’t simply go back and easily pick up his coat. But he doesn’t care. All he cares about is making his way to Jesus. He jumps up and quickly came to Jesus.
Then Jesus asks the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “My Rabbi”. The word is actually not “Rabbi” it is “Rabboni. It is a word that would usually be used only in time of prayer. R.C. Sproul observes,
This slight alteration from the title “rabbi” is very significant; rabboni means far more than “professor” or “teacher.” It has an intense personal significance and is actually a confession of faith. Bartimaeus was saying to Jesus, “My Lord and my Master, let me see.” In this passage, Mark gives us a portrait of a true disciple who was ragged, poor, and blind, but who recognized the Messiah and addressed Him as “My Lord and my Master.” Jesus had just taught His disciples about the importance of being servants. To be a servant is to serve a master. Whereas the disciples failed to grasp that, this blind man succeeded.
Bartimaeus doesn’t trumpet his good works, he doesn’t appeal to how much he deserves from Jesus. He only wants one thing: He wants to see. He believes Jesus can make that happen. Bartimaeus asked for sight, James and John asked for fame. Bartimaeus wanted to follow Jesus (and we will see that he does); James and John want to sit with Him in the winner’s circle. Ironically, Bartimaeus saw more clearly than James and John at this moment.
Jesus told Bartimaeus that his faith had healed him. This doesn’t mean that Bartimaeus had the right “quantity” of faith to make healing possible. Jesus was telling him that his trust in Jesus is what saved him. That is an important distinction for us to understand. There are many people trying to “muster a little more faith for healing.” They try to believe “harder”. They believe if they can gain the right amount of faith God will give them what they want. But the irony is that the more they try to have “faith” the more they are actually trusting themselves, rather than Christ! They are trusting that they can produce sufficient belief to “earn”, “deserve”, or “win” healing!
Faith is simple. It is resting in Jesus. It’s trusting Him and relying on Him to do what no one else can do. It is depending on Him with all you have and are. It is resting and relaxing in His wisdom and His plan. This is the kind of faith Bartimaeus had.
A Life is Changed
Try to imagine what it was like to be Bartimaeus. He ran to Jesus blind and returned being able to see. He called out to Jesus as one who was felt unseen to the world, and through his encounter with Christ now knows he is not only seen but he is loved. Imagine the sensory and emotional overload of this moment. Imagine trying to take everything in. All the color, the light, the shapes, and the faces. Imagine the joy at being cared for and truly seen in life. Imagine how He studied Jesus. Sproul observes
Most blind people, having their sight restored, would want to run through the city in order to see all the sights that they have known only by the descriptions of others. Not Bartimaeus. As soon as he received his sight, he saw Jesus, and he wanted nothing more than to follow Him to Jerusalem to His death. That is the desire of all who are given eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps this is when we see the faith of Bartimaeus most completely. He did not come to Jesus simply so he could get Jesus to give him what he wanted. He did not come to “use” Jesus, he intended to follow Jesus. There are many who simply want to use Him. They get “faith” when there is a crisis. They get sick, have a relationship problem, fall into legal trouble, or feel they have hit rock bottom. They start coming to church. They “get religion” and then their life gets better. After a while, they start missing church. Then they stop coming altogether. The crisis has passed, they got what they want and they walk away.
Not Bartimaeus. Once he could see; once he had been seen . . . he knew he needed something much more than sight. He needed a relationship with the One who healed him. This man sensed that curing his blindness was just the first step in a healing that would be much deeper and last much longer. Bartimaeus had gone from being a “nobody” to a child of the King!
It’s a great story. But what makes the story even greater is that it can also be your story. Do you identify with Bartimaeus? Do you spend your life feeling overlooked? Perhaps you are
- Disabled in some way and you see how people turn away from you.
- Moving slow because of age and you can hear the sighs of those behind you who feel you are in the way.
- Single because of divorce and you not only feel cast away, you feel you wear a sign that says “defective”.
- You don’t have much money and you can see from the response of others that they think you are lazy or that your income somehow is a measure of your worth.
- You’ve had problems with drugs or alcohol or some other public problem and no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you change, people refuse to see you as anything other than as the one who failed.
- You have a chronic health problem and you see that people don’t want to hear about it anymore and you are left to suffer alone.
- You are new to the community (or the church) and even though you are in a crowd of people you feel desperately alone as if you are invisible.
- You carry a burden that is heavy but people don’t seem to care. They are so wrapped up in themselves that all they seem interested in is what you can do for them.
That feeling of being dismissed, discarded, and invisible is a much more common experience than we think. We may have our sight, but we may not feel we are being seen.
When God sent Jesus into the world to save us God was in essence saying, “I see you.” I see your pain, I see your addiction to sin, I see your lost condition. But God also sees what we can be through Christ. He entered our world, experienced our pain, and faced the wrath of God that should have been ours. He not only sees us but He gives us the chance for a new lease on life . . . and eternity.
My plea to you is simple today: Call out to Jesus! Look to Him for healing and life. The question Jesus asks you today is the same one he asked James, John and Bartimaeus: What do you want me to do for you? Do you want Him to merely fix your problems so you can continue on your merry way? Or do you want Him to change your heart and your life forever? Do want to use Him, or follow Him?
The Savior waits. He has stopped. He hears your cry. He calls for you to come to Him. The next move is yours.