I Once Was Blind

Sermon by David Strain on Nov 6, 2016

Mark 10:46-52

Well, let me welcome you once again, especially if you are here today as a visitor. I know we have many of our friends from our Internationals ministry. We are so glad you are here today. We want you to know we’ve been praying for you and if you have any questions, do please come and speak to me after the service. I’d love to help in any way that I can.

Now if you would, please take a copy of the Bible in your hands. You’ll find copies of the Scriptures in the pockets, the pew racks in front of you, or if you’re on one of the front rows perhaps under your seat, and turn with me to Mark’s gospel, back to the passage we were reading earlier. We’ll conclude the chapter by reading verses 46 through 52. Mark chapter 10 verses 46 through 52; page 847. Many of us are full of concern; our thoughts are lingering over what will happen on Tuesday at the general election. Maybe you’re here this morning hoping for a word from the pulpit especially addressing what you ought to do or maybe what you ought not to do or how to think Christianly about it? Let me say that I believe the most important thing you can do today or tomorrow or Tuesday or Wednesday morning for that matter, is to do what we see Bartimaeus doing in the story we’re about to read – turning our attention to Jesus Christ and crying out to Him for mercy. Before we read the passage together, would you bow your heads with me as we pray? Let’s pray!

O Lord, we come to You and there are many voices calling for our attention and some of them induce grave concern in our hearts. Today we come to You to put those aside for a little while and to focus our ears and our eyes and our hearts upon Jesus, on His Word, His voice, His person, His work. And as we do that, we ask, O Lord, that You would pour out the Holy Spirit upon us that we might meet Him for ourselves, much as Bartimaeus did that day on the Jericho road, and never be the same again as a result. Would You do that now please by Your holy Word? For Jesus’ sake, amen.

Mark chapter 10 at verse 46. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.’ And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

I watched some footage recently of people from all over the world who were blind but who through various medical techniques were enabled to see again – surgery for cataracts or retinal implants or other medical techniques. In one scene, the camera focused in on the faces of children, many of whom have been blind their whole lives, on that moment when after cataract surgery the bandages were removed and they blink the bright sunlight and then a smile steals across their faces as they see for the very first time. It’s hard to imagine what that moment would be like, isn’t it? One wonders how Bartimaeus felt when Jesus, with a simple word, restored sight to this poor man. Of course, not everyone is a candidate for procedures like that. Not everyone who is blind, some people are not candidates for a procedure that can restore their sight. Helen Keller, who lived her whole life blind and deaf, was once asked rather insensitively, “Isn’t it terrible to be blind?” to which she replied – listen to this – “Better to be blind and to see with the heart than to have two good eyes and to see nothing!”

That is actually in many ways precisely the point of the portion of Scripture we just read a moment ago in Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus at the end of Mark chapter 10. Better to be blind and see with the heart than to have two good eyes and to see nothing at all. This is a passage, the healing of blind Bartimaeus, designed to teach us what it means to see with the heart, to show us what real faith is like. So would you look at the passage with me, please? It is a fascinating little account, often overlooked. It’s easy to skim right past it as you read through Mark’s gospel. And yet actually, it seems to occupy a crucially important place in the storyline, the overall storyline of Mark’s gospel. Back in verse 32, we learn that Jesus is going to Jerusalem. This will be the last time He will go to the city. After this point, the momentum begins to build in Mark’s gospel and everything points toward what will take place when He arrives in that great city. There, He will be betrayed and arrested and tortured and crucified. And so from chapter 11, through to the end of the book, Mark directs all of our attention toward the cross.

And the material that we read a moment ago at the end of chapter 10, really is the hinge of the whole gospel. Prior to this, Mark has taught us about Jesus’ person, His identity, His mission. But after this, he will focus on His sufferings and His sacrifice for sinners at the cross. And so the material here at the end of Mark chapter 10, provides the pivot point upon which this whole account, the whole narrative of Mark’s gospel turns. Which means, of course, that it’s much more important than might at first appear. Look at it with me. In verses 35 to 45, Jesus responds to His disciples, James and John, who request to sit on either side of Him in glory. And then in 46 to 52, our passage, He responds to blind Bartimaeus. And actually, together these two stories help us understand exactly what it is Jesus came to do for us. The disciples, we will soon discover, seem to miss the point of Jesus’ coming almost entirely. But Bartimaeus, well he sees the truth with great clarity indeed. I want you to see four things about the faith that Bartimaeus exhibits in our passage. First, true faith sees. True faith sees. Then secondly, true faith sticks. Then thirdly, true faith saves. And then finally, true faith stays. Faith sees and sticks and saves and stays.

True Faith Sees

Let’s think about how true faith sees first of all. Bartimaeus, of course, is physically blind. And in his condition, under the harsh realities of life in the ancient world, he is consequently reduced to the life of a beggar at the side of the road. This was the major thoroughfare for pilgrims heading westward toward Jerusalem for the great Passover festival. And in all likelihood, Bartimaeus has situated himself here beside the world to capitalize on the heavy traffic heading to the city for the feast. He is the very definition of an outsider. His name is interesting. “Bar” is the Aramaic prefix meaning “son of,” and so as Mark himself tells us, Bartimaeus simply means “son of Timaeus.” Timaeus, however, is not an Aramaic name; it’s a Greek name, which at least suggests that this poor man straddles the cultural and ethnic divides of his day. He is, perhaps, part Jew and part Gentile. But whatever his ethnicity precisely, he has been punted to the margins of society. Not always confident that he would eat that day, not always sure of the treatment he would receive from those who pass by on the road, living every day in the fearful vulnerability to which blindness in his society and times condemned him.

Bartimaeus’ Cry

And yet when Jesus passed by with the great crowd following along behind, Bartimaeus is suddenly filled with hope, isn’t he? Look at verse 47; “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” Jesus was not an uncommon name in those days, but when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth in particular that traveled the pilgrim route to Jerusalem, well then Bartimaeus began to cry out for mercy. Clearly, Bartimaeus has heard about this Jesus. Perhaps he’s heard some account spread among the needy and the destitute of Jesus’ healing power. Or has he heard among the common people some of the words of Jesus carefully remembered and repeated in wonder? However he’s come to it, Bartimaeus grasps a good deal of truth about Jesus Christ. Notice how he addresses Jesus. “Jesus,” our translation says, “Jesus, Son of David.” Actually in Greek what he says is, “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!” The title is in the emphatic position. This is the conviction that has captured Bartimaeus’ heart. It is a title for Jesus that appears only twice in all of Mark’s gospel. The other time it’s found on the lips of Jesus Himself. And so this poor, disenfranchised, destitute, vulnerable man, this supreme example of an outsider, grasps what no one else in Mark’s gospel clearly sees – Jesus is the Son of David. That is, Jesus is the promised heir to the throne of Israel’s great king, King David. He is the promised Messiah. He is the Savior of God’s people.

Mercy VS Personal Glory

And notice what he asks for. “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!” He asks for mercy. It’s a beggar’s cry, to be sure, but there is involved the recognition that the Son of David can give what no one else ever could. The mercy he seeks is not the mercy of a few coins. It is, rather, the mercy of restored sight. Although what he receives in the end, as we’ll see, is much, much more even than that. But already it’s clear, isn’t it, Bartimaeus trusts Jesus. He believes in Him as Savior and Messiah and King. And when Jesus hears his cry He asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s exactly the same question He asks back in verse 35. Do you see that in verse 35? The same question He asked of James and John. How different their answers are! When Jesus asks His disciples this question, do you see how they answer? “Grant us to sit, one on your right hand and one at your left in your glory.” Now these are Jesus’ most intimate friends; they’re with Him constantly. They have privileged access to His words and His works. But when Jesus asks them, “What do you want me to do for you?” they take the opportunity to ask for personal glory. They don’t want much, do they? Just positions of majesty and splendor and superiority on either hand of Jesus than His majestic throne in heaven. They’re using Jesus! He’s their ticket to greatness, they think.

What a contrast Bartimaeus is when he is asked the same question, seeking mercy and not glory, he asks only to see. He asks only to see. He seems to have understood what the disciples ought to have known but have missed completely. As Jesus put it in verse 45, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.” And so here He is in His office as the servant of the Lord asking a servant’s question, “What do you want me to do for you?” and Bartimaeus understands why Jesus is here much better, at least at this point in their pilgrimage, than James and John do. Jesus, he knows, is not a ticket to personal glory. He’s not a tool to be used. No, Jesus, Bartimaeus understands, is the fountainhead of mercy and immediately he abandons himself to Him. James and John, who have two perfectly good eyes, do not see. But blind Bartimaeus, he sees with his heart.

And that is at once immensely encouraging and deeply challenging, isn’t it? It’s encouraging because it tells us outsiders can get it. It tells us that the Bartimaeus’ of the world can grasp the truth about Jesus for themselves. That it doesn’t take years of Bible study, as good as that would be. It doesn’t take membership in the church, as important as that is. Your background and your education are altogether irrelevant when it comes to seeing Jesus with your heart. If Bartimaeus finds mercy in Jesus Christ, so can you. If Bartimaeus can find mercy in Jesus Christ, so can you! True faith is not an academic qualification; it is seeing with the eyes of your heart that Jesus, Son of David, is the only source of mercy and it is abandoning yourself entirely to Him.

What Do You Want Jesus to Do For You?

And so Jesus the servant of the Lord asks each of us today the same question He asked of His disciples and of Bartimaeus. He comes to us in the preaching of the Word and asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The only fitting response that takes into account the desperation of our heart’s need and the sufficiency of Jesus as God’s great answer is the response of Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” That’s not a smart answer, it’s not an elite answer; it’s an honest answer that sees our need. We need mercy. And it sees that only Jesus can give it. “Son of David, have mercy.”

But it’s also a profoundly challenging story, isn’t it, especially if you profess to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Because James and John, they don’t get it! James and John! When He asks the disciples, “What do you want me to do for you?” they’re thinking about themselves. They’re thinking egotistically. Jesus, for them at this point at least, is a way to stand above others, to be better than their fellows. Bartimaeus gets it; the disciples don’t get it. What a warning to professing disciples that is. It is possible to be close to Jesus, to hear His Word, to be among His disciples, and miss Him. It’s possible to think He came to give us glory, to make much of us, when what we really need is mercy. That’s why He came. Bartimaeus wants us to understand he sees from the heart, while James and John have two good eyes and see nothing at all. So true faith, first of all, true faith sees.

True Faith Sticks

But then secondly, true faith sticks. When Bartimaeus began to cry out for mercy, did you notice how the crowd responded to him? Look at verse 48. “Many rebuked him telling him to be silent.” But Mark says, “he cried out all the more.” If true faith sees the truth about Jesus clearly, the second thing true faith does is it sticks at it while the world tells us to be silent. In the face of discouragement and rejection, while everyone around Jesus discounted Bartimaeus – he was poor, he was blind, he was homeless, he was penniless, his face didn’t fit, he didn’t belong, he wasn’t welcome – “Jesus couldn’t possibly be interested in him, could He?” Everyone around Jesus discounted Bartimaeus, but Bartimaeus would not be deterred. True faith, in the face of all opposition, sticks at it, sticks to Jesus, cries out, keeps on crying out for mercy.

And do you know that no voice that ever cried out like Bartimaeus for mercy from the hands of Jesus ever went ignored? We might say to every believer who cries to Jesus what the fickle crowd said to Bartimaeus that day, “Take heart! He is calling you. He has grace for you. He doesn’t turn you away; He brings you near.” He loves to shatter the expectations of the proud and the self-righteous. He does it over and over again in the gospel records. And so those who thought Bartimaeus unworthy of notice now have to stand aside and make way as the beggar is brought near to Jesus and receives what not even James and John are yet able to comprehend. You may be a new Christian, faith may still be in its earliest infancy in your heart, uncertain, tremulous, small, but if you will but persevere in cries to the Son of David, no matter the discouragements of others or the judgmentalism of the world, you will always find mercy in Jesus.

Faith Saves

Faith sees, faith sticks, and then thirdly, faith saves. That’s actually what Jesus tells Bartimaeus in verse 52. Look at verse 52. “Go your way.” Then our translation says, “Your faith has made you well.” But a more literal translation is, “Your faith has saved you.” The word in Greek has a double meaning. It refers, in the context of course, naturally, to the healing of Bartimaeus. He receives his sight. But in the context of Mark’s gospel as a whole, we’re supposed to understand the deeper significance of the verb. Jesus has not simply made him well in the body; it seems that before Bartimaeus received physical sight, his faith in Jesus has enabled him to see with his heart. Before he could ever say about his eyesight he could say about his spiritual condition, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” His faith has made him well spiritually. His faith has saved him. Jesus has saved him not just from the limitations and impoverishment that blindness brought in those days; He’s saved him from sin and death and hell. We’re meant to read Jesus’ words in verse 52 against His earlier statement in verse 45, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.” “That’s why I’ve come. I’ve come to rescue sinners like you, Bartimaeus. And as you’ve trusted Me, just trusted Me, you have received the salvation of your soul.”

“But it can’t be that simply, surely! Don’t I have to make restitution somehow? Isn’t there some penance I need to do or some ritual I have to perform? Surely I need to clean up my act – deal with my drinking, stop my lying, kill my lust. Surely I need to be a better man, a better woman before I can think of coming to Jesus with any hope that He will receive me.” No, no. Listen to Jesus again. “Your faith has saved you.” It really is that simple. You come to Jesus begging, like Bartimaeus in the filthy rags of your spiritual poverty. There really is no other way to come. You have no hope of amending your life unless you give yourself up first to Jesus to save you, wholly through and through. Come to Jesus with your sin intact. You can’t deal with it yourself! You come to Jesus bankrupt and begging and you say with Bartimaeus, “Have mercy!” It’s just faith that saves you. It really is that simple!

Faith Stays

Faith sees, faith sticks, faith saves, and then finally, faith stays. Look at verse 52 again. “Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you. And immediately Bartimaeus recovered his sight and followed him on the way.’” “Go your way,” Jesus told him. Which way is that now that Jesus has saved him? Which way is “your way” now that Jesus has given you sight? “Go your way, Bartimaeus. And immediately Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way.” When faith sees the truth about Jesus and cries to Him alone for mercy, when faith persists and looks nowhere else but to Christ, when faith saves us, our way means following Jesus on “the way.” Our way becomes His and we follow closely behind Him, seeking to walk in His steps. Here’s the mark of a true disciple. It’s not the pursuit of prestige our power like James and John; it is the determination to walk with Jesus every step of the way, imitating Him, living under His commands, seeking joyfully to please Him. We don’t try to live His way before coming to Him; we couldn’t even if we tried. But having come to Him, saving faith stays with Jesus all the way. The whole trajectory of our lives now follows Jesus on the way. We stay on the path He says and we follow in His steps.

Now perhaps you have lots of questions about Jesus still or maybe you feel unworthy, unlovely, unwelcome. “Jesus can’t possibly want me for a disciple.” If that’s how you feel, would you please come and talk to me after the service? I really would love to talk with you and to help if I can. For now, let me say to you as clearly as I am able, if it’s mercy that you want from Jesus, however, unworthy you might feel, He will never turn you away. There’s always welcome for sinners in Jesus! Take heart! He is calling you. He wants you to come to Him. There’s nothing to do first, no work to undertake, no words you need to say before you’re eligible to come. Just come as you are, like Bartimaeus in your beggar’s rags, you will find a welcome in Jesus. Come as you are and come right now. Come right now as Jesus calls you to trust in Him. How will you respond as you hear Jesus ask you, like He asked James and John, like He asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Will you take up the beggar’s cry? Won’t you take up the beggar’s cry and say, “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me. That’s what I need and You’re the only one who can give it. Have mercy on me.” When you do, you will receive sight, receive grace. Your faith will save you.

May the Lord bless you His Word. Let’s pray together!

So, Lord Jesus, we have heard You call us and we come to You in response with the simple cry, “Have mercy. O, have mercy.” Open our eyes that we may see You. Change our hearts that they may know You. Grant faith to those yet blind. Forgive us when we’ve tried somehow to make ourselves better, to fix our sin problem, to somehow make us eligible for Your grace as though it were something we had to qualify for when all the qualification we need is the reality of sin festering in our hearts. Help us to see that there is no possibility of remedy except that You come and save us. And so hear us as we cry to You now, for ourselves, for one another, for our nation, “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy.” For we ask this in Your precious name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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