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The Work and Character of the King, Part 3: The Compassion of the King

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 7, 1999

Matthew 20:29-34

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 20. For the last few chapters Jesus has been teaching His disciples about true greatness. Jesus has been emphasizing that kingdom greatness is measured by the yardstick of humility. He had taught us that in Matthew chapter 18. He had taught us that salvation belongs to the little ones and those who are like them in Matthew 19. That trusting fully in the Lord and denying oneself, and giving instead of getting, is the mark of His true followers. In Matthew chapter 19 he had taught that eagerness to labor for the master without asking the question what's in it for me, is the characteristic of His true followers. And it's the characteristic of those, who in the final days, though they are counted by some to be last, they will be found to be first. Larry Richards says this, “The disciples had asked about greatness in Jesus' present kingdom. And Jesus had answered them fully. Greatness involves humbling ourselves and taking our place as one of God's little ones. Greatness involves accepting others as little ones, too. Seeking to restore when they go astray. Having patience. And always being willing to let forgiveness wash away the hurts that sin must bring. Greatness also mean rejecting the attractive but destructive ways in which religious people often seek greatness, to build themselves up by their works, by their outward acts and by ritual.”

And so Matthew brings us now here at the end of Matthew chapter 20 to the end of an entire section of this gospel. We are about to be ushered into the final section of the gospel of Matthew. And here he gives us a deeply moving incident which helps us sense the kind of greatness that Jesus has. And so let’s turn to Matthew chapter 20 verse 29 and hear God's holy word. And as they were going out from Jericho, a great multitude followed Him.

Matthew 20:29-34

Father, we do thank you for this word, and we ask that by the Spirit our eyes would be open to understand it and that our hearts would be yielded to obedience to it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God is teaching us one grand lesson in this passage. He is showing us the greatness and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ as a picture of what true kingdom greatness is. As the disciples are jostling amongst themselves to be counted great, here is Jesus ministering to outcasts. It is a picture of what true greatness is in His kingdom. But, along the way there are several other important, valuable, relevant issues that are dealt with. And I’d like to look at those as well as we consider this passage before us today. There are three parts to the passage, and I’d like you to see two or three things.

I. We cry out to the Lord when we realize we need Him.

First, if I could direct your attention to verses 29 and 30. We see a picture here of these two blind beggars. And they are a picture of outcasts, those who are last in the eyes of the world, those who are nobodies. They are unimportant as the world counts important. And they are in dire need. Now that's setting us up for something we're going to learn about Jesus later in the passage. But even as we see that picture, there's something else we learn. We see here a striking example of our need and a rather surprising example of faith where you might not expect it to come from. And we learn from these two verses that we only cry out to the Lord when realize our need. Let me say that again. We only cry out to the Lord when we realize our need. It is those who realize themselves to be needy who cry out to the Lord for mercy.

Let's rehearse this story. Jericho was about 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Why then in the scriptures do we always hear about going down to Jericho? I mean isn't that like saying I went down to Starkville from Jackson? Well, Jericho was 3300 feet lower in altitude than Jerusalem. And so even though it was northeast of Jerusalem, you literally went down to Jericho. Jericho was also a very prosperous city in Jesus' day. In some ways it was a resort town. Very wealthy and beggars gathered their, because if you were a beggar in Jericho, you weren't likely to lack for bread. There would be somebody to show you mercy on the roadside. By the way that road from Jericho to Jerusalem was also notorious for robbers and highwaymen. Wealthy people were on their way from Jericho to Jerusalem and oftentimes they were going to Jerusalem for pilgrimage and they'd go that way. And so highwaymen and robbers would wait to pounce upon you, and so it's no surprise that Jesus actually went in a rather large group as He went from Jericho to Jerusalem, because robbers wouldn't be likely to attack such a large retinue of folks. If there were just a few of you, you might wind up like that poor man that the good Samaritan ministered to. But if there was a very large group the robbers would leave you alone.

At any rate, let me say before we go on with the story, that there is a little difficulty in this passage. If you've read ahead and compared this passage to its parallels in mark and in Luke, you know that there is an apparent discrepancy about the number of beggars and about where Jesus actually performed this miracle. Mark and Luke only speak of one man. If you want to look at those parallel passages, you'll find it in Mark chapter 10 verses 46 to 52, and in Luke chapter 18 verses 35 to 43. Mark and Luke speak of one man. In fact, mark names him, Bartimaeus, and tells us who his dad was. Matthew speaks of two. On the other hand, Matthew and Mark say this miracle occurred while Jesus was leaving Jericho. Luke tells us that it occurred when he was entering. Now those who do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, those who discount the authority of God's word, like to pick on little passages like this and say that the Bible has mistakes. But I want you to understand that that itself would be a grossly mistaken notion. There are solutions at hand to these apparent differences. Let me suggest a couple.

For instance, remember that Matthew was an eye witness to this account. And Matthew had seen two beggars healed by the Lord. And he was interested in us knowing that fact, that the Lord Jesus had, in fact, dealt with both men. Whereas Luke and Mark were not eye witnesses of this account. They depended for their account on other eye witnesses and apparently wanted to zero in on Bartimaeus who was very well known amongst the early Christian community. He was well known enough that even though he was a beggar, they knew his father's name ,which would not have been usual unless you had been a rich and influential man. And so apparently, Mark and Luke want to zero in on Bartimaeus, because he was better known amongst early Christians than was the other beggar who was healed.

As to the location, there are various solutions that have been suggested. Some have suggested that perhaps Jesus met both beggars as he was entering, healed one of them as he entered into the city. And as He was leaving the city healed the other one, as the other continued to walk with Him. Matthew often will compact accounts. He will tell us a lot in few sentences leaving out certain details in order to zero in on other details. The gospel writers are selective in the things that they tell us though they are never ultimately contradictory. There's another solution that has been suggested as well. Many of you may know that there were two Jerichos in Jesus' day. There was the old city which had been destroyed in the Old Testament days, and then a little bit south of it, there was the new city that had been built up. So it would be entirely possible for one to be leaving the environs of the old city and entering into the environs of the new city simultaneously. We'll just have to ask Luke and Matthew when we get to heaven. But there is no reason to think that they are contradictory in the account that they give. They simply zero in on different aspects of the one truth that is recorded here in God's inerrant word.

Now let's go back to our story. As Jesus is passing through Jericho, on the way to Jerusalem, He is encountered by two blind men. Now Jesus was being followed by a great crowd. And the blind men perceived that Jesus was coming. Perhaps, they heard Him. They heard people talking about the fact that He was in the vicinity. And so they immediately begin to cry out for mercy. And is it not a picture of those who are the least fortunate, those who are the last those who are the outcast those who are unimportant in the society around them. And yet the Lord Jesus takes time to minister to them.

Friends, in the description of these beggars, we have a picture of everyone who stands in need of the grace of Christ. This text is a mirror for us. For though we may not have physical infirmities, we all have moral and spiritual infirmities. And the Lord Jesus is the only one who can heal them. We must cry out to Him for grace if we are going to be helped in our need. These beggars, you see, are a picture of you. People need the Lord. All people need the Lord. But not all people perceive that they need the Lord. The credit to these beggars is that they knew that they needed Jesus. And the sad thing is there are many people, even in churches, that don't know that they need Jesus. They think that they're just fine. They think that they're lives are all right.

But this is a picture, these beggars, blind and infirm, this is a picture of us if we do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And by a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, I don't just mean that we prayed a prayer sometime. And that we've signed a card. I mean a real saving relationship with Jesus Christ where we have a right knowledge of Christ. We know who He claims to be. We believe who He claims to be in the word. We have embraced Him and are embracing Him in His claims about Himself. We're actively trusting in Him to save us from ourselves and from our sin. We're endeavoring, by His help, by the grace of His Spirit to live like a Christian. We're growing in a love for Him and a love for His word. We love to hear it preached. We love to hear it explained. We love to study it. When we disagree with that word, we repent, because we know it's right and we're wrong. We live according to that word as our standard submitting to it. We're attracted to God's people. We're growing in our love, real love, self-denying love for God and neighbor and especially for God's people. That's what I mean by a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Our lives have been turned upside down and transformed by His grace. And if we don't have that saving relationship, then we are just like beggars on the road blind and in dire need.

John Flavel, the old Puritan, once said, “Christ is not sweet until sin is made bitter to us.” And the fact of the matter is there are a lot of people who don't think they need Christ's grace, because they don't see their sin and they don't see their need. And this passage is a mirror to us. And it's saying to us, if we are spiritual beggars, then we ought to be crying out for mercy to Christ. Do we realize what we are if we're apart from Him?

You know, a person who doesn't recognize His need for Christ is sort of like a husband whose marriage is falling apart and his wife has been trying to tell him for years that his marriage is falling apart. And he just doesn't get it. He's living in denial. He thinks that just a few changes here and there will fix everything. And he doesn't realize how dire things are. And you know, there's a sense in which the day he wakes up and realizes what a mess he's made of it, is really the most hopeful day of His life. Because it means, that at least at that point he can cry out for the help that he needs. Until we have gotten to that point, until we've woken up to see our need, if we do not have Christ, then we are worse that these beggars. We're like beggars on the side of the road proud of our infirmities, not aware of what they cost us. You see, if we don't know that we need the Lord Jesus Christ, we're just like an alcoholic whose family is all telling him, “You need help, you've got a problem.” And he's saying, “I don't have a problem. I've got this under control.” You see, the moment of greatest hope is when you realize that you are in need and you cry out for mercy to the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage is a picture of how we cry out to the Lord Jesus when we realize we need Him.

II. A healthy prayer life flows from a sense of need and apprehension of the Savior.

And then if you look at verse 31, we see a picture of the crowd's callous indifference to the needs of these men. These men are crying out for help, and the people who are following Jesus are doing their best to make sure that these people don't get to Jesus. They're doing their best to make sure that these people are quieted, silenced, cast out. And we see the compassion of Jesus in this verse in bold contrast to the crowd's attitude. We're not told why the crowd reacted like this. Maybe the crowd didn't want these two insignificant individuals bothering Jesus while he talked and walked and was on His way with this great crowd following Him. We don't know exactly why. But, for whatever the reason, they went to these men and they sternly rebuked them. And they said, ‘You stop crying out to Him.’ But these men refused to stop crying out. And in the next verses we'll see Jesus' compassion in stark contrast to the crowd. In fact, Don Carson puts it this way, “the crowds were willing to bask in Jesus' presence, but they reflected none of Jesus' compassion.” And the longer Jesus ministered, the more He stood out. He stood out from those around Him. He stood out in His mission, in His attitudes, in His grasp of the kingdom, and in His presentation of the freedom of grace.

But even as the crowd told these men to be quiet, these men because they clearly sensed their need, they were not deterred from crying out to Jesus. They perceived who He was. They perceived their need. And so they cried out. And so we not only see in verse 31 the callous indifference of the crowd to these needs, which again, is setting up this beautiful picture of Jesus' compassion in verses 32 through 34.

Let me suggest to you that in verse 31 we also see a pattern for persistent prayer for believers. I know this passage isn't ultimately about prayer. But don't we see a paradigm for Christian prayer set forth in the attitude of these men. A healthy prayer life, you see, flows from a sense of need and a sight of the savior. If you sense your need, and you have seen the savior, you've got the essential ingredients needed to motivate you to a healthy prayer life. Look at how these men respond to Jesus Christ. They called out to Him, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.”

Now they may not have fully understood what they were saying. Certainly they didn't. The disciples didn't even understand the full meaning of those words at this time. And yet, notice how they had latched on to two essential components of Jesus' claim. Jesus claimed to be Lord. He was the Son of God. He was the Lord of God's people. He would rule at the right hand of God. All authority has been given into His hands he would say in the great commission. He is Lord. That is the essential confession of a Christian. Jesus is Lord. That's how you confess Jesus as Savior. Lots of people make a distinction between those things. But in the Bible, to confess Jesus as Savior is to confess Him as Lord. But also, notice they call Him out as the son of David. They're acknowledging that He is the Messiah that had been promised by the prophets. Now however dimly they saw those truths, it's apparent that they knew more about Jesus than many of those people in the crowd that were following Him. And they continued to cry out. They saw who He was. They confessed His lordship and His messiahship. And that confession is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

But look at the qualities of their request and what they teach us about prayer. These men were earnest. They would not be deterred even though the crowd tried to beat them out of calling out to the Lord Jesus. They were earnest. Now I want to stop and I want to remind you of something. Do you realize that Jesus never came to Jericho again? This was it, friends. This was the last time Jesus was ever in Jericho. And these men were earnest. They didn't put it off til tomorrow. They knew that this was the day of the Lord's appointment, and this was their opportunity to cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ and there might not be a tomorrow. And you know what? There wasn't. For Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem to be crucified. They were diligent in their means of grace. We never know when we come into this sanctuary, if it will be the last time that we will hear the word of God. There is never a time where we can say, well, we'll put it off til next week. We'll put it off the next week getting right with the Lord. We'll put it off next week trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah. We'll put it off next week to submitting to His rule, being transformed by His grace. These men were earnest. And that's the way Christian prayer ought to be.

Notice also that these men were humble. They cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us.” They knew that they were in need. You know, so often, we know we're in need when we have a physical problem, when we have a relationship problem, when we have a money problem. But so often we are not aware that we're in need morally and spiritually. We don't ever realize that the problem is us. The problem is character. The problem is that we need to be transformed from the inside out by God's grace. These men knew their need, and they didn't even tell Jesus how he was supposed to answer that need. Notice their first prayer is, “Lord, have mercy on us.” They didn't direct Him specifically how he was supposed to have mercy. It was only when the Lord Jesus came to them and said, ‘What is it you want Me to do for you.?’ It was only then that they specified their request. They humbly said, ‘Lord, we're in need, have mercy on us.’

Thirdly, not only were they earnest and humble, notice that they were believing. They specifically call Him “Lord, Son of David.” They confess who He says He was. Christian prayer is not only earnest and humble, it is believing prayer. It believes who Jesus says He is.

Notice that they persevered. When they were told to stop, they kept going. They continued to persevere in their prayer. And Christian prayer perseveres.

Notice that their prayer was simple. Their prayer was basically, ‘Lord help us.’ That's a good, scriptural prayer. Prevailing prayer does not have to be complex. It doesn't have to be made up of strung out compound sentences. Prevailing prayer can be very simple. And so their prayer was simple, but it was real. And it was heartfelt.

And I want you to notice, too, their prayer was scriptural. They had gone to two important concepts set forth in the Bible, in the Old testament, and of course, revealed in the gospels as well, that Jesus is Lord and Jesus is Messiah. That's why we call Him the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus the Messiah. And they latched on to those two realities about Jesus. And they lifted them up before His eyes, saying Lord we confess you as Lord and Messiah.

Now there's our pattern for prayer: Earnest. Humble. Believing. Persevering. Simple. Scriptural. Could you find better qualities of prayer? There they are right before our eyes. In the urgency of this situation, these men recognize their need. They saw the savior and they knew he was the only one who could meet their need. And they cry out to Him. Do we cry out to God in prayer? Really cry out to God in prayer. And do we cry out to Him in recognition of our spiritual needs or is it only our temporary disasters? When we're having problems in the family, of course you cry out to God. When you're having trouble with the children, of course you cry out to God. When the check book is not balancing and the bill collectors are calling, of course you cry out to God. But do we see ourselves spiritually impoverished and cry out to God? How often do we do that? Do we commune with Him in prayer? This passage reminds us that a healthy prayer life flows from a sense of need. And you know there's never a time in this life when we're not going to need the Lord Jesus Christ. There's never a point where you get, ‘OK, I've gotten enough grace and I don't need the Lord Jesus anymore.’ We always need the Lord Jesus. And so we always need to have that sense of need and that sight of the Savior.

III. Jesus' compassion and power can make us whole.

One last thing I’d like you to see in verses 32 and 33. Here, of course, we see this picture of the compassion of Jesus in stark contrast to the crowds that were following Him. But we also see something else. In verses 32 through 34, not only do we see this contrast between the humble greatness of Jesus who has time to minister to these outcasts even while the crowd is saying, go away. We also learn something else. That it is only Jesus' compassion and power that can make us whole. Yes, this was a physical healing. But is this not a reminder that it is only the mercy and the power of Jesus that can heal our hearts, our souls? Look at the passage with me. Jesus in the midst of His own responsibility and strain. He's on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem. He's going to be tried. He's going to be prosecuted. He's going to be persecuted and mocked and scourged and finally crucified, dead and buried, and even under the strain of that responsibility, He stops to take time to listen to these men. To heal these men who were so insignificant to their contemporaries. They were beggars. The lowest part of the socio-economic class. I mean you can almost hear some of the followers in the crowd saying, ‘Jesus, couldn't you heal a mayor or something? I mean, couldn't you heal somebody who's influential who's going to have an impact on society? These men are beggars. Who are they?’ And yet Jesus is going to build His kingdom with such as these. These are the little ones about whom he has been talking for the last two chapters. Jesus, Larry Richards says, “Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem toward His trial and crucifixion. He was burdened by great crowds who did not care, and by disciples who did not understand. But Jesus sets aside His own burdens and need to respond to this call for help. Jesus stopped for these individuals in the crowd, and he cared for these outcasts whom the crowd considered worthless. This is greatness.”

Now, have we even begun to have an inkling in our own lives, of that kind of greatness for the Savior, where we see spiritually the needs of people? We don't care where they're from. We don't care what they can do for us. We simply care that they come to meet Jesus and find the wholeness that only He can give. Jesus in His compassion doesn't just listen and pity these people. Jesus does something about their circumstance. When we go to a therapist, we don't want someone who is just going to feel our pain, we want someone who can do us some good. And the Lord Jesus doesn't just come along side these men and have compassion upon them; He does something for them. He transformed them right at the central issue of their lives. Think about it, friends. These men were blind, and that blindness was at the center of their social experience. It meant that they couldn't hold a job. It meant that they had to beg. It meant that they could not provide for their families. They couldn't take a significant role in their community. Their blindness meant everything to them. They were beggars in the streets. And He goes right for the issue that was affecting their lives, and He changes it. He does the same thing for us when we cry out to Him. The issue, the one necessary thing he tells us, is what? That we would be in living, eternal relationship with the one true God. That's the one need that we have in life. And when we come to Him and we cry out, “Lord have mercy on us.” When we have perceived that that's our real need. You see, it's not just that we're coming, “Lord, my marriage is falling apart, and I need your help.” That's important, but that's not the one thing. “Lord, my kids, I can't do anything with them. They're going crazy. Help me, Lord.” That's important, but that's not the one thing. “Lord, I'm in debt up to my elbows. I don't know where to turn. The bill collectors are on my heels. Lord, could You provide me $50,000 real quick?” That's important, but it's not the one thing. When we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, and we see that the deepest need of our life is to be in a living relationship with Him where we glorify and enjoy Him forever, and we cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me.” I promise you on the authority of a herald of God, that the Lord Jesus will hear that cry. The Lord will come. And the Lord will heal us and make us whole.

I want you to see that these men immediately followed the Lord Jesus Christ after He changed them. So often earlier in His ministry, Jesus would send people back into their villages. But now Jesus is literally weeks from the day He would die on the cross. And so He just tells these men, ‘You come on and you follow Me. You be part of that crowd that comes with Me to Jerusalem and you witness the things that are to come.’

Now Jesus in this passage shows us that he is not the kind of king that that crowd was expecting. And His kingdom isn't the kind of kingdom that that crowd was expecting. They might think of His kingdom as being peopled with influential and important people. But it wasn't. It was peopled with outcasts those who were beggars in need of His grace. And by golly, He was going to conquer the world with that kingdom. And conquer the world with that gospel.

Jesus is standing before us today. And He is saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And your answer has to do with the first thing. He's speaking about the central issue of your life as He stands before you saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” The central problem of our life is moral. There is no circumstance. There's no situation that we are in, ever, which isn't an opportunity for God to conform us to Christ and to bless us by drawing us into an ever-closer relationship with Him. That's why Alec Motyer can say that “There is no sorrow and joy in life that shouldn't be deflected at once, upwards, into the presence of God. There is no experience that comes into our experience which God does not intend for His people's upbuilding.” The central problem of our experience is moral. And only Jesus can address it. Have you realized that today? Do you realize that you are a beggar before God apart from Christ? Thomas Brooks, the old Puritan, said, “No man can feel sin except by grace.”

Have you by grace felt your sin and realized your need, and cried, out casting yourself upon the Lord, saying, “Lord have mercy?” If you have, you have known the healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you haven't, today is the day of salvation. Embrace the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only hope. If you don't know how to do that, you come see me, or you come see an elder after this service. And we'll deal with the Lord Jesus Christ. You pray, confessing that He is your Lord and your Savior. You embrace Him, trusting in Him alone for your salvation. And you will find that He will heal that central issue of life out of which everything else flows. May the Lord bless His word. Let's pray.

O Lord and God, we pray today that You would remind us again how needy and dependent we are upon Your grace. And then by our awareness of our own need, and by the apprehension of your mercy, give us the grace to flee to Christ, we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

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