The Lord Jesus Christ knows what His people need most, and by His authority He grants them redemption and new life. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his expositional series in the gospel of Luke, explaining that Jesus’ healing a blind man was about more than gaining physical sight.
Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.
Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
An Ominous Beginning
This text begins ominously. In verse 31, as Jesus and His disciples made their way south from Galilee and were coming close to Jerusalem, Jesus talked to His disciples and told them what would soon take place. The message He gave was grim, and it was the third time He told them these things, but they did not get it. They did not understand it, or whatever they did understand about it, they did not believe.
In Caesarea Philippi, after Peter’s confession and after the disciples enjoyed the glorious time on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus told them: “It’s time to go to Jerusalem where I will be handed over to the gentiles. I will suffer and be killed.” You remember Peter’s first papal encyclical: “No, Lord.” If there ever was an oxymoron, it was when Peter said, “No, we’re not going to do this.” That is when Jesus changed his name again, when He said, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23).
As they were getting close to the destination, Jesus took the disciples aside once again and said: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
Kept from Them
Luke tells us, “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.” There is something strange about this text. Jesus told them what will happen, and Luke tells us they did not understand what He said. Then Luke tells us the reason they did not understand: it was kept from them.
If Jesus knew it was going to be kept from the disciples, why did He even bother to tell them? The only possible answer would be that they may understand after the facts had taken place, and in addition, for our edification as we read of these events two thousand years later.
Later in Luke’s gospel, after the resurrection, we will see Jesus’ discussion with the men on the road to Emmaus. He began with Moses, went through all the prophets, and showed how He, the Son of Man, had fulfilled every single one of their predictions with meticulous fullness. It was only after the scales were removed from the eyes of the disciples that they remembered these things. After the fact, they said: “Yes, He said that. He told us this three times, but we didn’t understand it.”
The Blind Man near Jericho
After the brief interlude of Jesus’ third announcement, Luke goes on to describe the events as they came near Jericho. Some of you that like to worry about the details will notice that, in the parallel Gospels, some of them have Jesus coming into Jericho, and others have Him coming out of Jericho. There is a simple solution. New Testament Jericho is built adjacent to Old Testament Jericho. Sometimes the Jews refer to Old Testament Jericho, and sometimes they refer to New Testament Jericho. In order to get into New Testament Jericho, they had to go out of Old Testament Jericho, so we will spend no more time on that detail.
As Jesus came near Jericho, Luke tells us, a certain blind man sat by the road. Matthew’s gospel tells us that there were two blind men. One was named Bartimaeus, and he was the spokesman for the two. Luke, then, is referencing Bartimaeus, the leader of the two.
“Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging.” I am not sure whether this man was born blind or lost his sight at some point during his life, but what a malady with which to be afflicted. If I were to lose any of my five senses, the last one I would want to lose would be my sight.
If the man was born blind, he had never seen anything but darkness. When people would describe the sunset, a waterfall, or other people, he had no meaningful reference to understand what they were talking about. If he had been able to see and then lost his sight, he would of course have the memories of vision and could relate to verbal descriptions of things around him.
In any case, the man had a vision that never changed. The last thing he saw before he went to bed at night was utter blackness. When he awoke the next morning, the first thing he saw was utter blackness. When it came to be high noon with the sun shining at its brightest, all the man saw was complete and total blackness—blackness in the morning, blackness in the afternoon, blackness at night.
Bartimaeus’ Only Hope
Bartimaeus saw absolutely nothing, but we hear from those who are blind that, amid blindness, the other senses become intensified and strengthened. Hearing becomes more sensitive. Touch becomes more tactile, and in some cases people develop an ability to read with their fingers and so on. He was sitting by the road, trying to eke out a living with a cup in his hand, hoping for alms by which he might live. Because he was blind, he could not earn a living by doing anything except begging. As some people passed him by, they would have mercy and drop something in his hand or his cup.
Bartimaeus could hear footsteps. He could hear people approaching. He did not know for sure whether they were friend or foe, and this day it sounded like a group of racehorses galloping across the field. He could hear the tumultuous sound of a huge mob approaching him. As his ears perked up, he wondered, “What is happening?” Luke says: “And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.”
Notice what Bartimaeus did not say. He did not say: “Who is Jesus of Nazareth? I have never heard of Him.” No, by this time, news of Jesus had spread across the whole country. People had been telling Bartimaeus about Jesus, who had given hearing to the deaf, sight to the blind, and even raised people from the dead. You can imagine that, in his darkness, Bartimaeus would dream, “Someday, just maybe, Jesus of Nazareth will pass this way.” The only hope he had to receive his sight was rested in Jesus of Nazareth. He knew there was no cure, but he had heard the stories.
When the thunder of the rushing multitude came nearby, he heard it. “What is it? What’s happening? Who’s coming?” Somebody said: “Bartimaeus, it’s Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth is passing your way.” Hold that thought: “Jesus of Nazareth is passing your way.”
Upon hearing the news, Bartimaeus cried out, just like the lepers Luke told us about earlier. He cried, he yelled, he screamed, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When he started screaming, he upset everybody. The whole decorum of the place was ruined. Those who went before Jesus warned him and said: “Hush. Be quiet. You’re making a scene.”
“What do I care about a scene,” he said, and he cried out all the more, even louder. He cried out with the loudest voice he could possibly use because he had no assurance that Jesus would ever pass that way again.
An Understandable Wrong Answer
Jesus heard Bartimaeus and stopped, and Luke tells us He stood still for a moment and commanded that the blind man be brought to Him. When Bartimaeus had come near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
Jesus knew Bartimaeus was blind. Why would Jesus take the time to ask him what he wanted? Everybody was in a hurry, so why did Jesus not just stop, touch the man, say, “Let your sight be restored,” and then go on His way? That is not what He did. Instead, He asked him point blank: “What do you want Me to do for you?”
I think our Lord had a pretty good idea of what the man’s answer would be, but I would like to take a short detour for a second. In the fall, we at Ligonier went on a trip to New England and traced the roots of the Great Awakening, studying the work of George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards. We went to Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, then down to Philadelphia. One of the speakers on that tour was Dr. Stephen Nichols, the president of Reformation Bible College. On that trek, he preached from this text and gave a little twist to it.
Dr. Nichols made the point that when Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “What would you like Me to do for you?” Bartimaeus gave the completely wrong answer. He gave an expected, understandable answer. What would you expect a blind man to say when Jesus asked, “What would you like Me to do for you”? Of course, the man, being a man, being human, flesh and blood, was going to say, “Let me have my sight.”
Felt Needs and Real Needs
At Saint Andrew’s, we have a philosophy of ministry that is not the same philosophy found everywhere else. In fact, it is not the most prevalent philosophy of ministry today. We are totally committed to expository preaching from whole books of the Bible. We have been following through the gospel of Luke. Before that, we went through Matthew, Mark, John, Acts, Romans, and so on, verse by verse, the whole counsel of God.
We depend upon the ordinary means of grace: the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, fellowship, witness, and mercy. We are deeply committed to studying the things of God, both in our sermons and in our adult Sunday school. That commitment flies in the face of the current popular philosophy of ministry, which says that if you want to have a church that grows, you must give the people what they want. You must entertain them. You must “de-churchify” church. Get rid of the pulpit. Get rid of the organ. Make it a fun and comfortable time because people have felt needs that need to be met.
When you see people moving from one church to another, you might ask, “Why did you leave your church?” They often say, “They weren’t meeting my needs.” I always want to say: “What needs weren’t they meeting? Are you telling me that it was boring, not entertaining, and what you need on Sunday morning is to be entertained? They weren’t entertaining you, but they were just feeding you the Word of God? You’ve left for the wrong reason. If you left because you know that you need your soul to be fed and your family to be prepared for eternal life with Jesus Christ, and you did not feel you needed that, you need to go back.”
There is a distinction frequently made between felt needs and real needs. I had a pastor once say to me, “My goal as a preacher is to scratch them where they itch.” I want to make you itch, not scratch you where you itch. There is a difference between felt needs and real needs. A felt need may be a real need, but it may not be your deepest need. Clearly, this man thought he needed his sight more than anything else. What if he received his sight but died and went to hell? What if he met Jesus and had his vision restored, but missed the kingdom?
The man we looked at last week was the rich young ruler. He at least was looking for the right thing, inheriting the kingdom of God, but he was too committed to his idols to receive that legacy. At the same time, it is perfectly understandable that all Bartimaeus thought about when Jesus came was getting his sight back.
What Would You Ask from Jesus?
During our New England trip, Dr. Nichols asked us to use our imagination. I ask you to do the same thing. Imagine you were there sitting on the road by Jericho, and Jesus of Nazareth stopped in front of you and asked, “What would you like Me to do for you?” What if He came to you right now and asked you the same question, “What would you like Me to do for you?” What would you ask for? What is your deepest wish? What is your deepest desire?
When I was in the third grade, we decorated our whole elementary school during Christmastime. On one afternoon, the third grade was dismissed to go to the auditorium. On the stage was a big chair, and in the chair was Santa Claus. One by one, each of us got to have a personal interview with Santa Claus. We would walk up to him and sit on his knee, then he would ask us our name and say, “What would you like for Christmas?” We would tell him and walk away thinking, “Maybe I’ll get what I want for Christmas this year.”
I remember that day, sitting on Santa’s lap. He asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him, and he smiled and said, “I think you’re going to get that.” I responded, “That’s great.” After school, I went home, came into my father’s room and, to my utter astonishment, I saw him sleeping on his bed, still half-dressed in the Santa Claus outfit he had worn that afternoon. I sat on my own dad’s lap and listened to his question. I did not know who he was. I thought I was talking to Santa Claus.
There is a big difference between Jesus and Santa Claus. We could spend all day pointing out those differences, but one thing we know about Jesus is that He does not need any reindeer, any elves, or any help to give us anything we need. He has the power and ability to give us what we need the most.
Why We Need Jesus
In the early years of Ligonier Ministries, we had a consultant tell us how to distribute our teaching materials. He said: “Package your materials according to the ideas of Madison Avenue. Have a ‘you’ focus. Guarantee a benefit to the people who will hear it, but most of all, speak to the people’s felt needs.” I responded: “The people’s greatest need is to find out who God is and how they can be reconciled to Him. They don’t feel it all.”
Countless people have said to me, “I don’t feel the need for Jesus.” I say to them, “There’s nothing you need more in all the universe than Jesus.” You may be inured to the feeling of needing Jesus, but feeling what you need is not always the same as understanding what you need.
Let’s return to the question I asked you a moment ago: What if Jesus came to you and asked, “What can I do for you?” What would you say to Him? “Lord, I lost my job, I need a new job. Lord, my marriage is in trouble, I need to be healed in my marriage. Lord, I was just diagnosed with terminal cancer, can You heal me?”
If you understand anything about Jesus, you will say to Him: “Jesus, please, son of David, have mercy on me. Cover me with Your righteousness. I’m going to stand before Your Father dressed in filthy rags, or naked and ashamed. Cover me. Save me. Give me what I don’t have and what I need the most: righteousness, Your righteousness, without which I will never enter Your kingdom.” You could put it another way: “Give me saving faith. Justify me before the Father. It’s not my eyes, Lord, it’s not my ears, it’s not my leprosy; it’s my soul. Heal my soul. Take away the darkness from my soul.”
Glorify God for His Gift
Jesus said to the blind man, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” Commentators are bit perplexed by that. We know that Jesus gave him what he asked for, and He said, “Your faith has made you well,” or, “Your faith has saved you.”
Jesus may simply have been saying, “Your trust in Me has gotten you past your blindness.” It may be, and my guess is, that Jesus gave this man much more than his ability to see. He gave Himself: “Now your faith has made you well.” Part of the reason I am inclined toward the second view is what follows.
Luke tells us that, immediately, the blind man received his sight. He was not in an evangelistic meeting and called up front to be healed of his deafness with the evangelist saying, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” No, this was the real thing. Instantly, the darkness vanished. His eyes were flooded with light. He could see Jesus and look into His face. He could see Jericho. He could see everything around him.
Perhaps one of the man’s friends said: “You haven’t seen anything yet. I have to take you to see this place or that place.” He said: “No sir, I’m not going anywhere. All I want to see is Jesus. I’m going to follow Him and glorify Him.” That is what the man said.
The blind man received his sight; he got what he asked for. Then he followed Jesus, and he glorified God so everyone that was with them gave praise to God. If Jesus has given to you what you need the most, then is it not the sensible thing to follow Him and glorify God?
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.