Set on going to Jerusalem, Jesus could not be stopped or turned aside—until He heard Bartimaeus, a blind man, calling for Him. Continuing his exposition of the gospel of Mark, R.C. Sproul considers how this humble man exhibited true servanthood and devotion to the Savior.
Last week I got carried away and preached on more verses than I said I was going to, so this morning I’m going to start at verse 46 instead of verse 42, concentrating our attention on the healing of the blind man named Bartimaeus. So, our text is Mark 10:46–52, and I’ll ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God.
Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. 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!”
Then many warned him to 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 called.
Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”
And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.
So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
The blind man said to Him. “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.
The inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, revealed by God for us. Please be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father, in this Christmas season, as we give our thoughts to the coming of Jesus and the meaning of His sojourn on this earth, we pray that we may behold Him in the same manner this blind man beheld Him, from the eyes of his soul. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Oasis of Jericho
Throughout the Synoptic Gospels, we read passage after passage and incident after incident in which Jesus, in His miraculous power, heals people of all sorts of afflictions. There is something unusual, however, about this narrative you’ve just heard. In all the Synoptic Gospels, only one person Jesus healed is named, and it is Bartimaeus. We wonder if it was simply a coincidence, or if perhaps there was a method to Mark’s madness to include his name and interject this brief narrative into the journey Jesus is taking with His disciples from the north coming to Jerusalem.
The setting is Jericho. This is not Old Testament Jericho, where Joshua fought the battle and made the walls come tumbling down, but New Testament Jericho, which is situated seventeen or eighteen miles north of Jerusalem and about thirty-five hundred feet below the altitude of Jerusalem. One unusual characteristic of Jericho is that archeologists say the two cities known to be inhabited longer than any others are Damascus and this village of Jericho.
If you ever visit New Testament Jericho, you will immediately see why a village is there and why it has been there for so many millennia. In the middle of the desert, as you make your way toward Jerusalem, you will see a sight many thirsty pilgrims were afraid was a mirage. In the distance, coming out of the middle of the desert, is a wonderful mass of palm trees growing along one of the richest and largest oases that you would ever find in the desert. That’s where this incident took place, by the oasis in New Testament Jericho.
A Beggar by the Road
We’re told that when Jesus went out of Jericho with His disciples and this great multitude, they saw blind Bartimaeus, further introduced as the son of Timaeus, sitting by the road begging. I want to make a couple of comments about this.
Mark writes for people who are not always aware of Hebrew ancestry, customs, or names. To call this man Bartimaeus and follow that with the description “the son of Timaeus” is really an exercise in literary redundancy. Every Hebrew who would read this story would know the name Bar-Timaeus, just as Jesus was Jesus Bar-Joseph. To be bar means to be “son of.” If you’re a son of the covenant or the commandments, you might have a bar mitzvah in the Jewish community. So, Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, and you would think it would be unnecessary to repeat that, but this is written presumably for gentile believers who wouldn’t know that etymology.
In any case, Bartimaeus is introduced as a blind man who sat along the road begging. Because of the importance of Jericho and its situation in relationship to Jerusalem, the merchant roads all came through there, so there was great commerce along that road. It was an ideal place for a beggar to situate himself along that pathway.
I remember when I was a student in Holland that every time I went into the city of Amsterdam, I had to go by train. I’d come out of Central Station and go over a bridge that transitioned into downtown Amsterdam to the center of the city, which is called, as you might expect, the Dam or the Dom. Each time I came into the city to go to school, I had to come out of Central Station and go over that bridge. Every single time I went over that bridge, without fail, I passed a blind man who had his hat on the sidewalk to receive alms. And every single time I passed that man, I dropped some money in his hat.
I left Holland and did not return for four years. When I went back and came out of Central Station on my way to the center of the town, that same blind man was still there with his hat collecting alms. A few years later, a friend of mine from Holland sent me a colored portrait book of all the sights, night and day, of the city of Amsterdam. Right in the middle of this book was a picture of the bridge to Central Station, and there was the man on the bridge. I wonder if he’s still there after all this time.
That’s the kind of person Bartimaeus was. He was a fixture on the road out of Jericho toward Jerusalem. He sat by the road, not seeing anybody, listening for footsteps as people came near, and asked for alms.
Contrast in Discipleship
Before I go further in this narrative, there’s something else I want to point out about it. I’m a little bit puzzled at first blush as to why Mark interrupts the narrative of this trip Jesus takes with His disciples from Caesarea Philippi, now approaching within twenty miles of Jerusalem. What’s the importance of this incident, which is simply one among a multitude where Jesus heals people in His path?
I can’t help but notice that it is situated in the text immediately following the discussion Jesus had with His disciples about what real discipleship means. It doesn’t mean seeking to sit at the right hand or the left hand, but Jesus explained to His disciples that to be great in the kingdom of God, you have to be the servant of all.
Most commentators expect that Mark had a reason for introducing this when he did. He tells us the name of this blind man because Bartimaeus stands in bold relief and contrast to the behavior of the disciples of Jesus, who were squabbling among themselves for status and rank in the kingdom of God. This man was a beggar by the road, and in Hebrew categories, he was the lowest of the low in terms of his station in life, in terms of his public exaltation and status. Presumably, the man in poverty was in rags as he sat there, hoping against hope that somebody would drop a coin into his cup that he might have his next meal or a place to rest for the evening.
The Beggar’s Cry
From his standpoint—or sitting point, I should say—by the side of the road, he heard all of the buzz going on with the multitudes, and he got wind of the news that it was Jesus coming. So, when he heard footsteps approach, he cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd told him to stop. They warned him to be quiet. But he cried out all the more. Listen to what he said: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Nobody was going to still his tongue as he cried out for Jesus to help him.
What I find fascinating about the blind man’s appeal was the soundness of his theology. Without eyes to see, he knew who was coming: the Messiah, the long-promised Deliverer of Israel who would come out of the family and lineage of David, who would be David’s greater son, who would restore the kingship to David, who would be David’s son yet at the same time David’s Lord. One of the richest, most pregnant Messianic titles in all of the Old Testament is this title, Son of David.
We’ve seen the demeanor of Jesus during this trip. We saw last week that the disciples were amazed at the way in which Jesus walked ahead of them with this resolute determination to go to His destiny of shame, pain, suffering, and ignominy in Jerusalem. Nothing would cause Him to look to the left or to the right, rather His face was set as a flint, we observed. But at this point, Jesus stopped in His tracks. What made Him stop was the plaintive cry of a beggar who recognized Him as the Son of David. He heard a man call, “Son of David, have mercy upon me!”
We read in verse 49 that Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. He told His disciples: “Find out who it is that’s screaming at Me. Go get that man and bring him to Me. I’m not moving another foot toward Jerusalem until I see this person.” So, they called the blind man, saying to him: “Be of good cheer. Rise. He is calling you.” “I’ve been calling Him,” Bartimaeus would say. Now He’s calling the blind man. It’s one thing for us to call upon the Lord. It’s something else when He calls upon us. That’s where our true redemption lies. So, he threw aside his garment, stood up, and he came to Jesus.
We could make metaphorical hay out of those words, couldn’t we? This is what everybody should do when Jesus approaches. We should throw aside whatever is hindering them. We should stand up, and we should come to Jesus.
Listen carefully to the question that Jesus asked him, but before I repeat it, let me ask you to remember the last time you heard Jesus ask anybody this question. Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Does that ring a bell? James and John said, “Jesus, will you do what we ask?” Jesus said to James and John, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Do you remember that? They said, “Oh, that one of us could sit at your right hand and the other one could sit at your left hand when you come into the glory of your kingdom.”
Listen to Bartimaeus’ answer when Jesus asked, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man said: “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight. I’m not asking for status. I’m not asking for glory. I’m not asking to be exalted in Your kingdom. I’m just begging You for something that almost every human being already enjoys. Lord, I just want to be able to see.”
Master, Let Me See
Bartimaeus was a simple man. For him, things were not complicated. He had one driving passion—to get out of the impenetrable darkness that defined his life, where he groped in danger, always dependent on somebody else to take him by the hand and to lead him. He couldn’t read Braille, didn’t have guide dogs, and didn’t have an electronic walking stick to warn him of dangers in his path. His life was constant darkness.
“All I want, Lord, is to receive my sight.” That’s not exactly the way he says it. Again and again, except on one other occasion in the New Testament, when people speak to Jesus, they address Him by His title as a teacher. He is a rabbi, so they address Him by the title rabbi. But that’s not what Bartimaeus calls Him.
When Bartimaeus answers the question with, “That I might receive my sight,” he says, “Rabboni,” the same title Mary gave to Jesus in garden of resurrection. This slight alteration from the title rabbi means far more than the address “professor” or “teacher.” Being translated, it has an intense personal significance to it, and in reality, it is a confession of faith. What Bartimaeus is saying to Jesus in this language is, “My Lord and my Master, let me see.” Mark gives us a portrait of a true disciple, who is ragged, poor, and blind, but who recognizes the Messiah for who He is, and when he calls upon Him, addresses Him as, “My Lord, my Master.” You see, Jesus has just taught His disciples about what it means to be a servant. To be a servant is to serve a master. Where the disciples failed, the blind man succeeds.
Jesus said, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Instantly he received his sight. The lights came on. Most blind people would want to run through the city and see all the sights that had been described to them but that they had never feasted their own eyes on. Instead, as soon as Bartimaeus saw anything, he saw Jesus, and he followed Him to Jerusalem to His death.
The transcript has been lightly edited for readability.