Sunday, August 16, 2009

Believing Is Seeing

Jesus is set to go up to Jerusalem. Waiting for Him there are the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, all who seek to destroy Him. Waiting for Him there are the physical, emotional, and spiritual sufferings of the cross. He knowingly and purposefully strides towards it all, because this was the Father’s will. For this hour He had come; to give His life as a ransom for many.

Along the way He taught His closest disciples – the Twelve – what would transpire in just over a week’s time. He had steadily prepared them for this hour, but they still had not grasped the lessons. They just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it. In light of the disciples’ dim sight they bump into a man who is completely blind. We are told of this encounter in Mark 10:46-52

The Man

The blind man’s name was Bartimaeus, which simply means son of Timaeus, and his city was Jericho.

His City

If you are at all familiar with the Bible you’ve heard about Jericho. That was the first city which faced the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. The Israelites marched seven times around that walled city, and after the seventh trip round God knocked the walls of that city down; demonstrating that He fought for His people. Jericho was the city of Rahab the prostitute. Because of her faith in God she and her family were the only ones spared in the city’s overthrow. Rahab was graciously saved by God, married an Israelite from the tribe of Judah, and their firstborn son was a boy named Boaz. He was the great-granddaddy of David, and from the line of David would eventually come the Messiah, who know strode through ‘New’ Jericho on His way to Jerusalem.

That was the OT Jericho which was in ruins, but just south of the ruins was NT Jericho. The city had been rebuilt, and according to historians it was a thriving, beautiful city at this time. Just fifteen miles south of Jerusalem as the crow flies but it was at the bottom of the mountain. The climate was so different from Jerusalem that King Herod made his winter home in Jericho. He had built for himself a wonderful fort and palace there. Evidently it was a beautiful well irrigated city where palms, balsam trees, fig trees, citrus trees, and rose bushes flourished. In fact, it was such a magnificent place that, according to the historian Josephus, Marc Antony gave the city to Cleopatra . That's a pretty good gift!

His Condition

Because of this man’s condition, however, Bartimaeus was unable to enjoy the beautiful and bountiful city in which he lived. He was blind. He was a beggar. This man lived a sorry existence. He sat along the roadside, every day, and begged. Everyday it was the same. Wake up, grab your little bowl, feel and tap your way to the familiar begging spot along the highway side, and beg. It was the only method in which Bartimaeus could be at all productive; if you want to call begging productive.

The condition of this man was pathetic and desperate. We’ve seen that before, haven’t we? All through Mark’s gospel we have witnessed Jesus, this One who did not come to be ministered unto but to minister, we’ve seen Him go to and meet the needs of the pathetically desperate and hopeless. Blind Bartimaeus proves yet again that Jesus calls and cares for the least, the last, and the left out. This is a stumbling block for some people; for those people who count themselves among the most, the first, and the insiders. The only thing that Jesus has to say to such people is, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

Bartimaeus was blind, but he knew he was blind. He knew he needed Jesus.

His Cry

I’ve always heard and read that people who are deprived of one sense are usually stronger in their other senses. For instance, a blind man would hear and smell better than average, because he has better developed those senses. Therefore, it stands to reason that while Blind Bart couldn’t see what was going on in Jericho, he certainly heard a lot. And in the last three years there had been a lot to hear! A fellow named Jesus had created quite a stir in the whole region. Just imagine what Bartimaeus would have overheard as he sat on the highway side in the bustling city of Jericho!

One conversation may have sounded like this:
“What do you know about this Jesus of Nazareth?”

“Well, remember that John the Baptist character, the one who was baptizing people in the Jordan not far from here, he said that Jesus was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

“Yeah, but I heard that John, after Herod locked him up for a while, started to have doubts.”

“He did. He even sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he’d been right about Him.”

“Really?! What did Jesus say?”

“Well, after He did all kinds of miracles, he told John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you’ve seen and heard: how the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

“Well, that ain’t nuthin’! Haven’t you heard what happened up the road in Bethany to that Lazarus feller?”

“You mean the guy who had two sisters? I heard he died.”

“He was dead. Been dead for four days when Jesus showed up and told them to roll the stone away. He said a prayer, then He called with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”

“Yeah?! Then what happened?”

“Lazarus came hobbling out of his tomb. His body still wrapped up in the burial cloths!”
Now picture blind, begging Bartimaeus, sitting along the main road, just soaking all of this news up day after day, processing all of this fantastic news. The dead restored to life. Demons cast out of people. Lepers were cleansed. The lame walked. The deaf heard. And the blind received their sight! The blind received their sight!! No doubt that news reverberated through Bartimaeus’ mind. As he laid his blind head down at night, mumbling to himself, “Jesus restores sight to the blind. That’s what the prophets said the Messiah would do!”

Bartimaeus was sitting in his usual place. The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread was near. During that time of year the road up to Jerusalem was always crowded with pilgrims. With the travelers in a more festive mood, he might be able to earn some extra food scraps or money. There was always a buzz surrounding the feast times. That’s to be expected with great multitudes of people making their way up to the holy city, singing the songs of degrees (Psalms 121-134), “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). But this time the energy in the air was excitedly intensified. Blind Bart could hear; he could feel the charge in the air.

He must have asked, “What’s going on? What’s happening? Why all the excitement?”
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” someone answered.

“When he heard that…he began to cry out…Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The word translated “cry” is krazo and it means to scream. Bartimaeus was desperate for Jesus to hear him. He could not see Jesus. He could not go to where Jesus was. He had to have Jesus come to him, and He did not want the Lord to pass him by. So he screamed above the din of the massive multitude. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

There is something you have to notice about his cry, beyond the fact that he is yelling it for all he’s worth. When he asked what the hullabaloo was about, the answer, you remember, was that “Jesus of Nazareth” was passing by. That’s not unusual; to identify people by their hometown. But Bartimaeus was not screaming, “Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on me!” Oh, no. He called out to Jesus, Son of David. His choice of name indicates an insight that many in the multitude lacked.

You see, the title “Jesus, Son of David” is a lot different than “Jesus of Nazareth.” “Son of David” is a Messianic title. In 2 Samuel 7:12-17 God promised David that one of his offspring would be established on the throne forever. God promised David, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” One of the songs of degrees – Psalm 132 – that the pilgrims would be singing as they made their way to Jerusalem states, “The LORD hath sworn [in] truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.”

In Luke 1:31-33 when the angel Gabriel appeared unto Mary and explained what was about to happen to her he said, “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Bartimaeus was blind, but he could see better than most. He clearly saw that only the promised Messiah; the greater Son of David could do all of these miraculous works. And even though he had not witnessed one miracle, he had heard the report of Jesus’ mighty works and marvelous words, and hearing he had believed.
I’ll explain how we know that he believed in just a moment, but first we have to take inventory of the multitude that surrounding the man.

The Multitude

There isn’t much to say about them except for the fact that they were a fickle bunch. They were fickle, and they had no use for the marginalized of society. “Shut up, beggar!” That’s what they said.

“Who is yelling like that?”

“It’s one of those blind beggars who clog up the road every day. Hey, be quiet, you!”
They rebuked Bartimaeus, and told him to be silent.

It didn’t work! He ignored their scorn. We refused to allow the criticism and the condemnation of others to prevent him from calling out to Jesus. Mark said he cried out all the more. Second verse same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse! “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

I am so delighted that Bartimaeus didn’t wither under that harsh, uncaring criticism. I am thrilled that he didn’t grab his bowl, wrap his cloak tight around his stooped shoulders and slither away because of the opinion of the crowd. There is a lesson here for us. Listen to how JC Ryle states it,
“Like [Bartimaeus] we must care nothing what others think and say of us when we seek the healing of our souls. Like Bartimaeus we must cry out the more, ‘Jesus, have mercy on us.’”
The crowd is so fickle. It always is. At the beginning of Passion Week, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd will shout, “Hosanna in the highest.” But at the end of the week, having been stirred up by the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees they will shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We witness that same vacillation here. One minute they shout Bartimaeus down, but after Jesus “commanded him to be called” they are all sugar and spice to him. “Cheer up and get up, Bart. He’s calling you.”

Despite the capriciousness of the crowd, isn’t verse 49 beautiful? “And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.”

The Master

Praise God that Jesus calls. Mark doesn’t record this, but it was while in Jericho that Jesus said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Praise God that He does! Praise God that Jesus came for the least, and the last, and the left out! He didn’t come for the “Big Man on Campus” or the beauty queen or “Dr. Smarter-than-everyone-here.” This doesn’t suggest that they cannot come, but it certainly means that no one comes before Christ thinking they deserve to or are worthy of coming.

The fact of the matter is that all of us are the least, the last, and the left out. Oh sure, perhaps not in terms of prosperity or popularity or professional proficiency; it is easier to identify the blind beggar as needy, but spiritually and eternally the playing field is leveled. We are all in desperate need of Jesus, but unless you realize that apart from Christ you are dead and without hope in the world you will be passed by. Only the humble heart will come to Christ. The one who knows that he needs Jesus’ mercy, and is humble and desperate enough to call out for it will receive it. Bartimaeus brought nothing to Christ except his need. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Rock of ages, cleft for me; Let me hide myself in Thee.”

“Cheer up. Get up. He’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. The Lord said, and He wasn’t being na├»ve when He asked him, “What wilt thou that I should do for you?” Jesus came not to be ministered unto but to minister. He had just stated that truth, and not we see it in action. He is also putting Bartimaeus to the test. How much – or how little – did he think Jesus could do for him?

The answer is immediate and to the point! “Lord, that I might receive my sight!” His request for it was evidence that he believed Jesus could provide it. He knew what he needed. Do you? He knew to whom he must go to receive what he needed. Do you? He believed and trusted Jesus. Do you?

“Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.” Bart’s faith didn’t create the cure. His faith was the means by which he received the cure.

The Master heard, despite all the noise, ruckus, and pandemonium, He heard Bartimaeus’ cry. He heard, and He had time. He still does. He always does. Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, stood still and called for this marginalized man who was pitied by some, but most people considered him nothing but a nuisance. Jesus had time for him; time and attention that were willingly given. This is not a forced interview. As you’re thinking about that, consider the subject matter that Jesus had just finished discussing with His disciples.

He had just reminded them that in Jerusalem He would be delivered to His enemies and the Romans, mocked, abused, and killed; because He was set to give His life as a ransom for many. I don’t know how much time you have for people; especially people you don’t know and who are needy, but I’m certain that during times of great difficulty and trial you have even less time for others. You are so overwhelmed with the weight of the burden it’s hard enough to remain same, let alone help others.
Here is Jesus under the shadow of the cross. In just over a week He will be crucified for the sins of others. He is painfully aware of all that’s about to transpire, but he heard Bartimaeus cry out for mercy. He heard. He stopped. He called. He healed and saved.

He still hears. He still stops. He still calls, hears, heals, and saves. All that is necessary is that you and I come to understand our blindness and come to Christ believing that He will make us to see.

“Pass me not my gentle Savior. Here my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by. Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.” This was the one occasion when Christ would pass by this man in his need, and on that occasion he cried out to Jesus. Whenever the Gospel is preached, read, or heard Jesus passes by. So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.

Seeing is not believing. How many people on that day saw Jesus restore sight to a blind man? They were impressed, but they were blind. Bartimaeus had not witnessed one miracle. He had not seen one supernatural display, but he had heard of Jesus. He believed that only the Messiah, the promised Son of David could do such things. So when he heard that Jesus was passing by he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus called him. He asked how he could serve him. Blind Bartimaeus said, “Lord, I want to see!” On that day Bartimaeus proved that believing is seeing. Once you’ve believed, then you’ll see.

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