We have been exploring the meaning of miracles for a few weeks now and I would like to use today to finish up that series with one more miracle. As we have looked at the miracles described in the Gospels, we have found each one was a triumph for a person or two because someone’s life was immeasurably changed. Someone who was crippled could now walk. Another person possessed by a demon was now free from the bondage of evil. Yet laying beneath every miracle was the meaning of the miracle, intended for those who witnessed the miracle and for those people like us who read about the miracle. And each miracle brings an enduring lesson that was intended to bring hope, peace, and understanding within a world that can often be chaotic, conflicted, and purposeless.
Today, I want to look at a miracle that occurs relatively late in the public ministry of Jesus. In fact, after this miracle, there are only three more miracles described in the gospels. At this point in Jesus public ministry, Jesus is very near his final turn toward Jerusalem and destiny with the cross on Calvary.
Let’s begin by looking at our New Testament reading from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10, beginning at verse 46. Scholars credit the Gospel according to Mark to a young man named John Mark, a protégé of the Apostle Peter. Mark’s approach was to move his readers quickly through the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. The first half of the Gospel, chapters 1 through 8, answers the question, “Who is Jesus?” The answer is brief. He is the Son of God; the one the prophets foretold would come to heal and make right humanity’s relationship with God. The second half of the Gospel, chapter 9 through 16, answer the question, “How will Jesus, Son of God, accomplish God’s mission?” The answer is disturbing; “31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (8:31).”
Our text today comes from the second half of the Gospel and occurs as Jesus briefly passed through the city of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. To fully appreciate the scene surrounding the miracle we need to first look at a scene that precedes the miracle. In this prior scene, Jesus and his disciples came through some difficult and tense moments. The apostles James and John, giants in our understanding of the Christian character, had approached Jesus in secret. They had been thinking about something, undoubtedly talking to each other about it. It seemed to James and John that Jesus was about to take his role as the Messiah King. James and John came to Jesus and asked Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). James and John believing that Jesus would soon assume a position of great power, wanted to be Jesus’ principal deputies. If Jesus was to be number 1 in the land, then James and John wanted to be number 2 and number 3. They wanted power to decide who would (or would not) do what, when, where, and how. James and John displayed a character that sought power and dominion over others. They did not seek authority from Jesus for the ministry in his name. They sought authority for personal standing and control of others.
John Mark, our gospel writer, recorded these words and reaction by the other apostles when James’ and John’s secret plan became known, “41 When the ten (other disciples) heard this, they began to be angry with James and John” (Mark 10:41). The ten were angry because someone else was trying to get one over on them and prevent them from becoming number 2 or number 3 in Jesus’ power structure. “42 So Jesus called them (the Twelve) and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).
Christian character is not about power for oneself, it is about empowering others. Christian character is about following the example of giving others hope by serving them. Jesus said, “45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was correcting the thinking of the disciples, so that their words would not be self-centered but instead their words and deeds would be gracious. With gracious words comes a servant’s heart with deeds of care for others. For a Christian, to act on behalf of another, to be a servant, is an obligation on us from God. It is a requirement for our lives, but it is not a burden. To act for another, is a privilege and a blessing to know that in such behaviors we are doing exactly what God desires from us. Done often enough, those acts become habitual; meaning it is done almost without conscious decision because it has become an inseparable part of who we have become. When our behavior is such, then it defines our character as that of Christ for we came to serve not be served. That is the character model Christ wanted from his disciples, but it was not the character exhibited by James and John through their secret quest for power.
With the stage set, we turn to verse 46. “46 They (Jesus and his disciples) came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside” (Mark 10:46). In the ancient language, the prefix, “bar,” means “son of.” This man, Bartimaeus, sat, blind, an outcast from society. His life was reduced to begging for money or food, making him dependent upon others for his very survival. This was how people saw Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, a drain on society and unable to contribute. How often do we form our thoughts about the character traits of a person by their external appearance or circumstances? If we think superficially, our words, deeds, habits will inform our character and we will be superficial. Christ wants us to look at the heart of the person and acknowledge the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, and then serve the external needs of others.
In verse 47, as crowd, this mass of people swirling before, around, and behind Jesus, moved passed Bartimaeus. ”He [Bartimaeus] heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he [Bartimaeus] began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:47). Think about the scene for a moment. Jesus, to many was just a miracle worker, to others the Son of God, was passing by the very road in which blind Bartimaeus sat as an outcast. Bartimaeus realized that Jesus was the cause of the commotion, but Bartimaeus could not see in front of him. It was then two things happened.
First, everyone who knew the healing power of Jesus and knew Bartimaeus or at least could observe Bartimaeus’ condition, either consciously or unthinkingly chose not to ask Jesus to serve Bartimaeus. No one, not one of the Twelve, seemed to think Bartimaeus worthy to be introduced to Jesus. Apparently, Jesus’ lessons to his disciples on being a servant to others was sinking in slowly or not at all. Are we like those of that crowd? We know Jesus, we follow him, we study the Bible, we do acts of charity, but are we also unwilling to introduce the outcast to Christ? Ponder that question this week.
The second thing that happened was Bartimaeus spoke loudly calling to Jesus knowing that Jesus was his sole source of grace. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus, the outcast, the blind beggar saw something almost no one else saw; the promise of God’s love right before him. He praised Jesus as the rightful heir of King David’s throne and the giver of grace through healing. These were Bartimaeus’ thoughts and his thoughts led him to speak.
Now we would think Bartimaeus’ cry would be the end of the conflict in the story. Bartimaeus has shouted out his testimony, made known his need, and now the crowd will stop and get Jesus to help him.
But verse 48 tells us something different, “48 Many (of the crowd) sternly ordered him (Bartimaeus) to be quiet” (Mark 10:48). Think about this scene for a moment. Bartimaeus was giving testimony about Jesus and the response from those who would form the core of the early Christian Church, from those who were following Jesus was to yell back at Bartimaeus, “Stop being such a bother and be quiet. No one wants to hear from you!” We expect hardhearted responses from the world but a hardhearted response from those literally inches away from Jesus seems unconscionable. This might have been the end of the story, but it was not.
Instead of being quiet, “Bartimaeus cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:48). Bartimaeus’ would not be silenced so he acted again this time shouting to Jesus over the objections of the church and repeating his call to Jesus as His savior and the only source of grace. This interaction between Bartimaeus and the crowd, which included the disciples, should cause us to examine our individual and collective behaviors. Are there things we are doing that make coming to Christ harder? It is a sobering thought.
This time, in response to Bartimaeus’ shouting over the church, there was a different response. This time “49 Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’” (Mark 10:49). Don’t you just love how people responded to Jesus’ command to bring Bartimaeus to Jesus when just moments before they were telling this same Bartimaeus to be quiet. Calling Bartimaeus to Jesus should have been the response of the church when Jesus began walking through Jericho. The crowd should have said, “Bartimaeus, take heart, get up, Jesus is here!” This should have been the response of the church after Bartimaeus spoke up the first time, “Bartimaeus, take heart, get up, come to Jesus!” This should have been the response of the church after Bartimaeus spoke up the second time. “Forgive us, Bartimaeus, take heart, get up, come to Jesus!” The response, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’” came only after Jesus directed the church to act. We must always act on behalf of another, to be a servant, and see it as an obligation on us from God, but not a burden. To act for another, is a privilege and a blessing to know that we are doing exactly what God desires from us.
Bartimaeus now prompted and helped by the crowd, “50 Threw off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight” (Mark 10:50-52). Finally, Bartimaeus could see. What an amazing joy for Bartimaeus.
But what do we make of this miracle for ourselves? What is the enduring lesson here that brings us more and more in the person and character of Jesus? There are a few things for us to consider.
First, James and John had approached Jesus looking to make a secret deal and be giving power what their perceived as Jesus’ worldly kingdom. In secretness, Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John asked for power over others. Jesus said no and the core of the church to be, the ten other disciples, were in an uproar at James’ and John’s attempt at a power grab. I don’t think the point of the other disciples being upset was that they were more righteous than James and John, it was more likely they were upset that they did not try to grab power first. Jesus taught his disciples, and Jesus teaches us, “You must become servants of one another.”
Right after this scene with James and John, Jesus and the disciples were in Jericho where blind Bartimaeus shouted to Jesus in public seeking mercy, seeking healing. The response from the church was for Bartimaeus to be quiet. The church tried to stand in the way of Jesus serving Bartimaeus. Obviously, the lesson of being a servant was lost on the disciples and the crowd. Bartimaeus called again and Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus said, “Heal me.” Bartimaeus received sight and was satisfied. We learn from this that we must not be a stumbling block for others to come to Christ.
There is one final lesson. At the close of this miracle scene, Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:50a). But Bartimaeus did not go. Instead, Bartimaeus left behind his beggar’s cloak and followed Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus was not interested in returning to his old life or even his old garment. Bartimaeus was interested in only one thing: following Jesus. Is that how we think, speak, and act? Do we genuinely move from our old life and old ways and follow a new way with Christ?
We might ask, Bartimaeus was on the way but where was Jesus going? Mark said Jesus next stop was Jerusalem for a triumphal entry. As far as we know, Bartimaeus was there and no doubt was singing and crying out, ““Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Jesus was going to the cross and Bartimaeus was following him. That was Bartimaeus’ new character. This is the deeper meaning of the miracle.
What is your character? As we close let’s think of our response the way the Apostle Paul put it. “1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” 3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! 7-13 So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!” (Romans 15:1-8 MSG). Amen and Amen.