It has been some weeks since we were last in the Gospel of Luke, so let me remind you where we are. The days of the public ministry are near an end. The Lord has spent some months traveling through Perea, east of the Jordan, and though Samaria, north of Jerusalem, with, apparently, the occasional foray back to his home territory in Galilee; but all of that is now behind him. He and his entourage are now making their way to Jerusalem. It is almost Passover and on the roads that they traveled there were many others heading the same way, on their way to the capital for the greatest feast of the year.
I’m not entirely sure why the editors of the ESV (and of other English versions of the Bible) designate this as the third time the Lord foretold his death because it is actually either the sixth or the seventh time in the Gospel of Luke that there is such a prediction, depending upon whether one takes the statement in 5:35, the first one, as a prediction of his death. [Cf. Morris, Bock]
The point is that all that will happen is what God has already planned to happen and already prophesied will happen. Men will think they are in control of events; in fact they will be accomplishing God’s long before determined plan.
Not only did the Lord’s death and resurrection not fit in their understanding of what the Messiah would do — they probably thought he was speaking metaphorically — apparently their inability to understand at this point, before the events themselves, was also part of the divine plan. Whatever else its purpose, the disciples’ confusion and lack of sympathy with the Lord, who as a result bore the terrible weight of knowing what was to come alone, certainly contributed to the Savior’s isolation. He trod the winepress of the wrath of God alone! The fact that Luke says the same thing three times in a single verse is some evidence of it being an important point. [Bock, ii, 1499]
Matthew tells us that there were two blind beggars. Mark also mentions but one and gives him a name, Bartimaeus. It was doubtful that any blind man would have been alone, and it appears that this one man did the talking for both of them and, perhaps, given that we know his name, was later known as a Christian. What is more, while Mark and Luke say that Jesus was drawing near to Jericho when these events took place, Matthew reports that he was leaving Jericho when he had his encounter with the blind beggars. As you can imagine a great deal of attention has been given to these differences.
I won’t bore you with the details but we know too little and otherwise have too little reason to doubt the historical veracity of the Gospel writers to be troubled by such differences. There are any number of plausible explanations for the differences and you can consider them yourselves by consulting any major commentary. Jericho was on the main highway to Jerusalem, some 17 miles distant.
At any rate, there was a crowd with Jesus, as we might have expected, and the beggar heard the stir and inquired as to the reason for it. As a disabled person he had certainly heard of Jesus of Nazareth.
“Jesus, Son of David,” is the same thing as saying “Jesus, Messiah.” How Bartimaeus knew that we are not told, but there may have been a considerable number of people by that time who had come to that same conclusion: Jesus was the long promised Messiah. Almost a year had passed since Peter had first declared Jesus to be the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi. But by now many had that idea, as would be proved a few Sundays later at the Lord’s triumphal entry. [Caird, 206-207]
The crowd told the blind man to shut up, much as, in the last chapter, the disciples had rebuked the parents who had brought their children to Jesus that he might bless them. No one should ever resist a person’s effort, however noisy, to get a blessing from Jesus Christ! [Bock, ii, 1509]
As so often before in the Gospel, people recognized the hand of God himself in the work of Jesus. Bartimaeus followed Jesus but he was glorifying God. That he followed Jesus might well indicate that he became a disciple, which would account for the fact that his name was known in the Christian community years later when Mark wrote his Gospel.
The healing of this blind man is the last of the miracles recorded in the Gospel of Luke. It was dramatic, public, and impossible of explanation apart from the power of God, as all of the Lord’s miracles had been.
As the Lord passed through Jericho that day it was but days before his triumphal entry, a few weeks before his crucifixion and resurrection. During the celebration of Passover the population of Jerusalem would swell by as much as three or four-fold, twenty-five or thirty thousand inhabitants would become one hundred or one hundred twenty thousand people crowding the streets and markets, filling every available space. In a day when most travel was by foot, those thousands of pilgrims — many coming from Galilee along the road through Jericho — would have been found on the highway Jesus and his disciples were walking that day.
As indicated by the tremendous enthusiasm that greeted Jesus when he arrived in Jerusalem, there was abroad through the land great excitement about Jesus of Nazareth. His electrifying miracles and his mesmerizing teaching — teaching so unlike what they were used to — had brought many to suspect, if not outright to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting for centuries. True enough, they had a completely mistaken view of what the Messiah would be and do, but at this point enthusiasm was peaking. So a miracle like this one, on the public highway, before crowds of people would have inflamed excitement all the more. A report of what had happened in Jericho that morning would have been circulating in Jerusalem only hours later.
But the miracle itself was nothing new. The same remarkable thing had happened many times before and the Lord drew from it the same lesson he had drawn many times before. After restoring sight to this blind man, which modern medicine for all its accomplishments still cannot do, Jesus, no doubt looking Bartimaeus in the eye, told him, “Your faith has made you well.”
As we have noticed on previous occasions, what Jesus said was “Your faith has saved you.” As we noted in the case of the one leper of the ten who returned to thank Jesus for his healing, that in 17:19, while “saved” can certainly mean “healed,” almost certainly it has a double meaning in such a context. The man was physically healed, but he was also saved from sin and death by his faith in Jesus.
As we have often noted in our examination of the Lord’s miracles, they are pictures of salvation, and the faith that people exercised in the Lord’s power to heal them is a picture of the faith by which men and women are saved from sin and death. Remember, very early in Luke’s record, as far back as chapter 5, the Lord made a point of remarking on the faith of the men who brought a paralyzed man to him, breaking through the roof of the house to lower him before Jesus, and then told the man, not first to rise and walk, but that his sins were forgiven. They sought healing; they got eternal life!
Salvation by the grace and power of God received through the exercise of faith: this is a primary and consistent lesson of all the Lord’s miracles, a lesson the Lord was at pains to teach, as here when he made a point, in the hearing of many, of telling the blind beggar whose sight he had restored, “Your faith has saved you.”
Now we know what faith is, at least generally. Faith is confidence placed in something or someone and, still more, it is action taken in the strength of that confidence. We exercise faith all the time. We sit in a chair without first carefully examining it or testing its weight-carrying capacity. We get in an elevator because we believe it will carry us up or down without plunging to the basement. We eat the food we have purchased without demanding proof that it is not tainted. We do such things so often that we hardly ever realize how much everyday life is an exercise of faith.
We put faith in people as well. We expect the bank teller to have actually deposited our funds. We believe the mechanic who tells us that he changed our oil. We believe the doctor who tells us that the results of such and such a test mean this or that for our health. And we invest great confidence in those we love that they can be relied on to tell us the truth. It sometimes happens that we discover that we have been lied to by someone we trusted. We say then that our faith has been betrayed.
But in any case, as in so much of life so in the matter of salvation, we rely on another: on what another has said and what another has done. Bartimaeus is a perfect picture of such faith because his condition was beyond him, beyond anyone. Neither he nor anyone else could restore his sight. Only God could do that, the inventor of the eye. And as leprosy — an incurable disease in those days — as paralysis, so blindness serves as a perfect metaphor for man in sin, helpless to change his condition or to escape its consequences. As the blind man could do nothing to recover his sight, so the sinner can do nothing either to escape the power of sin or to atone for the guilt of it.
No wonder the Lord regularly drew attention to the implications of his miracles for the nature of salvation itself. “Which is easier to say to the paralyzed,” he once asked, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise and walk?’”
Now to be candid, for many of us most of the time, our faith is somewhat if not largely passive. We believe that Jesus died for us on the cross. We believe that he rose again to give us eternal life. If anyone were to ask us, we would certainly say that our hope of eternal life rests entirely on what Jesus Christ has done for us. It is even more than that. We believe that God has our lives in his all-powerful hands; that he is working out his purposes in our lives and in the life of the world. We believe that our trials and tribulations have descended upon our lives as it were like grains of sand that have sifted through the fingers of our heavenly Father. We believe he knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. We believe that he is with us to care for us and that he is always forgiving our sins, even the sins we scarcely know we have committed. We believe a great deal more than this to be sure; all that we are taught in the Word of God.
It is not an accident that the word “faith” is used both of the personal trust and reliance that we place in God and in Jesus and for the truth, the teaching that we believe. The Bible speaks of “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints,” and by that means the message, the gospel, the teaching of the Word of God. Faith is our believing and it is what we believe. In that sense as well faith can be something of a passive thing: a conviction, a set of convictions that we hold.
But at its best and, in every Christian life, in many instances faith must be more than simply the knowledge of the truth and our sincere heartfelt agreement with it or acceptance of it. It must be a power. It must be a living connection between ourselves and the Lord. It must be a vital thing, a thing that animates our hearts and lives, and a thing that requires action, even daring action on our part. That is faith at its best; faith in its most essential and proper sense. And it is this kind of faith, faith as an active energy, as a personal reliance on Jesus himself present to help us, that is illustrated for us here. This was the faith of Bartimaeus, the faith that Jesus made a point of commending. It was this faith that saved him. And what may we say about this faith? What distinguishes it? How can we know that we have it, that the Lord might just as well say to us as he said to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has saved you.”?
- Well take note in the first place that Bartimaeus acted on a view of Jesus of Nazareth that was not the view of many and very much not the view of most of the movers and shakers in his society.
Bartimaeus shouted at Jesus to get his attention, “Jesus, Son of David.” He cannot have been ignorant of the fact that to say such a thing at the top of his lungs was a provocative act. The crowd, in answer to his question, hadn’t said, “The Messiah is passing by.” They had said “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Many in the crowd might have thought that Jesus was or might be the Messiah, but as we have already learned in Luke’s Gospel and will be told again, such people knew very well that the religious and political leadership did not take kindly to people thinking that, still less to their saying it out loud. They had conducted a three-year campaign of character assassination against the Lord Jesus. One could get into trouble saying to a friend that Jesus was the Messiah, much less shouting it at the top of one’s lungs along a public thoroughfare. We have already read of people being shouted down or scorned or threatened for uttering the sentiment that Bartimaeus shouted in the hearing of everyone. You may remember how the man born blind, whose miraculous healing is reported in John 9, got into trouble with the Pharisees for just this reason.
But Bartimaeus didn’t care. He was blind and like every blind person in Judea in those days he had heard that Jesus could restore sight to the blind. He had done it before and every blind person would have heard that he had. Hope would have sprung up in a blind person’s heart for the first time: perhaps Jesus would do that for me! And, suddenly, unexpectedly, Jesus was there, right in front of him. He wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. He had realized that Jesus must be the Messiah to have done what he had done, little as he may have known of the Lord’s teaching — though, for all we know, he may have heard of that too — and he simply had to get his attention. So he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David.” He was in desperate need and he knew it, unlike the rich ruler of the previous paragraph. He may have known of the debate that was raging about Jesus, but at the moment that was of little interest to him. That was an address to stop everyone in his tracks; after centuries of waiting, “Hey, Messiah!” He needed what Jesus alone could give him and he couldn’t, he simply couldn’t let Jesus get past him without asking him for help.
And it wasn’t just the opposition of the leadership. The crowd told him to shut up. He was an irritant to them. We know how noisy beggars can irritate us. It takes some nerve to keep going to Jesus when others are telling you to mind your own business or to get out of the way or to calm down and stop making a nuisance of yourself. We are all so sensitive to the possibility of embarrassing ourselves. Remember how in Pilgrim’s Progress Christian had to run out of his hometown, the City of Destruction, with his fingers in his ears, so as not to be dissuaded from his pilgrimage by all the people crying out to him to return. Away he ran with his fingers in his ears, crying “Life, Life; Eternal Life!” Well you have that same thing here. Bartimaeus, in effect, with fingers in his ears. “Sight; sight; I want to see!”
I’m reading an account of an amazing conversion, one of the most amazing accounts I have ever read in my life — I’ll tell you more about it this evening — the first exercise of faith in Jesus on the part of someone for whom such identification with Jesus was virtually professional suicide and an identification that would inevitably lead to the disintegration of virtually all her previous friendships and associations. But she cried out to Jesus, as Bartimaeus did, and for the same reason. She needed desperately what he alone could give her.
Faith sometimes founders at precisely this point. What will others think? Will they ridicule me? Will I be made fun of? Will others reject me or despise me? What will my friends do? My family? My colleagues? Especially in a culture in which real faith in Jesus is widely scorned or despised! But often the anticipated disapproval of any person and just the bare possibility of scorn is enough.
One of the great evangelists of the 19th century was the English lay-preacher Brownlow North who spent most of his adult life in Scotland. North was born into an upper class home and had before him the life of a country gentleman. He had Christian relatives and friends who pressed him with his need for forgiveness and for the presence of Christ in his life but he paid no attention until he was 45 years of age.
“It pleased God, in the month of November, 1854, one night when I was sitting playing at cards, to make me concerned about my soul. The instrument used was a sensation of sudden illness, which led me to think I was going to die.”
He was taken to his room, and while thinking about his life and what little he had done with it, and how near he might be to hell, he felt compelled for the first time in his life to cry out to God for mercy. But he was kept from doing so by the presence of a servant girl tending the fire.
“Though I did not believe at that time that I had ten minutes to live, and knew that there was no possible hope for me but in the mercy of God, and that if I did not seek that mercy I could not expect to have it, yet such was the nature of my heart…that it was a balance with me, a thing to turn this way or that, I could not tell how, whether I should wait till that woman left the room, or whether I should fall on my knees and cry for mercy in her presence. By the grace of God I did put myself on my knees before that girl, and I believe it was the turning point with me.”
So was Bartimaeus’ active seeking of Jesus and his refusal to desist. Who cares what others think! I’m blind. I want to see.
How interesting and important that we see a man of faith here — we know that because Jesus makes a point of saying that it was by his faith that he obtained his sight — exercising that faith in defiance of opposition and obstacles. That is faith at work. Faith will always have its opposition. It will invariably face its obstacles. Such a need for Jesus, such confidence in him that nothing is allowed to stand in the way of the soul crying out to the Lord as the one, the only one who can help: that is true faith and we are to find that faith in its exercise in our lives too, often; very often.
- Second, this man’s faith, as all true faith, is distinguished by its willingness to suffer loss for the sake of seeking from Christ what he alone can give.
This may not be so obvious at first glance. But think about Bartimaeus’ situation. There is a poignant touch in this narrative if we have the sympathy to appreciate it. The man was a beggar. Begging was his livelihood. It was how he supported himself. Each day he ate as well as his earnings that day made possible.
There was no time in the year more advantageous for beggars that those few days when the roads were crowded with Passover pilgrims. Not only were there many more people on the roads than would otherwise be the case, but people were in the mood to give more generously. The most charitable season of the year in our day is the few weeks leading up to Christmas. Well so it was with the Passover two thousand years ago.
In other words, when Bartimaeus lifted his voice to cry to Jesus, when he annoyed everyone around him, he was wasting the best business opportunity of the year. A large crowd of favorably disposed people were going by and he wasn’t asking them for a cent. What is more, by crying out and incurring their irritation, he was alienating his best customers. But what is clear in the narrative is that he didn’t think about any of this. He wanted to see far more than he wanted to collect alms.
Faith is always like this when it is at work. Most people confronted with the truth about Jesus and salvation understand immediately and instinctively that acknowledging Jesus as their Savior and Lord will cost them something. Perhaps it will cost them a great deal. Certain things in their lives will have to change, change in ways that may prove very painful. Certain friends will turn away. In some cases a person’s family will be upset. In any case it will require the humbling of oneself before God and man, something no one finds easy to do. But faith, real faith, Bartimaeus’ kind of faith, says, “So be it. Let the chips fall where they may. I want to see!”
And it remains the same for the older, experienced Christian. Every exercise of faith, every serious exercise of faith, of active confidence in Jesus as present and powerful, costs something. It costs the time and energy to pray and to stay down on one’s knees until the prayer has been well and truly prayed, it costs the sins that must be repented of if our prayers are to be heard, for “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” It costs the fear that the Lord might have something in store for us that is going to be very hard to bear. Faith finally doesn’t care. It wants the Lord Jesus to do what he will do for us and with us and in us. And so we cry out to him come what may. We look to him, rely on him, and follow him.
That is faith at work. And we are all to look at Bartimaeus here and examine ourselves to see if there is such faith in our hearts and in our lives, faith that brooks no opposition, and is willing to bear whatever cost may be required. There is that passive faith, that agreement with the truth of Christ that lies as a foundation at the bottom of our lives; but there is to be as well this active, reaching, grasping, won’t take “No” for an answer faith as well. This crying after the Lord until he hears and answers, because what we want and need only he can supply. And all our lives long there are many things, and they are the most important things, that only Jesus can give us.
Look at that dear man. He can see! He’s looking at everyone and everything: the faces in the crowd, the pavement below his feet, the trees beside the road, all the things he had felt before but never seen! He’s constantly pinching himself. He can hardly believe it. He sees everything. In vivid color! You know the Lord didn’t give him anything but 20/20 vision! And there is Jesus himself. His eyes return to the Lord again and again as he walks along beside him and behind him, a grin spread from ear to ear, sometimes laughing at loud, skipping along as light as a feather, and every now and then shouting praise to God.
The greatest day of his life because he put his faith in Jesus and the Lord changed his life. Faith is a very great thing. We can forget this, those of us who have believed in Jesus for many years now. We can forget how powerful faith is — it is nothing less than the power of God at the disposal of man — and how ready the Lord Christ it to reward it.
No one wanted to be Bartimaeus through the morning hours of that day. He was a poor beggar, blind and benighted. His life was brutally hard and hopeless. He was probably unkempt and not terribly clean. And then he put faith in Jesus and in a moment he was the happiest man in the world. He not only could see, the Savior had told him himself that he had been saved. Think of those people who at first were shouting him down at the very end of the paragraph are giving praise to God.
As Augustine beautifully put it: [Trench, Notes on the Miracles, 465]
“If a man will only despise these obstacles…and overcome them, if despite …all opposers, he will go on until Christ is evidently and plainly with him, then those same [people] who at the first [opposed and criticized] will in the end applaud and admire; they who first exclaimed, ‘He is mad,’ will end…exclaiming, ‘He is a saint.’”
Faith, we read in the Word of God, is the victory that overcomes the world. But to do so it must be at work, it must be up and doing. And, above all, it must be crying out to the Lord until he turns and responds.