In this tenth chapter of Mark we have already considered the case of a representative undisciple, the rich young man who came to Jesus but decided not to commit his life to him because he judged the cost of such a commitment to be too high. Now we come to the account of Bartimaeus, who is certainly presented to us as a representative disciple or follower of Jesus. But before we reach the account of Bartimaeus we have first a short paragraph in which the Lord Jesus once again predicts his arrest in Jerusalem, his crucifixion, and his resurrection on the third day. Then we have another account disclosing the vanity that still plagued the disciples. These two paragraphs repeat themes already introduced in the Gospel. The account of the proud request of James and John is mirrored by the earlier argument among the disciples about who of them is the greatest in 9:33-37. And on several occasions since Peter’s confession of Christ in chapter 8 the Lord has made a point of preparing his disciples for what is to come. We are reminded in this way that there are sins in a Christian’s life that dog him or her and cannot be easily got rid of – chief among them is our pride – and that there are truths of the Gospel that are hard for us to grasp and, once grasped, to hold on to – chief among these is the nature of the Gospel itself, the self-sacrifice of the Son of God for sinners.
Notice the “we.” The Lord is including the disciples in the prospect of the terrible days ahead. Following Jesus means having a share in his suffering.
It is interesting that after each of the three predictions of his soon-coming passion recorded by Mark, the Lord must deal with a failure of humility on the part of his disciples.
The two men were not named “sons of thunder” for nothing. [Edwards, 323] But the Lord makes clear that the entire matter of rewards and glory belongs to the hidden purposes of God and these are not for men to know beforehand.
A very similar statement to that made earlier in 9:35.
The preeminent virtue of the kingdom of God is not power or freedom, the preeminent virtues of American culture, but humble service of others. And inevitably it must be so because such was the way of the king himself in this world.
The entire Bible is, you know, summed up in this single verse. The Lord willingly laid down his life as a ransom to deliver his people from bondage. Everything else is either a presupposition of or the implication of that fact.
Bartimaeus is the only one of the many people whose healings are recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke who is referred to by name. Mark adds the translation of his name, a patronymic, for the benefit of his Gentile readers. That he is known by name and mentioned by name almost certainly indicates that the man was known to the disciples and to the Christian world. The disciples continued to know this man and knowing him they mention him by name.
The large crowd is present because Passover is near and those otherwise making their way to Jerusalem on the Jericho road would naturally have gathered around Jesus, whose reputation for mighty works was now generating immense patriotic enthusiasm at this most patriotic time of the year. At this point Bartimaeus is not part of the Lord’s entourage. He is sitting beside the road; he is an outsider.
As one commentator puts it, “What Bartimaeus lacks in eyesight he makes up for in insight.” [Edwards, 329] His appeal to Jesus as “Son of David” certainly indicates that he believed him to be the Messiah and that he had divine power to help him.
He was rebuked because he, an insignificant beggar, was, by clamoring for his attention, bothering the Master and his entourage. The disciples, remember, in 10:13 had thought the Lord couldn’t be bothered by children. They were overruled then as the crowd is here.
The vivid details are a sure mark of eyewitness recollection.
The NIV has Bartimaeus addressing the Lord as “rabbi.” But, in fact, he uses a stronger form of the term “rabbi,” rabbouni, often used in the Jewish practice of that day, so far as the evidence goes, to mean “Master” or “Lord.” It is also often used in address to God. It goes with “Son of David.” Bartimaeus understood that in speaking to Jesus he was speaking to someone more than a mere man.
In the context, the road was, of course, the road to Jerusalem and the cross. Faith that does not lead to following Jesus, even to suffering for his sake, is not true and living faith.
We have said that in chapter ten Mark has been dealing with the nature of discipleship, that is, what it means to follow Jesus. And here, very clearly, we come to the climax of that teaching. Mark makes that clear by connecting this final paragraph to the ones that have preceded it. You cannot tell this in the NIV but the “along the road” with which v. 52 concludes is the same exact phrase as in v. 32 where we read that the disciples and Jesus were “on the road” to Jerusalem. But without the fear or astonishment of the twelve disciples in the first case, Bartimaeus simply has faith in Jesus. He is and does what a disciple ought to be and do. Then, the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus in v. 51 is precisely the same question that he asked James and John in v. 36. “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John wanted fame and glory. Bartimaeus wanted sight, which is to say, he wanted the Lord Jesus to help him in his great need. Once again the Lord draws attention to Bartimaeus’ faith. Your faith in me is what made the difference, he says to him. Remember the Lord made a similar statement to the woman with the issue of blood in 5:34: “Your faith has healed you.” But there as here the word the NIV translates “healed” in v. 52, “your faith has healed you,” is the same word for “saved.” “Your faith has saved you.” Remember the healing of the paralyzed man in chapter 2. There the Lord had said first to the man who had been lowered down through the roof by his friends, “your sins are forgiven.” The Lord’s miraculous healings were intentionally a picture of salvation and this one dramatically so. The man wanted to see and the Lord gave him both physical and spiritual sight. “Bartimaeus represents all those who have found enlightenment [and salvation in Jesus] and follow the Master.” [France, 425]
For Mark, as in the teaching of the rest of the Bible, faith is the beginning, the middle, and the end of salvation and the Christian life. It is the beginning because it is by faith that we receive the forgiveness of sins and peace with God. It is the middle because it is by faith that we walk with God and follow Jesus Christ – as Paul would later put it, “we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us” – and it is the end because as we read in Hebrews 10:35-39, we must persevere to the end so that we will not be among those who shrink back and are destroyed, but rather among those who have faith and are saved.”
As a wise writer once said, faith is the hand of the soul by which, as we read in Hebrews, we take hold of Christ; it is the mouth of the soul by which, as Jesus says himself in John 6, we feed on and are nourished by him; it is the foot of the soul by which, as we read in Proverbs 18:10, the righteous run to the Lord and find safety; and, as here in Mark 10, faith is the eye of the soul by which we look to him and live. Faith is what makes a person a disciple of Jesus; faith is what keeps a person Jesus’ disciple; faith is the instrument of discipleship.
But what is this faith, how is it exercised? If it is so fundamental to everything in salvation and life, what precisely is this faith? And the answer to that question is given here. We are given in this account of the healing of Bartimaeus something of an anatomy of faith. Certainly we are shown what faith is and does.
- The first thing we learn here about faith is that it is knowledge.
Faith is the knowledge that certain things are true. This man knows things and that knowledge is the first part of his faith. There are two things this man knows and together they form the bedrock of his faith.
- First he knows that he is blind.
The first part of the knowledge of true faith is self-knowledge. He called out to Jesus because he was blind. He knew he was blind. He knew he lacked what others had. He knew he suffered terribly in comparison with other men. It was precisely his knowledge of his condition that led him to throw caution and his dignity to the wind and to shout above the noise of the crowd in hopes of gaining the Lord’s attention.
Now that may seem to you too obvious a fact to be of any significance. Of course he knew that he was blind. What blind person would not know that? But, remembering that Jesus himself understood this incident in terms of spiritual realities, it is right for us to observe in connection with this blind man’s knowledge of his predicament that the reason that the majority of men and women do not come to Christ is precisely because they do not think themselves disabled, blind, or needing to be healed. If you remember, Jesus said to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3, a group of believers that were complacent and self-satisfied – in other words, a group of believers that were thinking and living as if they were unbelievers – “you think you are rich, but you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” They weren’t physically blind, but they were spiritually blind.
You know, you do not need to be told how often the Bible likens the natural spiritual condition of human beings to blindness. And the first thing people can’t see is themselves. Nowadays we hear a lot about the importance of knowing ourselves, of getting in touch with our feelings, and so on. But the last thing people are interested in when they say such things is true moral and spiritual self-knowledge, the knowledge that is an essential part of faith. Most people are blind to themselves and, unlike Bartimaeus, are happy to remain blind.
Lloyd Jones put it this way: “The first sign of spiritual life is to feel that you are dead. The natural man is always play-acting, always looking at himself and admiring himself. [But] one of the best tests of whether we are truly Christian or not is just this: Do I hate my natural self?” Most people, you see, recoil from the suggestion that they are as bad as the Bible says they are. They are offended at the suggestion and never stop to think carefully about whether the Bible’s judgment concerning their hearts and lives might be true.
I remember some years ago chopping wood in the alley behind our house. I was talking with one of the neighbor boys while I worked. Suddenly up the alley ran another boy who paused just long enough breathlessly to tell his friend that he had found a wallet with $200 in it and his mother had kept $195 for herself and given $5 to him. Up the alley he sped to spread the good news among his pals. That mother was no doubt celebrating her good fortune just as her son was. But sure as I am standing here, she was not admitting to herself the truth about herself: that she was, in fact, nothing but a common thief. She would have resented the accusation and defended herself with some exalted piece of legal casuistry like “Finders keepers; losers weepers.” But such a person is simply blind. She had stolen that person’s money as surely as if she had picked his pocket.
And until she sees herself as a thief, and faces the dark fact that there is a great deal about her that is sick and ugly and unworthy, she’s never going to stand up by the side of the road and, uncaring of her reputation or the irritation of others, cry out for Jesus Christ to save her.
And so it is with everyone else. So long as they refuse to admit the obvious about themselves – their raging selfishness, their indifference to others, their greed and jealousy and lust, their hatred, their dishonesty, their hypocrisy, their childishness, their anger, their resentments, and all the rest; all that the Lord God is looking at in them every moment of every day – they will never follow Christ like Bartimaeus so happily did. He knew he was blind. That knowledge was the first part of his faith.
- But he also knew something about Jesus. Faith always knows something about Jesus and that knowledge is essential to true faith.
People talk today about people of faith, as if faith itself has some virtue. We have heard our political culture talk about “faith-based initiatives.” Well religious people should have the same right to tax money as irreligious people (if there exists any such people), but faith, in and of itself, is nothing, accomplishes nothing, and means nothing at least before the living God. Faith in what? That is the issue. Put faith in a falsehood, put faith in someone who cannot be relied on and your faith is worse than useless. The importance and power of faith is found entirely in its object. And we see that fact beautifully on display in this case.
Bartimaeus didn’t call out to anyone and everyone who passed by on the road. He knew better than to think that any ordinary fellow might deliver him from his blindness. We don’t know how old a man he was when he met the Lord Jesus but he was certainly an adult and had been blind for many years; perhaps it is likely that he had been blind from birth. And no doubt he never expected that he would ever see. He was resigned to his fate. But then he began to hear about Jesus; extraordinary things about him. He knew from many reports that he heard of the power to heal the sick that Jesus had displayed so dramatically for several years. Most of those reports came from Galilee and must have been spread by passing travelers. He may have spoken to some who had been healed themselves. It is certainly not unlikely that he had. Jesus had healed other blind men; do you imagine that Bartimaeus did not know that? The sick and the disabled would have formed a community, as they do now, and no one would have been more interested in Jesus or talked more about him than they. News of Jesus’ healings would have spread very quickly through the disabled community! It is touching to think of how such news and such a thrill of hope would have passed through the beggar community to which Bartimaeus belonged.
But what is also clear is that this man grasped, as the needy often do when the comfortable and the satisfied do not, that Jesus was the man for him, that he was, in fact, the Messiah, the one sent by God to deliver his people. He grasped, he understood what the miracles meant. He knew Jesus could do for him what he needed done and that was enough. It isn’t enough to know you have a need; you must also know who can meet that need. Bartimaeus knew both his need and who his deliverer must be. And that is the first part of true faith.
- The second part of faith is an active trust, confidence, and engagement.
Bartimaeus knew he was blind and he knew Jesus could grant him sight. And so when he heard that Jesus was coming he understood that his one hope of deliverance had arrived. He didn’t wait for Jesus to find him, he took steps to find Jesus and then to force himself upon the Lord’s attention. Jesus was actually in Jericho for several days. It was there that he met Zacchaeus and had dinner in his home. And all of that gave Bartimaeus an opportunity to position himself outside of Jericho on the Jerusalem road, along which road Jesus was certain to walk when he left town. I suspect that Bartimaeus had friends who let him know when the Savior was coming. And when he reached that place on the road where Bartimaeus was, the beggar began to shout at the top of his lungs.
I have met people who would not deny that they are sinners, nor would they even deny that Jesus is the savior, but they have never pled with Christ for the healing of their hearts and lives. They worry about what people would think. They don’t want to be religious fanatics. Like the rich young man they count the cost and aren’t sure they want to pay the price of being a follower of Jesus. They want to stay where they are; they don’t want to go up to Jerusalem!
Bartimaeus didn’t care about any of that. He didn’t care that his shouting was annoying the crowd surrounding Jesus; he didn’t stop shouting when they told him to shut up. He had one chance, only one, to see and he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stand in his way of making contact with Jesus. It wasn’t enough for him to know that Jesus could heal, Bartimaeus needed him, desperately wanted him to heal him. The crowd could shout at him all they wanted to; they weren’t blind. Their eyes weren’t dark as his were.
Martin Luther reminds us that many fail to be saved because they cannot use pronouns! [Ryle, Practical Religion, 7] The religion of the Bible lies in the right use of the personal pronouns: I, me, my, mine, you, and yours. Anyone can say, “The Lord is the shepherd.” Faith, however, says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And it is in Bartimaeus’ bold use of pronouns that he finds salvation. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Rabboni, I want to see.” And to those pleas, Jesus responded your faith has saved you.” Not “faith has saved you.” Not “your faith has saved.” But, “your faith has saved you.” It was, it is as directly personal as that! “Have mercy on me.” Luther goes on,
“But who is this me? It is even I, Martin Luther, a wretched and a condemned sinner. This word me is full of saving faith. He who will utter aright this little word me shall be a good advocate and disputer against all the accusations of the law and of his own conscience. For Christ delivered up for me neither sheep, nor ox, nor gold, nor silver, but himself, and that entirely and wholly for me. Yes, even for me, who am such a wretched and miserable sinner. Say me then with all your might and print this pronoun me indelibly in your heart…” [Luther’s Works, vol. 26, 177]
We read, immediately before the account of Bartimaeus that Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Bartimaeus cried out to be numbered among that many and because he prevailed upon the Lord to stop and to show mercy to him, he was. He took the Lord’s mercy to be a real thing and he claimed it for himself. He made Jesus and his salvation an absolutely personal thing. And he was rewarded for that trust and that confidence in Jesus and that active engagement with Jesus.
That is what faith is: knowledge in action; knowledge of oneself and of Jesus put into practice. That is what faith was then and that is what faith is now. That is what you and I need every day: a knowledge as clear and a commitment as personal and active as Bartimaeus’. We need to do what he did: come to Christ for what we need and call upon him in the sure and certain hope of his mercy, to force ourselves upon him with, what Richard Baxter called, “the violence of the saints.” What keeps you from crying out to him for the mercy you need?
Look at this man who that wonderful day gained both his sight and his salvation. Look at him as he leaves his mat behind and starts down the road after Jesus, staring wide-eyed at all the things he was seeing for the first time. The form of human beings, the trees, the road under his feet, and above all the face of Jesus Christ himself who had brought all of this to pass. Look at that happy man who would follow the Lord Jesus all the rest of his life and, no doubt, tell the story of that day hundreds of times.
What is there in your life that resembles what Bartimaeus did that day outside of Jericho? And, then, what is there in your life that resembles his walking after Jesus upon the road to Jerusalem? Bartimaeus is Mark’s climactic example of a true disciple of Jesus. Not James and John; not Peter, but a blind man who cried out for mercy, received it, and then immediately began to follow Jesus.
Deal personally with the Son of God, cry out for his mercy for all that you need his mercy for, and follow him like wide-eyed and exhilarated Bartimaeus did on that spring day.
Every promise in God’s book, every ounce of Christ’s almighty power, all of the inexhaustible treasures of his love are yours to claim by faith for yourself as well as for others. And if you know your need and know Christ’s power, surely you will not delay to betake yourselves to him for grace to help in your time of need, for him to do for you what no one else can.
Strong Son of God, Immortal Love,
Whom we that have not seen thy face,
By faith and faith alone embrace,
Believing, where we cannot prove.