v.29 This next episode plays a strategic role in the Gospel history. For the traveler to Jerusalem, coming from the Trans-Jordan, Jericho is the last city before Jerusalem. The capital was only some 15 miles from Jericho on a main road. You will notice that the next paragraph in Matthew’s Gospel concerns the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Imagine the scene. Jesus is not alone with his disciples on this road through Jericho. It is crowded with pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for Passover. We know from the other Gospels that popular excitement over the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah, fueled by his miracles and by his teaching, was now reaching a fever pitch. Passover was, in any case, the most patriotic time of year for the Jews. So there is nothing surprising in the fact that a crowd of people would have attached themselves to Jesus to walk with him toward Jerusalem. This dramatic miracle, witnessed by so many people, would only have inflamed people’s expectations the more. News of it would have reached Jerusalem only a few hours later. In Matthew’s account the pre-Jerusalem ministry concludes with this miracle. We know from the other Gospels that, in fact, some days were to elapse before Palm Sunday. But take note, it was to be the crowds’ disappointment … Jesus, his failure to meet their expectations that would secure his execution some days later. They were looking for a political deliver not a Redeemer.
v.30 Mark names one of these blind men: Bartimaeus. The fact that his name was known probably is an indication that he was known among the believers as a disciple of Jesus. The fact that he is named only in Mark, which is, as you remember, Peter’s Gospel, may indicate that he was a personal acquaintance or friend of the Apostle Peter.
When the blind men call Jesus “Son of David,” they are calling him Messiah, for that is what the title meant. Even beggars on the street knew of the remarkable ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and were caught up in the excitement generated by the growing belief that the Messiah had appeared. They knew of the miracles of healing that Jesus had performed and they hoped for something for themselves.
v.31 It is entirely typical that the demonstration of Jesus’ Messiahship should have been provided in a work of compassion and kindness that the crowd thought was beneath his dignity. [France, 294] How little they understood of what was to come.
How often in the NT is true and living faith in Christ described as a conviction of Christ’s willingness and ability to help – as no one else can – that it refuses to take “no” for an answer. These are men who believed in Christ’s power to save them.
v.32 By stopping and attending to these blind beggars Jesus is once more overturning and repudiating the popular understanding of what the Messiah would be and would do.
v.33 If you were blind is this not what you would ask for?
There is no account of the giving of sight to the blind in the OT, no such miracle performed by Moses or Elijah or Elisha. Nor is there any such miracle reported in the NT as having been performed by the apostles after Pentecost. But there are more miracles of this type – giving sight to the blind – reported among the healing miracles of the Lord than of any other type of healing miracle. Perhaps that is because in the Old Testament, giving sight to the blind was not only something that God alone could do, but further, something that the Messiah would do!
“Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” [Isa. 35:5]
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight…I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind and to free captives from prison… [Isa. 42:7]
To open the eyes of the blind is supremely a revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah.
But, as we have also often noticed, the Lord’s miracles were important not only for the proof they provided of the Lord’s credentials as the Messiah, they were also pictures of the salvation that Jesus had come into the world to provide. The dead being raised, the demon possessed being restored to sound mind, the leper cleansed, and the blind given his sight are not only astonishing works of divine power, works that no one could perform but someone who had been given power from on high, but all are ways in which the Bible describes the nature of salvation. We are dead in sins and in Christ we are made alive. We are slaves of the Devil but Christ sets us free. We are impure, as the leper, but Christ makes us clean. And we are blind – we cannot see the truth about God, about the world, about ourselves, about the way of salvation – and Christ opens our eyes to see the truth that sets men free.
In the case of the man born blind, whose healing John records in the 9th chapter of his Gospel, this point is made explicitly: the granting sight to the blind in the physical sense, miracle that it was, was a picture of the giving of spiritual sight to the spiritually blind. There Jesus said,
“For this I have come into this world,, so that the blind will
see and those who see will become blind.” [v. 39]
The Lord was speaking to the intransigent Pharisees and telling them that no matter how good their physical vision, they were blind spiritually, and the proof was that the Son of God was standing in front of them and they couldn’t see him for what he was, no matter the miracles, no matter the truth that was on his lips, no matter the perfect goodness of his life. He said that if they thought they were seeing, as they did, they would remain blind.
Think of our friend, John Rug, the missionary to Chile, who also was born blind, was born blind in both senses, but later as a young man was given sight by the Lord Jesus Christ. For some years yet he will not be able to see in the physical sense, but he has for many years been able to see in the more important sense. Indeed, those who know John will say of him that he has very acute vision when it comes to seeing the truth and the light that is in Jesus Christ. And, in the same way, we know many people who have very good eyesight, but who are blind as bats when it comes to seeing what is truly and eternally important.
Well it is this point that is made here also in Matthew. You will have noticed the last two words of our text: these two men whom Jesus had healed of their blindness followed him. Those are potent words in Matthew. These men became Christ’s followers right then and there. We might have expected them to go to the city and seek out their relatives and see their homes for the first time, but they followed Jesus. They became followers of Jesus and, in so doing, they proved that they saw more clearly who Jesus was and what he had come into the world to do than did the multitudes on the road that day who had never been blind but who couldn’t see the truth when it was standing before them and being demonstrated in the most spectacular ways. They followed Jesus. They knew that their lives must from this point on be bound up with him. They knew that physical sight was, by no means, the only thing, it was not even the most important thing they would receive from him.
So, in this marvelous event, we have the entire message of the gospel summed up. Christ Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah sent into the world to bring salvation to human beings who all are in desperate need of salvation and who cannot save themselves. What all men are summoned to do is to acknowledge that Jesus Christ and he alone has eternal life in his hands, he and he alone brings the truth which sets men and women free, and then to seek that life and that truth from hand and set out to living according to it. Alas, there are many human beings who would rather starve than come to any feast that is set by the Son of God, who would rather remain in darkness if the price of seeing the light is to confess that one is as needy and has been as bad as Christ says. But, there are those who, by God’s grace, see themselves blind and hungry and sick and see Christ offering sight, a feast, and eternal health, and they take it from their hands and the rest of their lives they are found telling others, “I was blind, but now I see.”
Some of us in this church this morning know how great can be the difference between poor eyesight and good eyesight. I distinctly remember the time I discovered that my eyesight was deteriorating. I was standing in our downstairs family room, before a picture window that opened on the woods behind our house. I happened, for some reason, to put on my mother’s glasses, and suddenly, in an instant, what had been indistinct, really a blur, was sharp and clear. Each leaf stood out, each blade of grass. I had so long lived with poor eyesight that I had no idea how little I saw.
I had a similar experience a few years ago. For many years since that day I put on my mother’s glasses I wore glasses or contact lenses, but several years ago I had the new laser surgery on my eyes. I had very poor eyesight without correction. 20/700 in one eye; 20-800 in another. Without glasses or contact lenses, the world was a blur. When I took my glasses off to go into the room where the procedure was to be done, the entire room became a blur. There were numbers and letters on the large TV screen above and beyond the laser machine that displayed for the doctor certain information of importance to him, but I couldn’t see any of that. It was all gray fuzz to me.
But, a few minutes later I sat up after the procedure was completed on both my eyes and there was the data on the screen, there was the doctor’s face, there was the room in all of its detail. Now, I had not been blind before. Because of glasses and contact lenses I had been able to see very well. But, what a difference between my natural sight and my corrected vision! Imagine what it must have been for those men as they stood up able to see for the first time – no doubt able to see with perfectly sharp vision. Imagine what it must have been for them to see everything for the first time, see what everything looked like that they had only had described to them before; saw colors, saw faces, saw the city of Jericho, saw their parents, their siblings, and their homes. Don’t you imagine that all that day long and for some days after, they would have closed their eyes to imagine themselves back in their blindness and then open them to exult in their being able at last to see? I bet those fellows wore people out over the next weeks talking endlessly about how everything appeared to them that they had never been able to see before. How different the appearance of things must have been to what they had imagined during the years, never having been able to see, never knowing what anything looked like! There were two happy men!
Well, it is not hard, is it, to see how similar it must be for a man who has been spiritually blind, but, through faith in Christ, now sees things as they truly are with the clearest vision, whose eyes the Lord Christ has opened by his Holy Spirit. How many Christians, through the ages, have thought of their salvation in just these terms: “I was blind, but now I see.”
Thomas Halyburton, one of the great figures of Scottish Christianity in the 18th century, in his magnificent autobiography, describes his coming to faith in Christ as a young man in just this way. Indeed, here is the way he begins his account:
“I cannot be very positive about the day or hour of this deliverance, nor can I satisfy many other questions about the way and manner of it. But this is of no consequence, if the work is in substance sound, for ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth; and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” (John iii. 8) Many things about the way and manner we may be ignorant of, while we are sufficiently sure of the effects. As to these things, I must say with the blind man, ‘I know not: one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Through the reading of the Word of God and praying for light, the Lord came to him and opened his eyes near the end of January in 1698. And that is how he puts it and how he thought about his conversion. It was an opening of his blind eyes. Indeed words like “see” and “sight” are found all through the account. And true Puritan that he was, he proceeded to describe in nine particulars. He says it was 1) a heavenly light, it shone above me, it opened heaven to me, and led me up, as it were, to heaven; 2) a true light, exposing the falsehoods about himself and the world and God that he had so long entertained; 3) a pleasant light; 4) a distinct and clear light; 5) a satisfying light; 6) a refreshing and healing light, it warmed him and his life; 7) a great light; 8) a powerful light, dissipating the thick darkness that had overspread his mind; and 9) a composing light; not like lightning that appears in a moment and disappears leaving terror behind, but composed and quieted his soul that had been troubled about so many things. Then he concludes, “…I know that no words can express the notion that the weakest Christian, who has his eyes opened, really has of [the glory of this light.] … No words can convey a true notion of light to the blind; and he that has eyes…will need no words to describe it.” [Memoirs, 99-104]
Don’t you suppose that the blind men to whom the Lord gave sight would have described their experience in very similar terms? And, don’t you know that, finally, they exulted far more in the spiritual sight that they had been given, the knowledge of Christ and salvation, than the sight of his eyes. I guarantee you that more than once in the remaining years of those men’s lives they told people that they would rather have remained blind all their days if in their physical blindness they had been given to see Christ and the way to heaven than to be given their eyesight but never the sight of Christ or heaven.
Is it not extraordinary, brothers and sisters, that we in our modern world, so different in many ways from the world of Jericho in the first century, should understand immediately what happened to those two men, should find their experience immediately relevant to our own. How little the world has really changed, because the human heart has not changed. How perfectly the Bible describes the universal experience of man in sin and man in salvation!
I hope we are all touched by the wonder of this miracle and the glorious effect it had upon these two men. I hope we see afresh and anew the wonder of God’s grace that has given us sight when otherwise we would have remained blind. The world is full of blind people with 20/20 eyesight. They walk through this world utterly oblivious to the spiritual world all around them, to God their Creator, to the looming day of judgment, to heaven or hell that awaits every person at the end. How wonderful when such a man or a woman is given to see! To see God and Christ and the way that leads to the world of everlasting joy! We’ve seen people get their sight and there is nothing more wonderful in all the world!
But there is something more here that deserves our careful attention. Matthew makes a point of saying that Jesus healed these blind men because he had compassion on them. This great deliverance, the physical one and the far greater eternal and spiritual one that it symbolized, came to these two benighted men living in darkness because Jesus had compassion on them.
This is not the only place in the Gospel where a great healing was performed because Jesus had compassion on the sufferer. In 9:36 we are told that Christ’s preaching of the good news to the crowds was motivated by his compassion for them in their lostness. In 14:14 we read that Christ healed the sick that were brought to him in large numbers because he had compassion on them. In 15:32 we read that he provided food for the 4000 because he had compassion on that Gentile company.
The word that is translated “had compassion on” in the NIV is connected with the noun for the entrails, the viscera, the inner organs which, in that culture were regarded as the seat of the emotions. One scholar of the language of the New Testament writes that, in distinction from the word “heart,” this is “a more blunt, forceful and unequivocal term.” [TDNT, vii, 549] It is interesting, by the way, that Greeks thought of strong emotion ordinarily in terms of anger; Christians, on the other hand, thought of compassion. [Morris, 238] This word, “have compassion” is always connected with Jesus in the New Testament. What we have here is not mere human pity, but divine compassion for troubled people filling a human heart. We have the heart of the Son of God going out to those in great need.
Now if, as we have said, we have here not only the record of one of the breathtaking miracles that Jesus performed but a picture of salvation coming to lost men, then this compassion is part of that beautiful picture. How does the life-giving power of God in Christ come to men and women in our day?
“We are fooling ourselves if we [think] that we can ever make the authentic gospel popular … It’s too simple in an age of rationalism; too narrow in an age of pluralism; too humiliating in an age of self-confidence; too demanding in an age of permissiveness…. What are we going to share with our friends? [Dudley Smith, John Stott, ii, 267]
We can share the light, the sight that Christ gave to these blind men with the blind men around us. We cannot give physical sight to the blind, but we can shed the light on the spiritual blindness of those around us. But what will make them pay attention to us and receive our words? If we speak for the same reason that Jesus did so. Love breaks into blindness like nothing else. Love can make a self-confident man realize his terrible need, a man who thinks he sees suddenly realize that he has lived his whole life in darkness.
The world around us is full of the blind. I was at Safeco Field Friday night, the stadium full of thousands of folk, eating, drinking, having fun – most of whom did not know their right hand from their left, were blind to the sight of all that is truly, eternally important. They are not crying out on purpose, in many cases, as these blind men did near Jericho, but their circumstances are evidence of their darkness. Their condition is obvious enough to us. We can see that they cannot see. We can often see the misery that must be endured by the blind. Surely, we who have received Christ’s love should have compassion for those who are as we were and who must remain so unless someone should bring the light to them. Does the love of Christ constrain us?
How shall we become compassionate as he was? How shall we have the power to cut through the darkness in which so many live?
Nothing is more likely to make it a power in our lives – this compassion for others – than simply to stare long and hard at those two happy men who got up from the side of the road where they had spent so many long, miserable days, got up to follow Jesus, every now and then kicking up their heels unable to believe that they could really see! And not only see, but live and live forever. Surely any Christian must want to see many others as happy as that!