Believing is Seeing
Often when it comes to Pres. politics our focus is primarily on the man or woman running for office. We get bombarded with stories about them…bombarded with speeches and insights into who they are and what they pledge to do.
But, we all know that behind every president is a team of people who are really governing the country. Few dramas have gotten the essence of that right…but the West Wing did. That show remains one of my all-time favorites for both the topical nature and the artistic aspects of it.
There’s an iconic scene in one episode where the President is tired of caving to the demands of his party…tired of caving to the demands of the press…tired of caving to the demands of doners and special interests and he finally decides to be himself…to govern as he promised to govern regardless of the political consequences. He gathers his staff together and lays out the plan essentially asking them to sign on or bail out. They all in succession answer, “I serve at the pleasure of the president” thereby strengthening their combined zeal for serving their country. As the seasons of the show progress it is clear that working in the white house is an all consuming job. They have no personal lives…their needs are on hold while they serve the president…everything they do seemingly is run through the lens of their work in the white house.
Sure, that’s probably unhealthy but its also a picture of what discipleship is like. We look at those who’s passions consume them and we think theyre crazy…they’re not taking care of themselves…they’re going to burn out. Yes, in pursuit of wordly things that is true…but not so of discipleship. As disc. we are called to passionately live for the glory of Christ…and that passion begins to grow the moment we come to him.
This is NT Jerhico near, but not located in the same place as OT Jerhico, the first place conquered by the Israelites in the land of promise and one of the oldest human settlements in the world.
Jerhico was a wealthy city, along a major trade route. It was known for the production of balms for its date palms. Oasis with abundant springs in the midst of the desert.
Jesus is on the move, does not linger long in Jerhico. Remember the determination Mark has been showing in Jesus…his focus is on Jerusalem.
And he continues to not be alone…not only are his disciples with him, but as Mark tells us a great crowd. This is the same crowd that gathers in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday…many people from Galilee and Jordan River valley who have followed him on his journey to Jerusalem.
Mark tells us that as he was leaving there was a blind beggar sitting by the roadside. This story is also in the other two synoptic gospels. In Matthew there are two beggars, in Luke just 1…but neither mention anyone by name. Mark’s use of the name Bartimaeus is unique not only within the gospels, but certainly within Mark.
Here we get another glimpse into Mark’s audience…because the way the name is presented is somewhat redundant. Mark tells us his name is Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. But, Bartimaeus already means Son of Timaeus. See the bar? Bar as in son…like Bar Mitzva…son of the covenant…or Simon Bar Jonah. So, Mark is telling us his name is Son of Timaeus and he is the son of Timaeus. Clearly Mark is adding this somewhat redundant explanation for the benefit of his Gentile readers who would have been unfamilar with the naming customs of the Jews. But, what is further interesting is that this name, is a combination of Hebrew and Greek. So, it seems as though Mark is emphasizing Jesus’ ministry continues to be to both Jew and Gentile
Though we cannot be certain of Mark’s purposes, we do know naming him gives even further credibility, as if we needed it, to Mark’s story.
He tells us the man was sitting by the roadside. This would have been common, especially on a major route going from such a wealthy city like Jerhico to Jerusalem. People would have been extra generous on their way to worship at the Temple…so what better place to beg for alms.
But Mark is doing more than communicating to us his physical location. Sitting by the roadside begging also tells us his place in society. As a poor, blind man he is marginalized…he is sidelined from society. Here is a man who has no status, no clout.
Yet, sitting there listening to people walk by he learned about what was going on in Israel at the time. When he heard it was Jesus walking by he knew exactly who he was.
“[the text] reads “Jesus of Nazareth,” but the Greek is not “Nazareth” (Nazaret) as in 1:9, which doubtlessly designates a place name (see further at 6:1), but “Nazarene” (Nazarēnos; so 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; see further at 1:24). At the first (1:24) and last (10:47) healing miracles in the Gospel Mark designates Jesus as “the Nazarene.” In both instances the term probably connotes more than Jesus’ place of origin. A similar expression is used of Samson in (LXX, A text), who is called naziraios theou, God’s powerfully anointed one. Mark’s use of the term “Nazarene” in the healing stories of 1:24 and 10:47 may also carry connotations of Jesus’ powerful anointing by God.”
Knowing it was Jesus, Bartimaeus begins to cry out… This isn’t an “um, excuse me sir” No, this man is crying out…he is beginning to make a scene as we might say.
Notice he calls him Son of David. This is clearly a messianic reference. It is amazing that this marginalized, ostracized man sitting by the roadside in Jerhico has the insight to understand who Jesus is…that he truly is the son of David. What this man lacks in physical sight he clearly makes up for in perception. As good NT readers we can tell the HS is already at work in this man.
With his pleading he draws attention from the crowd following Jesus. They try to silence him. Remember, they’ve seen Jesus’ lazer sharp focus in going to Jerusalem. In their minds, Jesus does not need to be bothered by this blind beggar. He was bigger, more important things to do.
Yet, that doesn’t make him lose heart. Instead, Mark tells us be begins to cry out all the more. If he wasn’t making a spectacle before, now he is.
And it stops Jesus in his tracks. As one commentator noted: “How remarkable that the Son of Man allows the cries of a poor and powerless person to stop him in his tracks.”
He commands the man be brought to him, so now the crowd changes their tune in verse 49.
Wasting no time the man throws off his outer garments and rushes to Jesus. Details are important in Mark. What he cast off was the outer robe worn over top of what was called a chiton…which was like an inner garment. Essentially the picture we have is this blind beggar standing in front of Jesus in his underwear. We have a picture of total vulnerability.
Jesus speaks asking him, “what do you want me to do for you?” Readers will remember this is the exact same question Jesus asked James and John in verse 36. But, where they asked for extraordinary status and power…this name simply asks for sight. I say simply because he request just seems so pure, so basic. Don’t get me wrong…a miracle of giving sight to the blind is nothing to scoff at…but what is extraordinary here is the simple request. He didn’t ask for wealth or status…he didn’t ask for anything more than what is taken for granted by most…the ability to see.
But, how is asks further reveals what he knows and believes about Jesus. Depending on your translations, you may see it or you may not. If you have a NKJV or an NASB you will see it…if you have KJV, NIV, ESV it won’t be as clear. The word Mark uses here for what Bartimaeus calls Jesus isn’t Rabbi but Rabboni. Yes, the same word used by Mary when she sees Jesus at the empty tomb. It is a more reverant term for Rabbi. As one theologian noted, “In Jewish literature rabbouni is seldom used with reference to humanity, and practically never as a form of address. It is frequently used as an address to God in prayer, however.” So we see very clearly that Bartimaeus can spiritally see far more than he can physically. He knows exactly who he is addressing…and knows he can grant this simple request if it is according to his will. And note too the request…it isn’t a question as to whether Jesus can…it is a statement.
Clearly it was since Jesus answers him in verse 52. Made you well can be translated healed…or also saved. In other words, Mark is showing us that not only was this man’s blindness cured…so was his heart. In fact, I think it is pretty clear in Mark’s telling of this story that this man was given spiritual healing of sight before he received physical healing of sight. God’s grace was given to this man for him to know and perceived who Jesus was.
There is no doubt Mark has arranged this material to contrast with the request of James and John, and even the other disciples. They wanted status and power…all this man wanted was sight. There’s much we can learn from Bartimaeus. Let me suggest three lessons about discipleship from this story.
Jesus has a razor sharp focus on getting to Jerusalem…but Bartimaeus has a razor sharp focus on Jesus. Once he knew who it was walking by him…his passionate focus fell upon Jesus. There was seemingly nothing else that mattered to him at that moment. Just think about the scene…Jesus has passed by and there are throngs of people following him. It is probably noisy and distraction…disorienting to someone who cannot see. Yet, Bartimaeus tunes all that out and focuses intently on Jesus. Nothing was going to get in his way.
Jesus should be the all consuming passion of his followers. When we come to Christ ultimately all things should be viewed through the lens of following Christ. Nothing we do, say, think, etc. should be independent from our Master.
This is what Paul is getting at in  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)
The preeminence of Christ means that to his disciples he is not just first…he is before everything. In other words…Jesus isn’t just the most important person in our lives…he is our life. We don’t have a list of priorities with Jesus being #1…no, instead…if Christ is preeminent…that means he is in every priority. It means Christ-centered marriage, CC parenting, CC employment, CC recreation, CC yardwork, etc.
Yet, so often we are distracted. Unlike Bart. we allow the crowds to distract us. We think, well, maybe Jesus isn’t right in this situation. Though maybe not in a million years would we ever say so if asked…nevertheless our actions sometimes speak louder than our words. We don’t focus passionately on our savior. Instead, our passions are elsewhere.
There was no doubt in Bart. that Jesus could heal him. He came to Jesus in reverence seeking to regain his sight. What he didn’t already know is that Jesus had healed his heart. Jesus had given this man far more than eyes to see…he gave him a heart to love and honor God.
The key lesson here is humility. There was not an ounce of pride in Bart.’s appeal. He stood before Jesus as a blind beggar…one of the lowest in society…and he stood before him in his undergarments. There was no pretense…there was nothing hidden. Bart. stood before his Maker knowing he had nothing to offer. Here he was a man with nothing seeking the gift of sight from the very Son of David.
As Jesus has shown time and again, he did not come to minster to those that had it all, but rather to those who had nothing. He came to the sick, the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized. Remember his words from the sermon on the mount…blessed are the poor in spirit...
The disciple of Jesus recognizes their poverty of spirit. No matter how we find ourselves in society’s eyes…the truth is apart from Christ we are spirially dead. When it comes to righteousness, we have nothing to offer. Spiritally speaking we’re all like Bart. standing before our Maker as beggars in our bathrobes.
Yet, that is precisely who Jesus came to save. He says he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance in .
So often though, instead of humbly receiving from Jesus we instead pridefully demand. We find ourselves identifying more with the Sons of Thunder than the blind beggar. We put on an aire of spirital superiority and begin thinking God owes us something. But, even with Martin Luther’s dying words, “we are all beggars, this is true” we must realize we have nothing good in ourselves. Nothing we can offer is sufficient. Instead, we rely completely on Christ. He alone is our righteousness.
Go back with me to verse 52. Jesus tells him to go his way. But, what does Bart. do? He follows. Notice Jesus isn’t giving giving him a condition first. Jesus is not saying…if you will follow me you will be well. Instead. Jesus tells him to go on his way…he is healed…THEN he follows Jesus.
Don’t miss that. There are no preconditions for coming to Christ. Bart. simply receives by faith. He doesn’t first follow to prove himself…no, Jesus saves and heals then Bart. decides to follow. This too is how we are saved. We are not saved by deciding to follow Jesus…to say that is to rely on our own works. Instead, we are saved by grace through faith THEN we follow. It may seem like a subtle difference…but it is actually the difference between getting the gospel right or wrong.
There’s no other place Bart. wants to be than following Jesus on the road. He has been given not only the gift of sight but also a new heart that longs for his Master. Bart.’s life has been changed and he follows…that’s what disciples do…they willingly follow.
Bart. does not after receiving his sight go back to sit by the roadside. Can you imagine? He regains his sight…walks back over…puts back on his outer robe…picks up his cup and begins begging again? Surely someone would say, “what are you doing? Don’t you want to live a new life with this new sight?” “Nah, I’m good man, thanks” That would be crazy! Of course not…Bart. has moved from being marginaized on the side of the road to following Jesus on the road. That’s discipleship. From no life, to life....from hopelessness to hope.
Disc. know their Master’s way is the only way to life…and they follow. And going on between the lines here is the reality that the cross is beginning to cast a larger shadow over this journey.
So often though we find ourselves not so much following willingly, but lagging grudgingly. We’re walking at our own pace…stopping to smell the flowers, pick up a penny on the side of the road instead of following our Master with passion where he is going.
From Bart. story we know more about what disc. looks like. Disc. focus passionately, faithfully receive, and follow willingly. But, if you’re anything like me you have good days and bad. You have days where though you know this is discipleship, you’re distracted, prideful, and lagging behind.
But, the hope of the gospel is that we are not accepted by God based on how good we are as disciples. We’re not accepted by God on our discipleship discipline. As followers of Jesus we can be certain that we are accepted by God soley on the merits of Jesus Christ. We are justified not by our works, but by His. The hope of the gospel is that by grace through faith we have become partakers of this wonderful truth that Jesus alone saves.
But, though we are not accepted based on our discipleship…nevertheless God does desire us to follow…he does command us to grow as disciples. We are not free from the obligation to grow in our discipleship. The NT is full of commands to grow in godliness that are anchored in the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
Growing in discipleship is not optional. It is not something we can take or leave. Faith that does not lead to discipleship is not saving faith. Why? Because the grace of God that justifies us also sanctifies us. Santification is not optional…its a package deal…and Santification is nothing less than growing in discipleship.
Because of Jesus…because of his grace given to us by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit…we have the grace of Jesus to grow in discipleship free from the condemnation of not living up to God’s standards. In other words, we grow from victory not for victory. We don’t grow as disciples in order to win God over to us…we grow because God has already graciously saved us.
Here’s the bottom line: We are not saved by being good disciples; we are saved so that we would become good disciples.
And we do not do that on our own power alone…we have the grace of Christ to enable us to grow. Disc. is not sitting back and letting it all work out in the end…it is following Jesus on the road…the long uphill road to glory…enduring suffering…enduring hardship for his sake.
It means cultivating a life of passion, humility, and following him. It means fighting and killing indwelling sin…it means relying on the precious truth that you are no longer under condemnation but now in freedom follow willingly the way of life.
Let me close from this passage in 1 Peter that I think sums this up perfectly. I love how Peter and Mark line up so perfectly often…clearly showing how Mark was influenced by Peter in writing his gospel.
1 Peter 1:13–25 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,  knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you  who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Called to Be Holy
 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,  knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you  who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;  for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (ESV)