In Luke 18, we learn about Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who sought Christ’s mercy in hope that his sight could be restored. Helpless to rectify his hopeless circumstances, Bartimaeus faced a version of our own spiritual dilemma. Alistair Begg reminds us that, like the beggar, we also need Christ’s divine power to open our spiritually blind eyes. If we bring our sin before Christ and call out to Him for mercy, we too can be saved from sin’s darkness.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Can I invite you, then, to turn to those verses that we read a moment ago? And as you turn to them, we’ll just seek God’s help in prayer:
Father, I do pray that you will be our teacher as we take these moments, and that as we anticipate those who will testify to your grace and goodness to them in baptism, we ask that you will use this sacred time to speak to our waiting hearts, that we might hear your voice and understand and obey. To the glory of your great name we ask it. Amen.
Jesus and his disciples, we’re told here by Luke, are on their way to Jerusalem. It is now their final journey, and it will end in the crucifixion, the death, of the Lord Jesus Christ. And en route, they find themselves in Jericho, a small town some twenty miles to the east of Jerusalem. It was famous for a while for its palm trees, for its balsam, and it was, at least at the time when Josephus wrote, a populous place and a flourishing place. It no longer is so today. But at this time there would have been plenty going on.
And it is as Jesus makes this journey and as he comes into the environs of Jericho that we encounter two men. These two men have a divine appointment of which they know nothing, which is to be meeting with the Lord Jesus in what was to be his final journey through this region. The men are marked by different things, but both of them share this in common with one another, in that they both had difficulty in seeing Jesus. The second of the two individuals, of whom we read in chapter 19, Zacchaeus, was wanting to see Jesus, we’re told in verse 3, “but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.” That was his difficulty. He was too small, the crowd was too large, and it was impossible for him, from his normal vantage point, to see anything of Christ, whom he desperately was wanting to see.
In the case of the other man, of course, his ability to see was totally impaired. Because as Luke records for us—as do Matthew, incidentally, and Mark as well—this man was blind. And indeed, on top of his blindness, he also was impaired in his ability to reach Jesus on account of the crowd that was following him. And it should be a cause for some concern when the crowds that are following the Lord Jesus Christ are making it difficult for others to meet Jesus. It would be a dreadful thing to think that the church here at Parkside, in its desire to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, became so enamored with what we were doing and how we were doing and how many of us were doing it that we actually unwittingly began to impede the ability of people to make contact with the very Christ we are following. The disciple who impedes the way to his master is surely a contradiction in terms.
Now, our focus is on this blind individual. Blind people, I have noticed—and I’m not sure that “blind” now is a politically correct term, and so let me just apologize in advance for not knowing what the right term is. I’ve never seemed to think that there was anything wrong with the straightforward term. But nevertheless, those folks who have been unable to see with their eyes usually have heightened listening skills. They are usually very, very perceptive of what is going on around them. And of course, part of this is developed over time, because they have to use the rest of their senses as an ability to glean information which others of us are able to take in through eye gate, which they themselves are unable to do.
And so this man, as a result of his ability to hear, had first of all “heard the crowd.” You wouldn’t have to be too astute to recognize that there was a certain movement through the town, and it was recognizable to him that there were large numbers of people who were all together, and they were making their journey through. He also was able to hear the explanation that was given to him when he inquired as to the nature of the crowd. He would have been able to detect a crowd; he wouldn’t have known why there was a crowd. And when he asked about it—when “he asked,” as Luke says in verse 36, “what was happening”—“they told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’”
Now, it would appear that he had also been listening to lots of other things that had been said about this Jesus of Nazareth. Because when he combines all that he has heard—namely, the coming of the crowd with the information concerning Jesus of Nazareth and the other information that he had put together over the course of time—all of this causes him to shout out. Now, we know that he was a blind man and also that he was a beggar, and so he would not have been unfamiliar with the necessity of calling. But it would appear from the way in which he is described, particularly in the other Gospels, that he was a well-known figure—in fact, the phraseology is “Bartimaeus the blind”—that he probably was known in the community, as one might expect, and he would have been common knowledge to people. They would have passed him without giving him a thought, in the way that we would pass routine situations in our days.
And so, although he would have called, and although they would have been familiar with his call, this shout was going to have to be extraordinary. And that’s exactly what it was. He wasn’t calling out for cash. He wasn’t calling out for them to do anything for him. He began to call out, quite dramatically, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Now, I hope you find it interesting that although when he asked what was going on, they told him it was Jesus of Nazareth, as soon as he begins to shout, he doesn’t cry for “Jesus of Nazareth,” but he cries for “Jesus,” the “Son of David.” Is there significance in this? Yes, I think there is. Because this designation was the designation which was used by the multitude on the occasion when Jesus made what we refer to as his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And you will recall that on that day, the people spread their garments in the way, they took palm branches as they waved to him, and they cried out with loud voices, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”And as Jesus then subsequently goes to the temple, and as a group of individual, many blind and lame, come to him, “the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’” and “they were indignant.” Their concern was not first of all with the dramatic miracles which Christ was performing, but their concern was with the fact that the very children were giving him a messianic designation. And they said to one another, “Do you hear what the children are singing? They’re saying to one another, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’” In other words, they are affirming the messiahship of this Jesus of Nazareth.
And indeed, since no good thing came out of Nazareth, “Jesus of Nazareth” was like a contemptuous term, in much the same way that when you travel the country, people say derogatory things about Cleveland: “Oh, you don’t come from there, do you? Is there anything good there at all?” It’s out of ignorance, but nevertheless, they do say that. And so it was true that this Jesus, who had come from Nazareth, when he was referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth,” was often spoken to in a derogatory fashion.
But this blind man, when he begins to call on him, calls to him with this messianic designation. And his shouting makes clear two things.
First of all, that he knows himself to be in need of mercy. That’s why he actually says, “Have mercy on me!” In this respect, he is like the man whom Jesus had encountered just very few days before, when the tax collector, earlier in Luke chapter 18, “would[n’t] even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” And this blind man knew that he was hopeless, and he knew that he was helpless. His circumstances were absolutely miserable: he was blind, and he was begging, and he had absolutely no ability to transform his circumstances. And so he shouts out and he cries for mercy.
So, he is aware, then, of his need of mercy, and he is also equally clear concerning Jesus’ ability to meet his need. Isn’t that the interesting thing? That while you would have found in this crowd, if you could had interviewed them on the streets of Jericho, people who were there for all kinds of reasons—some who understood and were devoted; some who had just got caught up in the crowd, as happens with crowds; some of them who understood that whoever this man was, there was something about him. But here this blind man, who is unable to see him physically, seems to have such a grasp of who he is. And in shouting in this way, he acknowledges the ability of Jesus to provide the mercy that he requires.
Now, inherent in this story, of course, is the fact that Jesus’ great concern is not with the physical blindness of this individual but is with the spiritual blindness not only of this man but of all men and women. And this man, in his cry, reminds us of what it is necessary to know to become a Christian. And we say this often, repetitively and purposefully. What do I need to know to cry out to Christ to have mercy upon me? Two things: one, that I am a great sinner; and two, that Christ is a great Savior. And this man knows himself to be in great need, and he recognizes also that Christ has the ability to meet his need. And so he shouts!
Now, what is to happen? What is the response to be? Where is Jesus in this? How will he be responded to? Well, we’re told in verse 39 that “those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet.” Now, who would be leading the way, do you think? Who would be up at the head of the queue? Most likely the disciples themselves. After all, they were the number one through twelve in line to follow Jesus Christ. They were one through twelve in line for takeoff, as it were. If he was going, they were going, and the rest would fall in behind. They would be ready to minister to him, to respond to him, and to do what they felt was right to do. And we can only assume that they felt that it was right for them to turn around and to rebuke the man and to tell him, “Listen, Bartimaeus,” as he’s referred to in the other Gospels, “why don’t you just be quiet?”
Not very nice, really, is it? It’s a dreadful incongruity when those who are the closest to the Lord Jesus hear people shouting out for Jesus and turn round and tell the people to shut up: “Shut up and get back to your spot!”
Now, what in the world possessed them to do this? Well, who knows! I mean, there are all kind… You could sit and write a list as long as your sleeve. Maybe they were in a hurry to get to Jerusalem, and they simply didn’t want to be delayed. Maybe they didn’t think that yelling like this was in keeping with the dignity of their master, and they didn’t like this shouting out; they liked a little more decorum. Or maybe they weren’t ready to hear Jesus proclaimed as the Son of David. Maybe they had begun to put the pieces together and realized that when Jesus said that he must now go up to Jerusalem and suffer and die at the hands of cruel men, anything that would set that forward was something they didn’t want to see, and since a messianic designation such as “Son of David” would further antagonize the authorities, perhaps they just wanted him to be quiet because of that. I think in that we’d be a little kind to them. Or perhaps it was that as Jesus walked, he taught. I’m sure he did. And since he was both walking and teaching, this man was just a jolly nuisance, because they were listening to what Jesus was saying, and they didn’t want to be interrupted.
Now, what then is the man to do? That’s a real kairos moment, isn’t it? It’s a real moment in time. You’re sitting there, as you’ve been sitting for so long in your life. You’re in a hopeless, helpless, miserable, wretched situation. A crowd comes by. You inquire who it is; they say, “It’s Jesus of Nazareth.” You have had an inkling that this Jesus is the very Messiah of God, and so you shout out with all your might, “Oh, hey, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the people who should know better turn around and tell you, “Hey, we don’t need any of that nonsense. Just you sit there and be quiet. We have places to go and people to see.”
Now, what are you going to do? Well, if your interest is simply casual, then you’ll just be quiet and wait for the next guru to come along. If your notion is that there’ll be another like this coming a little later, then I needn’t be concerned. I mean, if there are five trains coming, and I miss this one, at least I can get one of the other four. But if this is the last train and the only train, then I need to do everything that I possibly can to get on board. A train’s probably not a good illustration, but an aeroplane is. And you see these business souls—poor, frantic souls—standing, pleading with the gate clerk, “But you’ve got to let me on this plane! You don’t understand what will happen to me in New York if you don’t let me on this plane.” And unfeeling and disinterested, they stand apparently, seemingly, almost enjoying it and saying, “I’m dreadfully sorry, sir, but the plane has already pulled back.” And you can see the jolly thing there, larger than life, jammed right up against the terminal wall. And some of the things that the men say are not for your scrapbooks, I can assure you.
Well, this man was not going to let this pass. We’re told that “he shouted all the more.” In other words, he got more frequent, and presumably, he got a little louder.
I quote it often, but I think it’s a good quote. It’s either Brutus to Cassius or Cassius to Brutus; I need to look it up. But I know it’s in Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
And this man had the sense: “Here is a moment in my life, and I must seize this moment. And although the crowd dissuade me, and although these people try and shut me up, I know this: that this Son of David can have mercy on me. And if I can only get to him, I believe that he will.”
And now “Jesus stopped,” and he “ordered the man to be brought to him.” You’ll look at that in verse 40. How the disciples must have felt absolutely sheepish! How, in their smugness, they were saying, “Now, we want you just to be quiet. We’re moving along. Maybe be another occasion when we can talk. Jesus does not have time for you. Pardon, Jesus? What was that you were saying? No, we were just telling the man, Jesus, that you’re a busy man, and we are off to Jerusalem. Sorry? Okay, right! Well, we’ll get right at that. Yes. All right. Uh… Change of plans, sir. Cheer up! Get on your feet. He’s calling you.”
So Jesus reproves the reprovers—for the second time in a remarkably short period of time! Because these same goons had done the same thing to the mothers who were bringing their babies to have Jesus touch them. And they said the same thing: “Get the kids out of here! Jesus does not have time to touch your children.” But the principle is simply this: that these disciples thought they knew best. And so, for the second time in a relatively short period of time, they themselves are rebuked by Christ.
Actually, in Mark’s Gospel, the way in which it is recorded in Mark chapter 10 has a real dynamic to it, the way this little discussion ensues: “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet”—that’s verse 48—“but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’”
Now, what was his response to be? “Oh, now, that’s very nice. Well, if you’ll just give me a little minute or two, Jesus, I’ll get over to you as soon as I can. I just had a number of people show up, and they’re putting some money in the bag at the moment, and when I get taken care of this, then I’ll be over. And that’s very… Hey, thank you for stopping! I’ll be right with you.” No. Look at what it says: “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and [he] came to Jesus.” You get the immediacy of it? He threw it. He jumped. He came. Chucked it, jumped, and came. Just the very expressions make it so clear! He’s there in an instant: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Shut up and be quiet.” “He’s calling you! On your feet! Cheer up and come!” Chucks his cloak aside and he’s there—unable to see him but there in his presence.
And Jesus, knowing all the time the needs of the man, says to him, “What is it that you want?” “What do you want me to do for you?” And he says, “Lord, I want to see.” And Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”
Now, you know your Bibles well enough to know that it wasn’t the man’s faith that created his healing, but his faith was the means by which he received his healing. For the very faith he enjoyed was a gift from God in the first place. And verse 43: “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus,” and “praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.”
Now, here’s the point: whoever, like the blind man, in consciousness of our own sin and blindness and misery, is prepared to cry out to Christ wholeheartedly for his mercy, will be certainly healed of spiritual blindness through the word of his power.
Is there someone here tonight, and this blind man is a classic illustration of you? Your circumstances you know to be absolutely hopeless, and you feel yourself helpless to rectify them. You may even have come to worship tonight in the thought that there will be something here, perhaps, that would help you on your journey—maybe a little lift, maybe a little encouragement, just something someone would say. It may even be that as you’ve come in, you have been overawed by the group that is around you, and you felt somehow or another in the singing that you weren’t drawn near but that you were pushed back. Well then, I want to say to you, “Cheer up. On your feet. He’s calling for you.” And all that you need to admit is the fact of your spiritual blindness, and he will come in his mercy and make you see.
Father, open our eyes that we may behold wonderful things out of your Word. And as we hear these testimonies of those who have been turned from darkness to light, open our hearts to your truth, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 See Mark 10:46.
 See Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–44; John 12:12–19.
 Matthew 21:9 (NIV 1984). See also Mark 11:10.
 Matthew 21:15 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 21:16 (paraphrased).
 See John 1:46.
 Luke 18:13 (NIV 1984).
 See Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31.
 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 4.3.
 See Matthew 19:13; Mark 10:13; Luke 18:15.
 Mark 10:50 (NIV 1984).
 See Psalm 119:18.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.