When blind Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus for mercy, Jesus' followers rebuked him. Like the disciples, we too can become exclusive in our Christianity, hindering the advancement of the Gospel. Alistair Begg teaches us that by nature, we are all blind to the truth. God’s willingness to open our spiritual eyes is not tied to our social status.
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
“Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, 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.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.
“The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’
“‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”
We pray, gracious God, that with our Bibles open before us, you will help us to understand what the text says and means, and then to respond to it in a way that is life-changing and so clearly applicable to the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. We ask humbly for your help in this regard. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Forty years ago, in the spring of 1971, I was given the dubious privilege of announcing to a group of ladies assembled in a small church in the east of Scotland, in a place called Dalkeith, something concerning the good news of the gospel. I was still in my teens, and I was somewhat overawed by the opportunity, not least of all because it was billed on the cards that were given out by way of invitation as a “Ladies’ Daffodil Tea.” And so I was invited to speak to a large group of ladies. Not a group of large ladies, but a large group—although some of them did fit that bill, as I remember. So there were a significant number of ladies, and an even greater number of daffodils that festooned the room.
Unbeknown to me, the minister of the church had slipped in at the back. And he was hiding down in the back pews, behind the women and the daffodils. Unsure of myself, my opening line was, “I have never spoken at a Ladies’ Daffodil Tea before.” And suddenly this deep voice from the back called out, “Well, take your chance while you’ve got it, Sonny!” And I’ve never forgotten that. The little minister decided that I needed all the encouragement that I could get: “Take your chance while you’ve got it, Sonny!”
Now, you say to yourself, “What possible relevance does that have to the story of a blind man outside of Jericho?” Well, I think I can explain to you, because I recalled this incident during the week. It came back to my mind, because as I read this passage, it seemed to me that this was exactly the circumstance confronting this blind man. This is presumably the only opportunity given to this man. It’s certainly the only one recorded; there’s no indication of anything that had preceded it, and certainly nothing that would follow it, of significance. And so it made me think, “I wonder if there will be some who are present at Parkside this coming Sunday for whom this is going to be your only opportunity.”
I don’t say that to be unduly solemn or to suggest that something dreadful is going to happen to anyone; I have no notion of that at all. But simply to recognize that in the course of events, while some of us assume that our lives will go on forever—that we can dillydally in the things of the Bible and the claims of Jesus—that the Scriptures make it clear to us that there will come a day when God’s Spirit will no longer strive with us, that it will be possible for us actually to hear the call of Jesus, to hear the claims of the Bible, and for it simply to be like rain on a corrugated tin roof. That is why the Bible always says, “Today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your hearts.” That’s why the insistent call of the gospel is always in the present tense. And the promise of the Bible is that “[all] who [call] on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And here we have the record of an individual who, if you like, seizes upon this one opportunity that is given to him to call out to Jesus in his need.
Now, what Mark has recorded for us here is the final healing miracle in his Gospel. And interestingly, it is the only healing miracle where the name of the one who is healed is actually given to us. And some of you say, “I’m not sure about that.” If you think about it, the names of relatives of those healed are given to us, but this is the only occasion where the one healed is named. And actually, his father is identified for us; his father’s name is Timaeus, and that’s why he’s called Bartimaeus, the Son of Timaeus.
And the significant thing about him is that he is a blind man. And if we simply take things at face value here—the record that is there for us in the few verses that we’ve read—we might be tempted to think that there is only one person in this incident who is blind. But in actual fact—and I wrote this in my notes as a heading—there is more than one blind man in this story. And I want you to notice this, first of all, because it is of fundamental importance. There is more than one blind man in the story.
And you’ll need to turn back a couple of pages in your Bible, to chapter 8, in order to understand what I’m saying in saying this. Because you need to go back to the feeding of the four thousand in chapter 8, and the deadness and dullness of the disciples that follow from that incident, to discover that Jesus is addressing them in 8:17. They’re still all confused about the bread and so on. And he asks them, in the third sentence of verse 17, “Do you still not see or understand?” “Do you still not see or understand?” And then in verse 18, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears and fail to hear?” And of course, the answer to that is, sadly, yes, that they do not see and that they are hearing, but they’re not understanding.
And then you have in Mark 8:22 the story of coming to Bethsaida and the people bringing a blind man to Jesus and asking Jesus to touch him. And then, if you recall—some of you with a good memory will recall—that when we studied this, we pondered why it was that Jesus heals this individual in two stages. Why is it that he touches him, and he says, “How can you see?” And he says, “Well, I see men as trees, walking.” And Jesus touches him again, and then he says, “And I see everything clearly.” And Jesus says, “Don’t tell anybody. Just don’t go into the village and just get on your way.”
Now, when we studied that, we realized that this was actually a sign, and it was a sign for the disciples. It was a sign for the disciples, because their spiritual sight was not coming to them instantaneously. Their spiritual sight was coming to them gradually—if you like, in stages. And so, when we continued, we then realized that immediately following the healing of the man in the two stages, you have the profession of Peter, there in verse 29: “Who do you say I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” Stage one! You say, “Well, they’re off to the races now.” But no, their grasp of what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah clearly is in need of further attention. And so what you then have in the ensuing chapters is the unfolding drama of the fact that the disciples are blind to the significance of that which they’re even professing.
Now, I don’t want to bore you with it, but you’ve got it immediately after Peter has professed Christ as Messiah, he then takes Jesus to task, because Jesus is explaining the significance of his messiahship in terms of suffering and death, and Jesus, verse 33, “turned … looked at his disciples … [and] rebuked Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’” Why does he say, “Get behind me, Satan”? Because he doesn’t get it. He’s blind to the significance of the messiahship of Jesus. When you go into chapter 9 and the transfiguration, you have Peter once again trying his best—you love this fellow, don’t you? But the best he can do with it is to suggest that we turn the place into a kind of retreat center. “Let’s have a conference center,” he says. “Let’s put up a number of buildings—one for Moses and one for Elijah and one for you as well.” He just doesn’t get it.
And as you proceed in the text, you find that in 9:38 they come back to Jesus, and John’s the speaker this time, and he says—Mark 9:38—“We saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because [he’s] not one of us.” They’re hoping for a gold star; they’re hoping for an attaboy. They’re hoping Jesus will say, “There you go, you’ve got it now. Now you know what I’m on about!” And what do they find? Verse 39: “‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said.” They are blind to the significance of it all.
Mark 10:13: And they “were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch [him], but the disciples rebuked them.” “We don’t want Jesus to be fiddling around here with children.” Jesus is “indignant.” He says to them, “You shouldn’t be doing this. Let the little children come to me. Don’t hinder them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as this.” And then he has to teach them again the upside-down values of the kingdom: “You think it’s for big shots; no, it’s not. You think if you push yourself to the front, you’re in; no, you won’t. You think that the way to up is up, but no, the way to up is down.”
And of course, we had it classically last time, didn’t we? Verse 35: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him … [And] they said, ‘We want you to do for us whatever we ask.’”
Are you prepared to accept my assertion that there is more than one blind man in this story? Right? In fact, the blind man is the least blind in the entire story.
And that’s why Jesus, as we saw last time, said to them, “This is the routine, of course, to act in this way; amongst the rulers of the Gentiles, they officially present themselves like this.” Verse 43: “[But] not so with you. [Because] whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Then he absolutely encapsulates it, verse 45: “For even the Son of Man”—speaking of himself—“did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Say, “Well, that pretty well wraps it up. They must have looked at one another and said, ‘Okay. We’re ready to go now. We’ve got it clear. Jesus has not come to be served but to serve. If you want to be first, you be the slave of all. Okay. Let’s get going now.’” And so we’re told, “Then they came to Jericho. [And] as Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man … was sitting [there] begging. … He began to shout.” Verse 48: “[And] many rebuked him and told him to be quiet.” How well is the “slave of all” thing working? How well is the “if you want to be first, you be the servant of all”? It’s not working at all.
In fact, it’s just regarded as a dreadful inconvenience. That’s the second thing I wrote in my notes. I wrote, “Oh, the inconvenience of it all!” First, that there is more than one blind man in the story, and then, “Oh, the inconvenience of it all!” Because the Passover is approaching, the crowd is building, the sense of anticipation is there. And so they know that there’s no time for stopping—and certainly not for stopping for the routine beggars that lie around at the gates. This is no time to be stopping for an individual like this. He’s always there. He would be known to the people in the outskirts of Jericho. The crowd, many of them, would have just seen him so often that they didn’t see him. “All the lonely people.” They didn’t see them anymore. No, they were so consumed with Jesus: “We’re going to the Passover. We’re with Jesus. We’re the group. We’re the leaders. We understand everything! Shut up! We’re with Jesus! Shut up!” How can you be a disciple of Jesus and become a barrier to people who want to meet the one of whom you’re a disciple? Could the church ever be a barrier to people actually coming, with their cries, to meet Jesus? Yes! Is it ever? Without question. That’s what makes this so staggering.
“I don’t want the inconvenience of inviting somebody over to Parkside Church. That’s a jolly nuisance. I’ve got to meet them. Then I’ve got to sit with them. I don’t know if I want to sit with them. Then I might have to take them for something to eat afterwards. Before I know it, then, man, I’m like a slave to this person. What am I gonna do that for? Let them hear the gospel somewhere else—get a radio, do something. No. It’s very inconvenient, this getting involved with people. And when I get involved with someone, I’m not getting involved with someone like this; I’m getting involved with someone that would be a good candidate. Somebody that would be, you know, maybe rich, maybe young, maybe kind of religious—like a rich young ruler! You know, the kind of person that Jesus is looking for. I could hang out with someone like that, maybe invite them. But I’m not going to deal with anybody down here.”
Oh, yeah, there’s more than one blind person here!
No, the great potential that was represented in the man that we saw before, as Jesus started on his way—the man ran up and asked all the right questions and so on—if Jesus sent that fellow away sad, the most qualified, from our perspective, of young men for a long time, then there’s certainly no need for us to spend any time fiddling around with this “most unproductive member of society.”
So look at the scene. It’s well described: few words, short sentences, excellently done. There was a blind man, Bartimaeus, “sitting … begging.” Just the verbs will get it. You’ll get it if you just look at the verbs. “Sitting … begging.” In other words, just doing what he did every day. Almsgiving in the time was the only hope that a person had—not dissimilar to certain parts of our world today. People would have brought him—perhaps friends or members of his family—put him in his routine spot by the roadside, and there he sat by the roadside, and he called out for people to respond to him in his need.
Verse 47: Since he couldn’t see, his ears would be doing double service. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he “began to shout.” That’s the next verb. Actually, that’s not the next verb. The next verb is “heard,” and then the next verb is “shout.” Sitting, begging, hearing, shouting. And interestingly, he shouts, using terminology that is actually unusual terminology—hasn’t ever emerged in Mark’s Gospel to this point—and he shouts out, “Son of David!” “Son of David!”
Now, we don’t know exactly until we meet this man—hopefully we’ll meet him—what it was that generated that in him. Maybe he figured, “I’ve only got one chance at getting Jesus of Nazareth’s attention. So I just call out, ‘Jesus of Nazareth!’ it might be lost in the crowd. So I’m gonna call out something different, to get his attention: ‘Jesus, Son of David! Son of David!’” David’s greater Son, who’s going to sit upon his royal throne, who’s going to establish a kingdom that never comes to an end—this is the one on whom he calls. “Jesus, Son of David!” he shouts out.
Now, presumably, he had been putting two and two together. That the word on the street… You would hear stuff on the street; you always do. If you hang around and listen in coffee shops, you find out things. At the gates, as people came and left. He would have known about this Jesus of Nazareth. He may have heard that in the synagogue in Nazareth from which he had come, he had read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and on that day he had done something that no one had ever done before. That is, that when he sat down to give the exposition of the passage that he read, “He [sent me] to preach good news to the poor … [the] recovery of sight [to] the blind,” that he then had sat down and said to the people, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And this blind man had a sufficient awareness of Jesus of Nazareth as to know that he could heal those who were blind.
He’s unable to see where Jesus is, and so he simply shouts out into the crowd. It’s a dramatic picture, isn’t it? If you can just conjure it for a moment. It’s the man in all of the blackness—just close your eyes and imagine it for a minute, just imagine. You can hear all the hullabaloo. You can hear the crowd. You can hear the movement. You can hear the jibber-jabber of language. And the word is that Jesus of Nazareth is somewhere out there in that darkness. And so you call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Interesting, isn’t it? “Mercy.” Not asking for his deserts; he’s asking for mercy.
And the reaction of the crowd suggests that this marginalized member of society, who could clearly make no useful contribution to what Jesus was doing, should frankly just be quiet. And so they told him, “Be quiet!” And “many rebuked him.” It’s not like somebody said to him, “Hey, button it.” No, there’s a great crowd of them that said, “You just be quiet.” And so he drew into himself, pulled his blanket over his head… No! “He shouted all the more.” “He shouted all the more.”
Let me just pause and say this: You will never know Jesus Christ as a reality in your life until you know him as a necessity. You never call out for a Savior until you know you have sin from which to be saved. You’ll never call out to ask to see until you’re made aware of your blindness. And we by nature are so blind that we cannot see how blind we are until God makes it possible for us to see that we’re blind. Then when we see that we’re blind, then we will call for the sight that we long for. But until then, it would just be a matter of, “Hey, I’ve got a marginal interest in who Jesus is, I heard he was passing by,” and so on. No, not for this man, and not for a moment. “He shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
So there you have him. And verse 49, two words—words of grace: “Jesus stopped.” “Jesus stopped.” It’s fantastic, isn’t it? “Jesus stopped.” Can you imagine the crowd? I just wish I could see them, but I’m afraid I would be part of them, so it’s a rebuke to myself. You know, you like to think that you wouldn’t have been one of the rebukers, but you probably would have been, where you say, “Oh, be quiet, please. We’re all on our way to Jerusalem, we shall not be moved,” and so on. And “Jesus stopped.” And you can imagine the disciples and the rest of them say, “Now, why have we stopped? Why have we stopped?” “Jesus stopped and [he] said”—not to the man, but to the people who had been rebuking the man—“[he] said, ‘Call him.’” “Call him.” That’s tough duty! That’s quite embarrassing.
So it’s like, “Hey, would you be quiet, please? We’ve got a thing going here with Jesus. He’s heading up to Jerusalem, the Passover, and we’ve been really understanding what he’s doing, and he really doesn’t have t— Pardon? Excuse me, hang on just a minute. Yeah, as I was saying, Jesus is calling for you. I swear, I was trying to get to that. I was going at it, you know, kind of in a funny way, but yeah, no, he is calling. Cheer up! Cheer up! On your feet. He’s calling.”
It’s pathetic, isn’t it, really? What about all the people you don’t want to see saved? You just want to rebuke them. And Jesus says, “Don’t rebuke them. Call ’em! That’s why I stopped.” So they do a pretty good job of it. I don’t know whether they’re just entering into the fun of it—whether there’s humor in this or whether there’s sincerity in it, I don’t know. But they do what they’re asked to do: “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
And then, verse 50, into action. Here we go with the verbs again—the succession of the verbs. Now, it’s throwing, jumping, and coming. Throwing, jumping, coming. Okay? So first of all, we find this man in the dejected position, a routine position, and he is sitting, and he is begging. The news gets out; he hears it. Now he’s shouting. They can’t stop him from shouting; he shouts all the more. Now, once again, he’s hearing. And what is he hearing? That Jesus is calling for him. Jesus is calling for him! “Are you kidding me?” Remember, he’s blind now. “What? I was calling Jesus.” “Yeah, well he’s calling you.” “Wow!”
Now, what this man is gonna discover is that Jesus was calling him before he was calling Jesus. Because if Jesus hadn’t been calling him, he would never have called on Jesus. If that’s too much for you, just wait till you have a coffee in the afternoon and think it out. Jesus is the one who issues the call. Jesus is the one who pulls back the eyes of our understanding. Jesus is the one who opens our deaf ears. Jesus is the one who reaches out. And in the dimness of the man’s sight, in the darkness of it all, suddenly he realizes; through the lips of the most reluctant missionaries you ever saw, through the lips of the rebukers, the word comes, “You come now, because Jesus is here, and he’s ready to speak to you.”
Well, he’s up and at it, throwing off his blanket—throwing it away. Oh, it’s wonderful! Throwing his cloak aside, I should say. Whether he was sitting on it or wearing it, we don’t know. Maybe he just pulled it aside, so that he had enough room to jump to his feet, so he didn’t trip and fall on his face, ’cause it wouldn’t have been good. And he jumped up, and he came to Jesus.
And he came to Jesus, and Jesus had a question for him: “What do you want me to do for you?” Now, at this, I think the blind man couldn’t even believe his ears. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him? “Well,” he said, “let me tell you straight up, Rabbi—Teacher—I want to see.” The simplicity, the clarity, of his request is a testimony to his faith. It’s an indication of the fact that he actually believes that Jesus is able to do what he asks, that the blind man saw that in Jesus he could find the mercy of God. That’s why I say that this man actually, by God’s grace, sees what others miss.
And Jesus gives him the opportunity to affirm what it is that he longs for. He could have done this in an impersonal way. He could have done this from a distance. But he stops. He stops in order that he might correct the mistaken notions of those who are his followers—a necessary stop. He stops in order that he might include these reluctant disciples in the process of welcoming this marginalized man. He stops in order that he might from the lips of this man get a testimony as to the man’s need, so that when he then addresses his need, not only will the man but all who have observed understand—not that this man’s faith was the key to his cure but that his faith was the means by which he received the cure from Jesus.
Now, let me wrap it up in this way. What we really have in this little incident, along with all that we’ve said, is, if you like, a kind of microcosm of the good news of the gospel. The good news of the gospel. Because one of the pictures in the Bible, always, of the predicament of men and women is that predicament of blindness. Hence, as we’ve seen with the disciples. He says, “Do you have eyes and you don’t see? Do you have ears and you don’t hear?” They’re spiritually blind.
Therefore, the blind need to be made to see. How are the blind to be made to see? By coming to Jesus and calling upon him for mercy. For mercy! “Do not give me what I deserve; grant me mercy.” That’s why some of the best hymns reinforce it for us: “Mercy there was great, and grace was free; [and] pardon there was multiplied to me.” And this is a reminder to us that Jesus still hears, that Jesus still cares, that Jesus still stops, that Jesus still listens, and that Jesus still saves. And “[all] who [call] on the name of the Lord will be saved”—who call on the name of the Lord.
What do we need to call? “Son of David, have mercy on me. I am as spiritually blind as the man that you healed at the gateway of Jericho. I’m so blind that I think I know everything. I’m so blind that I argue all the time about the Bible and about the cosmos. I’m so blind that I believe I can, in and of myself, make myself acceptable to you. I’m so blind that I keep asking, ‘I want what I deserve!’ But today I see it differently. Now I realize that when you just said to your disciples that ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’—‘as a ransom for many’—that you actually are on your way up to Jerusalem to purchase redemption, to set slaves free, to make blind people see. Oh, I want to be included in the blind man’s cry. I want to say to you today, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.’” Well, we began by saying that this was probably this man’s only opportunity. And I said to you, “Maybe this is your only opportunity as well.” I don’t say that for dramatic effect.
Well, from the Daffodil Tea, let’s go to Julius Caesar. We’ll finish with Julius Caesar, act 4, scene 3. Brutus and Cassius are having a discussion about the civil war that they face with Octavian and Marcus Antonius. And Brutus is urging Cassius, “We’ve gotta do something in these circumstances.” Cassius is diffident about it; he’s not sure that they ought to proceed. And then, you remember—the only quote any of us remember from Julius Caesar—remember, Brutus says to Cassius,
There is a tide in the affairs of man
Which, taken [in] the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
“There is a tide in the affairs of man.” And there is a tide in the affairs of your life. Brought up on the tide of your mother’s prayers, brought up on the tide of your friends nudging, and encouraging, and encroaching, and revealing, and giving books, and nudging you in the direction of things.
“There is a tide in the affairs of man which, taken at the flood”—“taken at the flood.” There’s no surfing going on in Lake Erie that I’ve seen. At least I can’t imagine how boring that would be. Maybe at Mentor Headlands, which I believe is an exclusive resort for surfers. But you watch those surfers out there: you’ve gotta have the patience of Job, to just be paddling, and then it’s like, “Here it’s… oh no. So … looks … com… no, it’s not com…” And then, all of a sudden, “Here we go! Here it comes. Catch this one! Catch this one.”
Well, my friends, I want to say to you—I have to say to you—there is a tide. The tide of God’s sovereignty, the tide of God’s grace, and the call of God to your heart is to acknowledge that, like this blind man, we’re in need of his mercy.
Pass me not, O gentle Savior;
Hear my humble cry;
While on [blind men] you are calling,
Do not pass me by.
Hear my humble cry.
While on others you are calling,
[Please, don’t] pass me by.
And the people said to him, “You be quiet!” And “Jesus stopped.”
Let us pray:
God our Father, thank you for the compassion and the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, that his kindness would bring us to repentance. Forgive us when we are, like the crowd, full of indignation at the interference in our progress towards our celebrations. And thank you that we are reminded here that you command us to call others to come to you. We know that it is you who does the work of opening their blind eyes, but to us you entrust the responsibility and privilege of issuing the call.
So then, open our eyes to the needs of those around us, open our eyes to our own need of a Savior, and grant that we might call upon you—and then, in turn, call others to meet you. And this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Hebrews 3:15 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 10:13 (NIV 1984).
 See Mark 9:5.
 Mark 10:14 (paraphrased).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby” (1966).
 Luke 4:18 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 4:21 (NIV 1984).
 William R. Newell, “At Calvary” (1895).
 William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, 4.3.
 Fanny Crosby, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (1868). Language modernized.
 See Romans 2:4.
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.