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10. The healing of blind Bartimaeus

| Martin Charlesworth
Series 10: Episode 10
Luke 18:35-43 Mark 10:46-52 Matthew 20:29-34

At the entrance to Jericho, Bartimaeus shouts over the crowd to get Jesus' attention. He calls Jesus the Son of David - a messianic title and Jesus heals his blindness - a messianic sign.

At the entrance to Jericho, Bartimaeus shouts over the crowd to get Jesus' attention. He calls Jesus the Son of David - a messianic title and Jesus heals his blindness - a messianic sign.

Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Series 10 and Episode 10 in which we are looking at a remarkable 'Healing of two blind men, one of whom was called Bartimaeus' and we're going to focus on Bartimaeus because he's the main character in the story. We're studying this from Luke 18: 35 - 43.

Introduction and Recap

We're getting close now to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. We've been studying in the recent series, as you'll know if you've followed these series, this long and complex journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, where Jesus travelled around from place to place. Not many places are named on that long and complex journey around Samaria, around Judea, near Jerusalem, into the neighbouring district of Perea, we just get geographical glimpses here and there. But Luke gives us a very clear marker, because he mentions in this passage the city of Jericho, which is close to Jerusalem and we'll come to that in a moment. As Luke has been telling the story he's been emphasising the crowds and the expectation of what's going to happen when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. Here in Jericho, in this episode and in the one that follows, where we meet a tax collector called Zacchaeus, that expectation of something dramatic happening in Jerusalem, reaches fever pitch. We'll see how that works out in just a moment. The contrast that we can also make in this passage is between blind Bartimaeus, the blind beggar on the side of the road, who has a remarkable miracle and healing, and follows Jesus, and the rich, young man, described as a ruler, who came to Jesus earlier in Luke 18, in the incident described. Jesus invited him to join the discipleship band, sell possessions, give the money to the poor and come and join him as he headed towards Jerusalem. He went away sad, not being willing to part with his wealth in order to embrace the Kingdom of God and become a disciple of Jesus. We see a very sad story there, and a very joyful story here.

The Location - Jericho

This is truly a joyful story, something dramatic and wonderful happens to a man who never ever expected to see again. This story is told in Mark and Matthew as well, and we'll refer to one or two details that they add in to help us. We're going to focus on Luke's account and we're going to read Luke 18: 35 - 43.

‘As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you" "Lord, I want to see," he replied. Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.’

Luke 18:35-43, NIV

I think you can probably easily imagine this scene. The city of Jericho is very interesting. It lies not far from the River Jordan, some 30 km or so away from Jerusalem, and in a very low part of the country - in fact one of the lowest areas on the surface of the earth. It's a very ancient city; it appears in the Old Testament. You'll probably remember that Joshua captured the city of Jericho when the walls came tumbling down spontaneously, as the Israelites were conquering the promised land. (Joshua 6) It was a very ancient city and had a reasonable population. It was on a main road, which was important; it was on a main travel route and trade route, and so it was a place where there were customs and toll booths, so tax collectors operated there. It was also on one of the main roads that connected the north of Israel with Jerusalem in the south. Essentially there were three main ways of getting from the north to the south: one was to go by the coastal route much further to the west; secondly you could go through Samaria in the middle of the country; or if you wanted to avoid going through Samaria and meeting up with Samaritans, with all the tension between Jews and Samaritans, the other thing to do, which many Jews preferred to do, was to travel down the Jordan Valley, the Jordan River going north south and heading to Jerusalem that way. If you did that you would pass through the city of Jericho.

Therefore, the city was a city with people passing through, trading and travelling, and particularly going to Jerusalem. Probably Jesus had passed through Jericho quite a number of times, as he went backwards and forwards from Galilee to Jerusalem, to the religious festivals. As we've discussed on a number of other occasions, the Jews - particularly men - were commanded in the Old Testament, where possible, to travel to Jerusalem for the main religious feasts; Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles in particular, and some of the other religious festivals that were held. Large numbers of Galileans would come down from the north and pass through the city of Jericho and then go up the Judean hills towards Jerusalem. It was a common journey. We can locate this particular time as being very close to the Passover Feast, because Jesus is going to go from Jericho to Jerusalem very shortly and he's going to arrive there in time for the Passover Feast. We can anticipate, and say with some accuracy, that in Jericho at this time there would be large crowds passing through on the way up to Jerusalem. Many of them would stay the night in Jericho. There would be hostels and places to stay and pilgrims travelling through.

It was a busy, bustling, Jewish city and Jesus approached the city with his own crowd because wherever he went, a crowd went with him, which would include obviously his disciples and all their associates, of whom there were quite a number, and then other people who were travelling with him as part of a wider crowd. When they came to Jericho, probably there were people in front of them saying to people that ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing through,’ because by this time, as we already know from our other studies, Jesus was well-known across the country and he'd been spending some time in Judea - this area - recently. He would have passed nearby on a number of occasions from all the evidence that we've got. People would be very interested, very open, to who Jesus was, hoping to see him for the first time. We find that happens shortly after this, when Zacchaeus, the tax collector, has to climb up a tree to see Jesus because of the large crowd. That just gives you a feel of the crowds along the road. This is a fascinating city, crowded and busy at this time.

Blind Bartimaeus

If you were a blind person in Israel then it was an incredibly vulnerable situation to be in. We need to think about why Bartimaeus and his friend, who's mentioned in Matthew's account, are seated by the side of the road begging. We've come across blind people before. We've seen some miracles that Jesus has done healing the blind and I'll refer back to them in a moment, but in general in Israel, the situation of blind people was extremely vulnerable. There is the obvious vulnerability that you're so much at the mercy of other people if you are blind; you're not able to locate yourself to relate to people easily, you can't see what's going on around you, you're not able to work normally and most blind people were not in normal family units. Some families would care for them, but many of them ended up begging. They became the poorest of the poor, and they survived by begging along the streets of the towns and villages. It's interesting that Bartimaeus is situated here on the main entrance into Jericho. We can say from what we've already learned, that there would be a huge number of people passing along this road, both travelling to Jerusalem and trading, and going from country to country in the region. A good place to be if you want to beg. You're more likely to get some good results and some good income from begging if you're in a situation like that. It's still a very vulnerable situation, but it's likely that there would be beggars, in that kind of environment. We also encounter beggars in the city of Jerusalem, by the way, which was another good place to be, because it was a crowded city with lots of people passing by.

It's interesting that this isn't the first time Jesus has encountered blind people and healed them. I'll just give you an example from much earlier in his ministry that we studied in an earlier episode, Matthew 9: 27 - 31, tells of an interesting incident which has some similarities to this story.

‘As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I'm able to do this?" "Yes, Lord," they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith let it be done to you", and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, "See that no one knows about this." But they went out and spread the news about him all over the region.’

Matthew 9:27-31, NIV

There's an earlier incident where two blind men are very persistent. The interesting thing about that story, which we mentioned when we looked at it, is that although the blind men encountered Jesus outside in the public, when Jesus went inside, they came to him in the house. That involves real persistence to try and get into the property to talk to Jesus. That's the persistence that we see in Bartimaeus, as he's calling out to Jesus along the side of the road. The name Bartimaeus comes from Mark's account, Mark 10: 46, and if he became a disciple of Jesus, he'd probably become a member of the Early Church, and so the Early Church would know his name and want to record it in the Gospels. This happens with a number of names which are mentioned of people who are disciples in the Early Church. They also knew Jesus and met him during his earthly ministry and they're often named in the Gospels.

Jesus - Son of David

Let's think about this story. He's begging on the road; he asks what's happening because he senses the crowd is larger than usual; there's commotion, there's talking going on, and so he asks and he's told by the crowd ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ By this time in Israel, virtually everybody had heard of Jesus of Nazareth, even the people who'd never seen him; they would have heard of him. He'd become extraordinarily well-known, especially since he'd had this strategy, in the second half of his ministry, to travel south from Galilee, of going to so many different places, and also sending out the 70, as recorded in Luke 10, to go to all sorts of different towns and villages. He was saturating the country with an awareness of his presence, and so it's not surprising that Bartimaeus knew about Jesus, and got excited as soon as he heard the name Jesus of Nazareth.

He called out and we can describe this as shouting out with a loud voice. Not surprising given there's a crowd and lots of other people talking and moving. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He's calling out to Jesus. It's interesting here that he uses that same expression that was used in the account in Matthew 9 when the two blind men came to Jesus. They said, "Have mercy on us, Son of David." Almost an exact statement. Another interesting example of the use of the expression Son of David, comes in another healing miracle involving blindness. Matthew 12: 22,

‘Then they bought him a demon possessed man who was blind and mute and Jesus healed him so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"’

Matthew 12:22-23, NIV

That leads us to pause here for a moment and think about this expression, ‘Son of David’. It's been mentioned before. We've looked at this in other contexts when it has come up, but it's a particularly significant title. Why did Bartimaeus use the title Son of David? Why not call Jesus ‘healer’? Why not call him ‘good teacher’? - the titles that other people had used. He cried out "Son of David".

The background to this, as we've mentioned in other contexts, is that King David was a major figure in the Old Testament, the King of Israel who was appointed directly by God's calling, following King Saul who was appointed through the pressure of the people wanting a king to be appointed. He was unsuccessful and sinful, and then the prophet Samuel came and appointed David as the King of the nation. He was extraordinarily successful despite making a number of strategic mistakes at different times. Something happened to David that was unexpected and had profound effects on the nation. The prophet Nathan spoke to David one day, as recorded in 2 Samuel 7, and predicted that his dynasty, his royal dynasty, would continue, and indeed continue permanently,

‘"Your house and your Kingdom will endure forever before me. Your throne will be established forever."’ (2 Samuel 7:16).

2 Samuel 7:16, NIV

This was the basis of a covenant, a special agreement between God and David, and the people of Israel. One of the few occasions when God provided a covenant structure for the nation. This was the one based around the monarchy, or the kingship. It's basically saying those successors, biologically connected to you, will have political and spiritual power, ruling on God's behalf, into the long distant future. It so happened that sometime later the monarchy of the country was abolished by the Babylonians, when they invaded and sent the people of Judah into exile to Babylon. So that monarchy came to an end. This promise from 2 Samuel 7: 16 remained unfulfilled.

The Jews began to interpret, through a number of prophecies, this covenant as going to be fulfilled by someone who will come in the future, and take up that throne of David. Someone who will be a biological successor of David, genetically connected to him, and he will become David's great successor, and redeem Israel, and bring salvation. There are many things in the Gospels that point to the fact that Jesus is that person. I'll give you one example, in Luke 1: 32 - 33, when the birth of Jesus is foretold by the angel Gabriel to Mary, he's very clear. He says to Mary,

‘"He (Jesus) will be great and will be called the Son of the most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever. His kingdom will never end."’

Luke 1:32-33, NIV

That's a very direct prediction that Jesus is going to take up this Davidic covenant and become the ruler in the line of King David. The Jews expected such a person, and by this time in Jesus' ministry, that expectation had risen to a high level. The title given to that forthcoming successor of David, was this very title we have here ‘Son of David’. In using this expression ‘Son of David’, Bartimaeus is ascribing to Jesus the status of Messiah, of deliverer, of saviour of Israel, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

The Healing Miracle

People tried to quieten him down but he kept shouting all the louder, until Jesus stopped and he heard the sound, asked the man to be brought to him and spoke to him. "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, I want to see." Then Jesus said, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." Immediately Bartimaeus was healed, and of course the other blind man mentioned in Matthew's account in Matthew 20 was healed at the same time.

But it's Bartimaeus who carries the main story here. He's the main character because he was the one who called out, and also, he followed Jesus praising God. You can imagine the scene, can't you - that Bartimaeus isn't now going to just sort of go home, or go to a coffee shop and have a cup of coffee or whatever. No, no, he wants to thank God; he wants to publicly declare his faith. He's overwhelmed with praise that this astonishing miracle has happened, and his faith has been vindicated because he knew in his heart that this Jesus was someone special. He knew he was the Son of David even before he'd set eyes on him. He creates a sense of agitation and excitement in the crowd as they enter the city of Jericho. At that point, we'll be meeting the second significant character in Jericho and that is Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who's further down the street in the city. After Bartimaeus has been healed, Jesus passes by where Zacchaeus is up a tree trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he goes past. That's the subject of our next episode.

Reflections

Some thoughts and reflections on this remarkable story. It seems that the intensity of the crowd has reached fever pitch, and this particular miracle will intensify their feelings further, for this reason: as stated previously, when we've looked at miracles of healing of blindness, the Jews believed that Isaiah: 35 was a prediction of the Messianic Age and they noted there, in verse 5, this prediction,

‘Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shouts for joy.’

Isaiah 35:5, NIV

Amongst those miracles, the eyes of the blind being opened is prominent, and many Jews believed it was a sign of the Messiah that he would cause the blind to see. We know that this crowd was at fever pitch because at the end of the visit just a little bit later on, in 19: 11, as I've already mentioned in earlier episodes, but worthy of repetition, that because he was near Jerusalem the people thought the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once. In other words, they expected a sudden change, a sudden intervention of God, a sudden coming of the messianic age. They expected Jesus to overthrow the Romans.

The faith of Bartimaeus is worth commenting on. It takes an awful lot of courage as a disabled person, blind, marginalised, sitting on the side of the road, ignored by most people, to cry out, to make yourself heard, to make your presence felt and to get the attention of a travelling preacher passing by. But he pushed through. Faith, so often in the Gospels, is designated by persistence and continual pushing forward asking God to do a miracle. Bartimaeus exemplifies that in a wonderful way. I want it to be an encouragement to you. Are you needing a miracle right now? Is it a healing miracle? Is it a financial miracle? Is it a relational miracle? Is it a circumstantial miracle? Can I encourage you to learn from Bartimaeus and other stories like this in the Gospels, that faith and persistence go together. Keep on asking, keep on calling out to God, keep on presenting your issue to him, and see what he does. Bartimaeus would not be silenced. He believed that Jesus would hear his prayer. And so, God will hear our prayers concerning the things where we really stuck and we need a miracle.

Here's a good example also of the power of testimony. Bartimaeus stirred up the crowd, drew attention to Jesus, told his story freely. This is exactly what happens when the blind man was healed as recorded in John 9 in Jerusalem. He went round telling people about the healing and that caused a great interest and a stir, and in that case, quite a lot of controversy as well. The power testimony when God moves is always to be encouraged. Let's share our stories of the things that God has done in our lives. Just like Bartimaeus did freely, spontaneously, and enthusiastically.

This story and the subsequent one, and Jesus' journey in the final stages to Jerusalem, remind us again of that creative tension that we see all the way through the Gospels between the first coming of Jesus and the Second Coming. I've taught on this specifically at certain points in the narrative, when we've identified it as a primary issue and, in particular, I looked at it very closely when we studied in Luke 17: 20 - 37, Jesus teaching about the coming of the Kingdom of God. Just to reiterate here - we live like they did, in the situation where the first coming of Jesus is a reality but the Second Coming in power is a future event. What they wanted to do at the time is to bring those two events together, the first coming to bring salvation, and to offer the invitation to become a disciple of Jesus, and the Second Coming in power, and glory, and authority, to rule over the world and to judge between good and evil. They wanted those two events to come together, but we know through Jesus' teaching explicitly, and through the teaching of the Apostles also, that the events are separated by a long period of time and we live in the middle. We see some of the power of the Kingdom at work, but we don't see its full power yet. It requires faith and persistence to live in that overlap, and to constantly keep our eyes on the fact that Jesus will be coming again, and will return in glory to bring judgement, and also to bring vindication to his people.

This is a simple and a moving story. It's set at a very crucial moment in Jesus' life. The stakes are high, a big crisis is looming in Jerusalem, Jesus' final entry to Jerusalem is very shortly going to take place, and then the clock will begin to tick fast which brings to fulfilment the predictions that he made in the passage immediately preceding this, when he said

“We're going to Jerusalem and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

Luke 18:31-33, NIV

These events are now close at hand, and there are large crowds gathered who will witness these events and be amazed at what happens. We're going to be back to Jericho in the next episode, because another very remarkable event takes place shortly after Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, when Jesus encounters the tax collector Zacchaeus and gives him a really big surprise.

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