Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 10:46-52, which we identify as the account of a young man who was blind named Bartimaeus. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. There is very little time to make clear who he is, the nature of his calling. And in the book of Mark there is a crush of events as the Gospel writer is making clear in short words who Jesus really is. He's the Son of David. He is the long-expected Davidic King. He is the Messiah. And so Mark will show us how Jesus fulfills prophecy. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. He fulfills all righteousness. He proclaims the law and lives according to it. He heals the sick and gives sight to the blind. But he doesn't meet the expectations that people have about how he will bring salvation. And so Jesus uses a blind man to help other people see what he's really about.
And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart. Get up; he is calling you." And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him, "Rabbi, let me recover my sight." And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Several years ago a news report detailed the story of an adult man who received his sight back through the wonders of modern medicine. An interviewer asked the man, "What's life like now? Tell us what does it mean to after all these years suddenly be able to see?" And the man initially said what you would expect—things like colors are amazing and it's a wonderful gift to be able to see the faces of those that he loved. But the interviewer expected him to say those things. He wanted the man to say something extraordinary, something totally unexpected about how his life had changed since getting his sight back. So he asked him, "What's the most unexpected thing?" Now if you were asked that question how do you think you would respond? Perhaps you might talk about a sunset, the corner of a child's lips when he smiles, the beautiful hues of the Grand Canyon yawning at dawn. The formerly blind man didn't mention anything like that. Instead, he said that the most incredible thing was watching the leaves falling every autumn. He said, "I know that leaves fall. I know that people rake them and put them in piles and burn them or throw them away. But I'd always imagined that the leaves would come down just like a blanket. I didn't know that when leaves fall that they pitch and glide and turn in the wind as they come down to the ground. It's beautiful."
I remember that story not because of the artistry of his expression. I remember it because of the irony of what he said. The greatest beauty he saw was in dying things. The leaves are dying. That's why they fall to the ground. That's what he identified as the most beautiful thing about getting his sight back. And that's what is happening in this account about Bartimaeus. People are seeing Jesus and they are expecting something from him, something extraordinary. They are expecting him to make daily life easy. But Bartimaeus is here to tell us that Jesus makes ordinary life end. There's an end of self, an end of what you were. As a result, everything that was attached to you, including your limitations, are coming to their end as well. So that in the extraordinary life that Jesus is granting you, limitations are no longer liabilities. They actually become the means by which God is going to demonstrate his glory.
Our limitations reveal our need for Jesus' mercy.
If you want to think about the life that Jesus is granting you, just walk through this account of Bartimaeus and see what's changing. The life less ordinary for Bartimaeus begins with seeing more than others. The words go by pretty fast in this passage. In verse 47 we read, "When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David …'" Now think of that. Here's a man who can't see, so he's hearing with greater acuity. And he hears it's Jesus of Nazareth, but he says it's Jesus, Son of David. Jesus, Son of David means he's the long-expected Davidic King. This is the fulfillment of promise. This is the Messiah. And the great crowd that's following Jesus doesn't appear to see it. But Bartimaeus who's blind, who has the limitation of not being able to, somehow perceives, senses greater than everybody, that this is the Promised One. He knows that Jesus is the fulfillment of promise.
The fact that he's sitting on the outskirts of Jericho also has rich biblical significance. Jericho is the city of song and story. It's the place where Joshua fought the battle and the walls came a tumblin' down. But remember that Jericho was also the great limiter of Israel's entry into the Promised Land. So when God brought victory at Jericho, this former limitation became the gateway to the victory of God. In this story we find Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who sits on the outskirts of Jericho—a city that's an oasis on the edge of a desert but also at the beginning of a mountain pass that leads up to Jerusalem. It's here that Bartimaeus declares that Jesus is the Son of David. Once again, Jericho is the gateway to the victory of God that's about to occur. Apparently Bartimaeus doesn't understand it fully, but he will become the herald of the great victory of God simply because he has some perception of who Jesus really is. He's the fulfillment of promise.
But it's more than that. Somehow Bartimaeus says Jesus is not just the fulfillment of promise; Jesus also provides mercy. So he cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He's destitute. Bartimaeus cannot help himself, but he perceives somehow that his limitation is going to be a part of Jesus' ministry.
I don't know if you realize how important it is to recognize your own destitution as part of the work of Christ. This summer I was reading the biography of John Stott, and he was talking about his conversion and what actually led to that gateway of the victory of God in his life. Stott wrote this:
I was defeated. I knew the kind of person I was and the kind I longed to be. Between the reality and ideal there was a great gulf. And what brought me to Christ was the sense of defeat and the astonishing news that the historic Christ offered to meet the very needs of which I was most conscious.
Notice that the great gulf between what he wanted to be and what he actually was, coupled with the awareness of limitations, became the gateway to understand his need for God's mercy.
While I know that's very familiar to some of you, I need to emphasize it once again because I know how our expectations can delude us. For instance, in my work at the seminary I've often seen students come to seminary expecting to be on holy ground. They think, All of this holiness will rub off on me and I'll become holy. But what these students actually find is very different from their expectations. They discover that their limitations, their lack of holiness, and their lack of ability suddenly become all the more obvious to them. They thought that by coming to seminary they would get past this habit or that particular sin or this limitation. Instead, they find that the pressures seem all the more intense and they feel all the more wrong and defeated because they actually become more aware of their true sinfulness. Or they start to compare themselves to other people who seem to have a knack for Hebrew or the ability to preach or the ability to capture the attention of young people that they wish they could minister to. Then the limitations of their abilities suddenly make them feel like they can't minister at all. But biblically speaking, recognizing those limitations are no longer a liability. It's actually wonderful to embrace our limitations. I need the mercy of God. I need his work in my behalf because I know who I really am. And the awareness of my limitations then serves as the gateway for understanding the need for the victory of God in my life.
Our limitations invite us to take risks for God.
Then the knowledge that Jesus, who fulfills every promise and gives us the mercy we need, actually starts to enter the gap or the gulf of our limitations. Then the knowledge of our gaps and Jesus' mercy enables us to do something like Bartimaeus did. In other words, you not only see more than others; you can also risk more than others. Risking is also part of this life less ordinary that Jesus is calling you into. Bartimaeus risked things. It's obvious in verse 47 when he cries out, "Jesus, have mercy on me!" That's a risky exposure in which he's admitting, I can't fix what's wrong. Jesus, I need you. But with that call to Jesus for mercy Bartimaeus is also telling Jesus, I can't fix it but you can. You're the Son of David. I believe that you are the one who can fix these things. And you well know that in a few days the claim that Jesus is the Son of David is going to cause people to want to kill him. So there's a real exposure for Bartimaeus when he says, "Jesus, Son of David …" But it's not just the exposure of himself; it's the risk of ruin.
The people—remember the account verse 48—rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more. What is Bartimaeus risking when he not only identifies Jesus as the Son of David but keeps saying it? And notice that there's this shush from the crowd. Shush! Stop it! The rabbi's busy. He needs to go on. Shh, be quiet.
As I was studying this passage I couldn't help but remember an event from a few years back when we were helping to start a seminary in the rural outskirts of western Kenya. Starting a seminary was big news for the whole country. We actually got a visit from the Kenyan vice-president who came to participate in the opening for the new seminary. So while we were in the rural outpost, I heard the roar of a convoy of troops. The trucks rumbled up to our location and then soldiers jumped out with their automatic weapons. Then we heard the thump-thump-thump-thump-thump of the helicopters bringing the vice-president. Now when people jump out of trucks with automatic weapons and suddenly there are helicopters coming in military colors, you feel scared. You sense the power that makes you feel very vulnerable. Then as the vice-president was doing his speech for the dedication, a mentally deranged man began to call out in a mocking voice. And I watched the soldiers on the fringe of the crowd with bayonets and gun butts drive him away, and the crowd was saying Shush! They were displaying their force, and we could recognize that the mentally deranged man was really at risk.
So I want us to recognize what it meant for blind Bartimaeus the beggar to yell that Jesus is the Son of David. He kept saying it and then the crowd kept saying, Shush! Remember that he depends on the crowd. He's a beggar. He needs their approval. He needs them to think it's good for him to be around. He is risking life and livelihood and any future just to proclaim that this is the Son of David. All of this goes by so fast in our text we don't see it anymore.
Finally in verse 48 they tell him to stop. But then in verse 49 Jesus stops and Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. He sprang up and came to Jesus. We have to understand the significance of that because every man in that culture had basically two articles of clothing—a tunic and a cloak. Both of these garments functioned like a raincoat and warm coat and shelter from the sun. So what did it mean for a beggar to leave behind his cloak? It was his shelter, bed, and warmth; his body heat; his ability to live. He left all of that behind to get to Jesus so he could get help. It meant leaving everything that gave him sustenance. He's risking ruin for the sake of Jesus.
Once again, in my work with seminary students I'm well-aware that many of them have taken a big risk to train for the ministry. Like Bartimaeus, they've risked much for the sake of Jesus. They've often moved away from their church or friends or job because they believe that Jesus is the One of promise, the One who gives mercy. They want to get training so they can tell other people about Jesus. I often tell my students how much I admire and respect them for those risks.
But then at times I will also offer a challenge to my students—a challenge that sounds something like this:
You've come here because you want to tell people about Jesus, the Son of David. You've taken some big steps, but now my question is this: Can you keep doing it? In particular, there's a world out there that's beyond our North American shores where we're witnessing the fastest expansion of Christianity in the history of the world. It's happening right now. What if the Lord called to you and said, Would you take a risk to go to a group of people who can't give you great affluence? To start a church in a place where they need you more than you need them? Would you believe so much in a God of promise and mercy that you're willing to risk everything for the sake of that call? What if the call of God meant that you stopped living like everybody you know who is running after reputation and security and you actually started looking for the purpose of the Savior? What if you prayed, Lord, where can I make the greatest difference for you? What if you realized that all things you're afraid will limit you aren't limitations at all? As a matter of fact, you believed that God may have put limitations in your life so that you would feel compelled to reach beyond this culture. And then you realized that through your limitations God may be sending you to fulfill a deeper calling to impact the world for his sake.
Of course that challenge isn't just for my seminary students; it's for everyone who follows Christ. The life less ordinary involves taking more risks than other people for the sake of the Savior. It means saying that my name and my gain are no longer the goal of my life; instead, the purposes of Christ are now my ultimate gain. When that happens you actually live more than other people.
Bartimaeus understands that this Jesus is the God of promise and the provider of mercy who has the power to heal him. And once Jesus heals him, he wants to follow Jesus. He can see now. He can make a living. He doesn't have to beg. But Bartimaeus focuses on one thing: he wants to follow the one who has provided for him.
In verse 52 Jesus says, "Go your way." Think of that. Go your way. "Your faith has made you well." And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Jesus on the way. His way is now Jesus' way. And if he follows Jesus where will Jesus go? We don't have to guess. If you back up in the same chapter to verse 33 you'll see these words. Jesus is speaking and he says, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priest and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him and flog him. And after three days he will rise." If Bartimaeus really follows after Jesus, it sounds good initially. He's the God of promise. He's the God of mercy. I get to follow after him.
Two summers ago I was out in Colorado and somebody told me about this great fishing stream. So I went to the fishing stream and initially it looked great except for the fact that the fields were totally flooded before the stream. I had no idea how high the water was. I couldn't figure out how to go there. But then I saw one of the locals make a path through all of that mess and I thought, I'll just follow him. He can show me the way.
When Bartimaeus started to follow Jesus at first it was easy. Wouldn't you go anywhere if you knew Jesus was right ahead of you? But what will the newly sighted Bartimaeus see on this path? The thorns on the brow and the nails in the hands and the back flayed and the blood pooled, and surely Bartimaeus will say, Lord, why did you give me sight to see this? Did it really happen that way? We don't know for sure. But I want to show you something else.
If you'll look a little further in the book of Mark you'll find a strange verse in 14:51. Jesus has been betrayed and arrested. "And all the disciples left him and fled," verse 50 says. And then these verses follow: "And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked." Who's the only person in the book of Mark so far who's been described as a young man with no cloak? Most commentators think that Mark is referring to himself, the way that John refers to himself anonymously in the Gospel of John. We really don't know, but one of the possibilities is that this young man without a cloak who watches the betrayal of Jesus and then watches the apostles flee but still follows Jesus is Bartimaeus.
Is that the end of the story? Well, maybe not. If you go to Mark 16 the same rare Greek word for young man is used in Mark 14 and Mark 16:5. (Mark uses it in just those two instances.). The women enter the tomb and we read these words: "And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. He said to them, 'Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.'" Now, virtually every commentator's going to say that's an angel. But what if … what if the one who sits at the gateway of the victory of God is Bartimaeus—the same young man of no credibility who previously had no sight who now witnesses the greatness of the glory of God?
I can't prove that, but I can prove this: a blind, young, destitute beggar sitting on the side of the road in Jericho became the herald of the victory of God for the Son of David, though that blind beggar had no right and no ability. And in fact, his heralding of who Jesus is seems to have more credibility because his liabilities become the means by which Jesus is going to show his glory.
Why do you and I need to know that? I think of a former seminary student named Chris Yates who pastors a large, thriving church in North Carolina. When he spoke at our seminary convocation he talked about all of his liabilities and the fact that he wasn't a very good student. I thought he was just being modest, but later on one of my colleagues told me, "You know, I had Chris in class, and honestly, I never thought he'd be pastor of a large church." And yet to this day Chris practically trumpets his inability because he wants everyone to know that with our Savior working for us our limitations are no longer liabilities. When we actually see how God can use our liabilities to promote his glory, when we're even willing to trumpet them, we'll discover that God is not limited by our limitations.
The Joni Eareckson Tada of her generation was a woman named Fanny Crosby. She was a blind hymn writer, whose hymns have touched the hearts of millions of people. At times Fanny Crosby was often asked, Why hasn't God healed you? And her response was always the same: "God could have done nothing better for me than to give me blindness. Because by my blindness he has shut me in with himself and I have learned more about the love of Jesus than if I could see." So by her limitation God closed her into his love in such a way that she became a fountain of blessing to many people.
I don't know what your limitations are. For some of you it's the limitation of your abilities. For some of you it's the limitations caused by certain people in your life. We all have limitations that cause us to say, "Well, if I have these limitations, God can't use me. He needs to move on and find someone else."
Whenever I hear people say that, I think of a former student of mine named Paul. Paul really struggled, especially in the preaching classes that I taught. You see, Paul stuttered badly. And when he tried to preach it was painful for the class, it was painful for me, but it was most painful for him. I've had training in speech pathology, but I couldn't help him. Nobody could help him. After awhile Paul felt like he couldn't continue in school because he couldn't preach. So he left the seminary, and he took over a little business and it started to thrive. And with that business Paul has employed scores of seminarians. Paul has supported those seminarians so they could attend school here. Thousands of people have heard the gospel because of Paul's support for those seminary students who have become pastors and missionaries. Of course Paul may feel that his limitation was a liability for the pastoral ministry. But the fact is that God took Paul's limitation and made it a pathway to the victory of God for the glory of his kingdom in ways that Paul never could have imagined. And it all happened because Paul believed that the God of promise would show mercy.
You know some of the greatest jewels of Scripture are hidden beneath the folds of the verses in this passage. I think of the end of verse 49 when Jesus stopped once he heard Bartimaeus crying out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." And then Jesus said, "Call him." And the crowd said to the blind man, "Take heart. He's calling you." And for some of you, all of us, who from time to time will become aware of our limitations, you need to remember in the life less ordinary limitations are not liabilities. But when we see our limitations we begin to magnify the greatness of the promises and the mercy of God. So this passage says to you, Get up. He's calling you. Your limitations are not liabilities; they are gateways to the victory of God when you still follow him.
Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.