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A Miracle by the Wayside

Eric Weihenmayer calls himself an “unrealistic optimist,” and that is a good description since he was the first blind climber ever to reach the top of Mount Everest. Now he does business consulting and charity work, helping people see the world in new ways.

Asked by Fast Company magazine what he looks for in teammates, Eric’s response sums up what faith is all about. He said, “I look for people who have an unrealistic optimism about life. I hear people say, ‘seeing is believing.’ I want people who believe the opposite, ‘Believing is seeing.’ You’ve got to believe first in what you’re doing and be sure you have a reason to believe it. You can tell who those people are. You say, “Hey, want to climb Everest with a blind guy?” Pretty quickly you’ll figure out who’s a believer.”[1]

Today we are going to read about another blind man who had great faith and what that faith produced in his life. Listen for God’s word to you from Mark 10:46-52….

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[a] let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Today I want to look with you at six components that produced a miracle in this story. First, there was Bartimaeus’ Penetrating Prayer.

Matt Woodley writes:

We don’t know much about Bartimaeus. We know his father’s name is Timaeus, which implies that the early church may have known his whole family. Isn’t that amazing? That’s the ripple effect. As Jesus touched and transformed Bartimaeus, he transformed his whole family.[2]

But it all started with Bartimaeus’ penetrating prayer. Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside in Jericho. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he began to shout and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

This is one of the most powerful prayers that anyone can pray. Members of The Eastern Orthodox Church use a form of this prayer they call The Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This is a prayer you can pray anytime, anywhere. You can pray it out loud, or you can pray it silently in your mind and heart. You can pray it in church, or at work, at school, or at home. If you are pressed for time, you can pray a shortened form of the Jesus prayer: “Lord have mercy.” Or “Christ have mercy.” I am told that if you pray this prayer often enough, it becomes a sort of mantra, always there at the back of your mind, even when you wake in the night.

Bartimaeus, when he first spoke these words, certainly had no sense of inaugurating a prayer that would be prayed by others for centuries, even millennia, to come. Nonetheless, that is what has happened.

Of course, this prayer finds precedent and echoes elsewhere in Scripture….

·      David prayed, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1)
·      And the psalmist prays, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.” (Psalm 123:3)
·      In the Gospel of Matthew, two blind men together, on two different occasions, say to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 9 & Matthew 20)
·      The Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 presents a similar plea to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” 
·      A man with a demon-possessed son says to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on my son.” (Matthew 17)
·      In Luke 17, ten lepers cry out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
·      And in Luke 18, in one of Jesus’ parables, a tax collector says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

What a great prayer this is to make our own, and to focus our minds on the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ! “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

A second thing I see in this story is Bartimaeus’ Persistent Pursuit of Jesus. Even though the crowd told him to shut up, Bartimaeus did not give up calling out to Jesus until he got an answer.

Once again, I love what Matt Woodley says about this….

Imagine if someone started shouting right in the middle of our service. We’d do exactly what happens in this story: we’d start shushing him. Verse 48 reads, “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet.” Throughout the Gospels the disciples try to protect Jesus from “problem” people, but Jesus responds: “The messed-up people aren’t the problem; you’re the problem, because you keep blocking me from the people who need me the most.” So the crowd shushes Bartimaeus. Jesus is really busy, they say. Jesus has important things to do.

This is what people in power always do to the powerless: they shush them. You have questions about your faith? Shush. You were abused as a child? Shush. You desperately need mercy and healing and compassion? Shush.[3]
But Bartimaeus doesn’t listen to the shushers. He doesn’t listen to the people who think he is nothing. He continues to call out to Jesus.

Bartimaeus calls out to the same Jesus, who elsewhere in the Gospels, commends persistence in prayer. In Luke 11 Jesus tells this story:

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”
What amazing promises Jesus gives to those who are persistent in prayer. Yet, are we persistent in prayer like Bartimaeus?

God responds to persistent prayer. Jesus responds to persistent prayer. Did you notice what Jesus does in this story? When Bartimaeus continues to call out to Jesus, the Master stops and stands still. When you call out to Jesus in prayer, he stands still for you, and he calls you to himself.

A third contributing factor to the miracle that eventually takes place in this story is Bartimaeus’ Present-Tense Response to Jesus.

When Jesus called Bartimaeus, the blind man got up immediately. He threw off his cloak. Since Bartimaeus is a blind beggar, this may have been his only cloak. But he throws it off because he doesn’t want anything to hinder him from getting to Jesus as fast as he can. Mark says that Bartimaeus, jumping up, came to Jesus! His response to Jesus was immediate.
We have seen this over and over again in the Gospel of Mark. The key word in this Gospel is “immediately”. Mark uses this word 27 times, including one time in this passage.

God lives in an eternal now and he wants us to respond to him in the now. There is magic in the moment.

The Psalmist says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Psalm 95:7-8) And the writer to the Hebrews quotes this statement of the Psalmist more than once. (Hebrews 3:7-15; Hebrews 4:7) Furthermore, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Now is the day of salvation.”

Are you responding to Jesus’ offer of salvation and healing in this “now” moment?

A fourth factor that contributes to the miracle that happens here in this story is Bartimaeus’ Precise Request.

When Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied rather precisely, rather succinctly, “My teacher, let me see again.” That’s six words in English, but actually, in the original text of Mark 10:51, Bartimaeus speaks only three words, and one of them is in Aramaic: “Rabbouni”. This is a reminder that what we have here is an eye-witness account. Aramaic was the spoken language of Jesus and his fellow Jews in Palestine in the first century. Whoever recounted this story the first time remembered the precise Aramaic word that Bartimaeus used to address Jesus, and Mark records that word in writing for us.

If you were to stand before Jesus today and he were to ask you, “What do you want me to do for you?” what would you say?

Last week, we saw how Jesus asked this same question of James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” The goal of this request was self-aggrandizement—not a good thing. And so, Jesus denies James and John’s request. But what Bartimaeus asked for was a good thing and as Jesus reminds us, our heavenly Father loves to give good gifts to his children.

The fifth and most important contributing factor to the miracle of healing that takes place in this story is Jesus’ Powerful Word. “Go, your faith has made you well.”

Jesus attributes this healing to Bartimaeus’ faith, and faith is important. But without Jesus’ word, without Jesus’ gift, salvation and healing cannot happen. Faith is the conduit that receives the powerful word of Jesus. Faith is the conduit that receives the salvation and healing that can only come through Jesus. Healing is the gift that Bartimaeus received from Jesus, and he received it immediately upon Jesus’ word.

Bryan Chapell tells this story….

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?” … The formerly blind man … 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.”[4]

The healing, powerful word of Jesus can restore beauty to our lives when we receive that word in faith.

One final thing we see in this passage is Bartimaeus’ Personal Reaction to Jesus. Bartimaeus followed Jesus along the road.

Bartimaeus didn’t know much about Jesus. Bartimaeus called Jesus “Son of David” which was probably a recognition that Jesus was the Messiah. But the most important thing to Bartimaeus was that Jesus was his healer. Jesus was the man who changed his life. And so Bartimaeus chose to follow the person of Jesus.

I wonder: are you a personal follower of Jesus? Have you received him personally into your life as your leader, forgiver, healer, savior? If not, today can be the day that you do just that.

What was it that attracted the world to Jesus in the first century? Historian Rodney Stark argues that there was one huge factor that helped capture the attention of the ancient world—Christianity’s revolutionary emphasis on mercy. In 2012, the second largest publisher in the world, HarperCollins, published Stark’s book, The Triumph of Christianity. In that book he writes:

In the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security…. It started with Jesus….
In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice…. [Thus, according to some in the ancient world] humans must learn “to curb the impulse [to show mercy]”; “the cry of the undeserving for mercy” must go “unanswered.” “[Showing mercy] was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up.”[5]

In the midst of such a cold moral climate, the mercy of Jesus proved tremendously attractive. Jesus’ mercy and love continues to attract people around the world to him.
At the beginning of this story we read that Bartimaeus “sat by the way”. That’s a literal translation. Then at the end of this story, Mark tells us Bartimaeus followed Jesus “in the way”. “The Way” has a double meaning in this story. It means the way, the road to Jerusalem. But “the Way” was also the first designation for what we now call Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

What is our response? Are we merely sitting by the way, like Bartimaeus was at the beginning of this story? Or are we following Jesus in the way?


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