Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in a society with amazing technological feats and medical advancements. We also live in a society which has social systems in place to help those who have need. Well, the first-century Roman world, had neither of these. Begging was considered an acceptable way to make a living for those who couldn’t work. Of course beggars were looked down on, but if you could work and had money, it was your civic and religious duty to give a beggar something when you passed him by. That was one way they handled social welfare in Judea. In our Gospel reading we meet a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In the final verse, Jesus says that faith is what drove Bartimaeus. The rest of the story shows us what that faith is. Bartimaeus’s faith is not about reciting the correct confession or subscribing to certain dogmas. This morning we’re going to look at Bartimaeus’ unrelenting conviction that Jesus can and will rescue him from his need.
He Grasps Who Jesus Is
It was a hot, dry and dusty spring day, but the road leading out of Jericho was a good place for a beggar to beg. Scores of people were travelling to and from Jerusalem. It was the perfect place for Bartimaeus. While he was sitting at the side of the road, he heard a big commotion. As a large crowd was coming down the road, his sharp ears could pick out the voices. He heard the name, Jesus. Jesus – that healer and teacher from Nazareth. Bartimaeus heard about Jesus. How Jesus healed the sick, and cast out demons, and raised the dead. He’d heard about Jesus’ compassion, His love for the lost, His call to discipleship. Bartimaeus believed that Jesus could help him. As the crowd drew closer, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The crowds of people have no compassion for Bartimaeus. All they see is someone shouting from the roadside. He’s just a nuisance. But this man knows what he wants, and no rebukes from the crowd will keep him silent. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus’ cry is a confession of faith and a prayer all at the same time. It calls on the name of Jesus, the name that is above every name. Bartimaeus grasps who Jesus is. The title he used shows that he knows that Jesus is God’s designated agent, a royal figure. Bartimaeus, despite his blindness, sees Jesus’ royal identity.
What does it mean to call Jesus “the son of David”? What does it mean to call Charles the son of Elizabeth? It means he’s the heir to the throne! Bartimaeus confesses Jesus to be the Son of David, which is the Jewish way of saying the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of David, the heir to the throne of David. Bartimaeus was a believer. He’d never met Jesus, but He believed Jesus was the king who was promised to come. A king is someone who has the power and authority to rule a country. God keeps His promises. He made a promise to David that one of his sons would reign as king forever. Jesus was of the house and lineage of David (Luke 2:4), and when He was born, the Wise Men from the East inquired about the newborn king of the Jews (Matt. 2:2). On Palm Sunday, Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as her King (Luke 19:38), and before Pilate, Jesus testified that He was indeed a King (John 18:37). But, Jesus is not an earthly king. Jesus was not the kind of king the Jews, or even His disciples, expected. Jesus was not a rival of Herod or Caesar. A king is someone who has the power and authority to rule. Jesus is the king of the universe—King of Kings—God’s king.
He Asks For the Right Thing
But why does Bartimaeus ask him for mercy? Beggars depended on the mercy of those better off. They usually asked for help by saying, “Kyrie, eleison!,” “Lord, have mercy!” This cry was familiar to everyone in antiquity and they heard it almost every day in every street. We are all beggars, spiritual beggars. We are spiritually destitute, aching and longing for someone to pity us. Now you see why this prayer occurs so often in the Liturgy: Lord, have mercy. Kyrie Eleison. In peace, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy. Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?,” his reply is a simple request voiced with the confidence that Jesus can deliver. “That I would see again,” he said. Bartimaeus wanted to see; he wanted Jesus to fix his eyes. He believed that Jesus was God’s chosen King, David’s heir, and as such, he had the power to do that for him. This declares resolutely that Jesus can bring the wholeness and deliverance that people seek.
And Jesus says a curious thing to him: “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Your faith has made you well. The faith that healed Bartimaeus is the faith that saved him. And that faith saved and healed Bartimaeus because it was faith in Jesus as the Son of David. Faith cries out to King Jesus for mercy, and faith receives mercy from Jesus. Faith can make us well. This is not magic, or superstition, or some simple fix, of course. When Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well”, he is not saying that these people somehow believed their way into wellness. Instead, he is the one restoring them to health. It is Jesus who heals and faith that receives that healing. And so it is or can be, for you who hear the Gospel today. Faith can make you well. Faith can open your eyes, unstop your ears — even raise you from death. It isn’t faith that does these things, but the power of Jesus’ word for salvation.
What does it mean to have Jesus as your king? Does it mean he gets to command you around; tell you what to do? With Jesus as our King, blind eyes see. Sinners are forgiven—the dead rise. Jesus came to fix what was broken by Adam’s fall. He came to bring a new creation with His dying and rising – a kingdom in which the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap for joy, the leper is cleansed, the dead rise to life. Jesus is the king, the Son of David, king of the universe—King of Kings—God’s king, the king who came to reverse all the damage humanity has caused.
What is the practical implication for Bartimaeus for acknowledging Jesus as he truly is and for believing in Jesus and his mercy? He gains his sight, and, more importantly, he follows Jesus. “Immediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.” (10:50) And where is this way headed? In the following passage, we find Jesus entering Jerusalem and starting the chain of events that will end up at the cross. Like all of Jesus’ miracles, this healing was a costly one. It cost Him his life on the cross. There Jesus won the victory for us all, and He shares that victory with all who cry out to Him in beggar faith. Jesus healed the eyes of the blind, but he also hung on the cross. He died in the darkness so that he might bring the light to the world.
Blind Bartimaeus begging at the side of the road is a perfect picture of what faith in Jesus is all about. He cannot see, but he believes. He believes the word he has heard. His eyes are his ears. Seeing Jesus would not have helped Bartimaeus believe in Jesus. Faith comes by hearing, not by seeing. Seeing is not believing; we don’t always believe in what we see. Faith is a beggar before God. It offers nothing; it receives everything as a gift. When we look at Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, we see what faith in Christ looks like, and we take our place at his side, praying to Jesus for mercy.
What do you think Jesus, your King, can do for you? If you were in this scene, what would you ask Jesus for? Imagine that you are sitting by the roadside and listening to the crowd. What are you feeling when you discover it’s Jesus who is passing by? Imagine that you call out to him, and when he summons you, you put everything aside and go to him. And when he asks you what you want him to do, what do you ask him for? Don’t ask to gratify those small, selfish comforts of the flesh. Don’t rely on your victimhood. Ask for freedom, for salvation, ask for forgiveness and eternal life. Today, Jesus, the very Son of David, comes among us to offer you spiritual healing. Dear Christian, “Take courage; get up; he’s calling you!”
He’s calling you to his table and calling you to receive the peace of God, which will surpass all understanding, and which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.