Recently, our eldest daughter, our son-in-law, and their three children moved to Washington DC for a brief time. Their youngest son, Tyler, almost four years old, was looking forward to “going to America.” It became clear, however, that his understanding of “America”was all that clear. In fact, though he looked forward to his destination, once he got there, he was sorely disappointed.
After a long flight, they finally arrived and, collecting their bags, took a shuttle bus for the several-mile trip to collect their rental car. As they drove, Tyler was slumped down in one of the seats looking very grumpy. His mother eventually asked, “What’s wrong, Tyler?” He replied. “I want to go to America!” When his mother told him that they were, in fact, in America, he complained, “No, we’re not; we’re in a bus!”
Clearly, his understanding of his destination needed some clarification. What he expected was not what he experienced. He was not a happy camper. Welcome to Mark’s Gospel.
As we have seen in our journey through this book, the disciples often behave like my grandson: What they experience with and from Jesus is not what they were expecting. Though the announced kingdom of God had arrived (1:14–15), the disciples lived as if they were merely on a bus. Like my grandson, they were disappointed. They were disillusioned. They were ungrateful. And, soon, they would fail and fall miserably.
Though eleven of the original disciples would prove to be the real deal, at this point we would not identify any of them as a model disciple.
Mark had a specific purpose about what and how he wrote. There is a structural purpose throughout his work.
Mark was writing to Roman Christians who were undergoing tough times. He was writing to point them to Christ and his everlasting kingdom. He was writing to encourage them that Jesus Christ, who is God, is King. But it seems from the way that Mark writes that he wanted his readers to understand that the road of discipleship is a long and winding road and disciples often stumble along the way.
Mark is a favourite read for Christians. No doubt, its brevity and quick pace makes it an easy go-to Gospel. But perhaps the reason for its popularity lies at a deeper level. Perhaps it is a favourite because of its raw honesty about the failure of the disciples to get it. They failed to faithfully and fruitfully follow.
Their spiritual obtuseness (might we say, their spiritual blindness) is something we can all relate to.
With this in mind, we need to consider the structure of Mark commencing with 8:22. It appears that Mark considered 8:22 to introduce a unit with 10:52 closing it.
The section opens with Jesus restoring sight to a blind man (8:22–26) and it closes with Jesus restoring sight to a blind man (10:46–52). Further, in both of these miracles, the recipients of the miracle refused to accept things as they were. In the first instance, the man needed a second touch from Jesus before he saw clearly. He was honest after the first touch that he still needed improvement. In the second case, the man persevered in crying out for mercy even though the crowd tried to silence him. He wanted to see, and he would not be denied!
But most importantly, in this unit we have three revelations of the cross followed by evidence of spiritual blindness (8:27–33ff; 9:30–41; 10:32–45).
It’s pretty clear (for those with eyes to see) that Mark was teaching his readers, including you and me, that disciples of Jesus need help to really understand and to appreciate and to apply the cross of Jesus to our lives.
We stumble along, at times, as though we are still spiritually blind. Like Peter we argue with Jesus (8:31–32). Like them, we seek self-promotion (9:33–37; 10:35–45). Like them, we marginalise those whom the world marginalises (10:13–16). Like them, we are wowed by the same things the world is wowed by (10:17–31).
Like them, we don’t realise we are in a different kingdom. We act like we are simply on a bus. And we are often grumpy about it. Mark wants us to learn to not be too critical of other disciples; not to be overconfident about our own discipleship; and to cry out for improved sight and to keep following.
At this point in the biblical narrative, the chosen twelve are not a good example for us to follow. But enter what we might call a model disciple: Bartimaeus. This man got it. Mark wanted his readers to get it too.
There are two major characteristics of this model disciple, which will be true of every true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we consider these two characteristics, let us remember that every Christian—no exception—is called to be such a disciple.
A Model Disciple Falls before Jesus in Desperation
We learn, from vv. 46–51, that model Disciples fall before Jesus in utter desperation.
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.”
Bartimaeus, however, it has been observed, though blind, had better sight than the Twelve. “What Bartimaeus lacks in eyesight he makes up for in insight” (Edwards).
Whereas the disciples, up to this point, kept stumbling over the identity of Jesus, here Bartimaeus made the most insightful declaration when he identified “Jesus of Nazareth” with the Messianic title “Son of David.” Those who follow Jesus on the path of discipleship only do so because they understand who he is. This is something of which we constantly need reminding. It will help for us to flesh this out.
Consider His Destitution
Mark writes, “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” (v. 42).
Jesus passed through “Jericho” on his way to Jerusalem. This is one of the longest inhabited cities on earth, though the precise locale of this Jericho was a couple of kilometres south of the original Jericho of Joshua’s day. It is about thirty kilometres from Jerusalem and requires a long and treacherous uphill climb to Jerusalem. Perhaps this is meant to instruct us that following Jesus is not an easy path.
We don’t know how long Jesus was there, and nothing is recorded of his sojourn there. Was he teaching there? Perhaps. And this might be how Bartimaeus learned of his presence and came to understand who Jesus was.
Regardless, on his way out of town, Jesus was accompanied by “his disciples and a great crowd”—a crowd, which, by the way, will soon turn against him.
It was not unusual for beggars to sit by the wayside to catch the attention of those on their way to Jerusalem, especially at this time of year when those on pilgrimage to the feast of Passover would crowd the highway. It was a vulnerable place for Bartimaeus (Luke 10:29–30), but for a blind man in those days, as often in our own, it simply accentuated his existing vulnerability. There is not much status for a blind man in those days and no bright future. The crowd would soon make this clear.
Contemplate His Declaration
Somehow, Bartimaeus is made aware that “Jesus of Nazareth” was passing by. “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!’” (v. 47).
It should be noted that, the first time Mark used “Jesus of Nazareth,” it was in the context of Jesus’ first miracle recorded in Mark (1:24). There, a man possessed of a demon called out to Jesus with this designation and Jesus delivered him.
The path of discipleship must reckon on the humanity of Jesus, but it needs to move forward to embracing him as the Christ of God if salvation—true and full healing—will be experienced. Thankfully, Bartimaeus had this insight.
Bartimaeus was in a desperate condition and when he heard that Jesus is near, “he began to cry out, and say, ‘Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
A Cry for Salvation
The words translated “cry out” are strong. They indicate a shriek or a scream. This word is used in the context of a father desperate for his son to be delivered from a demon (9:24). We will hear this cry later when the crowds (some of those here?) scream, “Crucify him!” (15:13). The last time we come across it is when Jesus himself “cried out” on the cross (15:39). Bartimaeus, clearly, was desperate. And such desperation is the place where discipleship begins: desperation over our sin; and desperation over the realisation that we are cut off from God.
Sometimes God will use trials to bring us to this realisation. The loss of a loved one, or the loss of a relationship, or the loss of a job, or perhaps the loss of health in order to bring us to the place where we realise our need, is greater than we thought. Our need is to be made right with God. And the only one who can do that is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David.
When we realise that we need the mercy of the Saviour, then we are on the pathway of true discipleship. Bartimaeus cried for mercy, not for justice. This is the perspective of a true disciple.
Confession of the Saviour
Bartimaeus had somehow concluded that Jesus of Nazareth was much more than a mere man from Nazareth: He was, in fact, the promised “Son of David.” That title derives from God’s promise that David would have a son on the throne of Israel who would reign forever (2 Samuel 7:12–13). It is applied to Jesus several times in the Gospels, including the opening words of Matthew’s genealogy (1:1).
God’s promise to David involved a king from the loins of David who would establish a kingdom over which he would reign forever. Of ,course Jesus is that King, as Mark makes clear from the beginning of his Gospel.
In just a few days, Jesus would enter Jerusalem to shouts of “hosanna” referencing this Messianic title (11:9–10; see Matthew 21:9). In Mark 12:9–10 Jesus would question the Pharisees about this very title. While these religious leaders refused to confess him as Messiah, and the crowds superficially saw him as Messiah, and Jesus’ own disciples were struggling to grasp that he is Messiah, Bartimaeus—a blind man—saw him as Messiah! Bartimaeus saw Jesus as Saviour and so confessed him.
Again, during Jesus’ time in Jericho, Bartimaeus must have heard enough to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah. We have no reason to assume that this was crass flattery. Perhaps he had heard of Jesus healing the deaf and the lame and the blind and, in keeping with Old Testament prophecy, concluded that Jesus was Messiah (Isaiah 35:4–5; cf. Matthew 11:1–6).
Salvation is of the Lord
But of course, this was not merely a natural conclusion. Rather, God graciously illuminated his understanding so that he could and would come to this conclusion (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). After all, no man can truly and savingly call Jesus “Lord” but by the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3; cf. 1 John 5:1a).
In other words, God had graciously enabled this man to see Jesus for who he was. This is always how discipleship begins. True disciples have spiritual insight by the grace of God. They believe because God has graciously enabled them to believe. They believe because they have been born again. They believe because they have been raised from the dead. They are able to see by the power of God.
Paul Washer tells of a time he was in Alaska ministering the word in a small church in a small town. A man walked into the service, obviously troubled, and sat in the front row. After the service, Washer greeted the man and asked what was troubling him. The man told him that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three weeks to live. He admitted that, whole he had heard about God, he was unfamiliar with Jesus, whom Washer had preached. Washer told the man that he was booked on a return flight to America that Tuesday, but committed to cancel his flight and meet with the man to share the gospel until he either confessed Christ or died condemned to hell.
Washer meet with the man for a long time, carefully sharing the gospel and pointing him to Christ. At one point, he asked the man if he believed in Christ. The man replied that, while he understood the gospel, he did not yet believe. Washer asked the man to read John 3:16. The man objected that they had already looked at that verse, but Washer asked him to bear with him.
The man started reading, “For God so loved the world that he—“ He stopped, choked up. After a brief pause, he said, through tears, “I believe.” When he asked what made the difference, the man replied, “Haven’t you read John 3:16?”
True disciples need to continually grow in their insight of the person and work of Jesus (Ephesians 1:16ff). One means toward this end is to listen to what you hear from those in “Jericho.” That is, listen to the true reports about Jesus from those who have seen and heard him. This highlights the importance of gathering with other believers. It highlights the importance of reading solid theology, biography, etc.
Copy His Determination
We must learn to copy Bartimaeus’s determination.
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.”
Bartimaeus, according to Matthew 20:29–34, was not alone. There was another blind man also begging. Jesus would heal him. But for whatever reason, both Mark and Luke only focus on him, with only Mark recording his name. This is significant. He must have been well known to the early church, or at least known to Mark’s original audience. After all, he was a model of what all faithful disciples of Jesus are, to some degree.
Bartimaeus was desperate and determined. He was insightful in desperation and hopeful in determination.
Blind people in Jesus’ day, as throughout most of history, have been disenfranchised and marginalised, even oppressed. This man, who was sorely disadvantaged, was callously treated by the crowd of “believers” who were following Jesus. They remind me of those to whom James wrote and rebuked for saying to the hungry, “Be warm and be fed” (James 2:16). Or like Queen Antoinette who responded, when told that the masses had no bread, “Let them eat cake.” They were completely oblivious to the hardship endured—blind to the blind, we might say.
But in spite of being treated with such contempt by those who claimed to be followers of Jesus, he persevered, and continued to “cry out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” I love that: “all the more” he did so. The more he was told to be silent, and the more he was sharply censured, the louder he cried out. Edwards helpfully comments, “Nothing can silence Bartimaeus; indeed, opposition only fans the flame of his persistence. The kingdom of heaven … is not for the well-meaning but for the desperate.”
Because Bartimaeus had insight in who Jesus was, he had hope in what he could do.
While typing that line, I received a message about one of our church members who underwent surgery for a problem that has debilitated him for years and negatively affecting his employment and therefore his stream of income needed to provide for his family. The surgery was a resounding success. Many of us have been praying for this. The Son of David had mercy on him. Praise God!
It is interesting that King David, just after he was anointed king, headed for Jerusalem. Once he entered and secured Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a decree was made, that “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house” (2 Samuel 5:5–8). In a sense, this is being fulfilled here by the promised Son of David who will take away this man’s blindness so that he can enter.
Now, I don’t know if this man was aware of this text, but if so, it is more evidence of this hope of what Jesus could and would do. Even against a hostile crowd of shameful “followers” of Jesus.
A Calloused Crowd
Sometimes those in a crowd of disciples just don’t get it. To be frank, often there are those in a crowd who are not true disciples. They like the camaraderie. They enjoy being a part of something where they feel connected and excited. Yet they do not have spiritual eyes to see. This is true in every church—including, no doubt, ours. And sometimes those in the crowd can be calloused, hard-hearted and harmful.
Some reading will have been hurt by those in the crowd accompanying disciples. Remain hopeful. Keep crying out to Jesus for his mercies. Don’t allow the calloused crowd to discourage you and to derail you from looking to Jesus for help. I know what it is like to be deeply wounded by some in the crowd. As do many other readers. But I also know that our hope for help rests not in flesh and blood—not in the arm of flesh or the legs of a man—but rather in the name of the Lord. And that name is “Son of David”!
Don’t give up because of the naysayers. Don’t’ stop looking to Jesus because of those who seek to silence you. Don’t stop beating on heaven’s door because some senseless or insensitive Christian tells you that God is not interested in you. Be hopeful that the Son of David, the King of kings will receive your plea.
I recently read of a pastor in the UK whose granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer. During her treatment, she wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth. Nobody realistically expected a response, and so it was a surprise when a return letter arrived from Buckingham Palace penned by the queen. How much more should we expect the King of kings to hear and respond to our prayers!
Have you been hurt by a church? Don’t stop believing. Have you been mocked by a professing Christian in the workplace? Don’t stop doing what is right. Have you become disillusioned by a hypocrite? Remember that the Son of David is not to blame.
Christian brother, sister, let’s be on guard against hindering a Bartimaeus that may be in our path. Help them to experience the mercy of Jesus.
Bartimaeus would not be silenced. His perseverance paid off. Jesus heard him and did something extraordinary: He stopped. Jesus paused his journey to respond to the cry for mercy. Why? Because he had come to serve and to save the desperate (v. 45).
Jesus still stops. Ferguson pastorally notes, “Jesus has not changed; he is still the same. He still stops for those who call on his name, and he listens to our prayers for help.”
Jesus issued the command, “Call him.” I would love to know his tone of voice. I suspect that it was tender and yet tinged with an authoritative rebuke to these hardened followers. I suspect they were ashamed.
Anyway, they seem to have had a change of heart—or at least, they pretended to—for now, with an exalted and even cheery tone, they called to Bartimaeus, “Take heart. Get up: he is calling you!” Rather about face, don’t you think? If Jesus ever rolled his eyes at his followers, it might have been here!
The Last Shall Be First
All through this chapter, Jesus has been teaching his disciples the kingdom rule that the “first shall be last and the last shall be first” (v. 31). That is, the kingdom of God doesn’t operate by the commonly accepted rules of the world. God’s people don’t judge a person’s worth or place in God’s kingdom by worldly standards but rather by whether or not they are in the kingdom. Bartimaeus was considered to be in the “last” category by society. Jesus treated him as being “first.”
In spite of what seems like a shameful scene for these followers, we should learn from this the need to call people to Jesus. There are many people who are crying out for mercy who need someone to help them get to Jesus. Don’t ignore them. Don’t write them off as hopeless. Unless, of course, you have written yourself off as hopeless. Be willing to be the means of bringing them to Jesus.
Jesus may have done this in order to help the crowd to connect with a live human being who was in need! They needed to come down from their place of privilege to interact and to help the most unlikely or persons.
Oh how this man’s heart must have rejoiced! “Get up, he is calling you” must have been music to his ears. It is as if he had already begun to be restored. In an earlier pericope, Jesus had called a man. But that man had heard the call as bad news (v. 21). This man heard it as good and great and graced news! This brings us to the next point.
Hearing this call, hearing this good news, Bartimaeus responded by “throwing off his cloak” after which “he sprang up and came to Jesus.” This is a short but very pregnant verse.
The cloak was an outer garment, common in that day. For a beggar, it was often also a collection plate. As they sat by the roadside, the cloak would be the place where the coins were thrown. After all, most people would not risk touching the hand of a beggar lest they were made unclean.
So when we read that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, we should probably read this as a contrast to how the rich man responded when told to “throw off” his property, to leave his riches (vv. 21–22). That man had refused to do so and went away sad. This man did so and goes away glad.
The true disciple of Jesus is willing to leave everything to follow Jesus. The true disciple realises that her greatest need is to have Jesus, not to have things, whether relationships, riches, or sinful pleasures.
Bartimaeus was leaving behind as much, if not more, than the rich man left behind. And consider that Bartimaeus was not even asked to!
I imagine that Bartimaeus was so focused on receiving mercy from Jesus that the thought of what he was leaving behind did not even cross his mind. If Jesus would restore his sight, then he was sure that Jesus could meet any other need he might have.
This is the hope that fuels a disciple to follow Jesus with full abandon. When Jesus calls us to himself, we can cast away whatever is required of us because we have a confidence that will not be cast away (Hebrews 10:35). Respond to the call of Jesus, the Son of David, the merciful Saviour. He will care for you! In a day in which hope is in short supply, let us follow Jesus in such a way that people will be attracted to the hope we have: our hope in Christ alone (see 1 Peter 1:3; 3:15).
For the second time in but a few verses, Jesus asked the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” (cf. v. 36). Bartimaeus’s request was much humbler, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” The word “Rabbi” (or “Rhabboni”) is a title of respect and honour. It implies lord, or master, or chief. Unlike James and John, this man spoke with humility rather than from a disposition of entitlement.
We might be thinking, why the question? After all, surely Jesus knew what he wanted. I suspect the reason is that Jesus wanted to call this man to faith by calling to his lips his needed request. He must articulate his need before the Lord would respond. But I also think there is something else here.
Remember that Bartimaeus was begging. When Peter and John later met a beggar at the temple, he asked them for alms. Material provision was all he wanted. Of course, they gave him much more (Acts 3:1–10)!
Bruce puts it this way: “In response to the question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Bartimaeus requests, sight, of course. Who would think of asking for alms of one who could open blind eyes!” Bartimaeus was persuaded that Jesus could give to him so much more than a few coins. The Son of David could make him whole, not merely fill a financial hole.
What do we request of him? What is at the heart of a model disciple’s request? Should it not be for increasingly improved “sight”?
Of course we are taught to ask for our daily bread. We are to pray for many kinds of things, but the disciple with spiritual insight, the follower of Jesus who stewards well her spiritual privilege, will prioritise the request to be able to see as God intends: to be made, as someone pointed out, not super-human but rather to be made fully human as God intended for us to be.
Follower of Jesus, amid your requests for provision, health, wisdom, prioritise the request for holiness. Prioritise the requests to be redeemed from your sinful habits, from sinful attitudes. Believe God for this as much as you believe him for daily bread. May our corporate desire, as expressed through corporate prayer, reflect such requests.
A Model Disciple Follows Jesus to His Destination
Finally, a model disciple is not only insightful and hopeful, but this is grounded in their being faithful. Bartimaeus was. “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” (v. 52).
Having stated his request, Jesus “immediately” made Bartimaeus “well.” This word is also translated in the New Testament by “save.” I think this is the intention here. Bartimaeus was not only physically made well; he was spiritually made well or “whole” as well. (See Acts 4:1-12 for the same intentional use of the word.)
The key element here is “faith.” The faith of Bartimaeus was the instrument by which he was restored. He had faith in the identity of Jesus, and this was demonstrated in his persevering cry for mercy. Such is the conviction of a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Give him no rest. Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you. Don’t listen to the naysayers; look to Jesus; stay focused on him.
But, what is the proof of such saving faith? We see the answer in the closing clause.
Mark was a skilled writer. He used words in a very didactic way. We see this in the closing words “and followed him on the way.” The root of the word translated “followed” means “a road.” This is also the meaning of “the way.” These are words that depict being on a journey. This is a major theme in Mark 10 (see vv. 1, 17, 21, 28, 32, 46). Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem where he would give his life a ransom for many (v. 45). And one of those “many” was now following him there. The blind beggar who was merely by the road was now an insightful disciple with Jesus on the road. His faith was being proven by faithfully following Jesus. As Edwards puts it, “Faith that does not lead to discipleship is not saving faith. Whoever asks of Jesus must be willing to follow Jesus … even on the uphill road to the cross.”
Not a Supermodel
Bartimaeus was not a supermodel or a super-disciple. Rather he was a model of all true disciples. The proof of saving faith is following Jesus to and with a cross.
Simply put, if you don’t fall before Jesus in desperation, if you don’t follow Jesus to his destination, then you don’t have Jesus. You are merely a part of the crowd and are, in your heart, crying out, “Crucify him!” There is no Christ without the cross; no deliverance without discipleship; no forgiveness without following; and no destination without devotion.
May God grant you grace to cry out, like Bartimaeus, “Have mercy on me!” When you do, Jesus will stop, call you, and, by the power of God’s grace, give you faith to come to him. Do so today. Do so now.
Seeing the Full Gospel
It was wonderful that Bartimaeus could see once again. But think about what he would see as he followed Jesus to Jerusalem. He would see Jesus abused, crucified and, probably, risen from the dead. He would, quite literally, behold the gospel.
Jesus would be made “unwell” so that sinners like Bartimaeus could be made well. His body would no longer be whole; it would be broken (see 1 Corinthians 11:24). For three hours, he would no longer be able to see the glory of God, so that Bartimaeus—and you and I—can see it.
Because for thirty-three years Jesus sinlessly walked the road the Father prepared for him, he was able to die in our place, taking to himself the wrath of God we deserved. But like Bartimaeus, three days later he would “spring up” (50) from the grave, securing wholeness for all and everyone who would repent, crying out to him for mercy to save us from our sins. Have you done so? Do so today.
Christian, as faltering as were the chosen disciples, they eventually became model disciples themselves. So can we. So, like Bartimaeus, let us follow him. Take up your cross, again, and follow Jesus today.