Scripture: Mark 10:46-52
Like some of you, I’m a longtime fan of actor and comedian Bill Murray. I was a young child when he was on Saturday Night Live back in the ’70s. And Saturday Night Live, of course,was way too grown-up for me at the time—plus my bedtime was long before the show started. But that did not stop me from trying to watch it whenever I could—I would sometimes sneak out of my bedroom and tiptoe down the hall, and secretly watch it from the hallway, if my older sister or babysitter was watching it in the den when my parents were out. So I have fond memories of Bill Murray from way back then.
But I’ve actually grown to love him more in recent years—now that he’s older, funnier, and more… eccentric?
For instance, over the past decade or so, Bill Murray has developed a reputation for just sort of… showing up… unexpected… at events involving ordinary people… doing ordinary things… There’s even a website devoted to keeping track of Bill Murray sightings among ordinary people… On at least one occasion, for example, he offered a toast at the wedding reception of complete strangers… He photo-bombed engagement photos… he’s crashed multiple wedding receptions… he even crashed a friendly kickball game in a park and played kickball for a few innings—again, with complete strangers… In one of my favorite stories, a group of friends spotted Bill Murray in a hotel. They asked him for autographs. He refused. Instead… he said he wanted to be filmed with them, walking down a hallway in slow motion, in the style of one of his recent movies.
He has endeared himself to many, many people doing things like this….
And the people for whom or with whom he does all these things have the same reaction: “I can’t believe this famous actor, comedian—celebrity—is doing this… for me… for us… He’s so so approachable, so normal, so down to earth…”
They think, “Shouldn’t a famous and powerful celebrity like Bill Murray have more important things to do?”
In a way, this isn’t so different from Jesus in today’s scripture—when he takes time away from the very important things that he’s doing… in order to help and heal this blind beggar on the side of the road.
Why is he doing this for this man?
Jesus certainly does have important business to do. He’s passing through Jericho, a city 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem, alongside tens of thousands of other faithful Jewish pilgrims, on his way to Jerusalem for Passover. But as we’ve already learned in Mark chapter 10, Jesus was going to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and be resurrected. As we saw last week, the disciples misunderstood him. They thought he was soon going to become king of Israel, that he was going to recruit an army and drive the Romans from the land. That’s what they believed the Messiah was supposed to do.
But even though the disciples and the large entourage of followers surrounding Jesus misunderstood what’s about to happen, they all expected that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to do something big… something important… something world-changing. And they all wanted to be part of it.
And into this picture enters a humble beggar, a blind man named Bartimaeus. Because he was blind, he had few options for surviving, other than to beg for money full-time. And you can imagine this highway leaving Jericho was crowded with a long line of people just like Bartimaeus—after all, with tens of thousands of pilgrims passing through the city, it was an excellent opportunity to panhandle.
Except… Bartimaeus wants something more than mere money. Otherwise, why bother Jesus at all? Anyone can drop a coin into his cup.
In fact, Bartimaeus wanted Jesus’ attention because he believes three things about Jesus. First, notice he calls him “son of David.” This is the only place in Mark’s gospel where someone calls Jesus that. It is a specifically messianic title. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, when people discovered his true identity, Jesus would give instructions for the person not to tell anyone… Not because it wasn’t true but because being hailed as Messiah was dangerous… You could get yourself killed, and earlier in Jesus’ ministry, it wasn’t time for Jesus to die.
But guess what? Now it is. In fact, in the very next chapter, Jesus will ride into Jerusalem for the Triumphal Entry. In doing so, he will symbolically be telling the world that he is, indeed, the Messiah. And he will soon suffer the consequences.
So the first thing Bartimaeus believes about Jesus was that he was the Messiah.
Second, he believes that Jesus has the power to heal him of his blindness.
Now let’s stop right there… How does Bartimaeus know these things about Jesus—that he’s the Messiah and he has the power to heal?
Because other people told him about Jesus. Other people said things like this to him: “Let me tell you what I saw Jesus do for a friend of mine.” “Let me tell you about this miracle that I observed with my own eyes.” “Let me tell you what Jesus did for me!” Other people told Baritmaeus the difference that Jesus has made in their lives!
Speaking of which, are you like me? Do you still pinch yourself and make sure you’re not dreaming about the Braves’ World Series victory? They did win, right? I didn’t dream that, did I? Okay… But I can’t get over it. After Game 4, the Fox broadcast crew interviewed shortstop and Cobb County native Dansby Swanson. Swanson hit the tying home run in that game, which put the Braves up three games to one. And in Game 6, he made the last out of the series to secure the championship!
I love Dansby Swanson. But I especially love what he said and did in this interview after Game 4. He was asked about being traded to Atlanta back in 2015, something he didn’t want originally. He said:
Getting traded over here, at the time I didn’t understand it. But God’s always got a plan. And if I’ve learned one thing, it’s having faith in that plan will never fail you. And it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Being here, being able to see my family as much as I do… If I didn’t get traded here I never would have met Mallory [his wife]. You start stacking things on top of each other. It’s truly a blessing to be in this city.
In the past he’s talked openly about his faith in Christ, and how the Lord has helped him through serious bouts of crippling anxiety.
Don’t you think that someone in Dansby Swanson’s life—among his friends, family, teammates, acquaintances—that someone even in that television audience watching the World Series—someone needed to hear Swanson’s words of testimony and witness. That God used these and other words from Swanson to point people to his Son Jesus? Don’t you think that maybe there’s a present-day Bartimaeus out there who needs to hear about how Jesus can heal him, and Swanson’s words may be the only way that person will hear!
So praise God that in today’s scripture Bartimaeus had someone in his life who had previously told him about Jesus… Otherwise he never would have done what he did in today’s scripture. And he would be eternally separated from God in hell right now! That’s how high the stakes are for this mission—this Great Commission—that Christ has given us.
Besides, if you’ve had a life-changing, soul-saving encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, don’t you have experiences you can share with others about what Christ has done for you… How Christ has helped you… Of course you do… What Dansby Swanson told the interviewer hardly required an advanced degree in theology. He said, “It seemed like this trade was a really bad thing in my career, but let me tell you, from my personal experience, how God used this for my good… Let me tell you how God’s plan for my life worked out so well. And he’s got a plan for your life.”
Do you know people in your life who feel as if their plans have fallen apart? What encouraging word from your own experience of faith in Christ can you share with them? That’s just one small example, but my point is, all of us who’ve had a life-changing encounter with Christ can do something like what Dansby Swanson did.
And someone did that for Bartimaeus as well… and look at the difference it made!
So… We’ve talked about two things that Bartimaeus believed Jesus: one, that he was the Messiah. Two, that he believed Jesus had the power to heal him. And three—almost as importantly… Unlike nearly everyone else in the crowd… including possibly Jesus’ own disciples… Bartimaeus believed that Jesus wanted to heal him—yes, even someone like Bartimaeus.
We learn, after all, in John chapter 9, a little bit about the way the “polite society” of Jesus’ day viewed the blind. Remember there was a man born blind in John 9. And even Jesus’ own disciples ask him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”1 In other words, many people believed that Bartimaeus was blind because he was a morally unfit person… He was blind because of his sin… He was blind because God was punishing him.
Consequently, Bartimaeus was a social outcast, he was considered a conspicuous “sinner,” he was on or near the lowest rung of society’s ladder, he was a nobody…
As I said about Bill Murray at the top of the sermon, except only more so: Why would someone as powerful and important—someone who’s about to be crowned king—someone like Jesus—why would he take time out of his busy schedule, disrupt his urgent plans, stop what he’s doing, and spend time with someone like Bartimaeus?
It was incomprehensible to people in today’s scripture: in fact, all the people around Bartimaeus are telling him to knock it off! Verse 48: “And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” I love that: “he cried out all the more.”
This reminds me of a parable that Jesus tells us in Luke 18:1-8—often called the Parable of the Unjust Judge, or the Parable of the Persistent Widow, depending on which character you want to emphasize. Luke says that Jesus told this parable to teach us disciples to “always pray and not lose heart.”2
In the parable, a widow—who, like Bartimaeus, is poor and near the bottom rung of the ladder, socially—but a widow goes to a judge, day after day, asking the judge to give her justice. This woman knows well and good that this powerful man does not care about her. Undoubtedly people were telling her, “Don’t bother this powerful and important person anymore! Be quiet!”But like Bartimaeus, she won’t shut up. Until finally, the judge thinks to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”3
Jesus’ point is not to say that God is like the unjust judge. Not at all… God is the opposite of the unjust judge! Jesus’ point is to say that if even an unjust judge will eventually give this poor woman what she asks for… how much more will our God give us, his beloved children, what we ask for?
Because God, unlike the judge, deeply cares about you and me! Even though, in relation to him, we may seem like nobodies!
If we’re in Christ, we’re the opposite of nobodies: we’re beloved children of the King! That’s why the author of Hebrews says, “Boldly approach the throne room and ask your Father for what you want!”4 That’s why scripture says again and again that God will always give his children what they need!
Listen, you’ve heard me quote this before: Pastor Tim Keller says, “God will either give us what we ask for in prayer or give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows.” I love this quote, obviously—I quote it all the time. But mostly because I believe it’s a faithful summary of the Bible’s teaching on prayer. But notice what Keller isn’t saying. He isn’t saying this:
God will either give us what we ask for in prayer or give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows—or give us what we would have asked for if we had bothered asking in the first
In other words, the Bible makes no promises about what God will do for us if we don’t pray—except to warn that if we fail to pray, God may not give us what we want! The apostle James warns us that “you do not have because you do not ask.”5
But I worry that one reason we fail to imitate Bartimaeus, to be as persistent in prayer as he is, is because—like his many detractors in the crowd—we don’t really believe that Jesus wants to be with us, to help us, to heal us. I mean, keep in mind, don’t you think by now most of the crowd in Jericho had seen evidence of Jesus’ healing power. That’s why most of them were there, after all. Because Jesus could work miracles! While they believed in Jesus’ power, they were telling Bartimaeus to knock it off, not because they doubted Jesus could heal him… they just doubted that Jesus wanted to heal him.
Do we ever feel that way?
I listen to a preaching podcast hosted by a couple of Episcopal ministers, Jacob Smith and Aaron Zimmerman. They talked about this scripture recently. They said that in their experience as pastors, when people in their churches offer prayer requests, they almost always ask for prayers for the health, safety, and healing of other people. Their parishioners mostly only want Jesus to heal or help other people. They only reluctantly offer up a prayer request for themselves.
“Why?” these two pastors wonder. It can’t be because none of their parishioners have any problems for which they need Jesus’ healing touch!
No, Jake and Aaron suspect that they don’t want to be selfish. “My problems aren’t important in the grand scheme of things as someone else’s problems.” Or maybe they think, “Jesus doesn’t care about this little thing in my life nearly so much as he cares about all these bigger things.”
But I hope you see how today’s scripture contradicts this idea! Don’t take this the wrong way, but our Lord is at least a little bit like Bill Murray, only more so, perfectly so…
Besides, if you are in Christ, Jesus loves helping you! He loves healing you! He loves spending time with you! It brings him joy to do so!
This is a point that author Dane Ortlund makes time and again in his book Gentle and Lowly, which we’re studying on Wednesday nights. Ortlund proves from scripture that Jesus’ heart is especially drawn to us when we are a complete mess… when we are at our lowest point, spiritually… when our sins and failures are at their worst… In fact it brings Jesus joy to help us in these situations! Just last Wednesday we talked about how the Bible says that Jesus is our friend. See Luke 11:19 and John 15:13-14. And we discussed the kind of relationships we have with our friends versus other kinds of relationships—like with our boss, or with a romantic interest. The point is, in many other relationships, we’re “performing” for someone: we’re trying to impress them or win them over—or let’s say we’re dating someone… Even if we’ve already won them over, we need to keep on impressing them, so maybe they’ll agree to marry us!
But this is absolutely not true with our friends. It requires very little “maintenance” on our part to keep the friendship going. In fact, I told the class that I may go months without talking to one of my friends; it doesn’t matter. The moment I see them or talk to them, it’s as if no time has passed at all.
As someone else said, “A friend knows where all the bodies are buried.” The point being, we won’t easily disappoint our friends, or surprise them with some terrible thing that we’ve done. Our friends don’t judge us, even if they find out our deep, dark secrets. They’re on our side… Always. They stand by us! Always!
The apostle Paul makes this point: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”6
If you are in a saving relationship with God through faith in his Son Jesus, guess what? God is always for you! Christ is always for you! Like a friend, Jesus will come to you right away and help you when you’re in need! He wants to help you! He wants to heal you! That’s what friends do, and Jesus, unlike the rest of us, is a perfect friend!
So you tell him what you need! And believe that he will help you. Of course he will! Believe that he wants to spend time with you! Of course he does! Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”7 He wants to hang out and eat with you! Just like a true friend!
So don’t listen to the voice of naysayers, like those voices in the crowd—or even that skeptical voice in your head—that tells you, “Jesus doesn’t want to help you! You’re nobody to him! You’ve disappointed him too many times! You’ve let him down! He’s mad at you!”
Finally, let’s notice that Jesus asks the same question of Bartimaeus that, in last week’s scripture, he asked of James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” And the differences between James and John and Bartimaeus couldn’t be more pronounced!
As I said last week, James and John wanted something for themselves only—in their case, personal power and glory. Not so with Bartimaeus. While it’s true that having his vision restored would be personally beneficial to him—obviously—there’s more going on.
Look at verse 52: “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.”
Do you think it’s a coincidence that, in at least six places in the Book of Acts, the early Christian movement was known as “The Way”?8 Or that Jesus, in John’s gospel, says that he is, simply, “the way.”9 With these hints in scripture, commentators have always understood that Mark is speaking both literally—Bartimaeus followed Jesus down the road to Jerusalem—and figuratively: he became a lifelong follower of Jesus. In other words, verse 52 is about discipleship.
Unlike with James and John, the ultimate reason Bartimaeus wants Jesus to give him this gift is so he can follow Jesus. The ultimate purpose of the healing is to glorify God, to be a witness, to be a disciple!
Like Dansby Swanson, whom I mentioned earlier, don’t you think that Bartimaeus is going to have a remarkable testimony of what Jesus has done for him? Of course he will!
Now consider this: the reason Jesus Christ healed Bartimaeus is ultimately the same reason he got you out of bed this morning and brought you to this place; it’s the same reason he is currently giving you your heartbeat right now, the breath in your lungs, whatever measure of health you enjoy: so that you—like Bartimaeus, like Dansby Swanson, like everyone who calls Jesus Savior and Lord… so that you can can “follow Jesus on the way.” Or you can follow him more faithfully on the way.
Imagine waking up every morning with this prayer on your lips: “What do you want me to do for you today, Lord. I’m here. I’m ready. I’m at your disposal.” If there’s still life and breath in your body, the Lord has a purpose for you—for him, for his kingdom, for his glory. Are you living your life with a sense of purpose that comes from God?
In Colossians 3:23, the apostle Paul is writing to lowly slaves or bondservants, and he tells them, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” Elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians 10:31, he writes: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Let me give you an example of what serving Christ, working for Christ, and glorifying Christ looks like… and as I do, ask yourself: “How can I do this, too?”
As many of you know, Casey and Sarah Owen recently gave birth to a son. He has a Scottish name… Laird. I’m telling this story with their permission. As many of y’all know, Laird had serious congestion in his lungs last week from a virus, and their doctors rushed him to Egleston Children’s Hospital at Emory. It was serious!
For several days Sarah and Casey shared a hospital suite with Laird. Each day a custodian came in to clean their room—a woman originally from Kenya. The first day she came in, she saw that these two parents were, understandably, worried and stressed out. So she talked to Sarah and Casey. She comforted them. She told them about her experience with her own son—who a life-threatening heart problem when he was young and had a successful operation years earlier at this same hospital… how the Lord had brought her and her son through that difficult experience… and how the Lord will do the same for them!
Then she prayed with them. She encouraged them. She reminded them of 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Jesus’ words to Paul, when he was going through a difficult trial: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
And the next day she came in, she was like, “How’s our baby doing?” So kind, so loving, so encouraging…
This woman was not a doctor or nurse. She was not a chaplain or pastor… She had no advanced degree in theology… She was a custodian… whose vocation, whose calling, whose most important work… as I’m sure she understood very well… was to glorify Jesus Christ, to live her life with God-given purpose…to live with Christ at the center of her life… to love and serve him always.
And brothers and sisters, this is our most important work too!