Fourth Sunday after Epiphany January 28, 2001
1, 354, 347, 465
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came “to give freedom to the captives and sight to the blind,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Jonathan Swift, a British author of the early 18th Century, once said, “Vision is the art of seeing things that are invisible.” Any businessman can read a stock report; but the one who can see a stock that will double in value within a year has vision. Any rancher can go to a bull sale; but the one who can see the particular bull that will give him twenty more pounds on his calves at selling time has vision. Any architect can look at a parking lot in downtown New York; but the one who can see a towering skyscraper there in its place has vision.
Mr. Swift isn’t the only one with a definition of vision. The Bible has one, too—only in the Bible, it’s called “faith.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”—11:1. Christian faith sees things that are invisible, too. In fact, faith is the only way to see the things that are most important in life—infinitely more important than money or livestock or real estate could ever be! You think I’m exaggerating?—If so, then you’d better pay attention. Because today our Lord gives us a lesson on vision—from a blind man! Our theme is:
The events of our text occurred during the last week before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, and His route took Him through the town of Jericho. As He was leaving Jericho, with His disciples and a big crowd of people around Him, there was a sudden commotion. Somebody was yelling His name! And that’s how Jesus met Bartimaeus—a blind man with perfect vision.
It’s hard to imagine a worse physical handicap than blindness. Scientists say that 90% of the information the brain receives comes from the eyes, and only 10% from the other four senses of hearing, smell, taste and touch. To a blind man, the world of color and beauty is closed. The only color he knows is black, the only shade, darkness. In our society we have programs to help offset the tragedy of blindness—social security, federal aid, job training, etc. But in ancient Israel, there was only one way to survive if you were a blind man—and that was to beg.
Bartimaeus was a blind man. Because of that he was also a penniless beggar, unable to earn a living except from the small gifts of others. And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.
One thing about being blind is that it’s pretty hard to kid yourself about it. You can’t fool yourself into thinking you can see when you can’t. You can’t pretend to be a rich man when you’re gnawing at a crust of bread. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he didn’t pretend to be something that he wasn’t. He didn’t show any pride before Jesus, because he had nothing to be proud of. He didn’t offer Jesus anything—he had nothing to offer. He merely begged for Jesus’ mercy. Bartimaeus knew exactly who and what he was, and in that respect, at least, he was a blind man with perfect vision. Because he saw himself perfectly!
Unfortunately, there aren’t many people in our world of today who share that vision of themselves. Some think they can see their way through life pretty well without Jesus—failing to realize that without Christ, they are blind. Paul says that, whether they know it or not, unbelievers “…walk in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them.”—Eph 4:17-18.
What about us faithful churchgoers? Are we exempt? Not if we come to church with pride in our hearts, thinking that we’re giving something to God, rather than receiving. Not if we pretend that it’s our righteousness, our good works, our upright lives that gain us God’s favor—Then we’re much more blind than Bartimaeus. At least he saw what his real condition was!
Jesus is passing by our town today. Will we take advantage of this tremendous opportunity?—Only if we have the vision to see ourselves as we really are: blind beggars. By nature we are spiritually blind, and only God’s Word can open our eyes. Left to ourselves we are beggars, bankrupt in righteousness and up to our ears in debt on account of the sins each of us has committed. We come to God’s house today holding out empty hands to the Lord. Like Bartimaeus, let us only beg for His mercy. Bartimaeus wasn’t turned away, and we won’t be either!
Bartimaeus was a blind man with perfect vision. Not only because he saw himself perfectly, but because He saw his Savior perfectly. He knew just who Jesus was, and He knew what Jesus could do for him. How can we tell that? This is interesting: we can tell it by the name he used when he called out to Jesus. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.
“Son of David” was a term used throughout the Old Testament. And it was only used to refer to one specific Person: the coming Messiah, the Savior from sin that the Lord had promised to send. This Jesus was the Messiah, and Bartimaeus knew it! Here in his own hometown was the very Son of God, with sovereign power to forgive sins and heal diseases. There may not have been many in the crowd who saw that important fact, but blind Bartimaeus saw it. He saw the chance of a lifetime, so he grabbed it. And he wasn’t shy about it, either—he yelled for mercy at the top of his lungs! He made such a scene that the people around him were downright embarrassed. They tried to shut him up, but he just yelled louder.
—That’s an interesting point. I took a course in CPR once. They told us that, when a person is choking or in distress and leaves the room, you should always follow them. People often excuse themselves to avoid embarrassment, and then collapse in the bathroom with nobody to help them. It’s a strange fact: most people would literally rather die than cause a scene! Not Bartimaeus. He needed Jesus’ help, and he didn’t care who knew about it.
What about you? Are you too embarrassed to ask for Christ’s mercy? You’ll die if you don’t. Will you let pressure from your friends and neighbors keep you from making Christ the center of your life? Believe me, the pressure will come. “A little religion’s a good thing,” they’ll say, “but you don’t have to be a fanatic about it. It’s nice to go to church once in a while, but don’t get weird or anything and let religion take over your life!” Maybe they don’t say it in so many words, but that’s the attitude most people take. After a while, you can even start thinking that way yourself—
But it’s not true! Open the eyes of your faith, and see what the blind man saw. In order to stand accepted before Almighty God, you need a perfect righteousness. You need that righteousness more than the food you eat; you need it more than the very air you breath. Jesus is the One who has the perfect righteousness you need. Jesus is the One who died on Calvary’s cross to free you from the guilt of your sins. Jesus is the One who rose again the third day so that you also could rise, one Day, to everlasting life. Jesus is the only One you can turn to for forgiveness, peace of conscience, and eternal life. Everything else in your life—your job, your hobbies, your leisure activities—is peanuts compared to that. Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus saw many people turn away from Him in disillusion and embarrassment. They had other things to do, other agendas to fulfill. Jesus asked His disciples, “Will you also go away?” Peter replied, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
They say that if you need something from somebody, you first have to get their attention. And Scripture tells us that nothing gets Jesus’ attention like a sinner’s humble cry for mercy. Of such a person the Lord says, “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.” Psa 91:15. It works every time; it certainly worked for Bartimaeus! Our text says, he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. He may have been a blind man, but Bartimaeus had perfect vision. With the eyes of faith, he saw himself perfectly, and he saw his Savior perfectly. Now he was about to see something else—he was about to see his prayer answered perfectly!
And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight.
Do want to take a Bible challenge? Pull out your Bible when you get home and try to find one instance where a humble sinner asked for something from Jesus—and failed to get what he asked for! I tried, but I couldn’t do it. The tax collector humbly asked forgiveness for his sins, and he got it. The Canaanite woman asked that her daughter be healed, and she got it. The ten lepers on the road, the paralytic let down through the roof, the woman with an issue of blood—all of them asked for Jesus’ mercy, and every single one of them received what they asked for! Jesus loves to answer prayer; if you’re not putting Him to the test every day, then you’re really missing something. As the hymnist puts it: “You are coming to a King—LARGE petitions with you bring!”
Moreover, Jesus is a King who has made you His subject by buying you with own blood. He loves you dearly, and nothing could please Him more than to answer your prayers. The Bible says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”—Heb 4:16.
Is there an especially grievous sin on your conscience? Come in repentance and ask His forgiveness. Jesus says, “He who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”—John 6:37. Do you need wisdom to see your way through a problem, relief from a sorrow in your life, help for making it through a tough time? Then I can only say to you what they said to the blind beggar, Bartimaeus: “BE OF GOOD CHEER. Rise, He is calling for you!” Jesus is calling for you. He is waiting to answer your prayer!
I saw a funny interview on a late-night talk show one time. Actually, it was more happy than it was funny. The host was interviewing a man who had been blind from birth. One day, when he was outside in a rainstorm, the man was struck by lightning, and all of a sudden he found he could see with perfect vision (this actually happened). It was a miraculous recovery, of course, and it seemed like the man couldn’t keep his happiness to himself. He kept talking about all the funny adjustments he had to make in a world that he couldn’t even imagine before, and now could suddenly see in all its color and glory. There was joy in his every word. That must have been how Bartimaeus felt. Think of the joy at suddenly being able to see—suddenly having that 90% of life bursting through eyes that had been dead and dark just a moment before!
Think of his joy! But don’t just think about it—you can share in his joy, because God has done no less for you and me than He did for Blind Bartimaeus. We were blind, but now we can see! God has given us the faith of Bartimaeus—the ability to see Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. Let us keep the eyes of our faith fixed on Jesus. And may God grant to our eyes ever more perfect vision, until they see the dawning of His eternal Day. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.