We are back in Mark. Our commitment this year is to try to get through the Gospel of Mark in a year, which means we’re moving pretty briskly. But it also allows us the opportunity to just immerse ourselves in the presence of Jesus, his works, his ways. It also means that we have no time for diversions.
For example, we just finished our “Jesus & Politics” series. Each summer we take five weeks to focus on a cultural or counseling issue. And this summer, this was our topic and we finished last week. But some of you are probably experiencing the same frustration I’ve felt where you just have enough time to get the framework as to how to think about politics biblically. And then you want to work that out in the individual issues, and we’re out of time. We can’t extend the series because we’re back in Mark. But we are, as Matt mentioned last Sunday, committed to providing some follow up with classes, discussion. So, stay tuned for that. That will come soon.
Now, some of you may feel a little squished. We had to add a lot of chairs. And I want to really encourage you to consider migrating if you want to have some more space. The 5:00 service, you can actually relax. If you get bored, you can lie down. There’s some space at 5:00. So, if a couple of hundred of you could migrate to 5:00 within a few … I know we’re taking a break from Kidstuff right now — it’s good to have all the kids here — and in a few weeks we’ll go back to having Kidstuff, but it will be offered in all three services. It gives families an opportunity to migrate together. So, pray about that. Probably 100 people have already done that. It’s a way to love your neighbor, give a little more room. This service is the first service most people visit in. Most people, when they’re visiting North Hills, they attend this service. So, it does provide more space for people who are exploring what this is all about. Pray about that.
I want to talk for a bit about Anton’s Syndrome, also called Anton’s Blindness. It’s an extremely rare medical condition, usually caused by a stroke or another brain injury that results in what could be called double blindness. That is, the individual is physically blind but also psychologically blind to the blindness. In other words, they don’t know that they’re blind.
The first person to observe this or record it is Seneca, the Roman philosopher in the 1st century. But its name comes from an Austrian doctor, Gabriel Anton, who in the late 1800s observed a woman groping for a glass on a table and then stumbling around the room and yet insisting she could see fine and demonstrating no other major cognitive disabilities. As Adam Grant records, two doctors in the mid 1900s documented the inability of their Anton patients to learn from their experiences. Listen to what the doctors wrote.
“As they were not aware of their blindness when they walked about, they bumped into the furniture and walls but did not change their behavior. When confronted with their blindness in a rather pointed fashion, they would either deny any visual difficulty or remark: ‘It’s so dark in the room; why don’t they turn the light on?’ ‘I forgot my glasses,’ or ‘My vision is not good, but I can see all right.’ The patients would not accept any demonstration or assurance which would prove their blindness.”
Let’s pray. Father, we can be immune to seeing clearly. We can be blind to our blindness. We don’t want to see what we can’t see. We end up groping and coping and trying to convince ourselves that we are okay, that we see you, and we see ourselves, and we see the world, and we see our neighbor accurately, clearly. Yet we miss so much. Jesus, we’re coming to you because you are the light of the world. You give sight to the world. You enable us to see what we would otherwise be blind to. You lead us through things like uncertainty and loss and the inability to control our circumstances, to remind us of our vulnerability and of your capability, the immeasurable greatness of your power toward us who believe. So, we’re asking you to use a blind man, through the power of Jesus, to open our eyes. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
There’s a lot in this story (we’re in Mark 10:46-52) that is unremarkable. Things like the itinerary. They came to Jericho in verse 46. This is the last stage in their journey to Jerusalem. They’re traveling the normal route. There’s nothing remarkable about that. Jericho is a steep 3,500 foot climb, around 18 miles uphill to Jerusalem. That’s where they’re about to head. Nothing remarkable about that, the geography.
There’s nothing remarkable, unfortunately, about the skepticism that flows from this passage. For example, in verse 46,
“And he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd.”
It’s not unusual. He was a people magnet. But the leaving Jerusalem when compared to Matthew 20:29, which also said … That’s the same account. They … went out of Jericho. But also, Luke 18:35 says that they “drew near to Jericho.” So, Mark says they were leaving Jericho, and Luke (parallel account) says they were drawing near to Jericho. Aha! A contradiction. See, “If we can’t even trust the Bible on its most simple, basic facts, how can we trust the big things?” … which is often spoken. So, is there a contradiction here?
A couple different things we could observe. One is the Greek there could be translated (I’m talking about the Luke account, Luke 18:35) rather than “they drew near,” could be translated “they were near, being near.” Which could refer to the coming to or the leaving.
But the other explanation that I think is even more fascinating is the “to Jericho” explanation, because it opens the window to the fascinating background to this city (or really cities). The Old Testament Jericho, what happened to that in Joshua’s day? Remember Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down, and it was destroyed, and it came under a curse on anyone who rebuilt it? Hiel, in 1 Kings 16:34, rebuilt the city at the cost of his firstborn as warned by Joshua 6:26. That’s the old city. Elisha’s spring or fountain was near old Jericho. This is where Elisha in 2 Kings 2 purified the waters by God’s power. And this same spring still provides a thousand gallons a minute. Elisha’s spring was near the old Jericho. So, that’s the old Jericho.
The new Jericho was started a couple of miles from the old Jericho when the people returned from the Babylonian exile. And eventually a fortress was constructed. King Herod’s winter palace was built there. It became a major economic center, complete with amphitheater, gymnasium, parks, gardens, pools, Walt Disney World. They had it all! Herod constructed a series of aqueducts that linked the new Jericho to Elisha’s spring in the old Jericho.
So, technically you could be leaving Jericho and nearing Jericho simultaneously. Whatever explanation you seek, this is not remarkable in the passage. It’s informative, but the truly remarkable part of this passage is that it provides us with a personal case study in eye-opening faith, the power of Jesus to open eyes.
And I say personal, because Bartimaeus is named. He’s the only person healed in the Synoptic Gospels — that is Matthew, Mark, Luke — who is named. There’s something extremely personal about this healing. Let’s look at a few characteristics of eye-opening faith.
First of all, notice Bartimaeus’ status, his status. He was sitting by the roadside (46) or sitting along the way, literally. Bartimaeus appears shelved, left out, marginalized, canceled, ignored. He was an onlooker who couldn’t even look. His status.
His persistence (47). When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out. And the tense there is “continual.” He continually cried out. He would not be stopped.
His vision (47). Though blind, he saw that Jesus was the son of David. Bartimaeus may have been sightless, but he was not senseless. He was crying out with an awareness that this Jesus is royalty. He is the Messianic (comes from the word Messiah), the anointed One, the fulfillment to the promises going all the way back to 2 Samuel 7, for example. What Bartimaeus lacks in … James Edward said,
“What Bartimaeus lacks in eyesight, he makes up for in insight.”
His vision. Fourth, his humility. Have mercy on me. In verse 47 he says, “Have mercy on me.” In other words, he’s acknowledging his need. He’s recognizing his sin. He is helpless. He can’t fix his own problems. He’s not wallowing in his disabilities. He’s not blaming Jesus. He’s crying out for mercy. “Have mercy.” And look at his cry. He is desperate. Notice his desperation. Verse 48,
“Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
Bartimaeus would not be intimidated by the crowd. The pressure of the crowd was, “Calm down, be quiet. You’re acting like a freak.” No, when you are in a desperate condition, you don’t care what anybody thinks of you.
And then look at his calling. Verse 49,
“And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’”
First of all, just take in for a moment, Jesus stopped, and then, “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.”
He heard the call, ignored the crowd, cast off his cloak. Why is that significant? For most of us, we’re thinking, “Yeah, dump the cloak.” But see, for a blind beggar, a cloak was everything. That was your sleeping bag at night. That was your raincoat. That was your bank account. He would spread his cloak in front of him where people would throw money. That provided padding when crowds were rushing by, bumping into the person no one acknowledge was there. To cast off his cloak, is a picture of repenting of everything I find security in right now. In a sense, burning all bridges and saying, “Jesus, I’m coming to you. I don’t need what I have tried to find security in. I need you.”
And look at his request. Verse 51,
“And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”
What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And it wasn’t sarcastic. “And the blind man said, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’” Now, in one sense, this is not unusual. Of course, a blind man is going to ask to be able to see. But in this context, it is a remarkable request.
Before Wisdomfest, Toby preached Mark 10:32-45. And in that passage, just before the passage we’re looking at now, Jesus walked through (for the third time) what is awaiting him in Jerusalem. He said, “I’m going to be delivered over, spit upon, flogged, rejected, killed.” And as he’s describing this horrific thing that’s waiting for him in Jerusalem, James and John are daydreaming about glory. And so remember when Jesus asked them, “Hey, James and John, what do you want me to do for you?” It’s the exact same question. Compare verse 36 with verse 51 — and this is not a coincidence. The Spirit, speaking through Mark’s writing here, is trying to get us to compare these two identical questions. What do you want me to do for you, James and John? What do you want me to do for you, Bartimaeus? And James and John answered, “We’re not really interested in the ‘go to Jerusalem and crucify and flog stuff.’ We see you’re heading to glory, and we want (just a little request) to save a seat to the left of you and to the right of you. We want you to go up to glory, we want to see you glorified, but we kind of want to go with you. The glory part, not the gory part.”
And so it’s not coincidental that Jesus uses the exact same words with Bartimaeus and says, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said in verse 51,
“Rabbi,” [which is a different form of Rabbi — still Rabbi, but it’s Rabbouni, which is more reverent, sometimes used in the context of worship.] Let me recover my sight.”
And again, in one sense, Bartimaeus is asking for something quite ordinary. Of course, a blind person is going to ask to see. But there’s much more here. Look at verse 52,
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’”
“Sozo” is the word. Your faith has made you well, yes. But he uses the word for saved. Your faith has saved you. It’s made you well, but it’s more than just your eyeballs. It’s not just eye sight, but heart sight. He doesn’t just get a new look; he gets a new life. And you can see it in verse 52, “He followed him on the way.” Jesus said, “Go your way,” and Bartimaeus’ way became the way of Jesus. What a striking contrast. You can see, if you compare verse 46 where Bartimaeus was sitting “by the way,” and 52 where Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the way.” Those Greek words are the same words. So, our minds are supposed to see Bartimaeus was sitting by the way, and now he’s following in the way. As Edwards writes,
“Jesus has transformed Bartimaeus from a beggar beside the road to a disciple on the road. 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.”
So, the sight of the unseeing Bartimaeus stands in contrast to the blindness of the seeing disciples. James and John have Anton’s Syndrome. They’re blind and they don’t know it. Bartimaeus knows he’s blind, but he can now see — completely, not just physically.
Imagine if Jesus is asking you this question right now. What do you want me to do for you? Some of us may be thinking like a genie in a bottle. Pay off my debt. Fix my problems. And Jesus demonstrates beautifully here, he is interested in your debt. He’s concerned. He’s concerned about your problems, your physical challenges, your relational brokenness, financial struggles. He’s concerned about all that. But the text puts these two things in contrast for a reason. There are two different ways to answer that question, what do you want me to do for you? One is the way to glory, the James and John way. Jesus, I’ll love you, and my life will be full and happy if you’ll just do what I want you to do — straight shot. I don’t want any connecting flight. Jesus, I want to fly with you, but I want a nonstop to glory. I don’t want a connecting flight through suffering or rejection, hardship. That’s the James and John answer to the question, what do you want me to do for you?
And the Bartimaeus answer, though, still included the miraculous. I mean, he saw, physically. But he followed Jesus on the way to Jerusalem and saw things that he probably wished he never had to see. Now, imagine this for Christians in Rome first reading the Gospel of Mark who were suffering. This is not theory. It’s not just a religious game. This is life.
In counseling, we often contrast the presenting problem from the primary problem. Presenting issue is what someone comes to counseling for — my marriage is falling apart, or I’m experiencing depression or anxiety. And sometimes the presenting problem is the primary focal problem. And sometimes it’s not. With Bartimaeus, what was his presenting problem? Blindness. And Jesus so powerfully healed his blindness. But the text portrays Bartimaeus as needing more than just a quick miracle. His life was sitting along the way. He had been marginalized. He was aimless, felt useless. The end of the text has Bartimaeus on the way. Jesus moved him from not just blind to seeing, but aimless, useless to having purpose. I’ve made you, Bartimaeus, for something way bigger than yourself.
And he opens his eyes — not just his physical eyes. Yes, his physical eyes — but he opens his spiritual eyes. “I want to follow you. Oh, you’re going to a cross. That’s okay. I’m not excited about that, but if you’re there, I’m there. I’m following you, not my agenda, not my expectations as to the way my life is supposed to go.”
Before we took a break from Mark for Wisdomfest, I asked any of you to share some of the things God had spoken to you about through our study of Mark. And many, many, many of you did so. And thank you. Even if I never shared them at all, my heart has been hugely encouraged. But I told you after Wisdomfest I would try to share some examples. So, I picked four for today that have to do with this way of the cross — having your eyes opened in the middle of suffering. And I think it illustrates what happened with Bartimaeus — that his physical eyes were opened, yes, but then his following Jesus on the way to the cross reveals so much more.
So, I’ll keep them anonymous and read four of them. This first one is someone who recently moved from another state. All these are people here at North Hills.
“For me, a theme that you and others have touched on a lot during this 2021 year and within the Book of Mark would be the theme of suffering. Having been a part of a fairly charismatic church (a wonderful church) back in ____ [the state this person’s from], much of the emphasis was on overcoming, gaining our victory, declaring, warring against the enemy, etc. … While these are good things [and we want to emphasize, those are good things], and they do belong to a believer, they are not everything. And for me, they were like grasping water when the proverbial junk hit the fan. There was nothing to hold onto really. To spend time under the teaching that suffering and storms are of God (Jesus and the disciples in the boat, for example), and that suffering in storms are where God shows up, and without them, how could He, or why would He need to show up? And/or it allows Him to reveal … [notice this eye-opening in the middle of suffering] It allows him to reveal his nature and his character. It allows him to be revealed. Wow. That was big for me. He is revealed in the sunrise and the quiet of the day, but oh boy, is he seen when we have nowhere else to go, and he steps in. Not only … [Now, look at the eye-opening here] Not only is His character revealed, but so is our character. When I say that the teaching that has been given on suffering has given me something to hold onto, I am saying that when stuff would happen, I would stomp my feet, pray, fast, kick up the dirt, and rebuke the enemy, and do all those things I knew, yet there was there I was, still in the thick of it, and oftentimes confused. So, maybe this sounds simple, but to me it was profound, and now I am embracing the suffering, welcoming it (some of the time), and I know it comes my way, that it is God’s good purpose, that he is in the thick of it with me, and sometimes I am not meant to get out of it.”
That’s big. The way of the cross was not an accident.
Number 2. This is written by someone sitting in a parking lot, punching the steering wheel, yelling at God.
“‘What are you doing, God?’ I asked. ‘This is not okay, and I’m not okay with it. I’m DONE praying for everyone else’s desires to be fulfilled while mine get ignored.’
“Right then and there, Peter’s sermon from three weeks before came to mind — the one about John the Baptist’s death: ‘When the Call of Christ Seems Comically Cruel.’ That is exactly how I felt sitting in that parking lot — yelling at the One I’ve trusted to fulfill the desires of my heart, who seems to not only withhold from me, but to purposely make my life harder by letting everyone else around me receive what I’ve been praying for.
“In the sermon, I identified with how following Jesus sometimes just doesn’t make sense, and may even feel like a cruel joke. As the disciples may have asked, ‘Is this how You treat Your followers,’ so I also asked, ‘Why?’ I remembered the question Peter posed at the end of that sermon: ‘Are you willing to see your idols suffocated and your faith strengthened?’ That’s a hard question, especially when I think of the idols of expectations and control.
“Peter said, ‘God strengthens our faith in the middle of what feels like a bad joke.’ I looked back on all the times in my life — those steering-wheel-punching, yelling-at-God moments, and I realized that somehow, my faith had mysteriously grown in those moments. He never left me, even when everything was pointing to my circumstances being a cruel joke.”
Third example was a man who had just started taking meds for panic attacks. He came to church feeling like (and these are his words) his “brain was about to come unglued. I was barely coherent.” He was on the verge of panic during the entire sermon and he wrote this.
“The point from Mark 1:1-15 went something like this, ‘The One who is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased is the same Son who is led into a brutal wilderness of intense Satanic temptation.’
“Moral of the story — Go to church, even if you are half asleep, working through meds, or something else … because you never know how God may use it. He can take one sentence, one scripture, one piece of truth and transform you with it. That scripture truth that was lodged in my brain for months after I left the building that day [that scripture truth]. When I couldn’t even open my Bible without having a panic attack, it became to me a flashing beacon of hope every time it got dark.”
And that man is flourishing and ministering today.
Number 4, and this is from someone who described herself as being transformed from “the crutch of drinking, friends, and distraction.” Drinking (comma), friends, and distraction. She wasn’t drinking friends.
“There have been a couple of things that our study in Mark have taught me. The first is when you called attention to our ‘modern-day’ idols like reputation or control. I could feel the Spirit seeking my heart with this, and I knew control was one I fought for for decades. It manifests through anxiety. First to go is my sleep, then I can’t eat as my stomach churns in fear. Lastly come the panic attacks. These are a real treat.
“The Lord has faithfully refined me and introduced difficult things in my life to allow me to be reminded of my dependence on Him. The following Sunday the Spirit answered my prayer of what he wanted me to see about my idol of control. As we took communion, I was struck at Jesus’ WILLINGNESS to go to the cross. He may be sweating blood and talk to his Father about it, but he went. Willingly.
“Father, I want to willingly relinquish control. I don’t want to have you wrestle it out of me when I have exhausted myself.
“The Lord has faithfully prepared me for these days I’m in. This isn’t an easy faith. It’s more like strong currents that wear away the rough edges of the rocks …. I can face these hard and scary days because of His strength. And I can sleep, and I can eat, and it’s all worship because it’s not me. I can’t do anything. BUT I can do all things through Christ!”
These are just a couple of examples of an eye-opening occurring on the way to the cross, the way of suffering. Jesus is still stopping and calling people on the side of the road. He’s still asking the question, “What do you want me to do for you? What do you want me to do for you?” It’s an intensely personal question.
Do you notice how Jesus isn’t just “buckshotting” his provision? He’s asking us to think about what do we really want? And yes, there’s a temptation to go the way of James and John. Just give me a quick fix. I want it all now. I’ll take the glory in a box. But he also presents before us the way of Bartimaeus, who experienced a real miracle and heart transformation. But immediately he recognized that his eyes were opened, not so that he can turn it on himself and lose himself in himself again, but turn to Christ and follow in his way.
What do you want me to do for you? And I really believe all of us are at that crossroad. How are we going to answer that? Do you want to stay on the side of the road with the rest of the beggars wallowing in your misery? Do you want to be part of the crowd — mocking everyone, critiquing everyone who does cry out for help? They’re all a bunch of hypocrites. Be silent, shush, fanatic. Do you want to be like James and John fighting over glory? Who’s going to win? Who’s going to get to sit next to Jesus and be recognized?
This story portrays all those desires that you and I fight with and experience and says, “Hey, that’s a dead end.” Follow the example of a blind beggar who cast it off and ran to Jesus. This text is calling us to repent, repent. To cast off the cloak of our own securities and run to Christ. This text is inviting us to follow Jesus, even if it’s to Jerusalem, even if it’s a way of the cross. How will we answer?
Let’s pray. Oh, Jesus, you blow us away here. The most important person in the universe stopping, calling, asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” Speaking to the least of these. Spirit of God, please call us this morning. There are some in here who are so miserable, Lord. They’re just wallowing in self-pity, full of resentment and bitterness. Bartimaeus could have stayed complaining on the side of the road, and he would have missed you.
Right now, Jesus, you are calling to those who feel terrible, may even be hopeless. You’re calling to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” Are we willing to cast off our cloak, to ignore the crowd, to stumble forward, even if we don’t have a clear vision of where our steps will take, trusting Jesus? You meet us. You heal us. You call us to your way.
I pray, Father, that you would draw some in this room to yourself, right now. Right now, we would repent and believe. Right now, we would see Jesus as our only source of security. Right now, we would see that Jesus, the reason you went to the cross was because you love us and you paid for the sin that we could never pay for. You defeated sin and death. We believe.
And please, like Paul prayed in Ephesians 1, may the eyes of our hearts be enlightened. May we not just get eyesight, may we get heart sight. May we be able to see you in all your power. And how your power through the death, burial, and resurrection is at work in our hearts.
And Father, we ask that when you call us to follow we would trust you even when the journey doesn’t look like what we expected. None of the disciples thought you would end up in Jerusalem to be crucified. We’re asking for big miracles this morning, Lord — eye-opening, heart -transforming miracles. And we thank you, that you love to do these. In Jesus’ name, amen.