In the Gospel of Mark, there are plenty of healing stories – of the sick, demon-possessed, lepers, paralytics, man with shriveled hands, a dead girl brought to life, a woman who has bled for 12 years, a deaf and mute who is cured and even the healing of one blind man immediately before Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ (8:22-26).
I believe Mark wanted his readers and listeners to draw a parallel between the physical healings of the blind man at Bethsaida and the truth of gaining spiritual sight. That is what chapter 8’s healing and confession story is all about and though Mark doesn’t record it, Matthew does record an interesting statement that Jesus made after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ. Let me read it, (Matt. 16:17) “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” Spiritual sight comes when we see that Jesus is the Messiah. And often that spiritual sight is given to us incrementally as our Heavenly Father shapes us and guides us and touches our lives, ultimately bringing us to the point where we can confess our sins and believe in our hearts that God has raised Jesus from the dead.
If you agree with my assessment that Mark placed the first healing of a blind man right before Peter’s confession in order to teach us about spiritual sight, then I hope that you will be encouraged by my assessment of the healing of the second blind man in the gospel. The healing of Bartimaeus is meant to teach us about our need to cry out for the fulfillment of the covenant to which we belong.
Bartimaeus was a Jew and as a Jew he understood the covenant to which he belonged. God had made certain promises to Abraham and Moses and David. There were promises that God would be the God of the Hebrew nation. There were promises that God would protect his people. But today, I would like us to look at the promises that God made concerning his healing of the sick and diseased of the people. In Exodus 15:26, God said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” This was a covenant promise made to the descendants of Abraham to heal the people and watch over their health. In Jer. 30:17, God says, “But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD, ‘because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.’” Even the Psalmist declares, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion…(Ps 102:2-4).
In all three of these scriptures from the old testament and countless others, God had promises the Jewish people that he would heal their sickness. Bartimaeus understood that he belonged to this covenant people. His name, son of Timaeus, means son of honor or value or esteem. Yet his life was anything but honored. Here is a man who belongs to the people of God, has the promises of God and even has a name that implies he is special in the sight of God as a child of Abraham and yet, he is begging and being treated poorly by those around him, he is an outcast for whom no one cares.
Now most people in his position would give up. They would resign themselves to the fact that they are blind and worthless and that the promises of God must not be true. But not Bartimaeus. He doesn’t give up on God’s word and instead holds firmly onto the promises of God. He remembers passages like Isaiah 29:18 where God promises that the eyes of the blind will see. The humble will rejoice…[as will] the needy.
Bartimaeus understood the covenant family to which he belonged. But more than just understanding the family to which he belonged and the promises, which God had made, he also had the faith to believe that those promises were true for him. We see that in the way that he persistently cried out Son of David, have mercy on me! (Mk 10:47,48). Bartimaeus keeps crying out to Jesus for healing even when those around him are trying to silence him. He is holding onto the promises of God when all around him are annoyed by his persistent noise. Bartimaeus amazes me, for not only is he persistent, but he actually commands God to heal him. His words are commands because he understands the covenant promises of God. He is assured that his words are true and right in God’s sight. He actually has the gall to demand of Jesus that he manifest his love in his life. He requires of Christ his covenant obligation as a Son of Abraham. And when he is called before the King he willingly runs forsaking all else of value to him (for his cloak would have been the place where the coins and other offerings he had been receiving were laying) and then he has the boldness to ask for the impossible.
Isn’t this an amazing story about spiritual sight? Bartimaeus understood the covenant well enough and he had the faith to believe that it was true and so he received the answer to his hearts deepest longing – he wanted to see. And incidentally, I believe that he went on to be an active disciple of Jesus for there is no other reason why he would be recorded by name in Mark’s gospel unless it was because everyone in the early church was familiar with who he was.
Like Bartimaeus, we are children of a covenant. So let me ask you a few questions:
What covenant promises have God made to you?
If you could ask for anything, What is burning in your heart to request from the King of Kings?
Will you persistently ask until God fulfills the longing he has put in you?
Are you intimately acquainted with the covenant such that you can demand of God the fulfillment of his promises? If so, what promise is currently burning on your heart? Continue imploring God to honor his word. Pray boldly, expectantly. Pray when others have given up. Mothers – pray for those children who have wandered from the faith. Fathers pray for those missionary opportunities you long to fulfill. Singles pray for those spouses who are faithful to the Gospel to come your way. Children pray for your sick friends to be well until God answers. Study your word; know God’s promises and hold them out before the eternal throne until they are fulfilled.
Our God has promised us many things. He has promised to put my law in [our] minds and write it on [our] hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother saying ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer 31:33-34).
Did you catch all that. God has obligated himself to put his law in your inner life. He has promised that everyone will know him. He has declared that he will forgive and forget our sins.
But it gets better. He promises that if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. (Mark 11:23). The New covenant people are promised a power in prayer that is phenomenal. We are promised that whenever [we] are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11). That is a promise of the God’s active presence and communication in our lives. We are promised the ability to preach the word of God with power and authority: Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation…and these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all, they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well…and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it (Mark 16:15-20)
The New Covenant promises that God will not ever leave us, but will abide in us as the Holy Spirit. We are promised the spiritual gifts, the bearing of the fruit of the spirit, the ability to deny sin a foothold in our life. We are given the promise of an open door into the Heavenly courts of God Almighty, We are promised eternal life. We are promised the ability to love our neighbors and our enemies, to forgive those who sin against us, to give generously. And we are promised freedom. And I haven’t even exhausted the list of new covenant promises.
The story of Bartimaeus should serve to encourage all of us to pray and pray boldly until our Lord fulfills his covenant obligations to his people.