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Praise by Expecting and Following
Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 1: God’s People Offer Praise
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 19, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (Mark 10:51)
Preparation for Lesson
- To understand the context of Bartimaeus’ healing.
- To understand Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus.
- To understand the response of Bartimaeus to Jesus.
The events of our lesson occur 15 miles south of Jerusalem. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for Passover, his last Passover. Jesus and the disciples have ministered across the Jordon River on “the other side.” Many Gentile towns were located in the Trans Jordon Plain. After ministering on the other side, Jesus and the disciples cross the Jordon back into Israel.
They are now traveling up to Jerusalem, a trip involving strenuous walking. They will climb an elevation of 2,500 feet. Geographically, Israel slopes downward from the mountains in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on earth, about 1,400 feet below sea level. Jerusalem exists about 2,500 feet above sea level. Jericho stands about 827 feet below sea level. It was an uphill walk!
A large crowd
walks with Jesus and the disciples. Passover is a time for pilgrimage. Jews from all over the near eastern world travel to Jerusalem for the feast that celebrates their most important moment in redemptive history, the Exodus. It is interesting to note Jesus’ popularity (in the Gospel of Mark) is waning. As long as Jesus performed miracles the crowds grew. The crowds grew so large Jesus adjourned to a quiet place for rest. When the disciples approached him, they informed Jesus that many sick were waiting for him. Jesus responded, “Let us go somewhere else, to the nearby villages, so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). People came to Jesus to see what miracle he might perform. However, he noticed they weren’t listening to his preaching, which was all-important. When Jesus performed fewer miracles while increasing his teaching and preaching, the crowd dwindled. They were not as excited when he preached, “If any comes after me, let him take up his cross and follow.” At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is totally abandoned except for the women. Peter stood afar, observing. John, in his gospel, reminds the reader he was there as well. The crowd had left. In our lesson, a crowd has formed around him because they, too, are journeying to Jerusalem for Passover.
was a blind beggar. Since he is begging, he is also poor. The people believe he is a sinner, or his parents were sinners, for that is why he is blind. Read John 1:9. Our text lies in a pericope of Mark (chapter 10) in which Jesus teaches the first and the last. Mark does not technically write in a chronological manner. He does frame his gospel within a large chronological framework. But, most of his gospel is thematic. There is a theme and Mark includes miracles, sayings, and teachings that address that theme. The theme here is the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” We have statements of Jesus on the treatment of women and children (Mark 10:1-16). Women and children were perceived as “last” in Jewish society. The divorcing of women was among the most unjust events in Judaism. A husband could divorce his wife for any reason; she could not divorce him. If divorced, he could marry again, but she could never marry again. Most likely, divorce was related to being unable to bear a son. However, she could be divorced for any reason by the husband. Thankfully, in Judaism there was great pressure from the family and culture to remain married. Still, divorces occurred and women were treated as the lesser. Notice the words of the crowd toward children in this pericope are similar to the words yelled at Bartimaeus. We do not need to misunderstand the neglect of children. They received great love and care. Many of us remember being shooed away when the adults talked. Children were often shooed away and told to leave certain people alone. However, once the male child reaches 12 and experiences the rite into manhood his importance grows. However, girls did not experience the same cultural affirmation as a boy. Twice Mark records Jesus foretelling his own death as sacrifice, the greatest example of what it means to put oneself last in order to become the first. The miracle of Bartimaeus is placed here as the climatic event in which Jesus is treating one the Jewish “lasts” like one of the “firsts.” Bartimaeus feels his way through the world. He depends upon generosity to eat. Generosity was rare when people thought you brought the sin upon yourself. In the eyes of the crowd he is getting what they deserve.
was making his last journey to Jerusalem for Passover. He knew exactly what lay ahead. He is now walking beneath the shadow of the cross. Remember, his divinity does not negate his humanity. His body will feel every inflicted pain, and his heart will break as those he loves abandon him. If we knew a cross stood before us, our journey from Jericho to Jerusalem would prove emotionally torturous. Would we have heard one blind, poor beggar shouting over a crowd on a roadside?
The cry of Bartimaeus
Bartimaeus cannot see the crowd, but he hears them. People were not walking quietly. They were on an exciting, joyful pilgrimage. Adding more “buzz” to the crowd was the excitement over a celebrity rabbi walking with them. It is important to note that Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus and his reputation. Though the crowd waned as Jesus neared the cross, the effect of his ministry was alive in Israel. Our reputation matters! When Paul asked Philemon to accept Onesimus he appeals to Philemon’s reputation of being a man of faith. Jesus’s words and actions were motivated by God’s love for all. He has done only what was necessary for himself, while giving everything for those in his path.
Bartimaeus raises his voice to be heard over the crowd. This most likely involved a shout. As a Jewish man, he appeals to Jesus as the “Son of David.” This title is a messianic title. Perhaps he is letting Jesus know he is Jewish. Perhaps he is using every possible means of gaining Jesus’ attention. It was a cry of desperation. Where else could Bartimaeus go? He is the last of society, a guilty man reaping what he or his parents sowed. Almost every miracle in Mark occurs in the milieu of desperation. He is a neglected man seeking the attention of a popular rabbi. Undoubtedly, he has heard of Jesus being proclaimed by some to be Messiah. Again, this is why he referred to Jesus as the Son of David. Whether he believes it, or believes the reference can help him, is not clear. In desperation people use everything possible to help. We cannot fault him for that. Consequently, Bartimaeus is one blind person among thousands in the world. And he is calling upon the Messiah? This is perhaps his one and only, as well as his last, opportunity to be healed.
Can you remember a time of desperation in your life? Did you panic? Did you seek help? Where was God in your desperation? Have you experienced desperation prior to becoming a follower of Jesus? Did you know about Jesus? How did you learn about Jesus? How did the pre-knowledge of Jesus help you in crisis?
The response of the crowd
The crowd rebuked Bartimaeus. They told him to “be quiet!” I do not think their faces were kind when shouting at him. Again, why did they so quickly shun Bartimaeus? They were certainly thinking, “How dare this sinful beggar think he can call upon Jesus?” “Does he really believe Jesus has time for him?” “If Jesus is truly holy, how dare an unclean man attempt to defile Jesus?” The crowd most certainly was hostile.
Are their people like Bartimaeus in our life? Where are they? Who are they? Have we been Bartimaeus? Have we experienced spiritual blindness that caused us to sit in places we would never otherwise sit? Have you ever truly felt judged of your sin by another other than God? Did you begin to believe you didn’t deserve God’s attention? Or did you pray all the more for the Lord’s attention?
The response of Bartimaeus
As the crowd orders Bartimaeus to be silent, he cries out all the more. We can certainly sense his desperation. Though there exists little possibility of Bartimaeus getting in trouble with the authorities, we should not forget the power of a social group. No one enjoys being ostracized. Bartimaeus likely had few friends in the crowd. He desperately wants a different life, and his continued shouts reveal he is not going to let anyone or any circumstance stop him. Today we read of the horrible “cancel culture.” People want to remove a person from a job and the public eye, and sadly on occasion it has worked. This crowd was trying to “cancel” Bartimaeus. Yet, he continues to shout.
He is also risking his income. Certainly no one in the crowd is going to drop an offering into his coffer at this point. Though the crowd would have filled Bartimaeus with doubt (if he listened to them), he instead was filled with expectation.
Imagine his reaction when Jesus hears him above the noise of the crowd. Jesus always had eyes to see and ears to hear the most neglected. Notice Jesus’ presence and action already began to transform the crowd. Their entire tone changed. They too were stunned Jesus heard him, much less that Jesus is moving toward him. The crowd responds, “Cheer up, he calls you!” This stands in contrast to their, “Be quiet!” Bartimaeus throws his most costly garment aside, he jumps up, and walks toward Jesus. We cannot capture through reading the emotions stirring in the heart of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus initially had no idea what Jesus was going to do, but it had to prove better than his life as a beggar. The next words Jesus spoke began to change his entire life: “What do you want me to do for you?” Certainly, this question is rhetorical. Jesus knows what he needs. However, it is important for Bartimaeus to say it. Bartimaeus needed, like all of us, to consider for what is he asking. Bartimaeus answers, “Rabbi, I want to see.” He does not stammer for his blindness and its limitations are all he considers. His answer is quickly spoken. Jesus declared him whole and then asked Bartimaeus to “go.” Jesus asked Bartimaeus to put his faith in action. Bartimaeus could not experience the transformation of his life if he returned to his place by the roadside. Jesus’ words imply he is saying, “Go somewhere else in life.”
Bartimaeus is so overwhelmed with relief and joy. We are not told how long Bartimaeus was blind. Most likely it had been a long time for he has an established place by the roadside where he begs. Bartimaeus realizes an entire new existence now awaits him. He can actually see, work, and interact with people! Everything is changed!
Immediately, Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus changes him. He is healed! Bartimaeus’ first action is to follow Jesus. He realizes his healing is not just about his world, it is about the world of which Jesus teaches and preaches. His healing will now serve Jesus!
Have you ever felt estranged from others? Have others treated your suffering with neglect? Did you call upon Jesus? How did you call, and how did Christ transform your life? Have you ever known exactly what was needed in your life, only to realize only God can meet that need? When God has answered your prayer did you move to another place in life? Did the world seem new? Did you choose to follow Christ? What is the motivation that leads you to serve Christ? Is it gratitude? Prayerfully consider if your life is an act of praise.
Bartimaeus is us. Most of us understand the limitations that cause us to “sit by the roadside.” If our sinful behavior has led us to such a place, there most always is going to be a crowd that judges us, which is no help at all. Bartimaeus did not jump in response to a condescending crowd; he rose because of the compassionate presence of Jesus. In Bartimaeus’ case, and most of our cases, our actions did not lead us to the estrangement we feel. Circumstances in life can prove most difficult and cause us to live within limitations. Difficult circumstances often have little do with our suffering. Granted, our choices can create suffering, but so can life itself. Bartimaeus is not blind because of his sin or the sin of his parents.
We can also relate to blindness. We can be spiritually blind. Spiritual blindness is usually self-inflicted. We pay little attention to God’s presence in our life and the world. We neglect the many opportunities that create vision and purpose. Thus, we find ourselves in an existence lacking meaning and purpose. We need to express to God, “I want to see.” Like Bartimaeus, we may feel desperation. Thus, we call to Jesus in expectation that he can do for us what the world cannot. God is present and hears. Jesus still opens the eyes of the blind.
Consider a moment when the name of Jesus touched your ears as you lived in desperation. Thank God others are willing to share Jesus in their life, for you heard his name through them.
Anytime God transforms us we should be willing to follow. We do not follow Jesus to gain his love and attention. We follow because we already have them. Each transformation opens our eyes to a new world, a new life! Following Jesus is among the highest expressions of praise. We praise him for the life he gives! Following and serving Christ is most beautiful when the desperate heart has become the grateful heart! John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, once wrote, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” When God has satisfied our longing, gratitude prompts us to follow, for then the Lord is glorified!
Try to identify closely with Bartimaeus’ story. What are the parallels between your experiences of life? What are parallels concerning Jesus’ activity? Have you been led to follow? In what ways are you following? Do you believe yourself to be an expression of God’s love?
Almighty God, you have revealed your heart unto us through Jesus. We witness your love and care for each of us in Jesus. Forgive us for our self-imposed spiritual blindness. We have witnessed truth, only to neglect it. Touch us, open our eyes. Allow our human eyes to see the eternal in life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.