In the last episode of Caleb’s Journal we started looking at the fascinating account of Blind Bartimaeus. We discovered that Bartimaeus, realising his inability to overcome his uncleanness by his own strength, was begging to come into a covenant relationship with a Stronger One, who was none other than Jesus our Lord and King.
This desire to enter into Covenant had practical consequences in the life of Bartimaeus. In this episode we will investigate how this event affected not only the life of Bartimaeus, but also Jesus and the crowd.
Sitting on the verge
When Blind Bartimaeus launches his appeal to Jesus he is sitting by the roadside.
He is not sitting at his home, in the city streets, or even in a meadow under a tree. He is sitting by the roadside – along a specific road, the road that leads from Jericho up to Jerusalem.
He is sitting in that transition area – neither on the road or off the road, but by the road… on the verge.
We all experience these transition periods in our lives… they are not periods of indecisiveness, rather they are periods in which we are engaged in a process of change.
Bartimaeus was not happy remaining in the city of Jericho, bound under the covenant of man, but he could also not yet see the way to the Divine City, even though he was seeking it as is illustrated by his act of leaving the city, and by ‘begging’ and ‘calling out’ to Jesus as his King.
Bartimaeus knew he had to transition, and he was sitting on that roadside, that verge of the Highway, for the express purpose of finding a way to enter it, so that he could start to walk in a new way.
Possession of the Kingdom requires us to walk
Coming into possession of the kingdom, or engaging in the Christian life, requires us to walk, to tread ground.
We see this concept illustrated in both the Old and New Testaments.
In Joshua 1:3 God made a promise to the nation of Israel, through their leader Joshua, that they would possess the Promised Land when He declared:
‘Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you…’
Whilst in the New Testament we see Jesus telling us to ‘Follow me’.
A road built by His Word
The road that we are invited to walk on is one that is founded and built by His Word, His Commandments, His Wisdom.
But this road is not an easy road to walk along – just as the road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem is a tough and arduous climb.
Returning to the Old Testament, after God had told Joshua that Israel would come into possession of the Promised Land, He says:
‘Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.’
Back in the New Testament, we read that just before the crucifixion Jesus spoke to his disciples and stated that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
When Jesus described Himself as “the Way” the Greek word όδός hodos is used. This is exactly the same word that Mark uses for the roadside on which Blind Bartimaeus is sitting.
The Greek όδός hodos does mean a road, but more than that it also conveys the means by which one gets somewhere. So when we read in the New Testament that Jesus is the όδός hodos, it illustrates that He is the means by which we get from A to B.
So just as Israel of old was commanded to take possession of the Promised Land by doing all the Law, so we are commanded in the modern day to believe and ‘Follow Him’ – The One who embodies the fulfilment of the Law, which is the expression of His Love.
This is what Blind Bartimaeus was seeking as he sat by the roadside, in this transition… he was desiring to see this new Way, this way based upon the Word of God and not the words of man.
It is most encouraging for us to read that it was while Bartimaeus was still in a state of blindness that he could perceive that Jesus was near. We do not have to have all the answers, we do not even need to see the way… we just need to have willing hearts.
How exposing this new way affected the crowd
This desire of Blind Bartimaeus to enter into a new way based on a covenantal relationship with Jesus, had a very strange effect on the crowd.
‘And many (of the crowd) rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”’
Do you not find the reaction of the crowd very strange? Why would they be telling Blind Bartimaeus to be silent? Wouldn’t the crowd, who knew who Jesus was, be happy to see that an unfortunate blind man could have the chance of being healed by the touch of Jesus’ hand? One would think that the people should help this man, bring him closer to Jesus so that he could find healing, not rebuke him.
The common interpretation of this strange reaction is that Jesus was a highly popular figure and the call of a socially insignificant blind man would be seen as an unwelcome interruption, or distraction.
Yet is this interpretation correct?
The rebuke of the crowd
The Greek word that has been translated as “rebuke” in this verse is επιτιμάω epitimao. This word can mean rebuke, but it carries the sense of ‘a warning to prevent something from going wrong’.
Is this showing that the crowd is more afraid for themselves, rather than for the effect this will have on Bartimaeus?
They all, including Bartimaeus, came from Jericho and were steeped in their own ways, the ‘ways of man’, the ways of the flesh, which we all know so well.
When Jesus arrives in town, or in our lives, and tells us that there is another Way we are very happy to listen to Him, to hear what He has to say, yet when it comes to taking action, to placing Him on the throne, as King over our lives, and entering into covenant with Him, into an intimate relationship, we are not always that keen because this requires a sacrifice of our flesh ways in order to embrace His Way.
The people were in a sense not rebuking Bartimaeus, they were afraid for their own position, their own lives. The people wanted him to hold his peace, to not rock the boat… as they were quite happy with their status quo, their life in Jericho. They realised that should Bartimaeus be healed, and move on, they too would have to address their own allegiances… as no one likes to be left behind. Yet to move on in a new, unknown way is not something that we, in the flesh, relish – as we like to feel that we are in control… The crowd was literally afraid of the consequences for their own lives in truely following Jesus, and their rebuke to Bartimaeus reflected this. They may literally have said something along the lines of “stop what you are doing, Bartimaeus, you are attacking the foundation of our lifestyle and this is not going to end well.”
How Jesus’ action transformed the crowd
Yet the cry of Bartimaeus had a very different and profound effect on Jesus. It caused Jesus to stand still amongst the clamouring multitude. Jesus realised that the cry came from a man that not only identified Him as the rightful King, but He also sensed the desire of Bartimaeus to enter into covenant with Him. Hearing the truth of His identity from the blind man caused Jesus to stop and take note and then He instructed the people to call him.
This command from Jesus had a transformational effect on the crowd. Where they were first telling Bartimaeus to hush, they now started to encourage and support him, by saying;
“Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”
Isn’t this just wonderful? This previously somewhat hostile crowd is now actually encouraging Bartimaeus to enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord. Deep down, I think all the people in the crowd desire this deeper relationship too, otherwise they would not have been there. They too have walked out of Jericho, but they are still afraid to enter into a deeper intimacy.
If there is one thing that fallen man fears it is the very presence of God, this is because it requires the sacrifice of the illusion of what we think life is, our ‘flesh’, the ‘ways of man’.
Yet when the crowd sees Blind Bartimaeus being called, they encourage him, willing him on to embark on this unknown path in the hope that it will also open a new way for them to follow.
The people told Bartimaeus to ‘take heart’ or take courage. The word used here is θαρσέω tharseó which carries the meaning of God bolstering the strength of the believer. This is interesting as it shows that the crowd recognised that the path Bartimaeus was desiring to walk required a courage and strength that could only come from God. It was a strength which they knew he possessed, a strength which found its origins in faith, and so they commanded him to boldly walk forth in this faith.
After this encouragement the crowd told Bartimaeus to ‘get up’. The Greek here is εγείρω egeirό, meaning to ‘awaken’ with the emphasis lying on the gathering of ones scattered thoughts and bundling them into a unified purpose. Often times the ways of God and our walk of faith can seem so disconnected or it flat out makes no sense at all. This is because we are looking at it through our flesh eyes. The crowd is encouraging Bartimaeus to awaken from this state of being and to trust instead in the fact that all these scattered thoughts, the seemingly disconnected events and experiences in our lives are actually leading us back into unity with God and they are encouraging him to walk on in that reality.
Responding to this call requires much faith and courage as it involves leaving behind all that we are familiar with and stepping out into the unknown, trusting fully in Him and in His Word.
Don’t forget that when this happens, when Bartimaeus is being encouraged to move towards Jesus, he is still blind, he does not see…
In the next and final episode of this series on the healing of Bartimaeus we will look at the strange response Bartimaeus has to the call of Jesus, and what it means. As he is called, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak…