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The Upside-Down Kingdom: Where the Blind Can See
Mark 10:46 - 10:52
August 29, 2021
Reverend Chris Hildebrand
The last sermon of the “The Upside-Down Kingdom” series, Where the Blind Can See, continues to address what it means to boldly follow Jesus by highlighting the desperation of discipleship, the expectancy of discipleship, and the path of discipleship.
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It’s good to be with you once again. I'll have you know that in the very first row, now there's a clock. There wasn't the last two weeks, so I take that as a hint. I will pay attention to the clock. We are continuing on and concluding our mini summer sermon series on Mark 10. In Mark 10, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem—to the cross. His time is limited. He knows what awaits him, and so he's getting right to the heart of the matter. He's speaking with clarity and teaching with clarity in ways that up to this point he hasn't done. He's been concealing some of the realities of the kingdom. Now, as he's on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, he's getting right to it. He's telling him that his kingdom is not of the world. His kingdom has come to transform the world. In order to be part of his kingdom and his work in the world, the very people who are to follow him, as we saw two weeks ago, must become like children. They must understand and have faith in him like a child.
Last week we saw that in order to be part of his kingdom, you first must serve—the least will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. The kingdom runs contrary and opposed to so many of the perspectives and priorities of the first century world and certainly, in the world in which we are so familiar. As we've seen in our journey through Mark 10, the people can absolutely miss this reality. It's easy to miss because the people who you would expect to understand what Jesus is talking about in these passages don't get it. The disciples are blind to so much of what Jesus is showing them and what he is saying to them.
Now as we get to the end of Mark 10, we get another look at what it means to be a disciple or a follower of Jesus. It comes from the most unlikely of people. It comes from the most unlikely person. It's not the disciples, not one of the 12, who were sitting and teaching and being taught by Jesus and eating meals with him. They don't see it. It's not someone like the rich young ruler, who was earlier in Mark 10, who understands the Old Testament law, who's been studying it. It's not them. It's from this blind beggar sitting on the side of the road as Jesus walks by.
We're gonna do our best to unpack a little bit of what that means this morning, but if you don't remember anything else from this morning, you should take this fact with you, and take it with you for the rest of the week. It's the blind beggar who sees Jesus when no one else can. The blind beggar sees Jesus when no one else can. If you would just sit with that, if you would turn that over in your mind and let it sink into your heart while you're on your morning commute, while you're on the subway, while you're cleaning, while you're changing diapers or answering emails. If you would just think and turn that over. I think it will help you to see the one who sees you—and that is Jesus. Let's give our attention to this account in Mark and see what it means to follow Jesus. Mark 10, starting in v.46.
And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “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. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
This is the word of the Lord. It's absolutely true, and it's given to us in love.
Our great God and Heavenly Father, we come to you this morning, seeing our own lives and our own hearts in a world that is full of darkness and brokenness. We grieve this week, the events of Afghanistan, and pray for the families of our service members who lost lives protecting innocence. We pray for those Afghanis who lost lives and whose lives have been so deeply disrupted this week. We pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, the church in Afghanistan, that this day is meeting in dark corners and whispering your name, taking it on their lips, for they know that it will certainly, if they are found out, bring death and banishment and so we pray that you would give them courage and hope and add to their numbers. Lord, we pray this morning as a hurricane bears down on the Gulf Coast, 16 years to the day of Hurricane Katrina. So we pray for those who are scrambling, who are hunkering down, for whom cannot withstand another devastating hurricane. We pray that you would spare them. Spare life and bring calm and peace to that area. Lord, we continue to live with this pandemic. New variations and variants, delta variants and trying to discern how the best way forward to live our lives, to gather together, to be people who are showing forth your name. So Lord, we pray that you would give us wisdom. We pray, oh God, that you would spare life, that you would restore health to those who are sick, who are struggling this day, as hospitals in certain parts of the country and in the world continue to fill up once again. Lord, we are tired. We are weary from this pandemic, and we pray that you would bring an end to it. Help us to navigate the complexities for which we are growing so weary. But Lord, all of this we can see, we can see the darkness, we can see division in our country, in our politics, in our own homes, in our own hearts. We see that. We see the darkness. Lord, what we need to see is light. We need to see life. We need to see you. As we turn our attention to this account of Bartimaeus, the one who is blind, who can't see, I pray that you would help us to see, so that we will proclaim your glory. We pray this all in Jesus' mighty name. Amen.
Mark is a brilliant storyteller. In this rather brief account of Bartimaeus being healed by Jesus, he's left us clues. He's left us clues in the story. He calls back to other stories that he's already told us in his gospel accounts. These clues are actually meant to open our eyes, to help us see who Jesus really is and how we are to follow him. This really in reading the Gospel of Mark, as is reading all of the Scriptures, really is an exercise in being a student, so that when we can see the clues that are given to us by writers like Mark. It actually helps us to see the reality of this kingdom that we are called to live in, that we are called to proclaim, that we are called to put our hope and our trust in. That this kingdom is at hand. This is the kingdom that we long for oftentimes, whether we realize it or not.
I want to jump into this text and look at three things from this passage that concern discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus as Bartimaeus does. The desperation of a disciple, the expectancy of a disciple, and then the path. So desperation, expectancy and path.
The Desperation Of Discipleship
First, the desperation of a disciple. The first clue that Mark gives us in this passage is in the very name Bartimaeus. Here's the thing with Mark: Rarely does he name the names of anyone who's being healed or who's interacting with Jesus, other than the disciples. He never names names. But here, Mark tells us the name twice. Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. He's not just emphasizing his name or telling us who his father was. In Hebrew, Bartimaeus means unclean. So you have it twice: Son of the unclean. Son of the unclean. This is Mark telling us, pay attention to this. This is important. This man is desperate not simply because he is blind. He is an outsider, and Mark wants to highlight just how desperate and how much of an outsider this man really is. So here's this blind beggar, son of the unclean, and he's sitting by the roadside as Jesus and the disciples and the great crowds leave Jericho. Jericho is a suburban town about 15 miles outside of Jerusalem. As they leave, you see this desperation from the one whose name invokes outsider status. We see that because Bartimaeus begins to cry out.
What is interesting here about Bartimaeus’ cry, when he cries out, Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. In other words, Bartimaeus recognizes who Jesus is. The son of the unclean recognizes the son of David because to refer to Jesus as the son of David is to acknowledge Jesus' claims of being the Messiah, of being the one from David's royal line, which means that Bartimaeus isn't just here on this dusty road by accident. He didn't happen to luck out. No, Bartimaeus has been trying to get into the presence of Jesus. That's why he won't be quieted by the crowd. He cries out, son of David have mercy on me, and the crowd, including the disciples, rebuke him. They tell him to be quiet, but he won't. He keeps crying out. There's a desperation and a compulsion by Bartimaeus to get into the presence of Jesus.
Then Mark gives us another clue about the desperation of Bartimaeus. Not just all the yelling Bartimaeus is doing, but also in Jesus' response in v.52. When he says, “Your faith has made you well,” there Mark is giving us a call back to at least two other accounts in the gospels, at least in the Gospel of Mark, at least that I can find. One in chapter two, where Jesus is at home in Capernaum. These large crowds have gathered and he's preaching. He's teaching, and this paralytic man shows up with his four friends. These four friends bring their paralytic friend to Jesus, but they can't get into the house because the place is just too packed. It's too crowded. So what do they do? They're so desperate to get into the presence of Jesus that they bring him up to the roof and they rip the roof off the house where Jesus is. They tear it off and they lower him down. That is the level of desperation Bartimaeus is showing. What's interesting is that in both accounts, Jesus commends their faith. He's not annoyed. He's not frustrated at their desperation. He says to Bartimaeus, and he says to those four friends, “Your faith has made you well.” Then in Mark 7, Mark gives this other account of the woman who's had a discharge of blood for 12 years. She is unclean, and there she is just trying to get through the crowds to touch the hem of Jesus' garment. She does it, and she's healed. Jesus says, “Who touched my garment?” because he can't see. He doesn't know who did it. She comes back. She's already been healed, and with fear and trembling before Jesus, he says to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
So what do we do with all this? Bunch of desperate, broken, unclean people doing whatever they have to do to get in front of Jesus. Mark is giving us a picture of the faith of discipleship, that faith lives under one great compulsion—to get into the presence of Jesus. All three of these accounts where their faith had healed them, it's not their knowledge of how well of how it all works. Their knowledge wasn't perfect. Their understanding of Jesus wasn't perfect. They don't completely understand everything. It's the object of their faith, not the amount of their faith that Mark wants to highlight here. Bartimaeus is a desperate, desperate man. He knows that only Jesus can rescue him.
This is what was lacking with the disciples. This is what is lacking with the rich young ruler, another account in Mark 10. We didn't get a chance to look at this a couple of weeks ago, but there Jesus tells the rich young man to sell everything and follow him, and the man just walks away grieved because he lacked desperation. He had insulated himself with his great possessions, such that he didn't feel like he really needed Jesus, other than for some sort of theological sparring partner. So he walks away because he wasn't desperate. I know that we all want to avoid desperation. Nobody wants to look desperate. Nobody wants to be seen as desperate. We want to look like we have it all under control like we can manage. That just means we ignore the deeper reality of our own vulnerability and weakness and frailty. Our vulnerability rears its head every once in a while, but we can bury that more often than not. But Bartimaeus can't hide his desperation. It's in his very name. He's the son of the unclean. He's blind and desperate, and therefore he knows he needs Jesus. He will do whatever it takes to get into his presence.
I have good news for all of you. Even though showing desperation might not come naturally to us, even though everything in our culture and everything in our world suggests that the last thing you want to do is show desperation. You've already begun to do it. This morning, this very morning, you've shown your hands that you are desperate. That you actually are desperate to get into the presence of Jesus because this morning already we've professed our desperation. In our Call to Worship, we have said that our Lord needs to come and to rescue us. We have sung of God's faithfulness. We've confessed our sin and confessed that only Jesus can cleanse us. Only he can make us whole. So you've already begun this journey towards a desperation that will tell you the truth about your situation, but will also bring you into the presence of the one who can rescue you, who can sustain you and who will give you life. So now your job, my job, is to take it from here and let it shape the rest of us our week. Let that desperation be what leads you into signing up for a Community Group this fall. Let it be what leads you to walk alongside someone else for whom weakness and desperation is an all too familiar reality. Then come back here next Sunday, and confess it all again because the reality is you are never not in need of Jesus. There's never a moment where you can manage things on your own. No matter how competent you are, how much of an expert you are in your field, how much you think you have life put together, you are always in need of Jesus. So become familiar with the desperation of Bartimaeus. That's the desperation of a disciple.
The Expectancy Of Discipleship
There's also an expectancy of the disciple. Bartimaeus is expecting something to happen in this passage. Look at v.50. “And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Bartimaeus is ready for something to happen. There's no hesitation. Immediately jumps up. He leaves his cloak behind, and he goes to Jesus. What's interesting about this encounter is that it's clear the crowds don't have this level of expectancy. The crowds are not expecting anything to happen. Here's Bartimaeus, crying out and everyone else is telling him to be quiet. No one stops to think that maybe something is going to happen here. Maybe Jesus will do something. They just want to keep on moving and to get this guy out of the way.
Bartimaeus has been watching and waiting for Jesus. He hears them coming in. He's alert and attentive to whatever Jesus might be orchestrating, including hearing the call of Jesus from the crowd, who was just admonishing him. Did you notice that? Bartimaeus doesn't hear the call from Jesus. Bartimaeus hears the call from the crowd that was just a moment ago telling him to be quiet. But now it's the crowd that says, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” He has to first hear Jesus' call from those who are trying to quiet him.
The point to being a follower of Jesus means expecting Jesus to actually show up. Living with an expectancy that something is about to happen even when it appears that nothing is happening. Many Christian theologians and writers and poets have compared the Christian life to birdwatching. Birdwatching is where you sit in the same place—you sit very, very still for a very, very long time—hoping to see a bird. That's it. You just sit there and you wait and wait. You sit very still, no matter what and hope you're going to see something—a bird you've been looking for, or just maybe even a wing or a glimpse of a bird—just something. The crowd here in this passage, they weren't expecting to see anything. Yet Jesus heals this man. They got something. They got to say words like, Look. Take heart. Jesus is calling.
It's hard to live lives of desperation, and it's hard to live in a constant state of alert that God might be doing something remarkable in your life right now. We see this in the lives of the disciples in Mark's Gospel, they miss so much. They're not alert, and they're not expecting. They are too often consumed with their own concerns, their own plans and so are we. But we learn because God is always with us by the power of his Spirit, and because Jesus, even now, is ruling and reigning over all of creation and your life. If that's true, then we ought to be expecting.
In the mundane moments of traffic, emails and the frustrating conversations with people in your life here in this church or with your spouse, or your roommate, or your kids, or your neighbors. We live with expectancy, alert and attentive to whatever God might be doing in our lives. If you just go into the park, and start looking for birds, you might see something. I mean, chances are, you'll see something but also the chances are you won't know what you're looking for. You won't know what kind of bird you're seeing. The same is true for following Jesus and living expectantly. The way to train your eyes and also your senses to see how Jesus is orchestrating all of reality is by giving yourself to the daily practice of seeing Jesus. Letting his word open your eyes, giving yourself to daily practices of prayer. If you do that, I promise you, you will begin to see even in the most unlikely places, God's powerful and gracious presence. Because what Mark wants us to see here and the question that Mark wants us to ask us is not is God here? Is he present? That's not the question for Mark. That has an obvious answer. The answers to those questions are Yes, God is present. He is here. The better question assumes the first answer, but then asked where and how might God be a work in my life in my world? That's the question of an expectant disciple.
Just like Bartimaeus, who needed the crowd to tell him Jesus was calling him, you too need others. You need other people in your life, who can show you and tell you how God is at work in your life, who are willing to walk alongside you, and can say, take heart; he's calling you, I see it. I know you don't see it, but I do. Take heart. Jesus is calling you. You can't see it, but I can. That's why we need to be actively in community, doing this beautiful, wonderful work of living our lives together and showing one another, where God might be at work. All too often, we are really, really good at showing each other's deficits, revealing one another's brokenness and sin and the ways they frustrate us, and we're not so good at showing someone else where God is at work in their life. That's the call of an expectant disciple.
The Path Of Discipleship
Lastly, there's the desperation of a disciple, the expectancy of a disciple and the path. So Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wants. Bartimaeus says he wants to see again, and so Jesus heals him. Notice again, what Jesus says in conclusion, not just that your faith has made you well, but go your way. Your faith has made you well. I've been thinking about those words all week, go your way. It's an odd thing, I think, for Jesus to say, because in other times, like with the rich young man, he told him to sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me. With the disciples at the beginning of Mark, when we looked at last week, when he called them he says, follow me. And that's what you might expect from Jesus here. He just heals Bartimaeus. Now, how about follow me, but this term, go your way, I don't know exactly what he means. Maybe he was giving him an option to go or to not join the crowd, to go and make a life for himself in Jericho, I'm not exactly sure. But I do know, what does happen is that the way Bartimaeus ends up going, is the way of Jesus. He has his sight restored. He's left his old life. His blindness is gone, and he follows Jesus on the way. That's how this story ends.
By the time Luke writes Acts the group of disciples, before they're called Christians, will be called people of the way. Mark is giving us a hint that Bartimaeus is on the path. He is on the way. What Bartimaeus will learn in the days ahead, is that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. So Bartimaeus has left his cloak. He's left his cloak behind. He's picked up his cross. I wonder if Bartimaeus in the days to follow ever thought, man, there's no way I expected to be going, where I was going. As the gospels point out time and time again, Jesus takes his followers to people and to places that they least expect. Ultimately, that was to the cross. But that's where Jesus goes, and he's not going to be stopped. For Bartimaeus, and the disciples, and the crowds to follow Jesus, to follow him on the way along his path means that they will find themselves with people. They will be going to places that they might not naturally find themselves. Where they are going, where Bartimaeus goes, where the disciples go, and where we go, is not necessarily defined by the preferences for people, nor our places of comfort, but it’s defined by the one to whom we are to follow that is the path that we go.
This has lots of implications for us, but one of them is that if we're following Jesus, we too will find ourselves being with the company of people whose company Jesus seeks. We’ll be with the people that Jesus hangs out with. Jesus so often is with the poor and the marginalized, the excluded, the grieving, which means that you too often find yourselves walking next to Bartimaeus, perhaps the very one you were trying to hush. So the question for us: Are we willing to reach out to those who don't fit and welcome them into community? Are we willing to recognize that the outsiders may actually have more insight, maybe even about Jesus, than the insiders? Are we willing to throw off our cloaks? The things that protect us, and behind which we so often hide, and fearlessly and faithfully and desperately follow the Lord wherever he leads? In short, are we willing to be disciples, and do we seek his kingdom as the one for which we long?
Let me tell you what the beautiful thing is if we're willing to do that. If you're willing to live with a desperate expectancy of a disciple, following the path, following the way of Jesus, it's going to be you. You will have the opportunity. You will get the joy of saying to those who have been cast aside, to those who are downtrodden, the desperate, the lonely, the brokenhearted, it's going to be you who gets to say, take heart. He's calling. Jesus is calling. It'll be you who gets to say that and reveal to others this upside down kingdom, where the children are blessed, where the last are first, and where the blind can see. May God open our eyes to see the beauty and the wonder of his kingdom.
Our great God and Heavenly Father, we thank you for the story of Bartimaeus. For the hope it gives us. Would you make us desperate and expectant disciples? Being honest about who you are and yet seeking to see how you’re at work in our lives and in our worlds. God, open our eyes so that we would see your beauty and the wonder in the glories of your kingdom. We pray this all in Jesus' name. Amen.