“Restoring Sight to the Blind”
CXLII. Expositions of the Gospel According to Luke
June 21, 2015
35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (Lk 18:34-43)
The disciples understood nothing of what Jesus told them of His impending suffering and death in Jerusalem (vv. 31-34), and soon thereafter Jesus heals a blind man. Is there a connection? Indeed, there is. Among the older commentators, Matthew Henry speaks of Jesus’ healing of the blind man as a “token” of His mission “to give sight to blind souls.1 Because he was both blind and poor and with no family to maintain him, he was, says Henry, “the fitter emblem of the world of mankind which Christ came to heal and save.”2 Among the modern commentators, Green labels the healing a “speech act,” fulfilling the promise of Jesus’ ministry “to proclaim … recovery of sight to the blind” (4:18).3 We may think of it as an enacted parable, the blind man portraying the spiritual blindness of the disciples and of us all, and the healing demonstrating Jesus’ power to save.
As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. (v. 35)
Reminders of Jesus’ continuing journey to Jerusalem are abundant in verses 35-37 (cf. v. 31). Jesus encountered the blind beggar as He “drew near to Jericho.” Jericho is near the Jordan River, about 700 feet below sea level, and about ten miles from Jerusalem. Bartimaeus (as Mark calls him) is “sitting by the roadside,” on which Jesus is traveling. Jesus is “passing by” (v. 37). The journey begun in Luke 9:51 continues to the cross. This is the central purpose of Jesus’ mission, and everything that He does should be interpreted in light of the atonement that He will accomplish there.
And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (vv. 36, 37)
Because Jesus is now far from His hometown in Galilee, the crowd refers to Him as “of Nazareth,” or “the Nazarene.” Yet His reputation precedes Him. Even here He is able to attract a large crowd.
A blind beggar, by the social standards of the day, would be an unlikely candidate for healing. He would be at the bottom of the social ladder, among those known as “expendables,” amounting to 5-10% of the population.4 The blind man is not only marginal in society, but because he is not religiously observant and ceremonially unclean, he is beyond the reach of salvation. He is an unlikely candidate for salvation or Jesus’ attention (better spent on people of substance, or the religious) according to the standards of his day, but not according to God’s standards. He is among the poor that Jesus says He has come to rescue, and the blind whose sight He has come to restore (Lk 4:18, 19; 7:21-27; 14:13, 21). Surprisingly, he demonstrates substantial faith.
And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 38)
“Son of David” is a Messianic title widely recognized by Jesus’ contemporaries. When Jesus asked the Pharisees whose son the Christ would be, they replied, “the Son of David” (Mt 22:42). That this blind beggar acknowledges Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, indicates insight into Jesus’ identity beyond that of most others, including most of the religious community. There have been other unlikely characters: the Gentile centurion (Lk 7:1-10); the female sinner from the city (Lk 7:36-50); and a Samaritan (Lk 17:11-17). These are all unlikely candidates for salvation, the least anticipated, the least expected.
What Jesus shows by healing this man is that salvation is for everyone. As we saw in Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler (vv. 18-30), He does not recognize human classifications such as race, ethnicity, gender, or class. He doesn’t recognize human categories of worthy and unworthy, of sinful and too sinful, of likely and unlikely. Salvation is for everyone, for all who will repent and believe.
Because Bartimaeus is at the bottom of the social scale, he is everyman. We are all “fast-bound by sin and nature’s night.” We are all blind. We all fail to see the truth and lack the capacity to do so. We are all equally blind, lost and beyond salvation by human means.
Our unlikely candidate shares not only substantial faith but persistent faith.
And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. (v. 39a)
Those who are “in front” rebuke him, insisting that he be “silent.” Why do they want Bartimaeus to be silent? Probably because his shouting prevented them from hearing Jesus’ teaching. It was common for rabbis to teach as they walked. Jesus and His disciples, along with many others, were traveling in a “pilgrim band,” with Jesus teaching as He went. Perhaps many in the crowd were missing what he was saying because of the shouting. Who are they? “In front” undoubtedly means spatially, having the best viewing spots in the crowd. Yet it may also be meant socially, in terms of status, that is, the leading citizens, who in the normal course of events would be “in front” spatially as well because of the deference paid to them. 5 Either way, they are annoyed that this “low-life,” as they regarded him, is distracting the proceedings. He is grabbing attention away from them. How does Bartimaeus respond? Will he be intimidated? Will he back off? Will opposition frighten and silence him, as often is the case with timid believers?
But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 39b)
Barclay points out the difference between the two words translated “cried out” in verses 38 and 39. The first (eboēsen) is the ordinary word for shouting. The second (ekrazen) “is the word used to describe the instinctive shout of ungovernable emotion, a scream, an almost animal cry.”6
Undoubtedly Bartimaeus’ pleading is meant to be an example to us. He embodies the message of the Parable of the Persistent Widow with which the chapter began (vv. 1-7): we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (v. 1). “True faith will produce fervency in prayer,” says Matthew Henry.7 Too little prayer goes on today and too much of our praying today is bloodless. It amounts to nothing more than a bland recital of lists of requests delivered passionlessly. Bartimaeus knows what he wants: mercy (v. 39). He wants Jesus to relieve his suffering. He is willing to plead for it. When asked to be specific, he knows exactly what he wants: sight (v. 40). His plea is urgent. His prayer is passionate. He will not be put off. He will not be discouraged. He will not be intimidated. He will not allow anyone, no matter who they are, or their social standing, to derail his quest for healing.
A critical breakthrough occurs when we realize that we are spiritually blind. How ought we to respond to our awareness? By pleading for healing. Oh Lord, give me eyes to see Your glory in the face of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18;4:4, 6). The problem for many, including both the disciples and those opposed to Jesus, is that they don’t yet know that they are blind. They think that their eyes work fine. They gaze into the darkness and think that that is all there is to see. They are like Plato’s cave-dwellers looking at shadows on the wall of the cave. They don’t realize that there is more. They don’t realize that there is a three-dimensional world in living color outside of their darkness. Fact is, we need divine intervention if we are to understand the gospel. God must impart understanding. He must open blind eyes and deaf ears and soften hard hearts. “Jesus, the Son of David, is still passing by, and not far from every one of us,” says Ryle.8 Let us then cry out for sight, that we might say, “I once… was blind, but now I see.” Let us cry out that we might one day sing, “thine eye defused a quickening ray – I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”
Jesus shows no partiality. He shows He is no respecter of persons. A man pleads for mercy? Jesus responds:
And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” (vv. 40, 41)
Marshall suggest that Jesus asks not for the sake of information (it was obvious what the man wanted), but in order to “elicit faith.”9 You want to see? Then so be it.
And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. (vv. 42-43a)
If Jesus is not showing favoritism, why does He heal him? Because of his faith, evidenced by what he confessed (“son of David” and now “Lord”), and by his persistent prayer. “Your faith has made you well.” This is a regrettable translation, as also in Luke 17:19. Literally, Jesus says, “your faith has saved you.” Yes, his sight was restored. However, even more important healing than this took place. His soul was healed. Listen to Calvin:
The salvation of which Jesus speaks is not restricted to the outward healing but includes also the healing and salvation of the soul.10
To be “saved” is to enter the kingdom of God (Lk 18:17, 24). It is to inherit eternal life (Lk 18:30). It is to be justified (Lk 18:14). It is to impart sight to blind eyes, to open closed ears; it is to soften and make receptive a hard heart. It is to be born again. “Faith” saved Bartimaeus because faith, not works, not law, not deeds, not morals, not religion, was the means by which healing was received. This is gospel healing and it is available to each one of us. All we need do is cry out sincerely to God for help as Bartimaeus did. Those who seek the Lord will find Him if they search with all their heart and all their soul (Deut 4:29; Isa 55:6). It is true, says Ryle, “that He is always found by those who really seek Him.”11
And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (v. 43)
How does Bartimaeus respond to his healing? When his eyes were opened, he saw not a royal entourage in all its splendor of fine clothes and carriages, but merely a dust-covered traveler and His companions. He’s not fazed. He’s not disappointed. He immediately “followed him.” He becomes a disciple. This is the response of a saved soul and true disciple. Where Jesus goes, he goes. Where Jesus leads, he follows. This is what it means to be a believer. We are willing, and not just willing, but eager to go wherever Jesus takes us.
Similarly, the Jesus we see is a crucified Lord, “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). He was “numbered with the transgressors” and “made his grave with the wicked.” He has “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa 53:12, 9, 2). Yet by faith we know that He is “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). He followed Jesus, “glorifying God.” So also must we. This is what the true believer wants. This becomes the aim of the disciple’s whole life: God glorified, God honored, God getting the praise of which He is worthy from us and others, no matter what the cost. The healing of Bartimaeus leads to “all the people” praising God. Christian lives can have no greater impact than that.
Henry, comments on Luke 18:35-43.
Ibid., comments on Luke 18:35.
See Green, 665.
Green regards this as the preferable reading. (Green, 664).
Henry, commenting on Lk 18:39.