Monday, July 14, 2008

Faith That Saves: Mark 10:46-52

Today, perhaps more than at any time in recent history, it is acceptable and even popular to speak of being a person of faith. Whereas once it was considered to be improper to speak publicly about faith or politics, today these conversations are readily engaged in the public square, with politicians even being willing to speak about their own faith. The last several national elections in America have focused on candidate’s personal faith and their views on the issues important to communities of faith. Though statistics indicate that church involvement and attendance may be at an all-time low, it seems that people’s interest in matters of faith are at an all-time high.

What does it mean to have faith? We understand that the word means “trust,” “allegiance,” “adherence,” or “belief.” But those are very vague synonyms for faith. People understand the word “faith” in different ways. To some, faith means “blind faith”, where a person believes something they have no grounds to believe. To others, having faith is the equivalent of superstition, whereby one attributes mystical or magical powers to an object. There is a kind of faith in science where one bases claims on probability observed in research. There is a historical belief that some call faith, where they believe that an event in history has occurred. Then there is the intellectual assent where one agrees with certain statements. To some, faith is no more than merely positive thinking. Folks are admonished to be optimistic with the words, “You must have faith!” Then there is faith in faith, where a person says, “I have faith,” but there is no certain object of their faith. It is just a faith in his or her own faith. All of these things have been called “faith” by some. But in our passage today, we meet a man with a different kind of faith.

Jesus says to the blind beggar named Bartimaeus in verse 52, “Your faith has made you well.” If you use the KJV, you will see the words, “thy faith hath made thee whole.” The NIV reads, “Your faith has healed you.” All of these are efforts to render in English the Greek word, sesoken, a form of the verb sozo. This word means “to save.” This word is used 16 times in the healing stories of the gospels, at least 6 of those times with Jesus saying, “Your faith has saved you.” In those instances, salvation comes to that person from Jesus because of their faith, and it affects their entire being, both physically and spiritually. What kind of faith is this? It is saving faith. Every person in the world exercises some kind of faith or another, but only one kind of faith saves. So we want to ask, “What is saving faith?” And in our text today we see three attributes of saving faith.

I. Saving Faith Cries Out to Jesus (vv46-48)

Bartimaeus sat on the side of the road, unable to see what was taking place around him, but certainly feeling the brushes of people as they passed by him and hearing the commotion that was going on. Luke’s Gospel tells us that when Bartimaeus heard the crowd going by, “he began to inquire what this was. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.” There were many Jewish men named Jesus in that day, but only one was known far and wide as Jesus of Nazareth. Now, Mark tells us that when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out. Apparently, Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus: perhaps he had heard of the miracles of healing Jesus had performed, or heard of some of the wonderful truths He had taught. Whatever he had heard about Jesus, Bartimaeus had come to the conclusion that Jesus could help him, so he cried out. Look at what the text says to us about how Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus:

A. Saving Faith Cries Out to Jesus In Recognition of Who He Is

Saving faith is not faith in faith. It is not merely positive thinking. Saving faith has an object. This faith is placed in a particular person, namely in the Lord Jesus Christ. You notice that Bartimaeus doesn’t cry out, “Hey, you there.” He calls on the Lord by name: “Jesus.” But also in order to show the Lord that he understands that Jesus is not just another passer by, Bartimaeus calls Him “Son of David.” While this is not the only time Jesus was ever called “Son of David,” it is the only time Mark records anyone calling Him by that title. This probably has to do with the fact that Mark was writing for Gentiles, who would not be familiar with the significance of this title. Back in 2 Samuel 7, God had promised David, “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you , and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Ever since that day, pious Israelites had awaited a descendant of David to come as their Messiah. Bartimaeus recognizes that Jesus is this long-awaited Savior who has come to save His people, and cries out to Him as such.

But there is another title Bartimaeus uses for Jesus that further indicates that he knew whom He was crying out to in faith. In v51, he calls Jesus “Rabboni.” While Jesus is called “Rabbi” by many people on many occasions, only twice is He ever called “Rabboni.” Once is here, and the other is when Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus outside the tomb. Rabboni is a far more reverent term than Rabbi. In the ancient Jewish literature, this term is seldom used with reference to human beings, and practically never as a way of addressing another person. However, in the Jewish writings, “Rabboni” is frequently used as an address to God in prayer. That being so, it is not a stretch to say that Bartimaeus, by using this term, is expressing his recognition of the divine nature of Jesus. He knows that Jesus is not just one of many who had come and gone claiming to be the Messiah. He knows that He is not just a good man doing good thing, but that He is the God-man who came to do a God-thing. In the person of Jesus Christ, God became man, and saving faith recognizes Him as such and cries out to Him.

Saving faith cries out to Jesus in recognition of who He is. He is God-in-the-flesh, the long-awaited Messiah who had come to be the Savior of His people. Bartimaeus was blind, but this much he could see clearly with the eyes of faith. And so we would ask today, “Have you seen Jesus for who He is?” Have you recognized Him as God and as Savior, and cried out to Him with saving faith?

We also notice, as we consider how saving faith cries out to Jesus, that …

B. Saving Faith Cries Out to Jesus In Spite of Obstacles

As the Summer Olympics are approaching, all eyes will be on Beijing to see who will win gold in the various events. One of my favorite events to watch is the hurdles. It is really impressive to see someone who can not only run fast, but who can also run fast while jumping over obstacles. Like those hurdlers, sometimes when we exercise saving faith, we too must overcome obstacles. Sometimes they are internal and other times they are external. But when it comes to crying out to Jesus, there are hurdles to clear, and we see some of them as we look at Bartimaeus.

1. We must clear the hurdles of our condition (46-47)

Some folks seem to have it all going for them, while others seem to have everything in life working against them. Bartimaeus represents for us a person in the extreme position of neediness. He is blind. We don’t know if he was born that way, or if it happened to him sometime during his life. He is totally dependent on others to tell him what’s going on around him and whether or not he is in harm’s way. Not only is he blind, but he is a beggar. Perhaps because of his blindness, he is unable to work to earn a living, and must resort to asking for handouts from others. He is a blind beggar, and he is an outcast from society. You will notice that Jesus does not encounter Bartimaeus in Jericho, but rather as He is leaving the city, along the side of the road. He has not been given a place to beg in the city, but is forced outside the gates to plead for help from those coming and going. As another indication of his lowly state, notice his name, Bartimaeus. Mark gives us a literal translation of his name: “The Son of Timaeus.” While this is the only name ever given in the healing stories of the Gospels, it is not a personal name, but rather just a family name. What this man’s real name is unknown. He isn’t important enough to the world around him to bear a name. He’s just the son of Timaeus.

We also notice that in addition to being a nameless, blind, begging outcast, he recognizes something else about his condition. As he cries out to Jesus, he says, “Have mercy on me!” Mercy is a word that means the withholding of something someone deserves. It is a way of saying, “Don’t give me what I deserve. Hold back from me what I deserve.” And in his plea for mercy before the Lord Jesus, Bartimaeus reveals that he understands himself to be a sinner. He understands that nothing in himself can commend him to Jesus. He is not like the rich young ruler who came boasting of all the good deeds he had done. He is willing to recognize himself as an undeserving sinner in need of the mercy of the Lord.

All of these conditions stand between him and Jesus. And in order to exercise saving faith, he must overcome them. He must not say, “Oh, why would Jesus care about me. I’m just a blind, begging, nameless, outcast sinner.” Rather, he must say, “My only hope for my condition is Jesus, and in spite of all that is working against me in my life, I must cry out to Him!” And so he does.

Like Bartimaeus, each of us must recognize our own condition as well. We may think that we are in a much better state than Bartimaeus, but spiritually, our condition is no better. Like him, we are blind, unable to see spiritual truth unless it is revealed to us. Like him, we are beggars, with nothing spiritually to our name. We are outcasts, separated from the presence of God because of our sins, and in need of His divine mercy. You can ignore these things, deny them, or make excuses for them, and say you have some kind of faith. But unless you see yourself as a hopeless sinner in need of God’s mercy exhibited in the person of Jesus Christ, you do not have saving faith. To declare Christ as Savior means to recognize yourself as one who needs to be saved. Saving faith will overcome these hurdles of our condition and cry out to Jesus for His mercy.

But notice it is not only the internal hurdles of our condition that must be cleared. There are external hurdles as well…

2. We must clear the hurdles of our critics (v48)

No sooner than Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus, but people started trying to keep him quiet. We aren’t told why they wanted him to pipe down, but some suggestions have been offered by the commentators: a. They were in a hurry to get to Jerusalem and didn’t want Jesus to be delayed dealing with this beggar; b. all this crying out and yelling was undignified and distracting to the sacred procession; c. the people in the crowds did not believe Jesus was who Bartimaeus claimed him to be; d. they did not want to create an uprising that would threaten the religious status quo. Whatever their reasons, they were uncomfortable with this blind beggar crying out to Jesus in their midst. And like Bartimaeus, we will find that when we begin reaching out to Jesus, others will try to divert us from placing our faith in Him. Family members, friends, even total strangers will give us countless reasons why it’s just not the thing for us to do. But Bartimaeus did not let his critics win the day. Perhaps the easy thing for a blind beggar to do was to abide with the crowd’s demands, but he didn’t. The Bible says that “he kept crying out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” And like him, we must not let the critics who would divert us from Jesus silence our cries for mercy as we reach out to Him with saving faith. Saving faith endures opposition and clears the high-hurdles of our own condition and the criticisms of others.

So we see here that saving faith is faith that cries out to Jesus in recognition of who He is and in spite of obstacles that would prevent us from crying out to Him. But secondly, we notice …

II. Saving Faith Comes to Jesus (vv49-51)

It isn’t content to just call out to Jesus from a distance. Saving faith begins to exercise itself in action. But notice three important things about how Bartimaeus comes to Jesus in saving faith.

A. Saving Faith Comes in Response to Christ’s Call (49)

In John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” A few verses later in John 6:65, He says, “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” And the Bible says there that because Jesus said these things, “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” There is something offensive to our human nature about these words. But offensive does not mean “not true.” Whether or not we want to admit it, we are incapable of coming to Christ until God begins to do a work in our heart to draw us to Him. We see here that Bartimaeus does not come to Jesus until Jesus calls him. Jesus tells the disciples to call him, and they say, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” And in response to Christ’s call, Bartimaeus comes. He cannot come before, and he cannot come until Christ calls him. Saving faith is always exercised in response to God’s initiative in dealing with our hearts. As Christ calls out to us, His Spirit begins to work in our hearts to bring us into the new life. We do not cause God to move toward us by our reaching out to Him. Rather it is His reaching out to us, as it were “calling us to come to Him”, which prompts our response of saving faith. We must always be sure that in our discussion of salvation, we keep God’s initiative primary, and see our exercise of faith as a reaction to His first action.

B. Saving Faith Comes with Eagerness to Christ (50)

Remember that Mark is writing this Gospel based on information he learned from Peter. Peter was there, he saw this all taking place, and the response of this man to Christ’s call obviously made an impression on his mind, as he recalls with vividness that Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. The cloak which he was wearing was a long flowing garment that could entangle the feet and cause one to trip, especially one who was blind. Not wanting to be encumbered in any way, Bartimaeus sheds the cloak and jumped to his feet in order to come quickly to Jesus.

In 1997, I had the opportunity to go to Malindi, Kenya on a mission trip. A friend of mine who had been there before told me, “I want you to find a pastor named Jonathan and go witness to his father.” It took a little work, but I finally found Jonathan and he took me to see his dad. I sat down with him, and with his son interpreting for me, I shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. As I talked, the old man nodded his head. I asked if he understood, and he said, “Yes.” I said, “Do you believe these things are true?” He said, “Yes.” Finally I said, “Sir, would you like to put your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?” He said, “No, I just don’t think I am ready.” We spent another hour going back through all of it, and he still said, “No, I’m just not ready.” I was so discouraged and disappointed. But the next day, we went back out into the bush and stumbled upon a woman drawing water from a well, and as I shared Christ with her, she began to weep, and then to jump up and down as she asked Jesus to save her. She was eager.

Saving faith recognizes the opportunity that has been extended and doesn’t put off responding, but comes to Jesus with quickness and eagerness as we see Bartimaeus doing here.

C. Saving Faith Comes to Jesus with Expectation (51)

When Bartimaeus came to Him, Jesus asked him the same question He had asked James and John back in v36: “What do you want Me to do for you?” Whereas James and John had asked for extraordinary glory, Bartimaeus asks for ordinary health. “Rabboni, I want to gain my sight.” But let’s not underestimate the great expectation of these words. In one sense, it is much easier to ask Jesus for glory in the kingdom than to ask him to open blinded eyes, for the response to this request will be immediately evident. If Jesus was a fraud, He could make pie-in-the-sky promises and no one would ever know if they were true or false. But here was a real test. If He could open blinded eyes, everyone would see His power at work. And Bartimaeus believes that Jesus can really do this. What doctors, medicines, and other promises of relief had failed to do for him, he believed Jesus could do, and he expressed his expectation to the Lord.

When we come to Jesus, we must come believing that He can meet our life’s greatest need. Our greatest need is not to be able to see, or to be financially prosperous. Our greatest need is to be saved from sin. Jesus has declared already that salvation is impossible with men, but only possible with God. We must believe He is able to save us, and come in expectation that He will. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” We must believe that He will meet our greatest need as only He can as we come to Him.

So, we have seen that saving faith cries out to Jesus and comes to Jesus. Now finally, we will see …

III. Saving Faith Commits to Jesus (52)

What a stark contrast we have here between blind Bartimaeus and the rich young ruler. To the rich young ruler, Jesus said to “Follow Me,” and instead the man went away grieving. To Bartimaeus, Jesus says, “Go,” and Bartimaeus instead “began following Him on the road.” Though Jesus has not required it of him, Bartimaeus makes the ultimate step of faith, joining the ranks of those who followed Him wherever he went. His life has been transformed. No longer will he be a blind beggar on the side of the road; now he is a saved man following Jesus on the road.

“Following Jesus” is the most descriptive term we can use to denote the Christian life of a disciple. One cannot both follow Jesus and remain where they are. They must go where He is leading, and as they travel life’s road with Jesus, they will be transformed more and more into His likeness. One can believe that Jesus lived and died, and even that he rose again, and stay sitting on the side of the road. One can believe any number of things about Jesus, God, the Bible, the Church, the doctrines of Christianity, and remain outside Jericho’s gates. But when one exercises saving faith, he or she begins to follow Christ, wherever the road of life may lead. In this case, the road leads to Jerusalem, where Jesus will go to the cross and die. But hardship on the road does not cause a true follower of Christ to turn back. Saving faith commits to Jesus and perseveres come what may. As James Edwards writes, “Faith that does not lead to discipleship is not saving faith. Whoever asks of Jesus must be willing to follow Jesus … even on the uphill road to the cross.”

Yes, it is true, that every human being will exercise some kind of faith. But Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has saved you.” There is a faith that saves. It cries out to Jesus in recognition of who He is, and in spite of obstacles. It comes to Jesus in an eager and expectant response to His call. And it commits to following Jesus on the path of Christian discipleship. And so the question we must ask of ourselves is, “Would Jesus say to me, ‘Your faith has saved you?” Have you merely believed on Him in a historical or intellectual way, in a way that is based on probabilities, or in a superstitious way? Is your faith just a gloss over empty positive thinking? Or have you, like Bartimaeus, seen Christ for who He truly is and cried out to Him, and come to Him, and committed to Him? If you have not, then perhaps this day you will throw aside the encumbrances, overcome the obstacles, and jump to your feet and come to Him believing that He can save you from your sins. He died on the cross for you so that your sins could be punished in Him, and that in Him you can have eternal life. The Bible says if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Call upon Him in faith today, and hear Him say to you “Your faith has saved you.”

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