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 (Mark 10:46–52 ESV).
On my January (2019) trip to the Holy Land, as we were leaving Jericho, it was easy to think about Jesus walking down a road with His disciples on His way out of the city. It was then that a blind man named Bartimaeus began calling out to Him, saying, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” The people around him told him to be quiet, but he called out even louder, “Have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” The people around Bartimaeus told him that Jesus was calling for him, so he jumped up and approached Jesus.
Jesus straightforwardly asked him one question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus simply replied, “I want to regain my sight.”
Then Jesus said something that surprised me as I was rereading this story. He said, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
“Your faith has made you well”? What did Bartimaeus do that showed any faith?
- He wasn’t like the men who tore open the roof of the home where Jesus was teaching so they could lower their sick friend into His presence (Luke 5:19);
- He wasn’t like the woman with the issue of blood who fought through the crowd so she could touch the hem of His garment (Mark 5:25–34);
- He wasn’t like the centurion who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8).
When you read this story—especially when you compare it with others who came to Jesus with requests—you can’t help but wonder: Where was any demonstration of faith by Bartimaeus? All he did was ask!
Interesting. Maybe that’s the point of this account. Maybe that’s the lesson. The account of Bartimaeus receiving his sight teaches us lessons both about faith and prayer: Asking is an act of faith.
I was on an airplane once (not on this trip) where I noticed five or six empty seats in First Class when I walked past. Let me say as an aside that First Class is definitely different, comfortable, and fun … so I do remember being “bumped” once to First Class. On this flight before take-off, the flight attendant walked the aisle making sure we were all buckled in when the man across the aisle from me stopped her to ask a question. The question was somewhere along the lines of “There are empty seats in first class … can I have a free upgrade?” She smiled and said, “Sure, I think we can do that.” The man collected his belongings and walked through the curtain that separates the castes of American society, taking his seat in the luxurious First Class, where I’m certain he was pampered for the duration of the flight.
Knowing there were still 4 or 5 empty seats remaining in First Class I WANTED TO—but just couldn’t bring myself to—ask if I could also move up to First Class. In reality, I didn’t want to experience the embarrassment of the flight attendant saying, “Just because I did it for him, doesn’t mean that I will do it for you. Stay put.” So, I didn’t ask.
The book of James says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” (Be sure to read the wider context of James 4:2, 3). That was certainly true in my case that day. It’s true in many of our lives—day in and day out. We do not have because we do not ask. All Bartimaeus could do was ask to be healed—and it was enough. It demonstrated faith on his part, and consequently, Jesus healed him. Asking, in itself, is an act of faith.
Having read through the story on the bus as we were leaving Jericho, I think there are three things this historical account teaches us about faith and about talking with and asking God in prayer and petition. First of all …
As soon as Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he immediately began calling out to Him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” I don’t know how much Bartimaeus knew about Jesus—what stories he had heard—but when Jesus came his way he made up his mind that he would not let this opportunity pass him by. He immediately began to call on the name of Jesus, and he continued to call on the name of Jesus until Jesus heard him.
For me, anyway, this points out a problem that I confess I struggle with and that I do believe many of us have: prayer is not our first option, our “go to.” Oftentimes, we try to fix things ourselves, without getting God involved.
- Too often, we think that we can handle the situation more efficiently than God. After all, he might make us wait;
- He’ll ask us to repent;
- He’s likely to make us re-evaluate and re-organize our priorities. It’s easier to try to do things on our own. Then, as a last resort, if nothing else works, we’ll try prayer.
I think that kind of asking doesn’t demonstrate faith. Asking in faith requires that we ask immediately. Asking in faith requires that we turn to God as a first resort, not a last option. He should be the one we call first.
When we don’t call on God first, we’re demonstrating a lack of faith; a foolish lack of faith, because God really can help us with any problem we face in life. And, like Bartimaeus, we should continue to call on Jesus until he answers. Jesus issued that invitation when he said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
Those verbs—ask, seek, knock (notice that if you take the first letter of each verb and put them together, it spells “ask”)—can be translated from the original Greek as “keep on asking; keep on seeking; keep on knocking.” It shouldn’t be a onetime request on our part, but a continual prayer. Bartimaeus asked immediately, and he kept on asking Jesus.
The second thing this story teaches us about asking in faith is …
“Defiantly”? Yes. Here’s what I mean. When Bartimaeus began calling out to Jesus, we are told … many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v.48).
Bartimaeus is just a blind beggar. What right does he have to call out to, much less approach, Jesus? He needs to keep his place and keep his mouth shut! But he defied the crowd and kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He didn’t care what the crowd said. He didn’t care what the crowd thought. He defied the crowd and called out to Jesus anyway.
Friends, I want you to know that there were some risks involved in this (as was pointed out on our recent trip there):
- First of all, Bartimaeus was a beggar. The people around him were the ones he begged from. If he antagonized them, they might decide not to give him anything … ever again.
- Secondly, what if Jesus had ignored him? What if he had just walked by without acknowledging his presence? Wouldn’t Bartimaeus have looked foolish? “See! I told you so! You’re just a beggar! Why would Jesus pay attention to you?” the crowd might have taunted.
Bartimaeus decided it was worth the risk. It didn’t matter if people stopped caring for him, or if he looked foolish and became the object of further ridicule; he wasn’t about to let Jesus walk by without at least trying to get His attention. His attitude (faith) was, “Maybe you can stand there and let the Healer, the King of Kings, pass you by, but I’m not about to! I want to experience the touch of God in my life. This is my chance. I’m not letting it get away.”
When you ask anything of God, you sometimes have to defy those around and ask anyway. They’ll say things to try to put you in your place. Things like, “What gives you the right to think God will bless you? There are sick people everywhere, what gives you the right to think God will heal you? This world is in turmoil, what gives you the right to think God is concerned with your measly problems—some of which are ‘self-inflicted’?”
Friends, God loves to hear and answer the prayers of His people according to His good and gracious will. Sales people have the right to ask God to help them do well. Teachers have the right to ask God to help them teach effectively. Everyone has the right to ask God to help them in their daily lives. Yes, the world is in turmoil and there are many serious global issues to contend with, yet the God we serve is concerned with each and every one of us—even a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road.
If you want to experience God’s power in your life, you’ll have to defy the critics and the skeptics and ask anyway … even if it puts you at risk of looking foolish. It’s that kind of bold defiance that demonstrates faith.
The third lesson I learned in this story is …
When Jesus heard Bartimaeus cry out, He stopped and asked him directly,
“What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51).
Bartimaeus didn’t hesitate. He just said, “Rabbi (Teacher), let me recover my sight!” (v. 51) “I want to see.”
And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well” (v. 52).
There are two things I want you to notice about this exchange.
First, Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted. Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” and Bartimaeus said, “I want to see.” His request was specific. He wasn’t unsure in the least. He didn’t say, “Um … I want to be helped. I want to get better. I want you to bless me.” Not that those “general” prayers are bad. Maybe that’s all you can utter, pray, or plead in a moment of unquestionable hurt or uncertainty. But the Scriptures tell us: “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Bartimaeus said exactly what he wanted: “Lord, I want to see.” He was specific, as were so many others in the Bible who sought requests of our Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the act of asking is a demonstration of faith. God invites us to pray and he loves to answer prayer. Prayer is a faith-filled, immediate, often cognoscente connection to the living God. Friends, I believe it’s possible to say that God cannot answer a prayer that we aren’t willing to make. He cannot give what you do not ask for. If you want something from God, you have to ask specifically for it. If you will, it does no good to ride in back of the plane all your life and hope that the flight attendant will pick you out of the crowd and invite you to sit in first class. I doubt that will ever happen. You have to ask, and you need to be specific.
What I share next is not a caveat for what I wrote above. It is not a cover-up for what appears to be unanswered prayer. It is truth from the inspired Scriptures and from a loving God:
- Because God is all-powerful (omnipotent), he is able to do anything for us;
- Because God is all-knowing (omniscient) and full of wisdom, God knows what’s best for us;
- Because God is all-loving, He will do what’s best for us according to His will in His response/answer for Jesus’ sake. Paul’s inspired words in Romans 8 come to mind: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31, 32).
If you want to be on the receiving end of God’s blessing in your life (which by grace you already are), you must have the faith to ask specifically for whatever it is you want. “What if I’m asking for something that’s against His will?” you might ask. Don’t worry. He’ll let you know. But don’t make the mistake of trying to edit in advance what God is willing to do for you. Ask specifically.
This leads me to the second thing I want you to notice …
Bartimaeus asked for it all. Recognize that Who we pray to is the generous God of ALL grace, mercy, and love! “God so loved the world that He gave …” (John 3:16). Bartimaeus could have asked for a few coins and Jesus probably would have given them to him. He could have asked for some food and Jesus probably would have given him that as well. But Bartimaeus had the faith to ask for the impossible: he asked to be able to see. And Bartimaeus got what he asked for.
Bartimaeus wasn’t afraid to ask for everything. He wasn’t content just to say, “Lord give me a cabin in glory land” (as David Houston, Charley Pride, and Hank Williams sing). He said, “I want a mansion in heaven; I want the impossible.”
The act of “asking” demonstrates your faith. I once heard it said that our grace-given (Ephesians 2:8–10), saving, child-like, “focused” faith is often revealed in how specific and ‘big’ our prayers are. Do we have the faith to ask for something big? Do we have the faith to ask for it all? Do we have the faith to ask for the impossible?
Just like Jesus spoke to Bartimaeus on the Jericho Road more than 2000 years ago, he’s standing before you today and asking … “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 21:22). What is your answer? What are you willing to ask for? Are you willing to ask and keep on asking? Are you willing to ask even if it puts you at risk of looking foolish? Are you willing to ask for the impossible? When you ask God for anything at all, you demonstrate your faith. God-given faith continues to respond to, and grows through, the means of grace and the many encouragements and invitations to pray from God in His Word.
Don’t be afraid to be like Bartimaeus. Don’t hesitate to ask God immediately, and keep on asking. Don’t give a thought to what the crowd may think or say. Defy the crowd and ask anyway. And don’t forget to ask specifically for what you want, even if it seems impossible. That’s the kind of faith God rewards.
I love the way this account ends: And immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road (v. 52). You see, the real benefit Bartimaeus received that day was that he got to follow Jesus. He witnessed Him performing miracles and touching people’s lives. He heard Him teach the crowds who surrounded Him. Jesus performed the impossible for Bartimaeus, and Bartimaeus responded to such grace with greater love and devotion than he had ever known.
Our God wants to make it possible for you to be a more devoted follower of Christ. Don’t be afraid to ask, to pray to an ever present, all-powerful, completely loving God.
In His Name,
Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier
President, The Michigan District
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Photos (c) LUMO – The Gospels for the visual age/Lightstock
Join us for “Be Constant in Prayer” on Feb. 2.