• Commentary,  Mark

    Blind Beggars

    The Christian’s path to glory is not in being served on earth but in serving God with an eye toward heaven. It is seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness at all personal cost in every aspect of our lives as we trust His provision. It is a path necessarily paved with humble self-denial — the path our Lord Jesus walked perfectly on our behalf and calls us to follow.

    On this path, there is no self-seeking, no self-confidence, and no self-promotion (10:35-45). Christ denied Himself all the way to the cross and gave His life a ransom to bring His people into the kingdom (v. 45); His people are to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him in kingdom ministry until He returns (Mk. 3:35; 8:34). This is a repeated theme in Mark’s gospel. As the apostle Paul concludes of those who receive God’s mercy in Christ, this is our “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

    Although Christ consistently taught and modeled service to God, the twelve disciples were often blinded by fleshly ideas of personal glory. All but the Lord’s betrayer certainly saw themselves as sinners and Jesus as the Savior, but the humility of their conversion gave way to prideful bickering over who among them was the greatest. Jesus often rebuked this while emphasizing that even He, their Lord, was facing death in Jerusalem as the Father had ordained.

    Mark records Jesus’ encounter with blind beggars at this point in the narrative to contrast humility with the disciple’s pride. Here we must recall the humility which accompanied our changed heart at conversion as the essential attitude in following Christ. Mark 10:46-52 sheds light on the beggar’s condition, his cry, his calling, and his conversion.

    Blind Beggars (10:46-52)
    The Beggar’s Condition (v. 46)
    Jesus and the disciples are now taking the road “up to Jerusalem” (v. 32; i.e. up in elevation). This initially brings them through the city of “Jericho” near the ancient ruins that marked the beginning of Israel’s conquest of Canaan (Josh. 2). It lay some 15 miles NE of Jerusalem where the Jordan River valley continues to drop in elevation to the Dead Sea. From there, the Lord, His disciples, and the pilgrims on their way to celebrate the Passover would climb over 3,000 feet in elevation to their destination.

    Jericho and its location are significant in that the path to glory for Christ and His people is very much an uphill battle from there. As Joshua led Israel into battle to secure the earthly land of promise, so Jesus leads the saints to heaven by first securing entrance for them via the cross in earthly Jerusalem. The disciple’s faith and their understanding of Christ and His kingdom are all tested as they follow Him. It is the perfect place for a miracle emphasizing the need for a humble trust in God.

    While Matthew’s gospel mentions the healing of two blind beggars, Mark and Luke focus on the “beggar” who was perhaps the only one, as we will see, who was truly converted. Mark alone identifies him as “Bartimaeus … son of Timaeus.” The mere translation of the man’s surname suggests how insignificant he was to the crowd — just one of many “blind,” lame, or otherwise disabled persons by “the roadside” seeking alms from passersby. From the Jewish perspective, they were social outcasts surely suffering for their sins (cf. Jn. 9:1ff).

    So, as Jesus’ suffering begins to intensify, he encounters a blind beggar who did not need any more difficulty in his own life. Though less than desirable, it was easier for Bartimaeus to stay in his hopeless condition and rely on what little help he could receive from men. But in his humiliation, this beggar regards Christ as his only hope of healing and real life.

    The Beggar’s Cry (vv. 47-48)
    We are told, “when [Bartimaeus] heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out.” Though this is the only record of Jesus visiting Jericho, the beggar was aware of this itinerant preacher and healer from Nazareth in Galilee. More than that, he regarded Jesus as the “Son of David” (a messianic title; cf. Is. 11:1-3; Jer. 23:5-6). In other words, he believed Jesus was the Christ of God — the One chosen in King David’s line to fulfill all the covenant promises (salvation, blessing, life, heaven, kingdom, etc.).

    Many in Israel were looking for the Son of David to appear, but the nation did not receive Jesus as such (11:1ff). However, Bartimaeus clearly considered Jesus to be the Christ. The growing crowd, unconcerned with a blind beggar, “warned him to be quiet” (v. 48). To their dislike, he “cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!

    The humble heart cry of one who comes to understand their hopelessness as a sinner, and Jesus as the only Savior, can be nothing less than “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” It is the cry of the contrite soul whose spiritual eyes have been opened (cf. Ps. 51:1; Lk. 18:13).

    The Beggar’s Calling (vv. 49)
    In verse 49, we see that sinners can cry to God for mercy only because Christ has come to call sinners to repentance (Mk. 2:17). Bartimaeus could call out all he wanted, but unless Jesus gave him an audience, his opportunity to be healed of his blindness was gone. Yet, because God is merciful and His ears are open to the cry of the repentant, “all who call upon the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Rom. 10:13).

    Bartimaeus had nothing to offer; he could only receive the mercy of Christ. The compassion and mercy of God are seen as our Lord “stood still,” and obviously rebuking the crowd for scolding the beggar, commanded they tell him that his plea was heard.

    “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you” are sweet words to a blind sinners ears. It is really what we are saying to all people when we proclaim the Gospel to them.

    The Beggar’s Conversion (vv. 50-52)
    Bartimaeus’ response shows that he believed Jesus to be more than a miracle worker. His “cloak” (i.e. outer garment) was not an easily replaceable possession. It was everything to a poor, blind beggar. Yet, “throwing off” this vital garment and leaving it in the crowd was of no account to him if Jesus would show mercy. He saw it as a hindrance in his effort to come to Christ without delay, and so he gladly discarded what stood between him and the Lord. It is a picture of repentance and faith.

    Likewise, everyone who humbly calls on the LORD and desires His mercy does not pridefully cling to anything else, no matter how valuable. As in conversion to Christ so in our service to Christ. We must cast off what keeps us from Him.

    In verse 51, Jesus notably asks Bartimaeus the same question he asked James and John (v. 36): “What do you want me to do for you?” Here is the contrast. Bartimaeus responds with the humble faith that James and John failed to display. The beggar pleads for mercy (“Teacher, that I may receive my sight”). James and John, though true believers, all but insist that Jesus grant their selfish request. Humility waned and pride waxed strong.

    Jesus’ response to the beggar could not be more contrasted with his earlier response to the disciples. Bartimaeus’ “faith” is commended, he is healed “immediately,” and without hesitation, he “followed Jesus on the road” to Jerusalem. Jesus uses the healing of physical blindness to also pronounce Bartimaeus’ spiritual sight. The phrase, “made you well” is more literally “has saved you.” The humble beggar knows that his heart was also blind and displays repentance, faith, and a willingness to follow the Savior. Weakened by pride, James and John forgot how much mercy Christ had shown them in their former blindness. Jesus patiently but firmly rebuked their attitude as worldly (vv. 42-43).

    A Christian’s heart is opened to see sin and the need for Christ as Savior, but he or she never rises above the status of a beggar. Following our merciful Lord by faith requires the same humility that brought us to trust Him in the first place.

    A Christian’s heart is opened to see sin and the need for Christ as Savior, but he or she never rises above the status of a beggar.

    The LORD is always merciful, but He has always required that we be humble: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God“ (Micah 6:8)?

    The Scripture says that God will deal graciously with those who humbly submit to His way (Jas. 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:5-6). This is a theme in the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 25:8-10).

    Humility is a prerequisite to faithful and fruitful Christian service. It is the right approach to living out the Gospel in our lives for God’s glory. Paul asked the Ephesians elders to remember his example of “serving the Lord with all humility” in all his sufferings and trials (Acts 20:19).

    The apostle admonished the Ephesian church “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). There can be no loving communion among believers if pride motivates us individually.

    Recognizing the need to work at humility and other godly attributes, Paul also urged the Colossians to “put on … as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). These are not selfish attitudes.

    Matthew Henry notes in his commentary on this passage in Mark: “It is not enough to come to Christ for spiritual healing, but, when we are healed, we must continue to follow him; that we may do honor to him, and receive instruction from him. Those who have spiritual eye-sight, see that beauty in Christ, that will effectually draw them to run after him” (p. 1802). In other words, if you cannot bring yourself to humbly follow Christ who has humbly given Himself for you, then you have never really seen Him for who He is.

    Humility seems to be at a minimum among professing Christians today. There is a sense of entitlement within the Church that is foreign to the Gospel. Some exalt themselves — their opinions, their ideologies, their preferences, their selfish agenda — over Christ and the kingdom of heaven.

    Paul reminded an increasingly proud Corinthian church that they had nothing of which to boast as those called by God in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).

    Having turned from sin to Christ, do you desire to follow Him? Know that it is an uphill battle requiring the same humility and trust in Him as at the first. To what are you selfishly clinging that is holding you back?

    Remember: Even if your spiritual eyes have been opened to repent and believe the Gospel, you are never more than a beggar in need of Christ’s mercy. That should keep you humble as you follow Him.

  • Commentary,  Mark

    The Beginning of
    the Gospel – Part I

    The Gospel is heaven’s message of salvation for sinners. It proclaims the fulfillment of God’s promise of a sinless man whose righteousness and sacrifice yield forgiveness and eternal life for anyone and everyone who trusts in Him. It is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

    Jesus, as the suffering servant of the Lord, is the emphasis of Mark’s gospel narrative. And Mark (a.k.a. John Mark; Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37) continually presents the Lord’s earthly ministry for God’s kingdom, which leads Him to the cross where He gives His life a ransom for sinners (Mk. 10:45). As a close companion of Simon Peter (1 Pet. 5:13), Mark’s account of Jesus’ service and suffering is undoubtedly informed by the apostle’s first-hand experience with the Lord. Additionally, Mark’s interaction with the apostle Paul’s ministry (through his cousin Barnabas; Col. 4:10) also taught him much about service and sacrifice for the sake of Christ (Acts 12:25; 13:13; 15:37-40; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24).

    Mark reflects Peter’s understanding that Christ came to save both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:43-11:18). Unlike the other Gospels, he largely avoids uniquely Jewish information and focuses instead on God’s Son as the Son of Man promised in Hebrew Scripture with emphasis on His humanity. The details of his writing specifically target the Roman culture of the first century.

    The fact that the Gospel message itself flows from God’s promise of Christ in the Old Testament is why Mark begins his narrative there. We are introduced to Jesus and His ministry in Mark 1:1-11 through the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist. In part one of this study (vv. 1-5), we find the prediction of God’s messenger and his presentation of God’s message.

    The Beginning of the Gospel – Part I (1:1-5)
    God’s Messenger Predicted (vv. 1-3)
    Mark gives us the title of his gospel in verse one: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Without any record of Jesus’ ancestry or background concerning His birth, we are ushered immediately to the historical commencement of our Lord’s earthly ministry “in the wilderness” of Judea (vv. 3, 4, 12, 13). But He is first identified as the eternal “Son of God” who has come in the flesh.

    It was to this dry and desolate region, located between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, that God would “send [His] messenger” to herald His Son’s arrival. It may seem strange that God would announce Jesus as the Christ in a place where few people actually lived. Other than this heretofore obscure and solitary figure predicted by prophets Isaiah (40:3-5) and Malachi (3:1; cf. 4:4-6), few would have dwelt in this desert region bordered by the Jordan River (see v. 5).

    But the Hebrew people knew that God first dealt with them under the covenant of law in the wilderness. By his servant, Moses, He led their ancestors through the wilderness for forty years before bringing them into the land of promise. The wilderness was a familiar meeting place with God — a reminder of how easily they transgressed His law even after He established them in the land.

    However, despite their sins, the LORD had promised a new covenant by which forgiveness and true righteousness would be provided in grace (Jer. 31:31-34). And it would be mediated by a servant greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15; Heb. 3:1-6; 8:7-13). This man would be perfect in His service to God and suffer the just punishment for the sins of all (both Jews and Gentiles) who repent and look to Him in faith (Is. 53:1-56:8). This is Jesus Christ who gave His life a ransom for many on the cross of Calvary.

    For this reason, long before Christ appeared in history, God promised His Son a messenger to go “before [His] face” and “prepare [His] way.” This forerunner would distinctly and literally be a “voice crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'” As we will see, the way of Christ, to those who trust Him, is paved with their repentance.

    Isaiah’s prophecy is particularly in view to indicate the appearance of God’s salvation in Christ (Isaiah is referenced heavily, implicitly and explicitly, in Mark’s gospel). The Hebrew people would immediately recognize the significance of a lone figure in the desert heralding the Lord’s arrival. And, as prophesied by Malachi, this bold messenger was foreshadowed by the prophet Elijah (v. 6), a prophet indeed who called Israel to repent and turn to God (cf. 1 Kings 18:21; Matt. 11:7-15; Lk. 7:24-30).

    Just as God revealed His law in the wilderness, so He also began to fully reveal His grace in Christ there. Why? Because the good news of salvation in Christ is for sinners condemned under the law. The Gospel completes what the law could not accomplish.

    Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law for everyone who believes” because He fulfills its righteous demands on our behalf both for obedience and transgression (Gal. 3:10-25).

    God’s Message Presented (vv. 4-5)
    Everything about the ministry of John the Baptist called for those who heard his message to turn from their sins to the LORD. There was no mistaking that God had raised him up for this most unique moment in history. The focus was moving from God’s condemnation under law to His grace through faith in the promised Savior, which predated the Old Covenant (Gal. 3:16-18). John’s message from God drew attention to the change.

    God’s message via John came by a “baptism of repentance for the remission [i.e. forgiveness] of sins.” The baptism was a water baptism of some fashion. Various forms were practiced by the Jews and others as a public symbol of cleansing and identification. John required those who heard his message of the Christ (the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; Jn. 1:29) to show their desire to be forgiven and their willingness to repent by being baptized.

    He did not pronounce forgiveness, but he made very clear the meaning of the baptism. Only God’s Spirit, through the new birth, can generate true repentance and faith in Christ which leads to forgiveness (Jn. 3:3, 5, 16; Acts 11:18; Eph. 2:8-9). John taught those who came to be baptized that genuine repentance and faith would be evidenced by righteous living (Lk. 3:7-14). Although He needed no repentance, Jesus would later be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness — identifying Himself with the Gospel message (v. 9; cf. Matt. 3:15).

    Verse five tells us that “all” the people of “Judea, and those from Jerusalem” went into the wilderness to John. These “were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” This means they came in large numbers and made a public identification with John’s message. In other words, they openly acknowledged their sin and need of forgiveness. Repentance necessarily involves the confession of sin.

    John did not baptize anyone who did not confess sin and thereby claim to repent of it. But does this mean they all were truly repentant? We know from the other synoptic gospels that John recognized a superficial repentance in the crowd and especially among the hypocritical religious leaders (Matt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7; “brood of vipers”). A religious response was not what John required. However, Mark does not go into detail about that here. He simply and pointedly emphasizes God’s message:

    The Gospel demands true repentance, which involves a confession of sin. This is not optional.

    That has always been the proper response to God’s promise of salvation in Christ. It is the message that Jesus Himself would later proclaim as He embarked on His public ministry (Mk. 1:15). While God is patient with sinners, He now commands everyone to repent and believe in His Son or face judgment (Acts 17:30-31). It is required of all people to have “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

    God wants you to know about His gracious salvation; He meets you in the wilderness of your sin, as it were, and calls you to repent and believe the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. Have you genuinely acknowledged that you are a sinner in need of God’s grace? Have you sincerely placed your faith in Jesus, the suffering servant of God? That is the straightforward message of the Gospel.

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