The Lord's Day Morning
April 17, 2011
“Your Faith Has Made You Well”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 18. We’re working our way through the gospel of Luke together and I'd like to direct your attention to verses 35 to 43. Now for those of you who are very close observers, you will be thinking to yourself, “Ligon, you are skipping some verses because the last time we finished in verse 30. What happened to verses 31 to 34?” Thank you for being observant! You will find out next Sunday morning because we're going to be going back to those verses, 31 to 34, and next Sunday morning you will understand why it makes perfect sense. But today, we're moving to the story that's recorded in verses 35 to 34 about a blind man.
Mark tells us this man's name was Bartimaeus, probably because he wanted to enable his audience to go check. “If you don't think this story is true, well this story happened to a man named Bartimaeus. Just go ask him!” Luke's concern, however, is to draw our attention not so much to the person of Bartimaeus, but to draw our attention to what this blind man gives testimony to. In this passage, it's very, very clear that what this blind man believes and says about who Jesus is, is very, very important. It's why Luke has the story here, as Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem, to the Passover. It's why Jesus Himself stops in this story and engages in a conversation with this man. It's because of who he says that Jesus is. This story is also important because it draws attention to faith as the means by which we receive the blessings of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and person. And so Luke wants to draw our attention to that — not to the person of the blind man, but to the testimony that he gives. It's also clear in this passage that Luke wants to tell us something about what disciples are like. In fact, we've been seeing this theme run throughout chapter 18. Disciples do not try to justify themselves, but they trust in God's mercy. Luke is giving us a course in Christian discipleship in this passage. And in this passage again, he's showing us what a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is like.
Well, let's pray before we read God's Word and ask for His help as we read it.
Lord, this is Your Word, but we ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Law. There are things that keep us from seeing what we ought to see. Even in Your Word, sometimes Lord, it is the desires of our hearts — they’re set on other things and we're not interested in what You have to say to us. Sometimes Lord, it is our pursuit after sin in which we find satisfaction, more satisfaction than we think that we could find in You. Sometimes it is our own assumptions and presuppositions that we bring to the Word which blind us to the riches of it. We ask that by the Holy Spirit You would open our eyes and that we would see what this blind man saw. In Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 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!’ 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.’ 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. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Can you see what this blind man saw before he could see? Have you seen what Luke tells us that a man in Acts chapter 9 had to become blind in order to see? In this passage, Jesus the Messiah calls the unlikely and the overlooked to put their faith in Him because they see who He is and what He can do and what He has done. And in His might and power, He heals and restores them. I want us to see three things in this passage as we study it together and as we focus on that theme.
The first thing I want you to look at is what this passage teaches us about who Jesus is and what He has done. This passage makes it very clear that Jesus is the Messiah; He is the Son of David. The story is very simple. There is a beggar sitting by the roadside in Jericho – nothing extraordinary about that. Just as today, on many days at the corner of County Line and I-55 or the corner of Lakeland and I-55 exit, you can find people asking for food or asking for money. It was a common thing for beggars to be by the roadside asking people who were passing by to give them food or give them money. And furthermore, it was considered a pious thing for a godly Jew to give alms to the poor. And this man is by the roadside heading up towards Passover season. And pious Jews avoided going through Samaria to get down to Jerusalem and so a natural path for them to make their way up to Jerusalem at Passover time was through Jericho. And so this man was positioned in a very strategic point.
You know, when Marvin Olasky did his study of poverty many, many years ago, he found on the streets of the city that he was observing, many law students at Ivy League schools who would dress as homeless people and go beg on the streets of the city because they could make more money that way than they could working a job clerking somewhere during the summer. Beggars could do very well during Passover season and this man was positioned in a place where many pilgrims would pass by — nothing unique about that.
But when this man hears a large crowd going by, he asks to the people around him, “What's going on? What's the big crowd? Who is this that's passing by?” And they say, “Oh, this is Jesus of Nazareth,” and that's where the story gets interesting because his response is not to cry out, “Jesus of Nazareth, give me some money!” or “Jesus of Nazareth, give me some food!” but “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” That's what Luke wants us to see and it's clear that that's what Jesus wants us to see because the minute that he says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” the people up front begin to rebuke him, “Don't bother Jesus! He's busy!” just like we saw earlier in the chapter. Turn back to Luke 18 verses 15 to 17. There, parents were bringing their children to Jesus, and what happens? Verse 15 — “The disciples rebuke them.” “Go away! He's busy!” But this man does not give up. When he is rebuked by the people that were in front of Jesus, he just ratchets it up a few decibels and he continues to cry, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” At that point, after the second time, we're told Jesus stops. And listen to what He does. It's even more forceful than Luke 18 verses 15 to 17 where we're told when the disciples rebuked the parents who were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed, remember what Jesus says? “No, no, no; allow them to come to Me.” In this passage, He commands that the blind man be brought to Him.
Why? Because this blind man saw something about Jesus. He knew something, he believed something about Jesus that everybody in that crowd needed to understand. And it's actually in stark contrast to the immediate verse. If you’ll look in Luke 18 verse 34, after Jesus— and this is the passage we're going to look at next week — after Jesus has explained what He is going up to Jerusalem for, what His going up to Jerusalem will fulfill, we are told by Luke that “they,” that is His disciples, “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” So in the context in which Jesus has explained the prophecy that His work will fulfill and the purpose of His going up to Jerusalem and these disciples who can see, say, “I don't understand,” this blind man understand something that Jesus wants to be brought to your attention and to mine. And what he understands is that Jesus is the Messiah. Son of David is a Messianic name. This man is acknowledging that Jesus is not just a great prophet or teacher, but He is the One appointed and anointed by God, He is the One prophesied of by the prophets of the Old Testament that God was sending in the world to have mercy on His people and to save them from their sins. And he begins to cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
It's interesting, isn't it? This blind man can see before he can see. He can see who Jesus is even though the disciples, who could see, couldn't see what Jesus was going to do in Jerusalem. It's one of those ironies, isn't it, that Luke is pointing us to. And I can't help but thing that Luke has this passage in the back of his mind when he is telling a story about a Pharisee named Saul in Acts chapter 9. Would you turn with me there? Just take a peek. In Acts chapter 9, there's a Pharisee named Saul who's on his way up to Damascus to kill people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They become known as Christians in the book of Acts. These people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Paul is on a search-and-destroy mission to arrest them, to imprison them, and hopefully to execute them. And on the way to Damascus, Jesus, the risen Jesus, meets him. And in a blinding light, he loses his sight, we're told in verse 5. He's blinded; he can't see. And yet, when Jesus speaks to him, he responds, “Yes, Lord. What am I supposed to do?”
A few days later, he is in the presence of Ananias, a Christian, who lays hands on him and he regains his sight. And immediately after he regains his sight, look at Acts chapter 9 verse 20, you will see Saul, who is now Paul, you will see his first sermon. And do you know what Saul's, who is now Paul's, first sermon is? “He is the Son of God.” He was on his way up to kill people because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. He could see, but he was blind to who Jesus was. He was ready to kill people because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He was blind that Jesus was the Messiah. And so Jesus blinds him! And then a Christian prays for him and we're told in Acts chapter 9 that something like scales fell off of his eyes. And immediately, what does he say? “Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah.” He could see but he couldn't see that Jesus was the Messiah and so he was blinded so that he could see that Jesus was the Messiah. And I can't help but think that Luke has this story in the back of his mind as he writes the sequel to his gospel, which is called the book of Acts.
So you see, the point is, disciples of Jesus believe that He is the Son of David, the Messiah. He's not just a great moral teacher; He's not the most wonderful professor of ethics that ever lived; He's not a guy who just went everywhere doing nice things; He is not the excuse for credibility for whatever Johnny-come-lately social or political movement wants to use Him in order to gain credibility; He is the Jesus who is offered in the Gospel. Didn't you just hear it in the questions that were asked for membership? In that second question, we ask, “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ — the Lord Jesus, the Messiah — as the Son of God and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest in Him alone for your salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?” How is He offered in the Gospel? As the Messiah, not just as a great prophet, not just as a moral teacher, not just as a wonderful, ethical example, but as the Messiah, the Son of God, sent into the world to have mercy on sinners. That's how He's offered in the Gospel. All of His disciples receive Him that way. They receive Him as the Son of David, the Messiah. That's the first thing that Jesus wants us to see in this passage.
The second thing is this — notice how Luke, notice how Jesus draws attention to the fact that faith is the means whereby we receive the benefits of Jesus’ person and life and death and resurrection. When the man is brought to Jesus, look at verses 40 to 41, when the man is brought to Jesus, He asked him a question. He asked him, “What do you want from Me? You’re calling out to Me; what is it exactly that you want from Me?” And the man doesn't say, “I want money” or “I want food.” He says, “Lord, I'd like to see again. I'd like to recover my sight.” Now the very request honors the person of Jesus because look, if you came up to me after the service today and said, “Ligon, I'd like to see again,” I'd pray for you, but I couldn't give you your sight. But this man believes, because he believes that Jesus is who He claims to be, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the Son of David, he believes that Jesus can give him his sight. And Jesus’ response to this man is, “You've got it. You can see. Your faith has made you well.”
Now faith-healers love this passage you see, because they can say, “Ah, what healed this man is having faith. His faith is the source of his healing.” Now that is very convenient because that way when you’re at the faith-healing crusade and you don't get healed, whose fault is it? It's not the faith-healers, it's yours! You don't have enough faith! That's not what's going on in this passage. That's not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is drawing attention to the fact that this man's faith is the means, it is the instrument, it is the conduit by which he has received God's blessing. It is not his deserving, it is not his works; it is faith by which he has received the blessing of God. And of course, the New Testament makes it clear that even faith is a gift. Do you remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10? “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourself; it is a gift of God.” Or in Philippians 1:29, “To you it has been granted to believe.” Even faith itself is a gift. It is not that faith is the source of this man's healing, but faith is the instrument whereby he receives the grace of God which has healed him, the power of God which has healed him. Jesus is drawing attention to faith. Every disciple believes on Jesus.
Again, go back to The Shorter Catechism question number eighty-six which is incorporated into our question two of church membership. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel. Did you hear that? You receive and rest upon Him. You receive and rest; you believe and trust; you believe who He is and what He has done and you put all your hope and confidence and trust in Him for your salvation. That's faith. And Jesus is drawing attention to that. How do you become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ? You receive and rest, you believe and trust on Him. You recognize Him as the Son of David, the Messiah, the Son of God, and you believe and trust on Him. And Luke wants us to see that and Jesus wants us to see that.
There's a third thing here as well. Notice how this passage emphasizes, for the second time in Luke 18 at least, Jesus reaching out to the unlikely to be His disciples. There were the children back in Luke 18 verses 15 to 17, not esteemed highly in the eyes of the world in Jesus’ day. As we said last time, we live in a child-centric world. That was not the world that Jesus lived in. Children were to be seen and not heard. Children were not important. Shuffle them out of the way and bring the important people in. And yet Jesus said, “No, no, no. Allow the little children to come to Me because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” And now, here's a blind guy by the side of the road during Passover season and he becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Did you catch that? Take a look at verse 43. After Jesus tells him, “Recover your sight. You can see now. Your faith has made you well,” what do we read next? “Immediately he recovered his sight,” and did what? “And followed Him.” That is technical language; Luke has used it before. When Jesus called His disciples, He called them to do what? Leave their jobs and “follow Him.” That is the language of discipleship. This man became a disciple. The people in front of Jesus thought that he was so unimportant, so unlikely, that they rebuked him for crying out to Jesus, but Jesus, did you notice, “commanded him” to come to Him, to be brought to Him. You know, if Jesus is after you, He will command for you to be brought to Him. Jesus always gets His man or His woman. He will track you down and He will command for you to be brought to Him. Isn't that glorious? Even when you’re running from Him, He’ll stop and He’ll command for you to be brought to Him.
And this unlikely man, this blind man, who saw something about Jesus that so many other people in that crowd were missing, they didn't see, that blind man becomes a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ. And it's a picture of the unlikely, the overlooked, the unimportant becoming followers of Jesus Christ. And the apostle Paul has this in mind. Would you turn with me to 1 Corinthians? In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 26 and following, Paul is speaking to the Corinthians. Now the Corinthians, this is an amazing collection of people in the congregation in Corinth. They’re all over the map. Some of them are engaged in gross immorality even though they are professing to be followers of Jesus Christ. Some of them are invested with amazing apostolic gifts. There are people in this congregation who can speak in tongues, really speak in tongues. There are people in this congregation who can prophecy. There are people in this congregation who have words of knowledge. These people, some of them are possessed with amazing apostolic gifts. And what would you think that that might have a tendency to do? It might have a tendency to make some people prideful. And so over and over in this book, what does Paul say? We don't boast in anything but in Jesus Christ. We don't boast in anything but in Christ and Him crucified. We don't boast in anything but the cross of Christ. Why? Because we have nothing to commend ourselves to God with. There's nothing in us that could possibly move Him to love us. He loves us because He loves us, not because we're better than other people.
And look at what he says beginning in verse 26. He says, “Consider your calling, brothers.” Brothers, think of how the Lord called you to Himself! “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards.” Now I love this. You know, sometimes when Paul is speaking to a congregation he’ll do that preacher thing and he’ll say, “Not many of us,” and he’ll include him. It fascinates me that Paul does not include himself in this. “Not many of you were wise.” Now he does this to the Corinthians on a number of occasions. You know, he’ll say, “Oh I know you people have really done some amazing, spectacular, spiritual stuff. Me on the other hand, I've only been called up into the third heaven and seen God face-to-face but let's not talk about that! Oh and you people are really super-spiritual Christians now. I, on the other hand, I'm just a Hebrew of Hebrews, of the tribe of Benjamin, according to the law, blameless, probably the most spiritual person in the history of the world, but let's not talk about me!” He puts them in their place and in this passage he says, you know, he doesn't say, “Well you know, many of us, we weren't very smart.” No, he says, “Actually, many of you were not very smart.”
And then he goes on — “nor were many of your powerful or of noble birth, but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption, therefore as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Is that not a message we need to hear, First Presbyterian Church, because we can look around and think that we're pretty smart, pretty powerful, pretty noble, pretty well-dressed, pretty socially connected, pretty influential — frankly a pretty good catch for God. Paul is reminding us and Luke is reminding us in Luke 18 that actually, actually we have just as much to commend ourselves to God as say, a homeless drunk that just wandered into Gateway Rescue Mission last night about 11 o’clock. That's what we've got to offer to God in and of ourselves. Nothing in our hands we bring, simply to His cross we cling. Naked come we to Him for dress, helpless to Him for grace. Foul we to His fountain fly. Wash us Savior, or we die. That's exactly where we stand. We have nothing to commend ourselves to God. In fact, by God's grace, if you are His child today, if you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, if you trust in Him as the Messiah, you are the weak of the world that God has chosen to confound the wise.
So for non-Christians listening to us today, understand, we don't think we're better than you. God chose us because He knew you’d look at us and say, “You mean You chose them?” Right. It's a picture of God's grace that a ragtag group of sinners like us would by the mercy of God be accepted as His people. And Jesus is driving that home in this story. “That's what My disciples are like — they’re like children, they’re like blind beggars looking to Me for bread and food and forgiveness and blessing because I'm all they've got. They understand their need.” So, let me ask you a question. Do you see what that blind man saw before he could see?
Lord, Your Word blows us away. What it shows of our self and all of our pride — we're nothing! And what is shows us of the Savior — He is everything. He's the lover of our souls and we run to Him, we go to Him, we fly to Him because He has everything that we want, everything that we need. Grant us, by faith, to go there. In Jesus' name, amen.
Would you take your hymnals out and turn with me to 509. Let's sing it to God's praise.
To everyone who is blind but who says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus, our Lord, the Messiah.