There is a quotation often cited in the business world that shares some meaningful truth for Christians. It goes like this. “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” Our character, the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual, matters greatly. As Christians, we must exhibit the character of the one we claim to follow, Jesus Christ. It begins with our thoughts, then our words, followed by our actions, which become our habits, which then define our character. Today, I want us to see Christian character through the life of a blind man named in Scripture as Bartimaeus.
Let’s begin by looking at our New Testament reading in the Gospel of Mark; Chapter 10, beginning at verse 46. Please open your Bibles to that passage. If you are using a pew Bibles that passage starts on page 47 of the New Testament section. We are reading from Gospel according to Mark, which scholars’ credit to a young man named John Mark, a protégé of the Apostle Peter. Mark’s approach was to move his readers quickly through the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. The first half of the Gospel, chapters 1 through 8, answers the question, “Who is Jesus?” The answer is brief. He is the Son of God; the one the prophets foretold would come to heal and make right humanity’s relationship with God. The second half of the Gospel, chapter 9 through 16, answer the question, “How will Jesus, Son of God, accomplish God’s mission?” The answer is disturbing; 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (8:31).”
Our text today comes from the second half of the Gospel and occurs as Jesus briefly passes through the city of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. To fully appreciate the character lesson of Bartimaeus, we need to briefly look at the scenes before the text and then after the text.
Immediately prior to this scene, Jesus and his disciples came through some difficult and tense moments. The apostles James and John, giants in our understanding of the Christian character, had approach Jesus in secret. They had been thinking about something, undoubtedly talked to each other about it, and now it was time to take action. James and John asked Jesus, ““Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” James and John believed that Jesus would soon assume a position of great power in the land and they wanted to be Jesus’ principal deputies. If Jesus was to be number 1 in the land, then James and John wanted to be number 2 and number 3. They wanted power to decide who would (or would not) do what, when, where, and how. Thoughts led to words and words led to actions. James and John displayed a character that sought power and dominion over others. They did not seek authority from Jesus for the ministry in his name; they sought authority for personal standing and control of others.
John Mark, our gospel writer, recorded these words and reaction by the other apostles when James’ and John’s secret plan became known, “41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.” The ten were angry because someone else was trying to get one over on them and prevent them from becoming number 2 or number 3 in Jesus’ power structure. “42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
Christian character is not about power for oneself, it is about empowering others. It is about following the example of giving others hope by serving them. Jesus said, “45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus was correcting the thinking of the disciples, so that they words would not be self-centered but gracious. With gracious words comes a servant’s heart with deeds of care for others. Done often enough those acts become habitual; meaning it is done almost without conscious decision, or even compulsory. When our behavior is such, then it defines our character as that of Christ for we came to serve not be served. That is the character model Christ wants but is not exhibited by James and John through their secret quest for power.
With the stage set, we turn to verse 46. “46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.” In the ancient language, the prefix, “bar,” means “son of.” This man, Bartimaeus, sat, blind, an outcast from society. His life was reduced to begging for money or food; making him dependent upon others for his very survival. This was how people saw Bartimaeus; the character of Bartimaeus was thought to be that of a blind beggar, a drain on society and unable to contribute. How often are our thoughts about the character traits of a person formed by their external appearance or circumstances? If we think that way, our words, deeds, habits will inform our character will act accordingly. Christ wants us to look at the heart of the person and serve the external needs of others.
In verse 47, as the crowd moved passed Bartimaeus, ”He [Bartimaeus] heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he [Bartimaeus] began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” Think about the scene for a moment. Jesus, Son of God to some, to many just a miracle worker, was passing by the very road in which Bartimaeus sat as an outcast. He realized Jesus caused the commotion but he could not see in front of him. Two things happened. First, everyone who knew the power of Christ and knew Bartimaeus or could observe his condition chose not to ask Jesus to serve Bartimaeus. No one seemed to think Bartimaeus worth to be introduced to Jesus. Apparently, Jesus’ lessons on being a servant to others sink in slowly or not at all. Are we like those of that crowd? We know Jesus, we follow him, we study the Bible, we do acts of charity but we are unwilling to set any of those things aside to spend the time to introduce the outcast to Christ? Ponder that question this week.
The second thing that happened was Bartimaeus spoke loudly calling to Jesus as his sole source of grace. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus, the outcast, the blind beggar saw something almost no one else saw; the promise of God’s love right before him. He praised Jesus as the rightful heir of King David’s throne and the giver of grace through healing. These were Bartimaeus’ thoughts. His thoughts led to him speaking.
Verse 48 provides the reaction, “48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.” “Stop being such a bother and be quiet. No one wants to hear from you and certainly do not be speaking about Jesus as some Messiah!” However, “Bartimaeus cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus’ thoughts could not be silenced so he acted again repeating his call to Jesus as the savior from God and the only source of grace. If you speak out as a believer in Jesus as the Christ, many will sternly tell you to be quiet. If we have a genuine Christian character, then it will be impossible to silence us. Do not be silenced in your love for Christ.
There once was a man named Polycarp who became a disciple of the Apostle John. Polycarp served in the Christian Church and rose to some prominence. In 155 A.D., Roman soldiers arrived at Polycarp’s home to arrest him because he refused to burn incense in honor of the emperor. Polycarp provided the soldiers supper then he prayed with such devotion that several of them were converted. Despite his hospitality, the soldiers brought Polycarp to an arena filled with local people looking for a good show. The Roman authority said he would set Polycarp free if and only if Polycarp would denounce Jesus. Polycarp responded this way, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” Polycarp could only show hospitality toward those sent to arrest him and could only speak about Christ and his message. This was his character. In that arena, he met the character of the crowd. They bound Polycarp and burned at the stake because he would not remain silent.
Bartimaeus understood that remaining silent with Jesus present in your life was impossible. Bartimaeus called out, ““Son of David, have mercy on me!” “49 Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight.”
James and John had approached Jesus in secret and Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They asked for power over others. They left unfulfilled. Bartimaeus approached Jesus in public and Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus said, “Heal me.” Bartimaeus received sight and was satisfied. Mark presented such a contrast in the stories between those seeking Christ. Jesus healed Bartimaeus in response to Bartimaeus’ faith and as a means of showing others, including us, the power of God. Have you thought about the question, “What do you want from Jesus?” Have you thought about as though you were James and John or as one like Bartimaeus?
Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus did not go. He left behind is beggar’s cloak and followed Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus was not interested in returning to his old life or even his old garment. He was interested in only one thing; following Jesus on the way. Is that how we think, speak, and act? Do we genuinely move from our old life and old ways and follow a new way with Christ?
We might ask, Bartimaeus was on the way but where was Jesus going? Mark said Jesus next stop was Jerusalem for a triumphal entry. As far as we know, Bartimaeus was there no singing and crying out, ““Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Jesus was going to the cross and Bartimaeus was following him. That was Bartimaeus’ new character.
What is your character? What is the inner nature of your thinking and how does it surface to others? Do you act as James and John working in secret, seeking advantages in life and ignoring the outcasts that surround you as you profess your devotion to Christ? Think about what you do or do not do on a daily basis. Those things are your habits which define your character. Alternatively, are you like Bartimaeus who understood that your life could not reach its potential without a healing by Jesus and by following him? What occupies your thoughts? God knows because He hears what you say. Others know because they receive your words and see your actions. We might like to think others are blind but they are not. What are you doing habitually and does it represent Christ in you? The character of Bartimaeus was a simple one. He looked for grace in Jesus and would not be silenced once he found it. What is your character?