A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on May 24, 2020.
And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. (Matthew 20:29–34).
At first reading, the biblical account seems straight-forward: Two blind men cry out to Jesus to be healed, and Jesus heals them. However, at a closer reading, there are characteristics that draw our attention. The blind men, one of whom we learn from Mark is named Bartimaeus, are sitting by the roadside, likely begging for alms. Jesus, who is followed by a great crowd, is passing by. As he passes, the two blind men cry out, not for alms but for mercy, referencing Jesus as “Lord” and using the Messianic title of “Son of David.” In a single plea they acknowledge more than the educated scribes or the socially elite Pharisees, declaring Jesus of Nazareth to be the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant.
We also see that the crowd considers their cries to be an interruption to Jesus’ ascension to David’s royal city. Rather than consider the substance of their pleas, the crowd rebukes them, to silence them, but they will not be silenced. As if incensed by the obstacle to Jesus, the two men cry out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And then, he who is Lord and the descendent of David stops, calls, and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is a merciful question.
Equally merciful is his willingness to let them ask, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And then, Jesus graciously responds by touching them, by healing them, by opening their eyes. With eyes to see and hearts for devotion, the two blind men follow the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blindness is not only a common ailment in the Bible but an oft-used metaphor too. In Israel’s disobedience, Moses said, “you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness” (Deut. 28:29). And, God said through Zephaniah, “I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind (Zeph. 1:17). Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as “blind guides” (Matt. 15:14) but referred to himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
Most often, blindness is used to refer to unbelief. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). And Paul explains that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). Apart from God’s saving grace, all are spiritually blind.
Therefore, the healing account of the two blind men reveals far more than the recovery of physical sight, as amazing as the miracle is. In it, we see the mercy of God shown to the blind; we see the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ; and we see the right response to that revelation in following him. So, in light of the spiritual blindness that is common to every son and daughter of Adam, let us cry out with the blind men, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”
To Receive Mercy
On his march to Jerusalem, Jesus passes through Jericho, not to be confused with the city where “the walls came a-tumbling down” but a new Jericho built by Herod, situated along the well-traveled pilgrimage road to Jerusalem. As it is the Passover season, it is likely that beggars would presume upon the generosity of seasonal travelers. But there is something unique about these two blind beggars. They have more than a passing knowledge of Jesus and profess two key truths in their cries for mercy.
First, they refer to Jesus as “Lord,” which may or may not carry a divine connotation. But at the least, they address the Lord Jesus with reverence. However, for Matthew’s readers the word does carry a weightier meaning, and we may consider the blind men confessing a revealed truth they may not yet fully understand, but we do.
Second, they address Jesus with a title: “Son of David.” As God established his covenant with King David promising, “I will raise up your offspring, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. …the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:13), so Matthew’s Gospel begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David…” (Matt. 1:1). Coupled with Daniel’s prophecy of the “Son of Man” (Dan. 7), Israel awaited her Messiah to come from the lineage of David and through whom “the eyes of the blind shall be opened” (Isa. 35:5). Therefore, the blind beggars testify in their cries for mercy, desiring to receive their sight from the Son of David.
In this moment, you would assume that the crowd too would want to witness such an evident prophetic fulfillment. It is likely that many in the crowd were recipients of Jesus’ miraculous healing. Yet, so typical of his followers then and today, those who enjoyed mercy show no mercy to the blind beggars, rebuking them to silence their cries. But Jesus shows mercy: He pities them, he touches them, and they are healed.
Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7). He confronted the self-righteous Pharisees, quoting Hosea, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:13a). And, he steps away from the madding crowd to show mercy to two blind beggars. Jesus’ actions remind us, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lam. 3:22).
The Apostle James writes, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). All who are in Christ by God’s grace through faith are recipients of God’s mercy. While we are often impatient and unkind to our neighbor, the Lord is patient with us (2 Peter 3:9), and in his kindness leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). While we give up on people, considering some to be a hopeless cause, in God’s “great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Because indeed mercy does triumph over judgment, as every Christian enjoys, let us show mercy to our neighbor. Let us love our neighbor as ourselves, for we too were once blind beggars, but “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5a). So, let us pray for our neighbor, “Lord, let their eyes be opened, as you have opened mine, to see Christ.”
To See Christ
Imagine if, upon receiving your sight, the first thing you saw was Jesus. So it was for these two recipients of mercy. Yet, there is nothing said of what they saw. In fact, the closest we get to a description of Jesus’ earthly appearance is in a prophecy of Isaiah: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire” (Isa. 53:2b). What a contrast from image-obsessed culture. In a visual age where we really do judge a book by its cover, we would have judged Jesus to be of little significance.
However, when the Apostle John speaks of what he and the others saw, he does not tell us of hair or eye color, of height or weight, he confesses, “we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b). In fact, John begins his first epistle again with what he saw:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:1-4, emphasis added).
Did you catch that? When John talks about seeing Jesus, he talks about his glory. When John talks about seeing Jesus, he wants others to see what he saw. When John talks about seeing Jesus, he wants us together to find our joy in him. Lord, let our eyes be opened to see Christ!
Prior to his ascension, Jesus told his disciples, “You will not see me” until you “see the Son of Man…coming with the clouds of heaven” (John 16:17), and yet with the eyes of our hearts (Eph. 1:18) we see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). Indeed, the historical accounts of Jesus may be read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but not everyone sees Jesus as John testified. Some look to the pages of Scripture and see nothing but a man or a myth. “Seeing they do not see,” Jesus said (Matt. 13:13).
But for those who by God’s grace through faith do see Jesus, we see the Son of God, Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In his book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, John Piper writes,
When you see something as true and beautiful and valuable, you savor it. That is, you treasure it. You cherish and admire and prize it. Spiritual seeing and spiritual savoring are so closely connected that it would be fair to say: If you don’t savor Christ, you haven’t seen Christ for who he is. If you don’t prize him above all things, you haven’t apprehended his true worth.
We find in truly seeing Christ, we can say with John that he is “full of grace and truth.”
We see Christ, on this side of his ascension, most visibly in his ordinary means of grace: Word, prayer, and sacrament. When we read, study, and meditate on God’s Word, and especially when we hear the Word preached, we see and savor Christ. When we go to our heavenly Father in prayer, we do so through the Lord Jesus our Mediator. Our prayers ascend to heaven through the One who intercedes on our behalf “with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). In baptism, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, enabling us to crucify the old self that we may live unto God (Rom. 6:4-11). And, as we come to the Lord’s table, we see Christ’s body broken and atoning blood shed. We are spiritually nourished in his presence, further strengthening us to see and savor him in his glory.
Seeing is believing the idiom goes, and so it is by God’s grace. As we see Christ in his means of grace, we believe, and our faith is strengthened. And in seeing we believe and in believing we follow Christ.
To Follow Christ
Therefore, just as two blind men received their sight and followed Christ, so we by God’s grace through faith follow our Lord and Savior. “None follow Christ blindfold,” says Matthew Henry. “He first by his grace opens men’s eyes, and so draws their hearts after him” (1308). While not recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Mark adds Jesus’ concluding words: “Go your way; your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:52). J.C. Ryle concludes,
Such faith may well put us to shame. With all our books of evidence, and lives of saints, and libraries of divinity, how few know anything of simple, childlike confidence in Christ’s mercy and Christ’s power; and even among those who are believers, the degree of faith is often strangely disproportionate to the privilege enjoyed.
Ryle is right. So, with childlike confidence in the one who gives us eyes to see, let us follow Christ.
What does this look like? Jesus bids all who would follow him in faith, to “deny himself and take up his cross” (Matt. 16:24). One of Jesus’ first followers, the Apostle Peter, describes following Christ as living “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and in humble spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead” (1 Peter 3:8-9 NASB).
In other words, following Christ looks like Christ.
This is the calling not of some but of all who once were blind but now see and savor Christ. In that oft-sung hymn of John Newton, “Amazing Grace!”, we sing of the sweet sound of God’s grace in saving “a wretch like me,” once lost now found “was blind, but now I see.” This is the testimony of every Christian, as Newton knew so well. Apart from God’s saving grace, we are all blind beggars without hope. But, in his mercy and grace, he hears our cry, “Lord, let our eyes be opened,” and graciously he does, that we may see the glory of Christ and follow him.
 Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).
 John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 10.
 J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts On Matthew (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012), 208.