"The 'Importune' Blind Men"
(Delivered Sunday, February 3, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him (Matthew 20:29-34).
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Whenever I read the story that we find in this morning's passage, I think of someone that I encountered many years ago.
I used to work in Southeast Portland, not too far from a thrift store that I'd go to during my lunch hour—regularly rummaging, as you probably guessed, through their piles of used books. While I was there one day, an old man came shuffling into the store on a pair of crutches—carefully feeling his way along. I recognized him as a blind man who lived in the community.
This old man had a unique way of getting someone to come and help him. He would make his way through the doorway and into the middle of the store; and then, standing in one spot, he'd shout at the top of his voice, "Help! Someone; help! I need help! Please, someone; help me!" He would keep on shouting until someone finally came and helped him. And he never had to wait very long; because, as it turned out, four or five employees would quickly run to him to see what in the world was wrong. Then, he would calmly tell them what it was that he was looking for.
And as far as I could tell, he received the fastest and best costumer service of anyone else in the store!
It wasn't long afterwards that I was in another store somewhere in the area. And would you like to guess who came through the door? I didn't see him at first; but I immediately recognized the voice! "Help! Someone; help me! Please; I need help!" And of course, he got swift results.
There have been many times since then when I've been tempted to adopt his method!
Now; when I think of that old blind man, I think of a good, old-fashioned word that we rarely hear anymore: "importunity". To be "importune" means to press for what you want or beg for what you need in a repetitive and urgent way. It means to go to such lengths in insisting on what you want that you no longer care whether or not it's inappropriate . . . or whether or not you're an annoyance to those around you.
Now; that old blind man that I had run across years ago was one of the most importune people I'd ever encountered. But he was just wanting someone to come and help him in a store. The two blind men in our passage were importune for something higher and more eternal. They heard that Jesus, the miracle-working Son of David, was traveling along the road a short distance away; and they didn't want Him to pass them by. They wanted something from Him; and they were so desperate to get it that they cried out and plead for mercy in a very 'importune' manner. The wanted something from Him so much that they were even willing to become an absolute nuisance to everyone else around them until they got it.
And it worked!
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One of the things that I have grown to appreciate about our wonderful Savior is that He seems to approve of the importunity of those who desperately want the right things from Him—and who will not give up until they receive it from Him. After all, as you remember, Jesus is the one who said,
The manner in which He says these words (in the present tense of the verb) suggests an persistent asking, a persistent seeking, and a persistent knocking—an asking, seeking, and knocking that will not quit until it receives, or finds, or sees the door at last opened.
What's more, Jesus is the one who spoke a parable that actually invites us and encourages us to be importune toward His Father—teaching us that men always ought to pray and not lose heart;
And furthermore, Jesus is the one who responded to the importunity of the Gentile woman who kept asking Him to heal her daughter. The disciples, you'll remember, kept asking Him to give that annoying woman what she wanted so that she'd go away and leave them alone. But He seemed to ignore the woman's pleas; saying that He hadn't been sent to anyone except to the lost sheep of Israel; and that it was not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs. And yet, she wouldn't take no for an answer; saying "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table (Matthew 15:24-27). And with that, He finally turned to her and said, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire" (v. 28); and He healed her daughter.
One of the greatest heroes of faith in the Bible was a man who was shockingly importune in his behavior toward God. The old patriarch Jacob, at a key moment of crisis in his life, found that the Lord had made a late-night, pre-incarnate appearance to him. Jacob, as you remember, grabbed hold of God, and wrestled with Him all night long—refusing to let Him go until He blessed him. "Let Me go," the Lord said, "for the day breaks." But Jacob said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!" (Genesis 32:24-26). Imagine such behavior toward God! How importune! And yet, it worked! God allowed Jacob to wrestle with Him all night long and prevail until He blessed him!
So then; these two blind men in our story this morning are in a fine, biblical tradition. They are examples to us of the kind of "importunity" of faith that gets our Lord's attention. And the Holy Spirit has included their story for us in His word in order to remind us that it's that kind of faith that our wonderful Savior will be pleased to respond to in us.
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Let's look a little closer at this passage. And let's begin by considering . . .
1. THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
As we have been making our way through the Gospel of Matthew, we have found that the tone has been growing increasingly sober. Jesus was on the pathway that would eventually bring Him to the cross—and to His sacrifice for you and me.
When we come to Chapter 21—immediately after this morning's passage—we find that the great event that it describes for us is Jesus' triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. We're told that He and His disciples were going out of Jericho1—about ten to fifteen miles away from Jerusalem; and that a great crowd was following Him (v. 29). In just a day or so, the long-awaited King of the Jews would finally come to His people as the Scriptures promised He would—that is, "lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Matthew 21:5; see also Zechariah 9:9). In just a day or so, the excited multitudes would greet Him with palm branches in hand; and would spread their cloaks before Him, shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" (v. 9).
And just a few days after that, those same crowds would cry out, "Let Him be crucified!" (27:22); and He would hang on a cross beneath an inscription that read, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (v. 37); and He Himself would cry out with a loud voice and yield up His spirit as a sacrifice for sinners (v. 50).
In just a few days, the veil of the temple would be torn in two—opening up the way for sinners like you and me to enter into fellowship with a holy God (27:51). In just a few days, the precious body of Jesus would be laid in a tomb (v. 60). And in just a few days more, He would be gloriously raised from the dead—forever our mighty Victor over the grave!
We need to keep these immanent events in mind when we read our passage this morning. Jesus was walking on the road from the region of Judea beyond the Jordan (19:2), and on His way to the city of Jerusalem. It's hard for us—in our frail minds—to comprehend the magnitude of the great work He was on His way to accomplish for us. There really couldn't be anything more important. There really couldn't be anything more solemn or serious.
And yet, it's this unique context that makes this morning's passage stand out so remarkably. It highlights for us just how wonderfully merciful and compassionate our Savior is. As Matthew tells us of how Jesus made His way resolutely to Jerusalem—to the triumphal entry, and subsequently to His sacrifice on the gruesome cross—the Holy Spirit made sure that he also included this morning's story. The Spirit wanted to teach us that Jesus is just what He Himself said He was—One who "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
Our Savior was on His way at that very moment to accomplish the most momentous work of service in all of history—His sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead for our justification. And yet—even at such an important moment as as that—Jesus willingly stopped on His course to the city to respond to the pleas of to two poor, miserable, blind men whom the rest of the world had largely ignored.
What an encouragement this ought to be to us to cry out to the Savior with importunity! He is never too busy to minister to those who genuinely trust Him and who cry out to Him in sincere faith.
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That leads us, next, to consider the men who cried out with such importunity of faith . . .
2. THE BLIND MEN.
We're told, "And behold two2 blind men sitting by the road . . ."
To understand their cry to Jesus, you have to appreciate the condition they were in. We can praise God that, today, we live in a world that protects the dignity of sightless folks, and that makes it possible for them to live happy and productive lives in society. But there weren't any such accommodations in the ancient world. The blind were, for the most part, discarded by society. Very often, their blindness was caused by some infection or disease—resulting in a grotesque redness or swollenness, and a constant running of the eyes. Often, there were other physical disablements involved. People were afraid to touch them. They were usually quite helpless, rejected, and despised; and they could only survive through the occasional mercy of others.
These two men were in deep need of the grace of God. And if I may say so, that fact makes them an accurate picture of the desperate condition you and I are in before God—apart from His grace. We may go along in life thinking that we're just fine. But in reality, we don't realize that we're blind to the truth. We don't realizing that our sin has separated us from the God who made us for Himself, and that we are doomed and needy in His sight.
Jesus once said, "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind" (John 9:39). He defined "blindness" as an inability to see Him for who He is, and to see our true need for Him. He defined it as an inability to realize that we have need of salvation, and that only He is able to save us from our sins. When He is set before people, and they then walk away from Him—thinking that they don't need anything from Him; believing that perhaps other people may need Jesus who are worse off than they are; but that they themselves are just fine—then they are displaying that they are spiritually "blind".
But when by God's grace someone realizes their deep need, sees that Jesus is the Savior, and places their trust in Him for salvation, they finally "see". Then, they can truly sing:
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These two blind men knew they were blind. They had no hope in and of themselves. But they heard a crowd passing by; and when they asked what was going on, someone told them; "Jesus was passing by" (v. 30a).
I believe that these two men knew the talk that was going on about Jesus. I believe they had heard about all the miracles that He had done, and about all the marvelous things that were said about Him. I also believe that they had done a lot of thinking about what they heard. After all, you can do an awful lot of thinking when you're doing nothing all day but sitting by the wayside begging for alms.
And what's more, you can tell by what they said that they had come to some important conclusions about Jesus. They called Him "Lord" (a term of great reverence). They called Him "the Son of David" (a Messianic title). And they even believed that He had the power to give sight to the blind. Perhaps they remembered what it says in Isaiah 29:18 about the times of the Messiah: "In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness." One of the great signs that the "blind" are beginning to "see" is that they finally recognize the truth about Jesus.
And so, hearing that Jesus was passing by, they wasted no time! They thought that there may not be another chance like this—and in truth, there wouldn't be; because Jesus was not going to pass by that way again. And so, right were they sat, they cried out with importunity—"Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!" (v. 30b).
And can you imagine what an embarrassment they were? Didn't they know that Jesus, the King of the Jews, was passing by? Didn't they know that crowds were following along with Him? Didn't they know that the Messiah was making His way to Jerusalem, and to the very city over which He had a right to rule as King? Didn't they know that the multitudes would soon celebrate, and wave palm branches, and sing, "Hosanna to the Son of David"? Didn't they understand that they needed to observe the proper 'religious decorum' at such a moment as this?
Well; if they did, they certainly didn't care. 'Religious decorum' can keep people from pleading with the Savior for saving mercy. 'Propriety' can hinder people from crying out to Jesus for what they need the most. And when you're blind—and you have the opportunity to see—who cares about 'religious decorum'? It's a time to cry out with importunity, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!"
Let me suggest to you that the degree to which you are willing to cry out to Jesus for mercy is determined by the degree to which your eyes have been opened, and that you see your need for what it really is. When God graciously allows you to see the truth about yourself; and when you realize that you are a lost sinner, with God's just and righteous wrath hanging over you for your sins; and when you then discover that God has mercifully provided the righteous life of His own precious Son on the cross as the payment for your sins; and when you realize that eternal life is yours if you will only trust Him; and when you discover that now—right now—is the day of salvation, and that there may not be another; well, that's when you let 'decorum' go out the window! You cry out with all your being, "O Lord, have mercy on me! Save me!" After all, a drowning man doesn't worry about whether he is being 'proper' in the way he cries out to be rescued.
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Now, the very solemn and religious people that were around these two blind men scowled at them and tried to get them to be quiet. They were obviously becoming an embarrassment. They were making a nuisance of themselves—crying out to Jesus for mercy in this annoying manner. The multitudes warned them to shut up. But the warnings clearly didn't sink in, because the two men only cried out with greater importunity: "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!" (v. 31). If they obeyed propriety, and simply remained silent, they would have lost their opportunity.
And that turns our attention to . . .
3. THE SAVIOR.
Notice what He did. First, Matthew tells us, "So Jesus stood still . . ." (v. 32a). Think of just that much! Jesus, the Son of David, was even then on His way to the cross to die for the sins of mankind. What could have been more important? And yet, at the cries and pleas of these two importune blind men, He came to a complete stop.
That, if I may say so, was a remarkable accomplishment. These two blind men actually stopped the Son of God in His tracks, and made Him pause to hear their cries! And yet, though it was their cries that He heard, it was His grace that made Him stop to hear them. This reminds us that He will graciously hear anyone who truly calls out to Him in faith.
Second, Matthew tells us that He "called to them" (v. 32b). And again, just think of that! With all the people around the blind men telling them to be quiet, and with all the crowds pressing in around Jesus wanting Him to speak to them, He calls out instead to these two blind men in response to their cries and asks, "What do you want Me to do for you?" (v. 32c).
By the way, isn't it fascinating that Jesus asked that question? Didn't He already know what they wanted? Wasn't it obvious? Well, of course it was; but this reminds us that it's our Savior's will that we say specifically what it is that we want from Him. The sort of importune faith that catches our Lord's attention isn't mushy and vague. It's the kind that is bold enough and daring enough to be very specific about what it asks of Him. And so, these two men came to Him, they said specifically what they wanted of Him: "Lord, that our eyes may be opened" (v. 33). When you're a lost and hopeless sinner; don't just come to Jesus and say, "O Lord, bless me in whatever way you'd like—it doesn't much matter to me." Get specific! Say, "Lord, I'm lost! Save my soul!"
Third, Matthew tells us that Jesus was deeply moved in His spirit by their request. We're told that "Jesus had compassion" for them (v. 34). Others may have wanted Jesus to hurry up and heal them so they'd shut up and go away. But that was not our wonderful Savior's motive. He loved these two men. We're even told that He reached forth His hand and actually touched their eyes—something than no one would have ever expected the Messiah to do to poor, miserable, blind beggars like them.
People may be irritated by our peas for the Savior's mercy; but He never is. He is motivated by deep love for anyone who trusts Him and cries out to Him. He willingly reaches out and touches the most unworthy sinner who cries out to Him with importunity.
And finally, notice what happened. We're told that, "immediately, their eyes received sight" (v. 34b)—right there, in front of all those people who had been telling them to be quiet! And then, we're told that "they followed Him". Two bind men now gazed upon Jesus; and they joined the crowds that followed Him to Jerusalem—and then to the cross.
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Now, let's close our look at this passage by considering . . .
4. THE LESSONS.
One thing we should learn from these two blind men is that we should never be ashamed to admit how disparately we need Jesus.
Unbelieving people will always be inclined to mock us for being so "needy" as to cry out to Jesus for salvation. They'll condemn us for not being "self-reliant". They'll say, "You're just using Jesus as a crutch." And when they do, let's be real. Let's go ahead and freely admit that Jesus is our "crutch"—and that it's a good thing we found Him too, because we discovered that our souls are crippled by sin. There's no shame in using a crutch when you're crippled.
We might even want to go further, and tell them that their soul has been crippled by sin too. It's just that they don't realize it yet. And we might also say that, when their eyes are finally opened as ours have been, and when they finally see how much their soul has been crippled by sin, that we're very happy to recommend Jesus to them as the greatest "crutch" a crippled soul can ever lean on.
Another thing we should learn from these two men is that Jesus is abundantly merciful to every one of us poor, miserable, blind, crippled souls that has ever cried out to Him.
As this story teaches us, He is never too busy for us. He stops in His tracks for us and hears our plea for mercy. He graciously asks us what it is that we want from Him—even if it is so great a thing as the restoration of our spiritual sight so that we can see the truth about our need—and even if it is so great a thing as the saving of our souls from the crippling effects of our sin. He graciously reaches out and touches us in our need. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. We can safely cry out to Him.
And finally, we should from these two blind men to follow their example in their asking. Because of how disparately we need Jesus, and because of how ready He is to show mercy to whoever cries out to Him, let's cry out to Him with all our being—and never care what the world thinks! For Jesus mercifully gives His attention to those who sincerely cry out to Him, in their deep need, with unrelenting importunity of faith.
1"To the casual reader there seems to be a discrepancy between the accounts given here and in Mark, and that given by Luke. The latter tells us that, 'It came to pass, that as He was coming nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging;' whereas both Matthew and Mark tell us that this incident occurred as they departed from Jericho. There is no confusion, however, if we understand Luke as telling us that Bartimaeus sat by the way side begging as Jesus drew near to Jericho, but the other two Evangelists inform us that the actual healing took place as He was departing from that city, after having visited the house of Zachaeus" (Harry Ironside, Expository Notes on the Gospel of Matthew [New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1948] p. 261). Leon Morris offers another way to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory accounts. He observes that, according to Josephus (Wars 4.459), there were two Jerichos—the old one that had been destroyed, and the new one that had been rebuilt. Morris suggests that Jesus could have been understood to be entering one while leaving the other (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992], pp. 513-4).
2Matthew tells us that there were two men; while Mark and Luke only mention one. But there's no contradiction to be found in the various accounts. If there were two men, then there could also certainly be one of the two who stood out for particular identification. It has been suggested that Matthew—who wrote specifically for the Jewish reader—highlights the fact that there were two blind men because of the value the Old Testament law places on the testimony of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Mark may have specified Bartimaeus by name because he wrote the gospel account as preached by Peter; and because Bartimaeus may have been a particularly well-known disciple in Peter's circle of ministry. Luke simply follows Marks account and refers to him as "a certain blind man".
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