“Then they came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to Him and begged Him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village. Spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything? ” He looked up and said, “I see people — they look to me like trees walking.” Again Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes, and he saw distinctly. He was cured and could see everything clearly. Then He sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” Jesus went out with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the road He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am? ” They answered Him, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.” “But you,” He asked them again, “who do you say that I am? ” Peter answered Him, “You are the Messiah! ” And He strictly warned them to tell no one about Him.” (Mark 8:22-30 HCSB)
Oklahoma is a land of extremes. We experience hot, dry summers and we often experience cold, wet winters. We know what its like to have a 50 or even a 60 degree change in temperature in just a few hours. In fact, yesterday morning it was warm and muggy and by evening it was cool and wet. Yesterday’s high was in the low 80’s and today’s high is in the low 40’s. In fact, over the last several months, much of the state has experienced extreme drought and the challenges that condition brings. One of those challenges is the impact the dry weather has on the concrete foundation of my home. The dry weather causes the mostly clay soil to dry out and shrink which causes foundation cracks and settling. This has caused our front door to become uneven and difficult to open and close, at times. So, I’ve been watering the foundation and making adjustments to the door from with a large hammer.
Sometimes it just takes extreme measures, like a large hammer, to fix some of the issues in our lives.
In this week’s focal passage, Jesus confronts a big issue in the hearts, minds and lives of the disciples – their spiritual insight. This passage is a pivotal point in Mark’s story. Everything seems to hinge on what happens in this story and how the disciples understand it and apply it. If you’ll recall, last week’s passage ends with the question: “Don’t you understand yet?” The disciples have “seen” the miracles Jesus has been doing and they’ve “heard” what He’s been teaching but they seem to lack “understanding” or insight. They’re still spiritually blind.
So, Mark tells us how Jesus begins to “knock some sense” into the disciples and open their eyes. Their ability to understand what Jesus teaches and what His actions and miracles mean is vitally important and linked to their spiritual insight. They may have eyes to see and ears to hear, but do they truly see, hear and understand? Better yet, do we?
Mark begins to relate the story of a blind man regaining his sight, in two distinct stages: sight restored and clear sight or insight gained. After leaving the Pharisees in Dalmanutha, the group travels back to the region of Bethsaida on the northeast shore of the lake, the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. As they come into the area, a group of locals, who seem to be very aware of Jesus’ healing abilities, bring a blind man and beg Jesus to touch him. Jesus takes the man’s hand, leads him away from the village and then spits on his eyes and touches them. He then asks, “Do you see anything?”
Pause for just a second. What stands out to you in those words? For most of us, I think it might be that Jesus “spits on his eyes”. Surely God wouldn’t need to spit on the man’s eyes to heal them, right? A repugnancy factor kicks in and maybe we begin to question God’s goodness or kindness. Why wouldn’t or couldn’t God heal us without grossing us out. Why can’t He fit our expectations, needs and demands for a Savior? If those are your thoughts, let me simply say, obviously you aren’t blind and needing your sight restored. If you were on fire, you wouldn’t really care what was used to put out the flames. If you’re blind you don’t really care if God spits on your eyes, as long as your sight is restored.
Did the man see anything? He looks up and said he could see people, but to him they looked like trees walking. He could see but not well or clearly. So again, Jesus touches his eyes and Mark tells us that the man saw distinctly, with wide open eyes and that he was cured/healed and could see everything clearly. From no sight, to partial sight, to full sight. This miracle is a physical parallel to the previous verses about having eyes but being unable to see, perceive or understand. Some people are blind to God, some are able to see and perceive of His existence and others are able to see, perceive and understand the truth of who He is, what He’s doing and then determine to walk with Him in loving obedience and humble service.
I think it is possible and, perhaps, likely that Jesus was drawing a comparison here with conventional human methods of healing blindness (spittle) and divine methods (divine touch) and the differing results: 1) I can’t see; 2) I see but not clearly; and 3) I see everything clearly. Blindness versus sight versus insight. Eyes that don’t see, eyes that see but don’t really perceive and eyes that see clearly and perceive what God is doing. Why the comparison? Why the three stages of sight (blindness, sight without understanding, sight with understanding)? Because those are the stages of sight the disciples are progressing through and that the crowd, the scribes and the Pharisees still suffer from.
Jesus then sends the man home but tells him to avoid going into the village. Anything we add to this is pure speculation. Perhaps it is best to just understand it simply, go home. Go home to those who care most about you and who will be most impacted by what has happened. Go home and share your joy and insight with them.
We ought to do the same.
Now, Jesus takes the disciples and heads 25 miles north to Caesarea Philippi. This is not Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, but the political headquarters for the tetrarch, Herod Philip. It lies directly north of Bethsaida at the base of Mount Hermon in a predominantly Gentile area and consists of the main city with several, smaller surrounding villages. It is here, that Jesus and the disciples retreat from the crowds for what appears to be a time of rest, relaxation, training and teaching. As they are walking towards their destination, Jesus asks them: “Who do people say that I am?”
Interesting question, isn’t it? Who do the people say I am? What do they think of me, who am I? How do they see Me? The disciples told him, some think you are John the Baptizer, others think Elijah, still others think one of the prophets. Who is this man that seems to have God’s power and speaks with such insight and authority? Surely He must be God’s prophet, right?
Sight, but not insight. The crowds aren’t blind because they can see, just not clearly.
Did you see that one coming?
Because the next question is directed right at the disciples. “But you, who do you say that I am?” What do you see? How perceptive are you? Do you just see or do you see clearly? Peter responds for the group, “You are the Messiah (Christ)!” Like the blind man, they had moved from blindness, to sight, to clear and perceptive sight, understanding or insight.
We live in the midst of a culture where this question still lingers and persists. Who is Jesus? Some are blind to the truth. Blind? Yes, many deny He even existed. Really? Is that even possible? Yes, there are some who are so blinded they deny, discount or just ignore the historical evidence of even His earthly existence. They believe He’s just a myth created by man and propagated by men through the institution of the church for power, authority, wealth and privilege.
Still, others believe He physically existed within history but He was just a man. Perhaps a good man, a kind man, a moral teacher and maybe, just maybe even a great man. But just a man, nothing more. He may have had words from God, but He isn’t the Word of God. He’s a prophet or, perhaps, a priest but not the King of kings and Lord of lords. He’s good, He’s kind, He’s loving, He’s of God as much as or maybe more than any man has been, but He’s not God. He’s still just a man. Sight, but not insight. They can see, but not clearly – not fully.
But you, who do YOU say that I am?
You see, it doesn’t matter so much what others think. He wants to know what you think. You, who do you say that I am? In that sentence the “you” is grammatically unnecessary but it is there and it makes the emphasis strong: YOU, who do you say I am? While it may be a question He is specifically asking the disciples, it is also a question you and I must answer. Just who is Jesus?
The blind answer: Who is Jesus? Yeah, I’m not even sure He’s real or not. Aren’t those stories just a lot of myth and legend? Did He really exist? I don’t think so. I think it is a lot of hype, hope and wishful thinking. Or maybe, it is just a power play by men to dominate the rest of us and to force their morals and authority on the rest of us. If He did exist, He was just another man. Nothing more. Honestly, there is no God.
The partial or limited sight answer: Who is Jesus? He’s love and goodness, but not God. He’s insightful and inspiring but He’s not authoritative and divine. He’s a prophet or one God’s many prophets/teachers, but nothing more. I like that part where He says we should love everybody and judge nobody because nobody has a right to judge me, not even God. I decide for myself how to live my life, nobody else does.
The insight answer: Who is Jesus? He’s the Messiah, the very Son of the living God. He is the Word of God, the bread of life, the living water, the light of the world and the breath of life. He’s the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep and He’s the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He’s the all powerful, infinite creator of the entire universe who sustains everything by the word of His mouth and He’s the humble, suffering servant who stoops down and washes our feet. He is the one who didn’t consider equality with God as something He should use for His own advantage, but humbled Himself and stripped Himself of His glory and took on the form of a servant and became obedient to God, even obedient to His death on a cross. I can’t do Him justice, but consider Dr. S.M. Lockridge’s description…
But you, who do you say that I am?
How will you answer His question? If you still aren’t sure, go check out some of these verses: John 1:1-18; John 20:24-29; Rom. 5:12-21; Col. 1:13-22; Heb. 4:14-16; Heb. 10; Heb. 12:25-29; 1 Jn 1-2; Rev. 1:9-19.
My prayer for you is that you won’t be blind to who Jesus is but that God will grant you mercy and insight.
“Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. Pay attention and come to Me; listen, so that you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the promises assured to David… Seek the Lord while He may be found; call to Him while He is near. Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, so He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will freely forgive.” (Isaiah 55:1-3, 6-7 HCSB)