March 11, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Blind Can See
When we last left Jesus, he had encounters with three different groups in one day. He fed 4,000 Gentiles in the Decapolis area. Then he traveled to Dalmanutha on the western side of Lake Galilee where he encountered the questioning Pharisees. And after leaving there, he sailed to the northern part of the lake during which he had to endure the dullness and doubting of his own disciples.
Now, arriving in Bethsaida, some people bring a blind man to Jesus and beg Jesus to touch and to heal him. This poor man has at least one thing going for him: friends who believe Christ will heal him. According to William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, “blindness was, and still is, one of the great curses of the middle east. It is caused partly by ophthalmia, which is an inflammation of the eye, and partly by the pitiless glare of the sun. It is greatly aggravated by the fact that people knew nothing of hygiene and of cleanliness. It was common to see a person with matter-encrusted eyes on which the flies persistently settled. Naturally this carried the infection far and wide, and blindness was a scourge.”
But this story moves a little deeper than just a blind man being brought to Jesus. It is a metaphor for the blindness of the disciples as well as for all of us who cannot recognize Jesus for who he is, the Son of God. Even coming over to Bethsaida on the boat, the disciples could still not understand that Jesus could provide them with everything they would need. They were still trying to figure out how to feed themselves.
Folks, the purpose of the gospel message is to give sight to the blind; to help the disciples and us to understand the Kingdom of God, and to correct our misunderstanding by teaching. And as our passage moves on, Jesus further questions the disciples’ blindness about who he really is. And it is Peter who finally fully understands. More about all of this in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?
Bethsaida was a city full of unbelief, as was Capernaum nearby. What is interesting to note is that many of the cities that existed during the ministry of Jesus and that came to have residents who believed in Jesus are still thriving; cities like Tiberius, Cana, Jericho, and Bethlehem. But these two cities, Bethsaida and Capernaum are now pretty much in ruins. It is dangerous for a city or a person to reject Jesus.
In Luke 10:13-15, Jesus says, “Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. Jesus wants to lead you and me away from unbelief, and that is what he did with the blind man.
Look at how Jesus deals with this man. The blind man is not the one who is enthusiastic about all of this, it is his friends. Jesus would not usually honor such a request for being healed unless it was the person asking and only then if the person had faith. So often Jesus answered a request for healing with “according to your faith will it be done to you.” I think this is why Jesus took the man through a progressively staged healing. He wants the man to have a faith which matches the miracle about to take place in his life.
First, Jesus takes the blind man by the hand and leads him outside the village. Jesus wants to get the man away from the place of unbelief to an area in which Jesus might be alone with him. Now his friends think that just the touch of Jesus will heal him and that is all that is needed. But Jesus has to develop this man’s faith.
Imagine Jesus holding this man’s hand and gently guiding him around obstacles, verbally directing him where to step and where not to step, steadying him when he stumbles. Can you see the Master guiding the hollow-eyed man along, with the disciples following close behind? There is no great miracle before the “oohing” and “ahhing” crowd. But the man’s expectation and faith are being heightened.
Then, alone with the man, Jesus uses tactile, sense-stimulating means to heighten the man’s faith: “he spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him.” Jesus is communicating with the man. Spittle and the laying on of hands were perfectly understood in the ancient world. Jesus has his attention! The man’s hope and faith were probably surging in the expectation of being able to see.
Next, Jesus removes his hands and asked the man, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’” Jesus has purposefully performed a partial healing. The act is premeditated. For the first time in years, the man sees light and color. And dimly, as if through water, he sees the form of Jesus’ disciples and his friends, like walking trees. As he strains to focus, he can hardly contain himself. He believes! You see, in Christ’s eyes, the man’s faith is far more important than his physical healing.
And then there is the final touch. “His eyes were opened, and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” Not only is the man healed, but he has a dancing, exuberant faith in Christ. This miracle was unique. It is the only miracle which can be said to have happened gradually. The blind man’s sight comes back in stages.
Friends in Christ, this healing of the blind man in stages is a symbol for what we as Christians many times go through as we come to the full realization of who Christ is. No one ever sees all God’s truth all at once. One of the dangers of a certain type of evangelism is that it encourages the idea that making a personal decision for Christ makes someone a full-grown Christian.
Many times, when we are baptized or when we come into membership in the church, we believe we have come to the end of the road. But baptism, church membership, or confirmation are only the beginning of our spiritual journey. They are the paths to discovering the riches of Christ, which are inexhaustible. And even if we lived 100 years or 1,000 years, we would still have to go on growing in grace and learning more and more about the infinite wonder and beauty of Jesus Christ.
Please know this: God uses a variety of methods to lead us from death to life. God is a God of variety. The New Testament records Jesus healing seven different blind men. And in each case he employs a different method. Sometimes we see how God works in someone else’s life and we want to have the same experience, but God is a God of variety and leads us to salvation on different paths.
Someone used to say that if three of the blind men had compared notes, they would have disagreed. One man said, “I was blind, and Jesus touched me once, and I was healed. That’s the way Jesus works.” The second man says, “No, I was blind, and Jesus touched me once, and I saw men as trees walking. Then he touched again. That’s the way Jesus works.” A third man would say, “You’re both wrong. I was blind and Jesus spit in the dirt and made clay and put it on my eyes and told me to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam. That’s the way Jesus works.” Our paths to understanding the saving grace of Jesus Christ may be different, but they all still lead to Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.
After this incident, Jesus and his disciples went north to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. This was in Gentile territory outside of Galilee and was thought to be the birthplace of the Greek god Pan, the god of nature. As the disciples finally come to the realization of who Jesus is, this story marks the middle of the book of Mark. It is the turning point of the Gospel and from it all events move toward Jerusalem, the betrayal, the whipping post, and the bloody Cross.
On the way, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” The average people on the street thought that Jesus was great. They were impressed with his prophetic character, but they did not have the slightest idea that he was the Messiah. Herod’s followers thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised to life once again to taunt Herod for his sinfulness. Others thought that the prophet Elijah had come back to life to herald the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus asks this question because he knows people have a distorted perception of who he really is. Jesus knows of their worship and devotion to Caesar and their rejection of him. He knows that many Jews have rejected the Son of Man as the Messiah. He wants the disciples to ponder their faith in him as well. Sooner or later, we must all answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”
I read a little quip in a book of Bible illustrations that said this: “If Jesus came to certain theological schools today and asked the professors, ‘And you, who do you think I am?’ what do you think they might reply?
“Some might answer, ‘You are the eschatological manifestation of the kerygma in which we recognize the ultimate significance of our interpersonal relations.’ And Jesus would probably say, ‘What?!’”
The question Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” shows that the people do not see clearly. They are partially blind, as are the disciples up to this point. Van Bogard Dunn writes in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, “All the answers [on who Jesus is] are partially correct because they associate the ministry of Jesus with the prophetic ministry of Israel. But all are incomplete and inadequate because they do not acknowledge that Jesus embodies the reign of God and confronts the people with a new possibility of life in the Kingdom in repentance and faith.” Dunn continues, “Jesus is not simply the reappearance in history of revelatory figures of the past [like John the Baptist and Elijah]. Jesus is the consummation of all the past revelatory events and in him they all find their ultimate meaning and purpose. The people are blind until they are enabled to see all things clearly in the light of the ministry of Jesus.”
When Jesus asks the disciples who he is, none speak up except for Peter. Usually quick to speak without thinking and many times arrogant, Peter gets the answer correct, “You are the Christ.” Peter is certain of who Jesus is and he is not ashamed to declare it. There is absolutely no doubt in Peter’s mind that Jesus is the Christ.
You see “Jesus” is the name of the Son of God and “Christ” is his title. “Christ” is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew title “Messiah” and means “Anointed One.” Peter’s identifying Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One means the disciples believe that Jesus is the One Israel has been waiting for since the time of David.
Peter has come to a saving knowledge of Jesus as the Christ. Jesus isn’t just a great prophet or teacher. He isn’t just a man who speaks with authority and possesses power over all creation. He isn’t just a great miracle worker. He is the Christ.
You see why this is the great climax of the Gospel of Mark before the road leading to Jerusalem and the cross. Seeing his disciples eager agreement, “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.” The warning is strong because Jesus knows of the powerful forces which are aligning against him, and he doesn’t want to force a confrontation yet. His work is not finished. It isn’t time for him to go to Calvary and bear the sin of the world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing who Jesus is, is the fundamental element of our faith. We serve the Son of the living God. We serve the one who stands as the second person of the Godhead. He is the one who died and was buried and rose from the grave victorious over sin and death and lives today!
Yes, we don’t understand everything. Like the blind man and even the disciples, truth in who Jesus is, is revealed to us a little at a time as we come to a full understanding of who our Savior is. The purpose of the gospel message is to give sight to the “blind” and to help us to understand the Kingdom of God. No one ever sees all God’s truth all at once, but we should continue to remove the blindness little by little as we study the Word, pray to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and worship in community with fellow believers.
So, who do you say this Jesus is? Your response and my response to that question will determine our eternal destiny.