By Simon ManchesterSunday 1 Oct 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 18 minutes
The passage this morning from Mark 8:22-30 is a remarkable passage. It contains the only miracle I think in the whole of the Bible which is in two stages: as if Jesus was struggling to heal this blind man and had to have a second go. And it also contains the number one question according to Jesus. The question which is going to open the door to a place in God’s kingdom and that is the question, who do you say He is?
The Unique Miracle
Last time we saw people bring to Jesus a deaf man and you remember Jesus took the deaf man away and very personally, privately and lovingly worked on him and healed him. And now we see people bring to Jesus a blind man and, again, he takes the man away out of the village, and we can assume that the disciples went with them as eyewitnesses. And therefore we can see that Jesus is dealing again with this blind man very personally, deliberately and privately. He’s not just tapping people on the head like a big healing rally, not caring about the individual. He’s taking great, great interest.
And both of these miracles, the healing of the deaf man and the healing of the blind man, are teaching miracles. That is, they’re educational. They’re instructive. They’re training miracles. They’re not just, “Get this out of the way and move on.” They’ve actually got signpost qualities about them. And they remind us that although there is such a thing as physical deafness, most serious is spiritual deafness. And although there is such a thing as physical blindness, most serious is spiritual blindness.
Some people never hear the Gospel either because they don’t have the ears to hear it and are helpless or they don’t have the ears to hear it and don’t want to hear it. And some people never see the good news of Jesus. They just never see it. Remember that Jesus asked his disciples back in verse 18 of chapter 8, “Do you have eyes but don’t see? Do you have ears but don’t hear?” And of course they wouldn’t have checked their eyeballs and their ears at that point Jesus is saying, “Do you not understand?” Do you not have spiritual eyes or spiritual ears?
I want to ask as we look at this miracle that takes place of the blind man in two stages, why it takes place in two stages. You can see if you look at verse 23 that Jesus treats the man very seriously. He puts his hands on him, uses spit, and then he asks the man if he can see and the answer is kind of encouraging. Obviously, the lights have come on somewhat, but it’s also discouraging. He’s not blind anymore, so that’s a miracle, but he says people look like trees walking around.
If your job was to remove cataracts and you said to your patient, “How’s that? Healthy eyes,” and they said, “Well, people look like trees,” or if your job was to give somebody their spectacles and you said, “Well, how’s that? how are they working?” and they said, “Well, people look like trees,” you’d not feel as though you’d done your job. And so in verse 25, Jesus puts his hands on the eyes and the man sees clearly.
Why does Jesus seem to struggle? All his miracles so far have been effortless. Did he not just speak to the storm and it just laid down? Did he not speak to a man full of demons and they all just came out? Why is Jesus apparently struggling? And more seriously, has he not been declaring himself to be the king and is it possible now that the king has sort of met His match and He’s not that powerful? And He himself sometimes struggles? Well, these are important questions, aren’t they? As you read this particular passage, you have to ask yourself, “What’s going on here?”
I tell you that some of the commentators who write books about the gospel of Mark or other gospels, they come up with some strange ideas. They’re not quite sure what to make of this. One commentator says, “This is a unique miracle, and it is impossible to shed light on the sequence.” In other words, I give up. One writer says, “Well, we should admire Jesus’ persistence. He doesn’t give up until He’s finished.” One writer says, “The healing is in two stages because He’s making the point more strongly that disciples are very slow to get the blessings.”
That’s getting closer to the point because I hope you realise as you heard the nine verses read this morning that the miracle in two stages which is a teaching miracle relates to the verses that follow where Peter is able to see at last who Jesus is, but he’s not able to see why Jesus has come to die.
Does he not say in chapter 8:29, “You’re the Christ.” Well, that’s wonderful. The lights have gone on. And then in verse 32, he turns around and he says, “But you’re not to die.” And so like the man who was able to see people who looked like trees, Peter can see a bit but he cannot see enough. That’s what this miracle is all about.
This is a miracle which is reminding the disciples and the readers of Marks’ gospel and us that it’s essential not only to see who Jesus is but also to see that He has come to die. I imagine this miracle must have been incredibly memorable for the disciples. You know, they would have little discussions perhaps afterwards saying, “You remember that time that our king, our sovereign king Jesus seemed to struggle with a miracle?” And we were amazed to see that He was having so much difficulty, but of course, the purpose was to remind us that people need not only to see who Jesus is but that He has come die.
If a person cannot see who Jesus is, they’re not a Christian. If a person cannot see why He’s come in order to die, they don’t have a gospel. They don’t have anything to say. And if you want further proof that the miracle is an unforgettable illustration of the disciples to unite us, that in verse 23 it starts with a question, the only time Jesus ever asked a question in the middle of a miracle, and He asks the disciples a question, “Who am I?” And you notice that the miracle ends with a warning, “Don’t go into the village,” and the conversation with the disciples ends with a warning, “Don’t preach.” So, Jesus is not struggling. I hope you can see this. It is no problem for him to heal the blind man. He could just speak a word as He walked past if He wanted to, but He is teaching in a very memorable way that it’s essential to get His identity right and also His mission.
If you only get His identity but not His mission, you haven’t understood the gospel. You’re not in a position yet to tell the gospel. Well, friends can you see this? Some of you will have said, “I learned this a long time ago. You’re not telling me anything I didn’t know.” Some of you may be saying, “That’s interesting. That explains why this unusual miracle is in two stages.”
I want to say to you that the difference between the person, even in a church building like this, who is inside the kingdom and a person who is outside the kingdom, is that the person inside the kingdom can see who Jesus is. I’m not now talking about the person who can answer a question by remembering some wrote words they learned in Sunday school or by quoting from the Apostle’s Creed.
I’m saying the person who can say, “Jesus is the Messiah. He is the son of God. He is the Lord. He is the saviour and He’s mine,” that person, the lights are on. And the difference between having a gospel or having no gospel is that you can see why Jesus came and that He came to die. I’m not saying that you can say by rote like a parrot, “Oh, yes, He came to die for our sins.” I’m asking whether you can say, “I can see exactly why He came. He came in order to die on the cross for my sins and the sins of all His people.”
So, this is the equivalent of getting your spiritual sight. If you can see who Jesus is, if you can see why He came to die, God has worked most miraculously on you. I remember, I’ve said this before in a sermon, but I remember one evening we had the South African cricketer of the past, Peter Pollock. He must have been about 70, I remember interviewing him and at one stage I said to him, “You know, your country seems to be full of believers whereas our country is full of unbelievers.”
He said the test is whether they talk about God or Jesus. He said if they just talk God-talk, they’re probably not Christians. That’s just vague cultural talk. But if they’re talking Jesus, then it’s probable that they’re Christians. I always found that as particularly helpful. And I think that’s what we see here. That just as the man needed to see who and what, so a person needs to see clearly who Jesus is and what He’s come to do. That’s the unique miracle. Now, the second is the crucial question. And the crucial question comes up where Jesus turns and says to the disciples as they walk along the road, “Who do people say I am?”
You may say to yourself, “Well, that’s a moderately interesting question, but it’s not a hugely important question.” But it is a hugely important question. Do any of you remember 30 years ago when the space shuttle Challenger went up and exploded almost immediately? Seven astronauts were killed instantly. The explosion took place because there were seals, rubber ring seals that connected sections of the booster rockets. And these rubber seals did a tremendous job when they were warm, and they did a hopeless job when they were cold and brittle.
And the launch was to take place at a cold time, and the rocket took off in two degrees centigrade temperature. The engineers warned that if the seal rubber rings were cold, they would be brittle, a gas would escape, there was massive, catastrophic danger. And they were overruled by the management. They just went ahead with the launch. They now know looking back; this is the problem. The seals were brittle. The gas escaped and an absolute disaster took place. Now just as that small section of the rocket may seem to be quite insignificant, the sort of thing that you would overlook, this question, “Who is Jesus?” is an absolutely vital question. And He asks them, first of all, who do people say I am?
This is a very unusual question, isn’t it? Imagine I said to some of the staff at St Thomas’, I take them out to lunch or a cup of coffee, and they’ve been with me for three years. As I sit at the table looking opposite, I say to them, “By the way, who am I?” And they look back and say, “We’ve been wondering ourselves.” It is a very unusual question, isn’t it?
To say to somebody after three years, “Who am I?” Normally, a disciple would ask a rabbi a question. Here’s a rabbi asking a disciple a question. And His first question is, “Who do people say I am?” And we know this so well back home these famous answers in verse 28. “Some say you’re John the Baptist. Some say you’re Elijah. Some say you’re one of the prophets.” And these are not new answers. We’ve already received these in chapter six when we read the section about King Herod worried about Jesus.
Who is Jesus? Is He John the Baptist come back? And others are saying, “No, He’s Elijah,” and others are saying He’s one of the prophets. But you’ll see that the people in the community have very high views of Jesus, very high views indeed. They were not like the Pharisees who regarded Jesus as demonic, Mark chapter 3. They were not like the family of Jesus who regarded Him as slightly mad, Mark chapter 6. They have huge respect for Jesus. And the best they can come up with is John the Baptist who’s still fresh in their memory or Elijah who you may remember from the Old Testament departed miraculously and was expected to come, Malachi, last book of the Old Testament. And even the word prophet was very respectful.
But nobody in the community…despite all the miracles Jesus has been doing and of all the teaching that He’s been giving, nobody says apparently in the community; He’s the Messiah. In other words, the people of the villages are saying something like this, “We think He’s great. We think He’s a great teacher. We think He’s a great prophet. He could even be a chi man. He’s a great miracle worker. Maybe John has come back. Maybe Elijah has come back.” But He’s not the answer. He’s not the goal. He’s not the Messiah.
Now friends why do the people of the villages speak so respectfully of Jesus but hopelessly? The answer is because they’re spiritually blind. Why is it that people today will say respectful things about Jesus if they’re speaking respectfully about Jesus at all and they’ll say something like this, “He’s a great religious leader?” I think He’s a very impressive person. I think He was an amazing man. But He’s not the answer. He’s certainly not the answer for me. He’s not crucial. He’s not crucial for me. The reason that people speak like that, the Bible tells us, is because they’re spiritually blind. They won’t talk like that when their eyes have been opened. They need a miracle.
Why does the religious world, especially the Islamic world, consider Jesus to be a prophet but nothing more than a prophet? Because until Jesus opens blind eyes, that’s how people think of Him. The best that the world can offer, that’s the view. But when God opens your eyes, you begin to realise that this person Jesus Christ is not the best the world can offer, but He is the one who has come from heaven to earth in order to take people from earth to heaven.
Imagine asking 20 people today who were all blind from birth, and you ask them this question, “Is the sun in the sky very bright?” And they all say, “Nope, it’s not bright at all.”
You don’t conclude at that moment that the sun is not bright. You conclude again that blindness is a very, very serious thing. And when somebody says, Jesus is an impressive human, that’s all, well, don’t take and change your views about Jesus. You just have to conclude that spiritual blindness is a very, very serious problem. The evidence for Jesus as the Messiah is overwhelming because the Old Testament said that when the Messiah comes He will heal the dead and He’ll heal the blind and here is Jesus healing the deaf and healing the blind and He expects people to follow the evidence and conclude that He is the Messiah, but it takes a miracle. He expects us to be responsible with the information and make our conclusion and yet it’s a supernatural work.
Well, the supernatural people, if I might put it like this in the gospel of Mark and see who Jesus is, the father says at the baptism, “This is my son.” God is very clear about who Jesus is. He’s the son of God. The demons, they’re supernatural. They say things to Jesus like, “What do you want with us, son of God?” They can see very clearly, but people can’t see until God opens their eyes. And one of the people among the disciples is about to have his eyes opened.
When Jesus turns in chapter 8:29, and he says the question to the disciples, let’s forget about what people in the villages are saying. What about you? Chapter 8:29, “Who do you say I am?” Peter says, “You’re the Christ.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus responds at that point by saying, “You know, Peter? Flesh and blood didn’t work this out.” It’s not because you’ve got a great IQ but your father in heaven has opened your eyes. And like a blind man who now can see the son in the sky, Peter is answering this crucial question and saying, “You are the crucial Messiah.” A miracle has taken place. When Jesus said a few verses ago, “Don’t you see the answer was no? You don’t see.” And now, chapter 8 verse 29, “You do see.”
When Peter says, “You’re the Messiah,” you know, he’s a Jewish boy and he’s raised on the Old Testament and in the Old Testament we read in Psalm 2 that the Messiah, the anointed one, is seated on the throne and He’s going to terrify His enemies and He’s going to strike down globally the opposition and He’s gonna give life and refuge to all who turn to Him and therefore says Psalm 2, “Quickly run to the sun and kiss Him. Take refuge in Him,” and there’s no indication looking at Jesus that He’s a global superstar. But Peter says, “It’s you. You’re the Messiah. You’re the Christ.” So, it’s a work of God, you see. It’s a miracle. It’s a supernatural thing.
Jesus has said wonderful things, and He’s done wonderful things, but this is a work of God. The question that Jesus asked Peter is the number one question as far as Jesus concerned. There were lots of questions that are floating around the world.
- Why am I here?
- How did I get here?
- Where am I going?
- What’s life all about?
- What is truth?
- Is there a God?
- Is there life after death?
And the number one question in entering the kingdom of God which will outlast the world is who’s the king? Who is Jesus Christ? And if I was to come to you personally at morning tea or lunch today, this may drive you away from ever coming to morning tea or lunch, and I was…just stand in front of you and I was to say to you in a nice, friendly, personal way, “Who is Jesus Christ to you?” I wonder what you would say.
I think I could work out, whether you are blind or had sight. I think I could work it out. I may not be completely right, but I’d be pretty close because the blind person is going to struggle to answer that question. There’ll be a bit of sputtering, and they’ll say something vague or by rote or something a bit sort of distant at arm’s length. As the people of Jesus’ day, it’ll be quite respectful, but it won’t be very clear, and it won’t be very sure. But the person whose eyes are opened will say very easily and very gladly, “He’s the Christ. He’s the son of God. He’s the Lord. He’s the king. He’s the Savior and He’s mine.”
You noticed that Jesus agrees with Peter. Peter says something astonishing. “You’re the Messiah,” and Jesus doesn’t say, “He is speaking to loftily at this point.” No, Jesus agrees. He is the Messiah. He is the anointed one. So, you must ask yourself today whether the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, has given you eyes to see exactly who He is and that’s of course cause for great joy. And you must ask yourself whether you can say very plainly and very honestly and very simply, “He is my Lord. He is my saviour. He’s my king. He’s my God. He’s my Messiah.”
If you can’t say that, then you need to cry to Him to give you eyes to see. If you can say that, you need to praise him. Napoleon, I’m told, said this, “I know men,” said Napoleon. “I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a mere man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and religious founders, but I search in vain to find anyone similar to Christ and the gospel.”
So, Peter, you see is miraculously able to see and then suddenly Jesus turns around and says, “Now be quiet.” And I suppose many of us here this morning know why Jesus says this, because Peter is not yet in a position to go preaching the gospel. And he’s not in a position to go preaching the gospel because he’s only got half a gospel. He can only half see. He’s half blind.
He knows who Jesus is but not that Jesus has come to die on the cross and therefore he doesn’t have a gospel. It’s an amazing thing, isn’t it, that Jesus says, “Don’t say this to anybody?” And of course, if Peter does go and preach, “He’s the Messiah. He’s the Messiah. He’s the Messiah,” people will get confused, and He’ll raise up all this false political expectation. But Jesus is also saying, “Don’t go preaching, Peter. Do not go preaching,” because you’re about to announce something quite wrongly about my triumphalism and I’m on the road to Calvary.
Jesus deliberately submits Himself to what He’s about to do which is to go to the cross. Is that not very relevant today? If a person knows that Jesus is the Christ and is the king, and it’s all very exciting and wonderful, but they don’t then preach the cross, is that not going to be very confusing to people? You think of the churches where the message is utterly triumph. It’s just cross. It’s just Jesus crowned. That’s all it is. It’s going to be very unhelpful, isn’t it? It’s going to be very unhelpful to understand the gospel. It’s going to be very unhelpful to understand the Christian life which is so much about the cross. And you think of the churches that are preaching Jesus, and now you do it yourself. Jesus now work and work and work until you save yourself. What a terrible message.
I was visiting a small hospital, and I gave one of the staff a lift home, and I’ve often heard her say religious things. And I said to her when we were driving along, I said, “Do you think you’re going to heaven?” And she said, “Oh, a very good question.” and she said, “Of course, I want to.” And I said, “Well, what would you say if you came face to face with Jesus?” And she said, “Well, you know, I would say to Him, ‘You know all my heart. You know what I’m like.'” I said, “Well, that’s the bad news. What’s the good news?” And she said, “Well,” she said, “I’ve often asked for forgiveness but the road is narrow, and I’m not sure that I’ve always stuck to it.”
And what she said at that moment was, “I don’t have a gospel. No one has yet told me the gospel.” I said to her, “Do you not realise that when Jesus died on the cross, He died for your sins of the past, the present and the future?” “Oh, bless you,” she said. “I’ve never heard that before.” Every 15 years I get one good conversation like this. Most of them just go nowhere. But there I was driving along with a lady who wanted to know, what’s the second-half of the message? I know who Jesus is, what’s He come to do?
Some of you here this morning will be thinking to yourself, “I’m not too clear about this. I’m not too clear about Jesus. I’m not too clear about the cross.” Well open up your gospels, Mark’s gospel, read for yourself, make a phone call, come and talk to one of the staff, talk to a friend, talk to somebody you know and love. Get it clear. But most of you this morning will be saying, “How thankful I am to the Lord. How thankful I am that He’s opened my eyes to see who Jesus is. That’s a miracle. I didn’t earn that. I didn’t deserve that. That’s His grace to me. And that I can also see that He came to die on the cross and that’s the way in which I get forgiven and adopted and have a future and a hope. I have been wonderfully blessed.”
Let’s thank Him together. Let’s bow our heads. Our gracious God, we thank you that you are the one who opens blind eyes out of sheer mercy. And there are so many of us here this morning who can see who Jesus is and what He’s come to do and we’re deeply thankful. And there is so many around us who can’t see that Jesus is wonderful and they can’t understand the beauty of the cross. And we long for them, Heavenly Father. We pray that there’ll be more and more people in this city and country and world who’ll be coming into your kingdom as eyes are opened.
And we pray that you would use us in your service in some small way to be able to love and truth people that the eyes would be opened, the kingdom would be theirs. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.