As it relates to our study of the gospel account recorded by Mark, we are provided a spoiler alert in the very first sentence. We are told in Mark 1.1 that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – the Son of the Living God. So, even if you know nothing about God and nothing about Jesus, if you were to pick up the Bible and start your reading with the book of Mark, you would gain some key insight at the very beginning. You may not know what it means, but the rest of your reading would have that foundation beneath it. Such a foundation helps to understand the miracles, the teachings, etc. Those who were living during the time of Jesus did not have that advantage. They witnessed the miracles and heard the teachings, but they had to put the pieces together themselves. Yet, they understood the expectations of Messiah – what and who He was and would be – because of their culture and background.
Trying to see Jesus through their eyes is part of the reason I have tried to paint a bit of a picture of the first century. By doing so, maybe we can get a glimpse of what the first century was like, and in dong so, can have the best of both worlds. However, even with what we know, it does not mean that we understand Jesus correctly. Indeed, many know of Jesus, but do not see Him as He needs to be seen. In fact, I think that is true of all of us to a certain degree. So today, as we continue our study of Jesus through the eyes of Mark, let us see if we can gain a little further insight into who Jesus really was then, and how that understanding affects us now.
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must clearly see. (Mark 8.22-26)
Our study of this gospel has brought us to the second act. To this point, we have seen Jesus, primarily in Galilee, performing miracles and debating with the religious leaders. For their part, the disciples don’t really understand. But now, bookended by the two-stage healing here versus the one-step healing of Bartimaeus at the end of Mark 10. , the focus turns toward Jesus intentionally instructing His disciples on what lies ahead – and their journey will lead them to increased opposition as they head to Jerusalem.
The disciples have been given privileged insight into the Kingdom of God (Mark 4.11). However, that does not mean that they understand who He is, what He is doing, or why. If they do understand, they have not expressed it yet. And thus we have this story of a man being healed in two stages. The healing takes place not because Jesus needed two steps, but because it serves as an indication of the disciples’ understanding. Again, we are blessed to have the conclusion of the story at its beginning – Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. But the disciples do not yet understand that fact.
A Great Connection
I must point out that Mark was a brilliant writer. He crafts His story, not in pure chronological order (Luke’s account is in order – see Luke 1.3 – orderly account), but with complete precision as to His purpose for writing. Last week, we saw how Mark created a set of parallels between Mark 6-7 compared to Mark 8. But notice Jesus words in Mark 8.18: “Having eyes, do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”
The message two weeks ago concluded with a deaf man gained his hearing. He had ears but couldn’t hear. After spending time with Jesus He can hear. Now, we have a story about how a blind man gaining his sight. But like the disciples, this man’s sight first came as a fuzzy image, then more clearly.
|Remnants of the city gate at Bethsaida.|
Jesus likely led the blind man out this very gate.
Notice the parallels between these stories (Mark 7.31-37 and Mark 8.22-26). In both instances:
Parallels Mark 7.31-37 and 8.22-26:
- The people bring each man
- The people begs for a touch from Jesus
- Jesus takes each aside
- Spit; put spittle on affected part – tongue; eyes
- Don’t tell anyone / don’t enter village
This story shows the process for how this man gained sight. Matthew and Luke do not record this miracle, perhaps, because it makes Jesus look less powerful. But again, while the story is about Jesus, this particular episode paints a clear picture of the process the disciples must now embrace as they are prepared for their real purpose – to take the Gospel message forward after Jesus departs. As we saw last week, they did not yet see nor hear correctly. Their mission – indeed, Jesus mission – hinges on whether or not they will now begin to see clearly, not in a blurry state as the blind man originally did.
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must confirm our thoughts. (Mark 8.27-30)
Have you ever thought you knew something to be true, and then found out later it wasn’t. When we seek to confirm what we know, we will come to a greater understanding of truth. That is true in one of three ways.
- We will not only know we are correct, but begin to understand why.
- We will begin to understand we were partially correct and seek to know the rest of the truth.
- We will understand we were not correct after all, and begin to seek out the real truth.
Of course, in this last instance (especially) we can also choose to hold onto falsehood and believe the lie. The reasons are many, but include stubbornness, laziness, apathy, etc.
The Great Confession
For the disciples, the confirmation came as The Great Confession. Earlier this year, I spent seven weeks in Matthew looking at Jesus promise as the result of this statement, so I will not elaborate much here (search for the Engage tag on this blog, or the series of audio messages on the church website). However, in their respective writings, Matthew and Mark have different purposes in recounting the story. Matthew’s purpose was to capture Jesus promise (“I will build my church”); Mark’s focus was on the idea of discipleship.
The fact that Peter makes the confession is significant, but mainly because it means that a bit of understanding is present. In Matthew 16, Jesus says Peter gained this insight from the Father. People held Jesus in high esteem – comparing Him to some of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history, but only God (Mark 1.9-11) and the demons (Mark 1.24; 3.11; 5.7), knew Jesus as God’s Son. Of course, Mark gives us this fact as the writer in 1.1, but Peter is the first human to recognize this fact in Mark’s story. (In John’s account, Nathaniel recognizes Messiah immediately – which will be addressed in two weeks.)
Matthew conveys the detail that Peter said “the Son of the living God” yet Mark does not mention it. In any case, the Confession has been made with Peter confessing what He believes He knows. Jesus confirms Peter by stating that the Father provided the insight – and the insight will be the basis for the church – God’s tool for Kingdom advancement. (Again, you can find much more detail about the event at Caesarea Philippi – and they that place was so important for this moment – in the series from earlier this year entitled, “Engage.”)
The good news is that Peter made the confession. The better news is that Jesus confirmed its truth. But the reality, as we will now see, is that what Peter thought about the confession was far less than the truth.
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must change our perceptions. (Mark 8.31-32)
Many people have a false understanding of Jesus. In truth, we all do at some level. For instance, no human can fully comprehend that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Our finite minds will not allow the math. Furthermore, some suggest that Jesus was merely a great moral teacher. Others call Him a man of great compassion because of the healings. But as C.S. Lewis wisely commented, “Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord.” What Lewis meant was that Jesus cannot be a great moral teacher and also claim to be God. He is either lying about His deity, He is a crazy man, or else it is true. People that make partial statements about Jesus – He is this, but not that, when both are indeed true – must have their perceptions changed. That was the case for Peter and the disciples.
Notice that just after Peter has called Jesus Messiah, and Jesus tells them not to make that known. The people have a false understanding of Messiah’s true purpose. They see Messiah as one who will come in and save the day – delivering the people from the oppressive government. Assuredly, Messiah will come and deliver His people from the oppressive regime of all governments. However, He initially had to come to deliver all who believe from their sins.
A Great Confusion
What the people of Israel expected of Messiah was no doubt true for Peter and the others with Jesus. The promise given by God to David – the great king of Israel – was that David’s offspring would forever occupy the throne. A likely reason Mark does not include Jesus’ confirmation to Peter (as Matthew did) is Mark’s new emphasis on discipleship. Consider what Jesus does to the perception of meaning – He alters it by immediately changing the emphasis from Messiah to Son of Man. (Time will not allow me to go into the details of the Son of Man here , but I may post notes from a previous study here within a few weeks.)
Peter had given Jesus the right title, but his meaning and purpose for saying Messiah was not correct. So Jesus corrected Peter for the benefit of all. Like the blind man in the earlier verses, Peter sees, but his vision is still hazy. Thus, Jesus now begins teaching them of His true fate at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes.
The teaching would have completely caught Jesus’ followers off guard. They followed, in part, because of the possibility of great power (Consider in Mark 9 that the disciples were debating who is the greatest!) Jesus speaks of suffering, death, and resurrection. Resurrection is beyond any understanding for them, but so is suffering and death. In fact, the text says that Jesus MUST suffer and die. Now that might be understandable for a man, but Jesus was not just a man – He was Messiah – God’s Son. But we should also know that the word MUST here is not from human terms – the term relates that this suffering and death is all by God’s design (see Isaiah 52.13-53.12, for instance).
It is because of the false perceptions that Peter reacts harshly. In fact, what we will see a couple of more times over the next couple of months is that every time Jesus begins to speak about His primary mission, the disciples fail to understand causing Jesus to clarify His teachings. Jesus is not speaking in parables here, however, as verse 32 includes the word plainly. He is laying out the facts straight. The word (Greek – parresia) might be better translated as “boldly” or “confidently.” Considering His message is about His death and resurrection, we can presume it includes why this must happen. Thus, Jesus is plainly and boldly presenting the full gospel to His followers. In other words, Jesus is declaring “the word.”
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must correct any misunderstandings. (Mark 8.33)
The Great Correction
What is Peter’s reaction? A harsh rebuke of Jesus.
What is Jesus’ reaction? A harsh rebuke of Peter.
Let me briefly explain why. First, remember Peter has correctly identified Jesus as Messiah, but He has a false perception of what Messiah will do. Thus, He misunderstands – and Jesus must clear up any misunderstandings. Why? Because Jesus expects Peter to boldly and confidently proclaim the word after He is gone. And one will not be bold and confident if they do not understand.
Now, let me tie in Jesus’ rebuke to something Jesus has said earlier. If we are honest, Peter’s statement does not seem too far out of line. Of course, we know the end of the story, so we can make a determination that if Peter only knew, then He wouldn’t have said that. But that was my point at the beginning of the message. Peter didn’t know. None of them did. And that is why this process is so painful for us to watch. We know what happens to Jesus and subsequently Peter. But they are living these moments that we now call history.
So, Jesus rebukes Peter. Not only does Jesus refer to Peter as Satan, but He uses the same words that He used to rebuke Satan in the wilderness during His time of testing. That seems a little harsh. Or it does until we remember one of the few bits that Mark has included of Jesus’ teachings. Remember the parable of the soils. Jesus said that Satan comes to take away the word that falls on the path. That is what Jesus is confronting here. He is sowing the seed of the gospel and Satan is coming to say, “No, Jesus! You don’t need to do that. Why go through all of the suffering and the pain?” As we saw last week, Jesus warned the disciples because they were eerily close to becoming like the Pharisees – the opposition to Jesus. If they did not begin to understand, they would not only not spread the seed, but would prevent it from being sown.
Jesus response is not just a sharp rebuke – Get behind me. Jesus gives Peter the why for the rebuke. Peter’s concern is from the perspective of man – and that is his greatest misunderstanding. Jesus is Messiah, but He has come as one who must suffer now and return victorious later. This is God’s plan. This is God’s design. And this is what a Christ follower should know. Thus, get behind me is both a statement of getting out of the way and one of falling in line. In essence, Jesus is saying, “I called you to ‘Follow Me’ not the other way around.”
One other point should be mentioned. It is likely the rebuke was so harsh because the temptation was so strong. One commentator noted that Jesus faces his most severe temptations at critical points in the story – at the beginning of His ministry (in the wilderness), here, after the confession is made and His identity is coming into focus, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Each time, the goal is to prevent Jesus from following God’s plan. (Witherington, Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Mark, 241-242).
But Jesus’ statement to focus on the things of God is critical to what Jesus will reveal next. If Jesus has changed the nature of understanding for the Messiah, what might He say about the nature of those who follow? We will look more closely at these words next week.
As this post comes to a close, let us not forget where we began. We began with the healing of a blind man which correlated well with the hearing of a deaf man. In between, Jesus feeds the 4000, encounters the unseeing Pharisees, and rebukes the disciples for not focusing (hearing) His call to avoid the leaven. Jesus is the Bread of Life – the bread around the sandwich, so to speak. The sandwich here is a miracle which brings opposition and a lack of understanding. But Jesus brings the truth, and as Mark has recorded the events, the two miracles – that of healing a deaf man then a blind man – begin to help His closest followers to see the truth.
The question is: Do we see? Do we hear? Or do we miss the real Jesus? Perhaps we are like Peter. We can say the right things at times, but we really don’t understand. Ultimately, we are all like the disciples and the two men in that, until we have an encounter with Jesus, we will be as those who “have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear” (8:18). As one commentator said, “The ability to see, both physically and spiritually, is a gift of God, not of human ability.” (Edwards, Pillar, 244-245)
And the same can, and must be, said of salvation. Unfortunately, many people will never understand because many people come to faith and then leave the church. Imagine if the blind man walked away thinking He saw clearly, before Jesus finished the process of his healing. Too many of us do walk away just before God gives us a key insight to knowing Him better. For the disciples’ part, notice it is after The Great Confession that true learning began! In fact, beginning in verse 27, the text says that they (Jesus and His disciples) were “on the way.” They were finally ready to learn. And not only were they on their way (to Jerusalem), they were being taught by “The Way.” Again, those that leave the church because “I am saved” miss the understanding of salvation. For to be “born again” means we must learn anew.
The JOURNEY letter for today is: J – Jesus.
Last week, the message was all about Jesus but the JOURNEY focus was on our response. This week, the tables are turned. These verses are really about how people understood Jesus, but our letter must be J, because whether we understand – see or hear correctly – He is the same. The question is, “Do we recognize Jesus?” Do we recognize the real Jesus or one that we have created in our minds? That was the issue for the disciples…and it is the issue for us.
None of us will perfectly understand Jesus on this side of eternity. But that doesn’t mean we should forsake trying. After all, we are told to love the Lord will all our mind as a part of that statement. That includes what we think, right?
Who do YOU say Jesus is?
Each of us must, at some point, make our own great confession. We must decide whether we will commit ourselves to Him. Truly, We cannot see clearly until we have encountered Jesus. We cannot see clearly until we are born again. It is said that hindset if 20/20. But we don’t have the luxury of hindsight when it comes to Jesus. When this life is done, it is done and what we have decided is not only etched into history, it is decided for eternity.
OPPORTUNITY: We must all choose to see Jesus more clearly. As we better recognize Him, we will better recognize His call on our lives. When we truly understand, not only can we help others, but we will begin to help others to better recognize Jesus as well!
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must clearly see. (Mark 8.22-26)
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must confirm our thoughts. (Mark 8.27-29)
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must change our perceptions. (Mark 8.30-31)
Principle: To recognize Jesus, we must correct any misunderstandings. (Mark 8.32-33)
Learn: I have provided a few principles from this text – and each one builds on the previous. Consider which one is most important for your focus. Meditate and dwell on it for a couple of days. Do you need to see more clearly, have your thoughts confirmed, change your perception, or have any misunderstandings corrected?
Live: After reflecting on the principles, consider how you might put the principle you choose into action. One way would be to contact someone who is spiritually mature to discuss these matters with you.
Love: How might you adapt the principle in order to more clearly recognize Jesus each and every day?
Lead: How might you help others “see” more clearly and recognize Jesus as well?