Read Mark 8: 22-26 and 2 Corinthians 4: 1-6; then pray, “Gracious Lord, open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your most precious and holy Word. Amen”
The shortest and yet the most profound testimony to the grace and love of God in the whole of the Scripture is surely to be found in John 9:25. It was shared by a man who had been born blind and yet now could see everything clearly – he could even see the divine glory of the man who had brought about his miraculous healing. His testimony was simple yet filled with power:
One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see. (John 9:25b)
This man could testify to the fact that he could now physically see all the sights in the world around him. His own world had been revolutionised by a man who put mud on his eyes (mud made from his own spittle) and told him to wash his face in the pool of Siloam. And it wasn’t just physical sight that was the gift of God to him that day, he also received the ability to see the glory of Jesus who introduced himself to the transformed individual as “the Son of Man”. The story ends with the man worshipping Jesus, and Jesus then declaring:
For judgement I have come into the world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind. (John 9:39)
Jesus declares that in the spiritual realm there is sight and there is blindness. What is more, he has come “into the world” as “the light of the world” (John 8:12) to lead people from darkness to light, from the dark ignorance of not knowing God, into the marvellous light and liberty of knowing God personally, and of being transferred into God’s kingdom of light and hope (Colossians 1:13, 1 Peter 2:9).
Of course, the real truth behind the man’s testimony, and this is why John includes it in his gospel, is that, in reality, it is the testimony of every follower of Christ. John Newton, through his famous hymn, Amazing Grace, is simply enabling others like himself, to declare their new found life and sight in Christ. I was lost but now am found, I was blind but now I see. Any Christian should be able to confidently confess that Jesus has healed them of blindness and ignorance.
Mark includes in his gospel, the story of a blind man who was healed by Jesus on the edge of a village called Bethsaida. As we shall see, this is included in this gospel, not just to demonstrate Jesus’s compassionate healing ministry of the physically blind, it is also included because we must have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, why he came into the world, and what he demands of those to whom he has given sight and salvation.
There are some beautiful “eye witness” touches in this story which is unique to Mark’s gospel. There is to begin with, the precise location where the healing miracle took place. The healing occurs in Bethsaida, located on the east bank of the river Jordon, near where it flows into the Sea of Galilee. This is where Philip, Peter and Andrew came from. (John 1:44) You won’t be surprised to hear that Bethsaida means house of the fish. Secondly, this blind man, like so many other sick and disabled individuals was “brought to Jesus” for healing. He would not have found Jesus without help from others. (We need to bring others to Jesus for his healing touch). Thirdly, there is the lovely fact recorded in the story, of Jesus “taking the blind man by the hand.” What a beautiful image of Jesus’ gentle nature. Jesus holding hands with this desperate individual. Then fourthly, and finally, Jesus decides that he wants to help and heal the man away from the crowd. So, he leads him sensitively outside the village. It’s just the two of them now. (Jesus graciously deals with us all on a one-to-one basis).
We now come to the healing itself. Like so many others it involves the “touch of Jesus.” As the title of a book written by Mark Stibbe reminds us; One touch from the King changes everything. So many thousands of desperate souls were healed either through Jesus touching them, or through them reaching out to touch Jesus, even if it was just “the hem of his garment.” (Mark 4:24-34) Sick people touched or were touched by the Son of God himself. They came or were brought into contact with God’s Kingdom and the King of that Kingdom in whom “all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9)
Now when it came to the healing of either the blind, the deaf or the mute, Jesus often gently touched the part of the body that required healing power, and sometimes, (it may seem very strange to us) he would also add his own spittle with his touch. Here spittle is applied to the man’s eyes before the touch of Jesus is also then applied with tenderness. Earlier in Mark 7, concerning a man who was “deaf and could hardly talk” we hear of Jesus ministering to him as follows:
After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. (Mark 7:33f)
The ears and the tongue are touched by Jesus. The man’s ears are opened and his tongue is loosened. He could hear and speak clearly from that moment on. In our story today, after Jesus removes his hands from the blind man’s eyes, he asks if the man can see anything. It appears that there is healing but it is only partial because the man says this:
I see people; they look like trees walking around.
Clearly this man knows what people and trees look like, so he must have become blind at some point in his life. He was not blind from birth like the man in John 9. Partial healing will not do, so Jesus applies his hands a second time. Now we are told that the man receives complete healing and he can now “see everything clearly.” (v25)
This is an extraordinary healing story deliberately placed at this point in Mark’s gospel. Firstly, it is extraordinary because the blind man was not healed instantaneously. He needed a second touch from Jesus. The restoration of his sight came in two stages – although one has to admit, that it only took Jesus a few minutes to give this man total healing from blindness This is interesting because of all the gospel writers, Mark wishes to teach us about the authority and immediacy of Jesus’s ministry. The sick were usually healed “immediately” by Jesus as we see in the case of the leper (1:42) or the paralytic lowered through the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching, (2:11) or the raising of the dead girl who was aged just twelve (5;42). Mark loves to use the Greek word “euthys” which means “immediately” or “at once.” He uses it 42 times in his gospel. So, it is intriguing that here, in this instance, the man is not healed “immediately”. Nevertheless, complete healing does occur and the man walks away with a new hope-filled future.
Is there more to the inclusion of this story in the gospel of Mark. Yes, there is, because the story is used not just to illustrate Jesus’s amazing healing touch, but it is used as an enacted parable teaching disciples of their need of “a fuller understanding of Jesus and what it means to follow him.” Can disciples (for whom Mark writes) see who Jesus is and what is truly involved in following him? Mark is keen to show that the disciples were slow learners, sometimes painfully slow (like us). In fact, in the story recorded just before this one in this gospel, Jesus expresses his frustration over just how slow the disciples are to learn lessons and to “see things”. Significantly he asks his disciples:
Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened. Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
Even those who were actually with Jesus for three years, and personally witnessed his many miracles were slow to learn, slow to see, slow to understand. Disciples need to reach out to Christ for clearer sight and understanding. We need full sight to be restored through the touch of God’s gracious Spirit.
We should find it comforting that the disciples of Jesus can be slow learners, slow to see, slow to understand. However, Mark is still pointing us to the need for clearer understanding in three areas, three areas that are also highlighted in other parts of the New Testament. There are three things that we need to see clearly and act upon decisively.
Firstly, we need to see and believe with clarity that Jesus is the Son of God. Gospels such as Mark’s lead us on a journey of discovery about the true identity of Jesus Christ. Who is this man is a question the disciples ask after they have seen Jesus still a violent storm by merely speaking with authority to the very strong winds and the powerful waves that were pounding against their little boat. In this gospel we are told that he (Jesus) even, commands and controls the winds and waves, (4:41) casts out demons with a single word of command (1:27), and makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. (7:37) Jesus appears to have authority over all things – even death. (Mark 5:40-43) So, who is this man? Is he merely a good man and great teacher? Is he just an extremely anointed prophet who can also heal? Is he more than this? YES – He is! Jesus is non-other than the Son of the Living God! (Mark 1:1, 15:39). This is the gospel message.
But – and here is the key question. Do you see it? Have you grasped this momentous truth concerning the true identity of Jesus? Who do you say that he is? Have the eyes of your heart been opened to a clear understanding that Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world? When it comes to Jesus Christ, who is without a shadow of doubt, the greatest person ever to have lived upon this earth, Mark’s gospel asks you a direct question:
Do YOU see anything? (Mark 8:23)
What do you see with regard to Jesus Christ? Despite Jesus standing head and shoulders above ever other human being who has ever lived, most people do not recognise his unique divinity. They are blind to it. They just do not see it! They just do not get it! How is it that so many, even among our close relatives, friends and neighbours, do not understand who Jesus is in all his glory?
Paul answers that question in 2 Corinthians 4:
And if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. (v3-4)
People, blinded by the god of this age (satan) cannot see the glory of Christ explains Paul. Their eyes need to be opened. (Acts 26: 17-18) They need to delivered from the Kingdom of darkness (ignorance about God and his glory), and placed into the Kingdom of light. When that happens, and it can happen, by the amazing grace of God – then a person can say with clear conviction’
I was blind, but now I see.
My dear friend, is that your testimony – your personal testimony? Do you see the truth concerning the identity of Jesus? Or is this gospel still all hazy and unclear? Are you currently blind to it? If you cannot see the glory of Jesus and his awesome uniqueness, then there is only one solution for you. You must be born again. You must receive new sight and a new life. Jesus said to a religious expert who thought he could see, but couldn’t;
I tell you the truth, no one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again. (John 3:3,5) We are given sight of the Kingdom when God’s Spirit enters our hearts and minds and says, “Let there be light and sight in this person”. In order for blind eyes to be fully opened, Paul teaches us the following in the passage from 2 Corinthians:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
It is God who gives light and sight to our hearts. Even before Paul himself could become a Christian, scales had to fall from his eyes in the city of Damascus. (Acts 9:18). Only after that did he see and grasp that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God. (Acts 9:20-22) He never looked back. His life and witness became consumed with the glory of the person of Jesus Christ. Once again, I ask you, when it comes to Jesus Christ,
Do you see anything? What have you come to see? Anything? Something life-changing?
But Mark was not just keen that we see and clearly understand “who Jesus is”, but also why he came. His whole gospel is leading up to the most crucial event of all – the death of the Son of God and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. So, the second key question is this:
Do you see the importance and necessity of his death on the cross for you? And do you see the historical significance of his physical resurrection from death? Do you see that this “work of Christ” is the key to your salvation and entrance into God’s eternal Kingdom? Jesus came to be “a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). This is the gospel – the good news.
Do you see, do you understand that your sin separates you forever from God unless he intervenes to save you and open your blind eyes? Do you see that you are “a wretch” before God’s holiness? Do you see that you need your sins to be forgiven and wiped out by God’s grace – and that only the death of the Son of God in your place can achieve this? Do you see your need to be reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of his own Son? When you look at the cross, do you see the greatest ever demonstration of the love of God for you and for the world? Do you see Christ hanging there in your place, for your sin, and for your sake?
Once again, many people do not see or understand the death of Christ. The gospel of the cross is utter foolishness to them. It is madness. It makes no sense. It is nonsense! Many are blind to the love of God in the cross. They cannot see the need for it, for as Paul writes, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Paul later teaches that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul is teaching that we can only understand the cross and its message if our eyes are opened by God’s grace, and we are given spiritual discernment to see God’s love and power in Jesus and his atoning sacrifice. When it comes to the cross and the need for the cross – do you only see foolishness? Perhaps you see something like trees walking around, because your vision is still not that clear. Or do you see that “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God?” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The third and final thing that the disciples struggled to see but eventually did see clearly was the true nature of sacrificial discipleship. They struggled to see the need to be humble servants. They struggled to understand what it meant to carry their own cross and follow the suffering Servant, the Son of God. They didn’t realise the nature, cost and challenge of discipleship. And still today, many in the Church seem to think that following Christ is easy, following Christ does not demand too much of them. How wrong they are. (Mark 8:34-35) How blind they are to the demand and to the call of Christ to give up everything for him. People today seem only interested in easy going Christianity, or a Christianity that fits in around their busy lifestyle, and which in their minds, demands minimal sacrifices of time, energy money and focus. And yet Jesus commands us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
If you read Mark and the whole of the New Testament, you will be struck again and again by the demands Jesus asks of you. He wants whole hearted commitment and total surrender. He wants to change you fundamentally from the core of your being, and use you in the work of his glorious kingdom. An important part of living as a Christian is to be open “to seeing” and understanding what God’s will is for your life – how he wants to bless and use you as his child and servant, and mould your character to comply to his holiness and love. The adventure of following Jesus is joy-filled but not risk-free. Remember – Jesus is Lord! Do you live under his Lordship and leadership?
If we see and understand who Jesus is, who he really is, and if we see and understand the good news concerning his sacrificial death and resurrection, then it must lead us to proclaim with Issac Watts:
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.
To conclude then; the question that Jesus asked of the blind man whom he led out of Bethsaida and healed, was one of the most important and profound questions posed by Mark in his entire gospel. How do you answer this question?
Do you see anything? Do you see anything about Jesus, about his death and resurrection, and about his call upon your life? What do you see – and how will you respond to that revelation?
To Christ alone be all the glory.
(Revd Peter J Clarkson 10.10.21)