Who Do You Say I am?
Mark 8:1 – 38
Who do you say I am?
How well do you see?
I watched a video this week of little kids being asked to tell their favourite Bible story. One little boy, when it was his turn to share his favourite story from the Bible, took a deep breath, and started to recite, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall!”
But it got better, next little girl, said that her favourite story about Jesus was when he turned the water into wine.
Someone asked her, “What do we learn from the story of Jesus turning the water into wine?”, and this little 6 year old replied, “We learn that when you run out of wine, get down on your knees and pray!”
It’s possible to know something about Jesus,
Even, to be fairly familiar with Jesus, and yet not see him clearly, not really know who he is.
It’s possible to see Jesus, but not really see him ( v 1 – 21)
Whether we’re Christians, and followers of Jesus, or we’re interested in finding out about Jesus, or we’re not really sure what we think of Jesus, Mark, the author of this part of the Bible, wants us know, that it’s possible to see Jesus, and yet not really see Jesus.
And part of the way he communicated this to us, is by recounting this different episodes in chapter 8, and presenting physical sight, as a parallel, to what we might call spiritual sight.
Not seeing, or not seeing clearly, is the major theme of this chapter.
And the most serious kind of not seeing, is not seeing spiritually, not seeing who Jesus is, and what God is doing in the world.
So let’s have a look. We won’t read that whole episode of the feeding of the 4000. Probably actually 4000 men, with several thousand women and children present also,
But Jesus performs this amazing miracle of provision,
7 basketfulls of food leftover,
In spite of that, and in spite of all the other miraculous signs that Jesus has performed, demonstrating that he acts with God’s authority in the world, even so, verse 11, the Pharisees, the religious leaders come to test Jesus, and ask for some authentication from God, they asked him for a sign from heaven.
If they refuse to see, to really see, all the ways that God has already authenticated Jesus and his ministry, there’s no reason to give them another sign.
But as Jesus and his disciples get into a boat and head across to the other side of the lake, we realise that at this point, Jesus’ own disciples aren’t in a much better position than the crowds and the Pharisees, when it comes to seeing who Jesus is.
All the disciples are worried about is having enough bread.
But Jesus has just feed 4000 people with just 7 loaves, and a few small fish.
It’s like being stuck on a boat with nothing, except Jamie Oliver, and entire gourmet food store!
It should have been obvious to the disciples, that if they had Jesus, they had enough!
But Jesus warns them about a bigger problem:, Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod he says.
In Mark, yeast, this little one-word parable, is always about unbelief.
The Pharisees didn’t believe and demanded a sign.
Herod misunderstood Jesus’ miracles, and refused to believe.
Watch out for the yeast Jesus says,
Watch out for that kind of unbelief.
Because, right at this moment the disciples are perilously close to unbelief.
They’re at risk of being right with Jesus, and yet not believing in who he actually is.
And there is our entire theme for this passage.
It is possible to see Jesus, and yet not see him,
To hear Jesus, and yet not hear him.
To physically see and hear, but not understand.
Did you notice how Jesus responds to the disciples’ discussion? Verse 17, Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
Jesus is quoting words that God had spoken to Old Testament Israel, numerous times, Ezekiel 12 as one example.
And he’s saying, the disciples, who are the beginnings of the new Israel, are just as blind and deaf to Jesus, as Israel were to Yahweh in the time of the Old Testament.
The disciples have seen Jesus, performing the signs that they knew were the signs of the coming of God’s kingdom,
The signs that God’s king had arrived.
They were, remember, the equivalent of the wooden easel at the gates of Buckingham Palace announcing the arrival of the future king.
They’ve seen Jesus offer forgiveness,
They’ve witnessed him heal the sick,
Specifically, God had promised that this new era of his chosen king would be introduced by the deaf hearing and the blind seeing,
Jesus has just healed a deaf man, at the end of chapter 7, and he’s about to give sight to a blind man.
The new era of God’s king, the Messiah, ruling with his people, has come, but the disciples are blind to it.
They don’t see,
And they don’t hear.
Mark doesn’t want us to be in the same position.
I heard on the radio once about a prominent South Australian, who had studied theology at university, and had got 100% for their Scripture knowledge exam.
They knew the Word of God, better than anyone else in their class!
They were more familiar with the words on the pages of Scripture, than many of us, I imagine.
And yet this man wasn’t a Christian, he didn’t see Jesus as God’s king.
And in that sense, he didn’t actually know the Scriptures, did he?
There are children in our church family, who because they trust in Jesus and have been taught about God’s love, they actually know the Bible, better than that man did.
It is possible to see Jesus, and yet not see him.
There’s no problem with the disciples’ observational skills! When you can recall exactly how many doggy bags of food you took home, you’re picking up the details OK,
But they’re not seeing past the detail, to the meaning of what’s happening.
Right at this moment, the disciples are worried about their need for bread,
What concerns Jesus, is their need for faith.
Here the disciples have fallen into being just like the crowds, who benefit from Jesus’ miracles, without any thought of who he is, what authority he’s demonstrating by performing the miracles,
And they seek after his teaching, without any real thought of applying it to themselves;,
What do these words mean for me?
How do I respond, to what I’m hearing?
Like so many people today, who take gifts from God’s hand, with no thought of who it is that’s offering them,
They’ll quote Jesus, as a wise man, a good teacher,
And yet not see him, for who he is.
Believing depends on understanding
See we need to make sure that we notice, what it is that Jesus rebukes his disciples for.
It’s not for not believing, is it?
But for not seeing, and not understanding.
Sometimes people try to separate faith believing, and understanding, and to push them into unrelated categories.
There are some things, we’re told, that you can understand.
And there are some other things, that you have to believe. And we’re told these categories are mutually exclusive/
But Jesus wants his disciples to understand, in order to, believe.
Faith isn’t separate from understanding,
Faith is only possible through understanding.
Imagine you’re walking down the street, someone comes up to you, puts a bag of money into your hand. “These are my life savings” they say, “They have to go into the bank. But I need to go to hospital with my child, the ambulance is waiting, will you bank the money for me, please?
I trust you, I believe you’ll do it.”
You might say, “OK, but why do you believe that?
Why do you believe I’ll bank it as opposed to running off with it?”
And they might say, “I don’t have any reason to believe, I don’t know you from a bar of soap, but still I believe that you’ll do it!”
That’s not really any kind of faith in you, is it?
But if, when you ask, “Why do you believe you can trust me with this?, ”
they said “Well, you don’t know this, but I’ve been watching you!
I’ve been following you around for weeks.
I’ve seen how you interact with people.
I’ve seen how you make promises, and you always keep your word.
I’ve seen how you treat people who can’t possible repay your kindness to them,
And I’ve witnessed your integrity, even when you didn’t think anyone was watching.
Because of what I have seen, and understand of who you are, I believe I can trust you.”
Well that’s a very different kind of faith in you, isn’t it?
That’s a faith that is based on what is seen,
It’s a faith that comes from understanding,
That’s the kind of faith that Jesus calls for from his disciples,
And that’s the kind of faith Jesus calls for from us,
The healing we saw in chapter 2 last week, it was more than a healing. It was a demonstration of who Jesus is and why he came.
So this feeding of the 4000, and the feeding of the 5000 earlier, they’re not just God’s provision for physical needs.
Here is Jesus demonstrating to his disciples that he is the Christ,
He is the one who acts with God’s authority,
They have seen enough to understand and believe that he is the God of the universe.
Physical sight serves as an illustration of spiritual sight
But it is possible, to see Jesus, and yet not really see him.
So let’s have a look at this rather puzzling two-stage healing of the blind man.
Verse 22, They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.
Straight away, Mark’s saying, “I’m not yet finished with this issue of seeing but not seeing. There’s still more to learn about seeing Jesus clearly.”
Jesus encounters a blind man
There are so many little things worth noticing, even before we get to the major theme of the episode.
Notice that Jesus hasn’t set out to find someone to heal. He’s not proactive you’d say, in his healing.
And this is the pattern in all the gospel accounts. Jesus heals in response to requests, pleading from others.
And notice exactly how that happened. People brought a blind man to Jesus.
They’ve obviously seen and heard something of who Jesus is, and they believe he has something to offer this man.
Chapter 6 suggests that the feeding of the 5000 happened not far from Bethsaida, and so perhaps some of these people were there that day, and they figure that if Jesus can feed a crowd like that with one person’s lunch, then he must be able to do something for their friend who can’t see.
The other thing you might have noticed, is the extraordinary eye-witness detail in this account.
Jesus taking the man by the hand,
Leading him outside the village,
This remarkable 2-stage healing, but which at first glance, seems to reflect poorly on Jesus. It looks like he’s lost his touch a bit.
The man’s observation, another little detail, I see people;, they look like trees walking around
None of this, is what you would invent, if you were trying to make up a story, or embellish the details of Jesus’ ministry, to try and make him appear more impressive.
These are obviously eye-witness details.
There is no shortage of attempts today to say that the stories in the Bible are all made up,
That what we read here isn’t actually what happened.
The militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, dispute even Jesus’ very existence! Except of course, for poor old Richard Dawkins, he couldn’t find a historian, or an archaeologist, or a theologian, or a philosopher, or even an anthropologist to back up his claim.
So, when, in chapter 3 of The God Delusion, Dawkins quotes a professor who says that Jesus might not ever have existed, what he doesn’t tell us, is that his professor, is a professor of German!
It’s partly because of eye-witness details like we find here, that professors who do actually know about these things, say we have every reason to believe that what’s been recorded and passed down to us, is an accurate account of what happened on this particular day in the first Century AD.
Let me also say, just in reflection on verse 22, here is great encouragement, for bringing people’s physical needs before God, which for us means in prayer.
Here is one example, a good reason, we can have great confidence in what Christians call “intercessory prayer.”
Praying for the needs of others.
Sometimes people say to me, “It doesn’t seem right to bother God, with my concerns for my children, or my friend,
He’s got the whole world, kind of on his plate,
Why would he care about healing my kids, their sickness isn’t life threatening?
But what’s Jesus’ great concern here?
Spiritual sight, people seeing and understanding.
And yet, that doesn’t stop Jesus responding to these people’s request, their intercession, their begging, on behalf of this blind man.
Whether our prayers for others are for physical healing, or for spiritual sight, this is the God who answers those prayers.
OK, that’s a little intro to the episode, but why does this healing unfold in 2 stages?
Physical sight comes progressively (v 22 – 26)
It’s the only healing recorded in the Bible where Jesus 2 goes to heal someone.
Pick it up with me in the middle of verse 23, When Jesus had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly
This is the part of the Bible where, if the preacher asks for a volunteer, to do a re-enactment, you make sure you don’t make eye contact!
But after Jesus has his first go, the man sees something, just not very clearly.
He sees people who look like trees!
It’s a partial healing.
He sees, but doesn’t really see,
The fact that there is no other healing miracle like this in the Bible has led to a variety of possible explanations, Some far-fetched,
Most missing the point of how Mark retells this episode, in the context of their broader discussion about seeing.
So some people have suggested that the 2-stage healing shows how difficult this healing was for Jesus.
But out of all Jesus’ miracles, it’s hard to believe that healing a blind man would be the most difficult.
When he was out on the lake in chapter 4, Jesus doesn’t calm the storm by saying, “wind, be still, attention, wind, be still, don’t make me say it again!”
Or when he raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead, in chapter 5, he doesn’t have to say, “Little girl, get up. Little girl, listen to me, look at me, look at me!”
He never had to do that! And those sort of miracles would seem to require just as much power and authority as this
But even the fact that Jesus isn’t the least bit caught off guard by the partial healing, should make us aware of broader things at play,
This episode is panning out exactly as Jesus intended it to.
Generally Jesus’ healings are done with a command or a declaration; “Get up”, “Be clean”, “your faith has healed you”
Mark 2, last week, Jesus said to the paralysed man, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home
Not, “Can you wiggle your toes,
Maybe just your little toe?
Can you feel it if I poke here?”
But Jesus’ question “Do you see anything?”, well it sounds a lot like his question to the disciples in verse 17, doesn’t it?, Do you still not see?
And in just the 3 verses, 23, 24, and 25, Mark talks about “sight” or “seeing” 9 times, and he uses 8 different Greek words to do it.
He’s piling up the references to sight and seeing, as a contrast to the piling up of the accusations of blindness and not seeing in the previous section.
So this 2-stage cure for physical blindness, suggests that the pathway out of spiritual blindness is also a process.
This man was touched by Jesus, and was changed, he’d encountered God’s power, he’d tasted God’s blessing, but he needed more in order to see.
This physical experience of seeing but not seeing clearly, and then only later seeing clearly, prepares us for the experience of the disciples in the next episode.
Through this gradual, progressive healing, Jesus makes a point about how people, the disciples in particular, but anyone, actually, can come to faith in him, Come to see Jesus for who he really is.
This isn’t a failed healing,
This isn’t an embarrassment to Jesus and his ministry, it’s Jesus demonstrating a physical parallel, for a spiritual reality.
But just as this blind man is taken from no sight,
To partial sight,
To complete sight, through the work of Jesus,
So the disciples will be taken from no understanding of who Jesus is,
To partial understanding,
To complete understanding, through the work and ministry of Jesus.
Spiritual sight comes progressively (v 27 – 38)
What happens next shows that they’re not there yet.
Let’s have a look, verse 27, Jesus asks, Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;,
others say Elijah;,
and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.
It’s one thing to say what people think of Jesus, isn’t it?
I’m sure all of us could give some answer to that question, even if today is the very first time you’ve ever sat in church in your life.
It’s very different though to give my answer to that question.
And yet that’s where Mark, the author is taking us, he wants each of us, to be able to give an answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”
We have to come up with an answer to that question, and either throw ourselves in with Jesus, or reject Jesus.
There’s no sitting on the fence when it comes to working out who Jesus is.
The British war-time Prime Minister David Lloyd-George once said of a political opponent, “the honourable gentleman has sat on the fence for so long, the iron has entered his soul.”
There’s no sitting on the fence with the question of who Jesus is.
There are implications, to whatever answer we give.
But as far as the disciples go, so far so good!
“You are the Messiah.”
So in contrast to the people, who think Jesus is John the Baptist .
Or one of the prophets, all characters of promise, not fulfilment,
All forerunners to the Messiah but not the Messiah himself,
The disciples though, see Jesus as the fulfilment. They’ve seen and heard enough of Jesus’ ministry to know that he is the Messiah.
They’ve just seen Jesus give sight to the blind, which they know the Messiah will do,
But what they see of Jesus isn’t the full picture is it?
Look at verse 31 with me, He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
They see, but not clearly,
They see the Messiah, but he looks a bit like a tree walking around!
No wonder that back in verse 30, Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
If the disciples have got an incomplete picture of the Messiah, a wrong understanding of the Messiah, Jesus doesn’t want that spread around.
I’m sure we’ve all had our moments, however briefly, of thinking that we know better than Jesus,
That some course of action that we’ve devised, would make much more sense than whatever he seems to want us to go through!,
But I imagine that few of us would be so bold as to take Jesus aside and rebuke him!
And so here we see the parallel, to the 2-stage restoration of physical sight.
Just as the blind man in Bethsaida sees, only partially at first, Peter spiritual sight, is only partial too, at first.
These verses here are seen as the turning point in Mark’s gospel, the bridge into the second half of the book, where we find much more explicit teaching about the need for Jesus to suffer and die,
And as soon as Jesus starts to outline what it really means for him to be the Messiah, and what it means for people to follow him, taking up their cross, losing their life, as soon as Peter hears this, his partial picture gets in the way.
We even have a saying about this, don’t we? “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, “It’s a misquote of Alexander Pope who wrote that “a little learning is a dangerous thing.”
And for Peter, it is!!
There’s no room in Peter’s thinking, for a Messiah who suffers!
He can’t see why Jesus has to die.
He doesn’t understand God’s plan, for his Son to stand in the place of humanity who have rebelled against God, and take the death and separation that we deserve,
He doesn’t see Jesus as the one who will die to bring him to God.
And so Jesus says, “Peter, you’re not seeing things clearly!” But he says it a thousand times more strongly than that, doesn’t he?!
Verse 33, Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Peter doesn’t see Jesus clearly at all, does he?
He still needs that second touch from Jesus, in order for his spiritual sight to be complete,
He still needs the work of Christ in order for him to be transformed from seeing Jesus, if you like naturally, with what Jesus calls merely human concerns, to seeing Jesus clearly, as he really is.
I wonder, when, if, you think about the work of Satan in the world,
The work of Satan as he seeks to oppose the work of God,
As he tries to destroy Christian people,
And halt the spread of the gospel, right here in Mount Barker, and around the world,
I wonder how you picture Satan’s work.
I reckon it’s easy for us to think that the work of Satan is probably inherently evil,
Very obviously, militantly opposed to God.
When we see Jesus clearly, we see the path discipleship clearly
And yet, what Peter proposes, a Messiah without suffering,
Jesus not dying in the place of rebellious humanity, it is so obviously the work of the devil that Jesus calls him Satan to his face!
But what Peter proposes,
It appeals to all our natural human tendencies.
And it is the work of Satan, opposed to God’s plans and purposes.
Does that alarm you a little? No, we’re supposed to be alert but not alarmed, aren’t we?!
Are we alert to this?
That the path that makes us comfortable,
The picture of Jesus that seems entirely natural,
What most logically makes sense in our world, might actually be the work of Satan, and not the concerns of God.
See there from verse 34Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me., whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
I sometimes hear people talking about some minor thing that troubles them, as “their cross to bear.”
You know “I just can’t stand bad coffee, but that’s just my cross to bear!”
No, carrying your cross meant being on your way to your execution! Not, trying to keep smiling as you drink International Roast!
The path to discipleship is not the one that seems comfortable, safe, or sensible to the human mind.
Because of who Jesus is, he had to suffer and die, and that is exactly the path to which he calls us.
It might be to death, I know Christians in other parts of the world who receive threats on their life weekly.
Much more likely it’s the ridicule and rejection we might get from work colleagues or friends, when we invite them to church, or to Simply Christianity.
It might be the cost of hours, serving in some ministry area, bringing the gospel to bear on people’s lives,
It might be the cost of relationships;, we leave our friends here, to be part of a church plant, or a new Sunday gathering.
It might be the financial cost, of going without something that I would really like, that would really make my life easier, but I give that up, in order to give to gospel ministry, so that I can see the gospel spread rapidly and be honoured.
When we see Jesus clearly, we learn that to try and identify as a Christian, but somehow avoid the costly giving up of self, is to reject God’s path, to remove the concerns of God from our minds!
When we, friends at Trinity Mount Barker, when we choose the comfortable path, the comfortable choice, over the costly choice that God requires of us,
We are doing the work of Satan.
We will find ourselves at cross-purposes with God, and the risk is, verse 36 that in trying to gain the world, we would forfeit our soul.
Isn’t that a frightening warning?
How’s your sight?
How do you see Jesus?
Is he a little bit blurry?
Is he God’s king, but kind of like a tree walking around?
Or do you see him clearly, and therefore see the path that he calls you to?