February 2, 2020

Who is Jesus? – Mark 8:22-30

Passage: Mark 8:22-30

Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be one under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Mark 8:22-30.

The question that Mark has been seeking to answer throughout His Gospel is the question: Who is Jesus? Is He some kind of a miracle worker, is He a great moral teacher, or is He the Son of God, the Messiah?

In a 2015 Angus Reid poll, it was discovered that 73% of Canadians believe in God or some kind of higher power, but the number of people who believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God has steadily gone down, over the years.

You read something like, The DaVinci Code, which says that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children with her, or you follow something like, The Jesus Seminar, which looked at all the sayings of Jesus and concluded that only 18% of what Jesus said was actually true, and you can see how belief in the divinity of Jesus is becoming less and less popular.

And so, Mark’s Gospel has been answering the question: Who is Jesus? And this morning, we come to a pivotal section in Mark—you can call it the TSN Turning Point—where everything after this point is focused on the cross.

We’re going to look at the healing of a blind man and the confession of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, and how greatly we need Jesus to help us see Him, clearly, through all the misinformation about Jesus.

Mark 8, beginning in verse 22: “And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ 24 And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’ 27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28 And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ 29 And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’ 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.’”

And we pick it up, in verse 22. Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethsaida, and they are immediately met by a group of people who have brought a blind man to Jesus, in hopes that Jesus will touch him and heal him.

No doubt, they had heard the things that this man, Jesus, was capable and willing to do. In Mark 7:37, the people were astonished that Jesus could make the deaf hear and the mute speak. And so, they bring their friend to Jesus, hoping that Jesus will heal him, as well.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen people bring their friends to Jesus. Back in Mark 2, four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, but there was no way of getting through the crowd of people into the house, so they went on to the roof, cut a hole in it, and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus. And Jesus healed their friend.

And so, you wonder if these people have this story in the back of their minds. Maybe Jesus will have compassion on him and heal him, like He has before.

And in verse 23, Jesus takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out of the village. We see Jesus do the same thing that He did with the deaf-mute man, back in Mark 7. Jesus takes the man out of the village, away from the crowd, to an area of privacy.

And it says that Jesus spit on the man’s eyes, laid His hands on him, and asked him if he could see anything. If I’m the blind man, I’m feeling a little violated. The guy can’t see the spit coming at him. But then, something begins to happen. He begins to see something like trees, walking. What he’s seeing are people, but he can’t make it out, clearly—right now, they just look like trees.

When I read this, it reminded me of my uncle. So, my uncle has the same degenerative eye disease that I have. But we didn’t know that, until I was diagnosed with it at the age of 13. And all of a sudden, as a teenager, I was being told that, by the age of 30, I would be legally blind, because my uncle was legally blind at the age of 30.

I mean, what teenager wants to hear that, right? Like, I was certainly limited in my vision, but I could still see. And now, I was being told that I would go from seeing to blind by the age of 30, because that’s what we were told happened to my uncle, and we really didn’t have any other point of reference.

And I remember, one time, my parents and I visited him, and he had been legally blind for 30+ years, by this time. But we discovered that he was not as blind as we thought. We were visiting with him at his home—he was still living on his own at the time and was able to get around everywhere because he had memorized where everything was—and he made a reference to seeing our shadows.

And we thought that was kind of weird, because he shouldn’t be able see anything, if he’s blind. But he said that, in the right light, he could see our shadows come across his vision. It’s like this blind man, who could kind of see people, but they just looked like trees, walking.

And that was really good news for me, because it meant that I would potentially still have vision later on in life, and that it might look like shadows, but at least I would still be able to see, somewhat.

But to go from being completely blind—seeing nothing at all—to seeing shadows, like this blind man in our text, would be amazing enough. We don’t know how long this man was blind, but to go from not seeing anything to seeing shadows would be amazing enough. But Jesus isn’t finished.

Jesus laid His hands on the man’s eyes again, and it says that “he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” And we think to ourselves what a miracle! Jesus made the blind man, see. Jesus is once again showing that He is the Messiah who came to give us a glimpse of the total restoration to come in the new heavens and the new earth.

But then, there’s part of us that wonders why it seems like Jesus struggled with healing this man. Jesus could have healed him in an instant, but He only partially heals him, before healing him, fully. What's that about? We see that what Jesus is doing is giving His disciples a sign of their spiritual blindness.

In the passage that we just looked at, last week, Jesus fed four thousand people from seven loaves of bread and a few small fish, but when Jesus gets back into the boat with His disciples and they begin to sail away, His disciples begin to argue about the fact that they didn’t have bread—they didn’t have lunch.

And Jesus asks them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? Do you not yet understand?”

In other words, Jesus is pointing out to His disciples that they are spiritually blind. They are like this blind man before Jesus did anything to heal him. They can’t see Jesus at all. And what Jesus is going to do is He is going to take them to the point where they will see Jesus a little more clearly than they do, but still a little distorted, and then He will open their eyes to see Him for who He really is.

And so, this miracle isn’t to showcase that Jesus has difficulty in healing. There is no sickness or disease that is too difficult for King Jesus. No, this miracle is to showcase what Jesus is doing in the hearts of His disciples, and that includes you and me. This miracle was as much for the disciples as it was for the blind man, but it’s also necessary for us, because we also need to see Jesus, clearly.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” We need that. We need the continued touch of Jesus on our spiritual eyes to be able to see Him, clearly.

2 Corinthians 4:4 says that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

We are naturally blind and ignorant in the matters which concern our souls, and Satan would love nothing more than to keep us stumbling around in the dark. We are like the person, in 1 John 2:11, who “walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

We need the touch of Jesus to bring us from darkness to light and from blindness to seeing the kingdom of God. We need God to flip on the light switch in our spiritual eyes, so that we can see the depravity of our sin and the glory of Christ. This is what we need, or else we will continue to grope around in the dark being controlled by desires for this world rather than desires for God.

But this does not happen apart from the work of God. We are completely incapable in our own power and ability to flip on the light switch ourselves. Remember, we’re still stumbling in the dark. No, it is a complete work of God. And when God flips on the light switch, then we are able to see Jesus, clearly.

And we see this, in the next few verses. In verse 27, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s a question that’s been building and building ever since the disciples themselves, back in Mark 4:41, asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

“Who do people say that I am?” It’s a pretty straightforward question. You don’t need to have a viewpoint on it. The question really requires nothing of you. All you really need to do is just say what you’ve been hearing from other people. That’s easy.

And so, the disciples respond with a few of the most popular opinions of Jesus that they had heard. Some say, “John the Baptist.” This was what Herod Antipas believed, back in Mark 6. Herod feared that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.

Others say, “Elijah.” Malachi 4:5-6 says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Others say, “One of the prophets.” In Deuteronomy 18:18, God says to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”

Israel was awaiting a final prophet who would come and declare God’s Word conclusively to His people, so you can see how they could draw such conclusions about Jesus. And certainly, the assessments of Jesus are flattering, honourable even. They are very similar to the assessment of Jesus today as some great moral teacher whose example we are to emulate.

There are many who know about Jesus—I don’t think there is a credible scholar in the world, Christian or non-Christian, who denies that the historical Jesus ever existed—but they don’t necessarily know Jesus. And though it sounds like a compliment to say that Jesus is a great moral teacher, it actually falls way short of who Jesus really is.

In fact, Mark doesn’t even allow for this kind of category at the beginning of his Gospel. Mark 1:1 does not say, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a great moral teacher.” No, it begins with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Right from the beginning, we are told who Jesus is and why it matters. There is no gospel, there is no good news, if Jesus is only a great moral teacher, because what we need is not moral teaching, but rather, a Saviour from our sins.

We needed Someone who would live a life of perfect obedience to God, the life we were always intended to live but had failed to live, and who would go to the cross to pay the penalty for our crimes of rebellion against a holy God, and then who would be raised from the dead in victory over sin and death.

That’s what we needed. We needed a Saviour. But the only way Jesus can be the Saviour from our sins that we needed is if He is Lord—if He is the Son of God. And that’s why all of this hinges on this one point: Who is Jesus?

The disciples respond with the various popular opinions about Jesus that they had heard. But then, Jesus shifts the tone of the question. This is no longer a straightforward question with many possible answers. Jesus is about to ask an inescapable question with only one acceptable answer. In verse 29, Jesus asks His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”

You see, it’s one thing to mention all the views that other people have about Jesus, but it’s another thing entirely to make your declaration of Jesus, known. At some point, all of us must make a decision about who we say Jesus is. Are we going to believe the popular opinions about Jesus, or are we going to accurately declare who Jesus is as the Son of God? That’s the question that is before us.

The bottom line is that the disciples of Jesus must separate themselves from popular opinion, and the same is true for us, today. We need to understand that we will never find Jesus and His teaching, popular.

Oh yeah, it’s popular to believe what Jesus says, in Luke 6:31, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” That’s the golden rule. Most people, regardless of whether you are a Christian or non-Christian, can get on board with the golden rule.

But how about when Jesus says what He is about to say, in Mark 8:34, that “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Now, we’re getting into some unpopular teaching from Jesus. Deny myself? Not a chance. I want to maximize the amount of pleasure that I can get from this life. Take up my cross? No thanks. I’d rather not go through suffering if I don’t have to. Follow Jesus? I would really just like to follow my own passions and desires, thanks though. Now, Jesus and His teaching is looking less and less popular in the eyes of the world.

Helena used to work at a small town bistro, and one of the girls asked her one day when her and I were going to move in together. We had been dating for almost a year by this time. And Helena said to her, “We won’t move in together until we’re married.” Surprised, the girl asked, “Well, how will you know if you’re compatible?” And Helena said, “Because I’ll choose to be compatible.”

But the world doesn’t understand that. It’s unpopular. It’s more popular to do what feels good and what makes you happy, and if there’s something or someone in your life that does not make you feel good and is not making you happy, then you need to get rid of that. That’s the push that we are getting from the world.

1 Corinthians 1:14 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

And so, what we need to understand is that we will always be unpopular if we choose to follow Jesus. We will always look foolish in the eyes of the world. And we must be prepared to confess Jesus with few for us and many against us, because the reality is that Jesus is unpopular, and if Jesus is unpopular, then so are we.

John 15:18 says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

“Who do you say that I am?” It’s an inescapable question with only one acceptable answer. Will the disciples submit to popular opinion, or will they submit to the truth about who Jesus is?

Well, Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, steps up. He is going to speak on behalf of the disciples. And Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Christ.” And do you know what? Peter answers correctly. Peter has accurately declared who Jesus is—that He is the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Until now, the only accurate declarations of Jesus’ true identity as God’s Son have been given by Mark himself, by God, and by the demonic forces.

That’s it. This is the first declaration of a human being in Mark’s Gospel to rightly declare Jesus’ true identity. That’s remarkable enough. But notice the location, in which this declaration is made. Where are they? In verse 27, we read that Jesus and His disciples went on “to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.”

Caesarea Philippi was a city famous for its sanctuary to the Greek god, Pan—the half-man and half-goat guardian of flocks and nature. This was a city that was steeped in paganism and idolatry and hostility to the Jews. And it’s here, in Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus is first proclaimed as “the Christ.”

In the middle of confusion about Jesus, and popular opinions about Jesus, and antagonism toward Jesus, we see the first proclamation that Jesus is the Christ—that He is the Spirit-anointed Deliverer of God’s people.

And we don’t see it in Mark’s account, but in Matthew’s account, in Matthew 16:17-19, we read of Jesus’ response to Peter’s proclamation. Jesus says to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Notice that Jesus says that this declaration is not Peter’s own doing. God the Father revealed Jesus’ true identity as God’s Son to Peter. It’s like God flipped on the light switch in Peter’s spiritual eyes and Peter can now see. He has had a flash of who Jesus really is come across his vision, and he has responded with, “You are the Christ.”

But as we will discover, next week, Peter does see something, but he only sees partially. He sees more than he has ever been able to see, but at this point, it’s like trees, walking. He see shadows. Peter and the disciples will require a second touch from Jesus before they will see all things clearly—that the Messiah must suffer and die.

I said earlier that this point in Mark’s Gospel is the “turning point.” Everything from here on out is going to point to the cross. In verse 27, Jesus asks His question to the disciples about who the people say that He is, while “on the way.” And we rightly think, “on the way” to what? And the answer is, “on the way” to the cross.

In Mark 9:33-34, Jesus asks His disciples what they were arguing about “on the way.” In Mark 10:17, as Jesus starts out “on his journey,” a man interrupts him, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. And in Mark 10:32, Mark tells us where Jesus is leading His disciples, and that is, “up to Jerusalem.”

And throughout all of this, Jesus is going to make three announcements of His suffering and resurrection. In other words, Jesus is “on the way” to humiliation, rejection, suffering, and ultimately, death.

The disciples, and all those following Jesus, need to make a decision in this moment about who they say Jesus is. If the disciples are going to continue “on the way” with Jesus, then they cannot remain spectators. They need to decide right now: Are they going to be fans or followers of Jesus?

Listen, it’s not like Jesus is showing His disciples the way, and telling them, “Good luck!” He’s walking it, Himself. He’s leading them to the cross. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is the way, and He is inviting each one of us to follow Him to the cross. It’s not an easy road. It’s not a popular road. It’s a road that is full of misinformation about Jesus and His followers. It’s a road that doesn’t make sense to the world. It’s a road, as we will see, next week, that is marked by suffering.

But when God flips on that light switch in our spiritual eyes, then we see everything, clearly. And though the road will not be any easier or any less unpopular or any less foolish in the eyes of the world, we can know that our hope is in Christ, the Son of the living God, and that He not only goes with us “on the way,” but He went before us, bearing our sin and guilt and shame on the cross.

Jesus is the Christ. He is the Deliverer. He is the Saviour. He is the Messiah. He is the One who has dealt with the problem of sin for those who have put their faith in Him. Peter didn’t understand all of that, and sadly, there are many professing Christians, today, who also don’t understand all of that. If you are here this morning, and you do not know this Jesus, I invite you to confess Him, today.

The same challenge is put before us, today: Who do we say Jesus is? Are we going to be followers of Jesus “on the way,” or are we going to be spectators? Is He the Christ? Is He our Deliverer? Is He our Saviour? Is He the One who will keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, as Jude 24 tells us? Who do we say Jesus is?

The only way we will see Jesus, clearly, is if He opens up our eyes to see Him. If we put our hope in Jesus, He will sustain us to the end, through everything this world will throw at us. May we draw near to Jesus. Let’s pray…

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