Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Twenty Five
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 30, 2018
This morning we are back in our study of Mark. If you are able, please stand with me as we come before God’s word together. And would you read with me our passage for this morning. (By the way. Notice that the font size is larger!)
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to Him a blind man and begged Him to touch him. 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?”
And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”
Then Jesus laid His hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And He sent him to his home saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
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?”
And they told Him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” And He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.
We are just about mid-way through Mark’s gospel account. Which is mid-way through what Jesus is teaching His disciples. The verses that we’re looking at today are actually a quick review and the midterm exam for the disciples.
So, to help us get into the spirit of that we a have short midterm exam of our own.
Midterm question #1: From the feedings of the 5,000 and 4,000, the disciples [and us] should have learned:
1. It’s not about the bread.
2. We are inadequate. Jesus is not.
3. Jesus is all we need
4. Trust Jesus
5. All of the above
Answer is #5. All of the above.
Mark in his Gospel - “Good News” - record of Jesus’ life - Mark has recorded for us - Jesus moving around from place to place - doing miracles and casting out demons - calming seas - Jesus demonstrating His authority - Who He is - being God in the flesh and blood of our humanity. Establishing credibility that requires people to pay attention to what Jesus is teaching.
Which is…? The Kingdom of God is at hand - as close as their hand - “Hello. I’m here.” - and Jesus calling on people to respond to that truth by repenting of their sin and opening up their lives to God.
The feedings are not about the bread. They’re about revealing Who Jesus is and calling people to repent and turn to Him in faith. Jesus is all we need. Trust Jesus.
Midterm question #2: Hellenism is:
1. A Greek idiom
2. A belief about Hell
3. A type of Trojan humor
4. An ancestor of today’s humanism
5. All of the above
Answer is #4 - Hellenism is an ancestor of today’s humanism.
Which is a world view which is all about humanity being at the center of everything. Which was the stumbling block of the Pharisees and the Herodians and everyone else that was giving Jesus push-back - creating conflict with Jesus that’s going to lead to the cross.
We can dress it up in religious terms and actions. Or we can dress it up as politics and talk about serving our fellow man. But if God isn’t the bottom line, we are. Trusting ourselves, not God.
Midterm question #3: Bethsaida is located:
1. Just south of Tyre and Sidon
2. On the north east shore of the Sea of Galilee
3. On the south west shore of the Sea of Galilee
4. In the Decapolis
5. All of the above
Answer is #2 - the north east shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Which you can see here on the map. Which helps us to see where we’ve been and where we are in the sequence of events that Jesus is moving His disciples through.
Two Sundays ago we saw the disciples and Jesus in a boat heading from Dalmanutha to Bethsaida. And along the way the disciples realized they only had 1 loaf of bread for all of them. And so they freaked out. And we saw Jesus turn that into a teaching moment to help the disciples understand Who He is - why they should be trusting Him.
Hopefully we’re hearing a repetition here. Who Jesus is. Trust Him. Might be on the midterm.
Verse 22 goes on - as the disciples and Jesus arrive in Bethsaida - this small fishing village on the north east shore of the Sea of Galilee - as they arrive: some people brought to Him a blind man and begged Him to touch him.
These people may have been part of His feeding of the 5,000 which had taken place not too far outside of town. Somehow these people had heard about Jesus. They came with the expectation that Jesus would be able to heal this blind man.
Notice that Jesus takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out of the village. Which is an act of compassion that helps us to see Jesus’ heart. In the midst of that crowd - that had to have been hugely reassuring to this man - Jesus’ gentle and guiding touch.
In chapter 7 when Jesus healed the deaf man with the speech impediment - do remember how Jesus showed the deaf man what He was going to do before He did it? Touching the man’s ears and spitting on his tongue. Compassion. Jesus totally puts the man at ease.
Same thing here. Jesus reaches out and takes this blind man by the hand and leads him outside of town - to what would have been a more private place - away from the crowds of paparazzi - avoiding making this blind man into some kind side show spectacle.
It’s not hard to imagine that Jesus - as He’s leading this man - may also have been telling him, “This is what I’m going to do.” Because - notice that - when Jesus spits on his eyes and lays hands on the man - probably touching his eyes - the man goes with it.
Which is pretty gross. But if Jesus wants to “ptuo” in my eyes I’m down for that. Are we together? This is Jesus. Spitting with compassion. Trust Jesus.
Then Jesus asks, “Do you see anything?” The man’s response is what? I see men walking. But they look like trees.
Meaning that his vision is better. Better than complete darkness. But it’s still messed up. The healing isn’t complete.
So Jesus lays hands on Him again. And this time when the man opens his eyes his sight is restored and he’s seeing everything clearly.
Let’s make sure we’re together on the significance of what we’re seeing. How all this fits together. Whatever Jesus is doing here is not random.
Using spit to heal someone seems kind of primitive and weird for us with all of our modern medical knowledge. But it was something the Greeks wrote about in their literature. So for the people - and probably this man - the idea wasn’t too outside the box.
Jesus is using a familiar symbol of healing. Maybe to help put this man at ease. But also - He’s using something familiar as a part of a process that Jesus is using to communicate to His disciples - the walking trees - who are seeing all of this happen.
Let’s be clear. Jesus didn’t have to do any of this to bring sight to this man. Right?
Jesus doesn’t need to reach out and hold this man’s hand - compassionately leading the man out of town. Jesus didn’t need to spit in the man’s eyes to heal Him. Jesus didn’t need to lay hands on him. Jesus could have instantly healed the man.
And the process Jesus goes through is different.
This is the only place in Scripture where we have a record of Jesus performing a miracle that takes place in stages. No where else does Jesus pause and ask about the results of His healing work. Partial sight followed by a repeat application of miraculous touch followed by complete sight. Jesus leading this man through a process through which the blind man sees.
The process - what Jesus is doing here - is descriptive of the sequence of events that Jesus has been leading His disciples through. Moving them along - miracle after miracle - demonstration after demonstration of Who He is. Pausing for instructions and questions and teachings.
The process is the teacher reviewing the course material preparing His students for the midterm. The blind man sees. But do they see? Do they “get” Who Jesus is.
In a sense - with apologies to Verizon Wireless - “Can you see me now?”
Verse 27 moves us to another location. And Jesus went on with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi - and the “villages” of that area - is about 26 miles north of Bethsaida. It’s at the base of the mountains leading up to Mount Hermon. What today is the Golan Heights. One of those areas that Syria and Israel seem to keep fighting over.
Caesarea Philippi is about 1,000 feet in elevation above a valley that looks south towards Jerusalem. There’s a spring that comes out of a cave in the side of the hill and trees. Some streams. It’s a pretty spot.
We don’t know exactly why Jesus went there for the midterm exam. But - Jesus being very purposeful in all He did - Jesus chose a very appropriate location for His test questions.
In Old Testament times pagans gathered at that site to worship Baal. Baal being the god of the Canaanites and Phoenicians and other peoples in the area. Ultimately it was a man created religion that was full of perverse sexual sin and horrendous religious sacrifices. Baal was a god that repeatedly captured the hearts of God’s people and led them away from God.
Later when the Greeks conquered the area they made a shrine to Pan and the nymphs. Pan was the Greek god of the wild and shepherds and fields and groves and wooded glens and sex. So the area became a center of Greek Hellenism - perverted Greek religion and philosophy. Which is what this artist’s rendering depicts. The temple complex devoted to Pan.
Then the Romans conquered the area and Caesar Augustus gave the city to Herod the Great as a reward for his loyalty. Herod - to show his gratitude - built a temple out of white stone in honor of Caesar Augustus. The Romans who thought their emperors were gods - divine. Man worshipping man.
When Herod died the city passed on to his son - Philip the Tetrarch - who was given control over that area. Philip made Caesarea Philippi his capitol. Hence the name Caesarea… Philippi.
So in this beautiful location only 26 miles north of Bethsaida are tied together the religious and political systems and man centered world view that had plagued God’s people since they were God’s people on the Promised Land. A fitting backdrop of peoples and beliefs that Jesus has been leading His disciples through in a succession of miracles and teaching moments and the midterms that are coming.
Going on in verse 27 - Question #1: “…on the way” - maybe as they’re walking and looking at the spring and shrines and temple - seeing all of that - Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say that I am?”
Jesus is asking His disciples to process what they’ve seen. To think about all the people they’ve encountered in the places they’ve moved through since the beginning - the Pharisees and Sadducees and Zealots and Herodians and fisherman and shepherds and men and women and the wealthy and the poor - the educated and the not-so-educated - those with diseases and those with demons - Jews and Gentiles.
Thinking about all those people in all the places they’ve traveled as they’ve watched Jesus demonstrating Who He is. Hearing His message - the Kingdom of God is at hand… repent. Jesus - along the way - explaining - teaching.
The question is not asking for the opinion of the disciples. The question asks them to reflect on the general consensus of what those people think. “Who do people say that I am?”
Answer - verse 28: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
Maybe John the Baptist has come back from the dead like Herod Antipas feared. John who had called the people to repentance from sin in advance of the coming of the Lord.
Maybe Jesus is Elijah. In the Old Testament God had said that He would send Elijah before the “Day of the Lord” - a day of coming judgment - God dealing with Israel’s enemies and God redeeming and saving Israel.
God had said that He would give the people a prophet like Moses. The people “got it” that Jesus spoke with an authority coming from God. No one could speak like Jesus spoke unless God had sent Him.
What’s interesting is that in all those answers that the people had come up with - all those answers are people that they knew God would send just before the coming of the Christ.
The people saw Jesus as a forerunner of the Christ - but not as the Christ. They saw Jesus through their world-view - their focused on themselves understanding of Who God is and how God does things.
Maybe those answers are wishful thinking on the part of the people. After 100 years or so of Roman occupation the religious leaders and the people were wishfully thinking about a Deliverer that would kick the Romans back to Rome and restore the Davidic kingdom to Israel with unprecedented prosperity and growth.
Jesus isn’t the Christ they’re looking for. Point being that they saw Jesus for who they wanted Jesus to be.
Verse 29 - Question #2 - this time it’s personal: “And He asked them, ‘But [in contrast] who do you [My disciples] say that I am?’”
Answer - Peter stepping up for the group: “You are the Christ.”
Meaning: “You are not merely another prophet. You are the One the prophets pointed to. You are the promised the Christ.”
Our English word Christ comes from the Greek word “christos” which translates the Hebrew word… “Messiah.” Meaning someone who is anointed.
In the Old Testament they would anoint someone with oil to set them apart as a prophet or priest or king. Anointing someone with oil was a sign that God was setting that person apart for a unique role.
The Old Testament predicted a coming Deliverer of God’s people. Someone chosen to redeem Israel. The “Anointed One” - Messiah - Christ - was someone chosen by God - uniquely set apart by God for the role of delivering God’s people.
So Peter’s answer is that Jesus is that unique One anointed by God - the deliverer of Israel - that they all have been waiting for. “You are the Christ.”
Let’s be careful that we don’t just blow by what Peter answers because we’ve heard this before. It is crucial for us to slow down here and make sure we’re understanding the astounding reality of what Peter just said.
Matthew in his record of this same sequence, same location, same event, and same midterm - Matthew’s account preserves Peter’s full answer.
Mark is writing to... Romans. And so Mark shortens Peter’s answer in a way that Mark’s Roman readers would have understood better.
But Matthew is writing to... Jews. And so Matthew records Peter’s complete answer because Matthew’s readers would have needed all of what Peter answered in order to understand and connect more fully with what Peter is answering and Who Jesus actually is.
Which is really helpful for us to look at - Matthew’s record - in order for us to grab a fuller sense of just what Peter means by: “You are the Christ.”
Matthew 16:16 - Peter answering the same question: “Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
What does Matthew preserve that Mark doesn’t? “The Son of the living God.” Hugely significant to the Jews and to us.
Son of God is title. The way that the Bible uses the title Son of God - applying it to Jesus - Son of God sets Jesus apart from being a part of creation to being the creator God of creation.
Let’s be careful. Jesus is not God’s Son in the sense of a human father and a son. God and Mary don’t physically mate and then Jesus is the product. Jesus is God’s Son in that He is conceived by the Holy Spirit - God revealed in the flesh and blood of our humanity.
Jesus has been, is, and will be eternally God. He is, at the same time fully divine and fully human (Hebrews 1:3). His two essences/natures - His divinity and humanity - exist as one person with the uniqueness of His full divinity and full humanity being preserved.
Meaning that whatever is true of God is true of Jesus. Whatever God is, and all that God is, Jesus is. (repeat)
Peter is not only declaring that Jesus is the One promised by God to be the One uniquely appointed by God to be our Deliverer. Peter is declaring that Jesus is God Himself.
We need to marinate on that truth. Take a deep breath because this is going to get deep.
In thinking about Jesus and Peter’s answer we need to ask the question: What is God like? The answer is we don’t really know. God is not exactly like anything else.
The prophets tried to describe God to us. When they were given glimpses of what He’s like. Being given visions of His throne room or glimpses of His person. Visions and glimpses of God. From Genesis to Revelation we have descriptions of all of that. All of which falls short of describing the actual reality of Who God is.
We know certain things about God because God reveals them to us. God is love and gracious and merciful and so on. But even then we don’t really know all of what that means when it comes to actually knowing Who God is.
In our study of Who God is - His attributes - His nature and essence - as soon as we think that we comprehend something about God - we’ve placed limits on God by bringing Him down to some manageable - on human terms - kind of understanding of God.
Ultimately to us - God is incomprehensible.
Imagine - God has no origin. Origin is a definition that applies only to what’s been created. Everything that exists must have something that causes it to exist. But God is self-existent. He is. Period. And we balk at that - fall way short of understanding that - because what’s around us - our own lives - we all have a beginning point. Not God.
God exists for Himself. Whatever God is, and all that God is, He is in Himself. We fall way short of grasping that because all life is dependent on something. Take away water and air and what lives on earth will die pretty quickly. Everything that exists came from and is dependent upon God. But God is not dependent on anything for anything. He is self-existent.
A.W. Tozer writes: “That God exists for Himself and man for the glory of God is the emphatic teaching of the Bible.” (1)
And God is eternal.
Moses wrote of God. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:1,2)
Trying to grapple with that C.S. Lewis suggested that we think of a sheet of paper as infinitely extended - no outside edge - no end. That would be eternity. Then on the paper we draw a short line to represent time. As the line begins and ends on the infinite expanse, so time began in God and will end in Him. (2)
Meaning that God who has no origin but is the origin of everything and Who exists for Himself without dependence or need for anything - as we are totally dependent upon Him - God not only exists at the beginning of time but He exists at the beginning and the end simultaneously and beyond.
A.W. Tozer: “God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God. He has already lived all our tomorrows as He has lived all our yesterdays.” (3)
We could go on marinating in what Peter means by “You are the Christ.” Talking about God - Jesus - and what God is like. And beyond what God has revealed about Himself there are other aspects of God’s being that are known only to God. Hidden parts of God that have no immediate meaning for us. Who God is that Peter had no clue about as He’s answering Jesus.
Everyone exhale and take a breath.
If that all seems overwhelming it’s because… it is. Which is the point we need to hang onto. The magnitude of Peter’s answer is off the charts astounding. His declaration of Who Jesus is.
Jesus is the Christ - the Son of God - Who is the Kingdom of God - all of that incomprehensible divinity - at hand. God - Who is unknowable - taking on the flesh and blood of our created humanity and dwelling with us.
Verse 30: And He [Jesus] strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.
The word “charged” translates a Greek word that has the idea of warning someone. Peter nails the answer and Jesus warns His disciples not to tell anyone.
A warning because - while the disciples were beginning to see Who Jesus is - they didn’t yet understand the significance of Who Jesus is.
They were like the blind man who at the first miraculous touch of Jesus saw men walking like trees. The first half of Jesus’ ministry - up to this midterm - had helped them to see Who He is. The Christ.
But the second miraculous touch is coming - the cross and the resurrection - the ascension and promise of His return. Hugely clarifying. The significance of Who Jesus is. What it means that He is the Christ.
And the final exam of proclaiming that truth to the Jews and beyond - to self-focused people unprepared to understand - resistant to the message - antagonistic to the gospel.
Processing all that…
Jesus asks two questions. Two questions that it would be helpful for us to think about - how we’d answer His questions.
Question #1: Who do people say that I am?
To help us think about how we’d answer Jesus’ question we have short video.
Thinking about the spiritual conversations we’re having with people those answers seem pretty much representative of where people around us are at. Yes?
Jesus’ warns His disciples to tell… no one about Him. Which is where His disciples were at midterm.
But we’re living in the final exam. We’re looking back at the cross and what came next. We’re living after Jesus’ command to go local and to go to the ends of the earth and share Who Jesus is and what it means that He is the Christ - the Savior.
For us - knowing the answer to question 1 - knowing and finding out what people think is hugely important. But God also gives to us the privilege of sharing the truth of Who Jesus is with those around us.
One of our takeaways from this morning is to think about what that looks like in your life. How are you doing at engaging those around you in meaningful spiritual conversations about Who Jesus really is?
Question #2: Who do you say that I am?
We know that one of the great failures of the church in America is that we’ve reduced God - Jesus - to a god of our understanding. A God who is somehow dependent on us. Someone up there Who likes us - or at least most of us - people who need Him and that He needs us to need Him so that somehow He gets glorified when we decide to trust Him or to serve Him. Someplace in all that we’ve reduced Jesus to being our buddy - a friend - who desires to care for us.
Which is all about us. Like the back drop of Caesarea Philippi - with all its man centered attempts at bringing the eternal - what is unknown - down to the finite of our existence where it makes sense to us and we can control it - process it according to our purposes. The Pharisees and Herodians who had put God in a box of their understanding. Certainly not Jesus who was out-of-the box.
That the incomprehensible Holy God our creator should so love each one of us - to so graciously and undeservedly enter into our humanity and redeem us and give us life forever with Him and to make us to be the Church of Jesus Christ - the Body of Christ - is beyond comprehension.
When we can glimpse and process even a fraction of Who Jesus is as He graciously comes to us and reveals Himself to us - that reality should reorder our lives - our priorities - what we’re pursuing - what we value - what it means to gather here to worship Him. The reality of Who Jesus is should transform how we understand ourselves and the meaning of our own lives. To God alone be the glory.
These days what does the truth of Who Jesus is look like in how you do life?
1. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, Harper & Row, 1961), page 42
2. Cited by A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, Harper & Row, 1961), page 45
3. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, Harper & Row, 1961), page 45
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.