A couple of weeks ago, the Monday after Thanksgiving actually, I overheard two girls talking in the hallway of Dawson Hall. One girl was going over the Christmas account in Luke's Gospel while the other listened. When I walked by a few minutes later, she was talking about Moses. I've noticed these two girls before and since, and from what I can gather, one is a not yet a believer or a very young believer, and the other girl is discipling her...every week at the same time in the same place. Pretty awesome, if you ask me. This season gets people talking and singing about Jesus that might not any other time of year, and I thought that it was a good time to ask, "Who is Jesus?". As we continue through the Gospel of Mark, we see a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus and the lives of his disciples.
One thing that always stands out to me is that Jesus was not afraid to touch people, even sick, dirty, and sinful people. In a culture that had extensive rules about touching unclean things, Jesus touched. I'm reminded of a scene in "The Lord of the Rings" when Frodo had been injured. As he was recovering, Sam rushes to his bedside and takes his hand. It was specifically mentioned in the book, and the filmmakers made a point to include it in the movie. Touch is powerful.
The other thing that always stands out to me is that Jesus doesn't heal in the same way every time, even if the person has the same condition, in this case, blindness. In John 9, he heals a blind man on the Sabbath (which caused quite a stir) with spit and mud. In Mark 10, he heals Bartimaeus with only a word. He heals two blind men in Matthew 9 with only a touch.
This miracle is unique, though, among all of the healings recorded in the Gospels; it's progressive, or occurs in two stages. Was Jesus having an off day? Did He not have his 'mojo' working? Was this healing particularly more difficult? Not at all! As with many miracles, it served a purpose beyond simply healing the person.
Look back on the previous passage. Jesus had just fed four thousand (second miraculous mass feeding) and was warning His disciples about the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees, but His disciples didn't understand that He was referring to the Pharisees' hypocrisy and thought that he was upset about them not bringing enough bread. Verse 21 records Jesus saying, "Do you not yet understand?".
He goes on to illustrate their lack of understanding with a living, or acted out, parable. Just as the blind man could only see partially after Jesus' first touch, likewise the disciples could only 'see' Jesus partially at this time. Understanding didn't come on like flipping a light switch; it was gradual...progressive, in the same way that vision was given to this man. As we'll soon see, the disciples recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but they didn't truly understand what that meant.
This period in Jesus' ministry is marked by times of withdrawal or retirement. In Mark 1:45, we see that Jesus could no longer enter a city publicly. If people knew He was there, a crowd would develop quickly because of the miracles He performed. Also, people believed that He might be the Messiah (among other things, as we'll soon see). Jesus had to be intentional about His movements and finding times of seclusion to teach His disciples and rest.
When Jesus would encounter a demon-possessed person, the demons would recognize Jesus for who He was and identify Him as the "Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24) and the "Son of God" (Mark 3:11). He would typically warn the demons and those that were healed not to tell anyone, with one notable exception: the Gerasene Demoniac (Mark 5). Once healed, this man wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to go back to his village and report what the Lord had done.
When His disciples saw Jesus calm the sea, they asked themselves, "Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" (Mark 4:41). Jesus was increasingly being recognized (Mark 6:54), but not for who He truly was.
In the case of the blind man in Mark 8, Jesus took him out of the village before performing the miracle and told him not to enter the village on his way home. There are a couple of possible reasons for this. First, Jesus may have been trying to avoid the chaos and excitement that would erupt upon people seeing the miracle. Second, Bethsaida is noted as a unrepentant city in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13. Jesus knew their hearts and may have been unwilling to perform a miracle in their midst.
Who do you say that I am?
These verses are really the climax of the first part of Mark and parallel with Matthew 16 and Luke 9, which both provide more detail. John the Baptist had already been executed by this point (Matthew 14), and the prophecy of Elijah's return was well known, if misunderstood.
Malachi 4 provides the basis of this prophecy, but the Jews didn't know how Elijah would be sent. They expected, understandably, that he might return in the way he was taken up: with a fiery chariot and whirlwind (2 Kings 11). The other idea was that he would return through a physical resurrection or reincarnation. It's no wonder that people started wondering if John the Baptist or maybe even Jesus was Elijah returned. John the Baptist denies being Elijah (John 1:21), but Jesus says that Elijah has already come as John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13). We gain some clarity through the words of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias, John's father, that John the Baptist would go "in the spirit and power of Elijah" but not actually be the person Elijah.
This was also not the first time that the disciples had said that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:41; 6:69; Matthew 14:33), but the title "Messiah" (or "Christ" in Greek) carried a lot of baggage. The Jews were (and are still) expecting a political Messiah (John 6:14). They expected Him to come and overthrow their Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom of Israel, but that was not His purpose. He stopped using the title "Messiah" when He spoke to avoid the political and revolutionary complications, but even his disciples still had these ideas in mind. It is clear from verse 29 that Jesus understood that He was the Messiah (and don't let anyone tell you that He didn't), but it was not until the triumphal entry and after His resurrection that He began using the title freely.
Journey to the Cross
We then start a new section in the book leading up to the cross. It was the right time for Jesus to begin clearly telling them what was going to happen, and He was holding nothing back. The title "Son of Man" is interesting. In the Old Testament, it has a very general application referring to all mankind, but not so in the New Testament. It appears 81 times in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) but only in the sayings of Jesus referring to Himself. It is most often used in regards to 1) His earthly work and humble condition, 2) His coming suffering, death, and resurrection, and/or 3) His future coming in glory. In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the title to refer to His pre-existence in heaven (John 3:13; 6:62). The church did not use this title for Jesus (John 12:34) until it was well established that Jesus used it of Himself.
Peter and the other disciples apparently didn't like this talk of rejection and death. Peter takes Jesus aside to set Him straight; 'surely these things wouldn't happen to the Messiah'. Just a few verses before, Peter had gotten it so right, yet now he is completely wrong, and Jesus wanted all of the disciples to know it. He turns back to the group and rebukes Peter by saying, "Get behind Me, Satan." Wow! I can hear the other disciples thinking, "Did Jesus just call Peter, 'Satan'?". Well, not exactly.
When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, the last temptation was to take Jesus to a high mountain and show Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8-10). In effect, Peter was repeating this temptation: power and authority or obedience to the Father. Jesus recognized the source of Peter's words: Satan. Temptation can come even from those closest to us, even godly people.
The Painful Truth
Francis Chan said, "When Jesus saw a crowd, He got skeptical." He knew that few would understand and follow Him. Six months away from the cross, He lets the crowd in on the decision He had made and that they would have to make: the world or their souls. This flies in the face of what Peter and everyone else were offering and expecting. He also established a key principle: their conduct now would affect His conduct when He returned in glory. We are each personally responsible to Jesus. He came as the Suffering Savior but will return as the Triumphant King, and we must be ready.
Lord, may we not be blind, whether fully or partially, to who Jesus is, what He is saying, and our need to respond.
May we be faithful to what He has called us to, not what this world offers.
Our response now affects His response then.