The story of the blind man helps illustrate how the disciples were blind to the identity of Jesus. In this passage of Mark’s gospel, we reach a watershed moment when Peter correctly identified Christ as the Son of the living God. Alistair Begg reminds us that, like the disciples, we need divine revelation to fully understand who Jesus really is.
Mark 8:22: “They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had [spat] on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’
“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. Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t go into the village.’
“Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’
“They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’
“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
“Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’
“Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
“But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
And now, gracious God, with our Bibles open before us, we pray that the Spirit of God will be our teacher, that we might lose sight of the one who is the messenger, and that we might be engaged and gripped and, if it please you by your grace, changed by the message—that which we now turn to consider here in the Gospel of Mark. And we humbly pray in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Well, here we are at the watershed of Mark’s Gospel. Peter’s confession, which you see there in the middle of the passage that we read, is followed by Jesus’ prediction of his sufferings and of his death. That prediction then leads to a confrontation between Jesus and Peter, and all of that is set within the framework of this illustration which is there for us in the healing of the blind man. Just as this man who was physically blind needed to see, so these disciples needed to see who Jesus was and, in turn, what it meant for him to be the person that he is.
I want to use those notions as the framework of our study, looking first of all at verses 22–26 and considering this illustration—this illustration. You say, “But it is the record of a physical healing.” Yes, it is that, and it is that very importantly, particularly for this man. But there is in this an illustration of the great need in the lives of the followers of Jesus.
Mark tells us that it was the friends of this blind man who brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus to touch him. Presumably, the word had gone out that Jesus had done this on other occasions; perhaps even the events concerning the healing of the deaf man recorded in chapter 7 had made their way into this area. And Jesus takes the blind man—verse 23—“by the hand” and he leads him “outside the village,” presumably into a place of privacy. The events that would then unfold could be open to all kinds of misinterpretation. And Jesus, out of kindness and compassion and an interest in the man’s well-being, takes him away from the watching crowd.
We shouldn’t miss the fact that Jesus is so compassionate and so tender. In the same way that he dealt with the man who was deaf, so now he deals with the man who is blind: in a way that is tactile—that the language that he uses is the language of touch. If you’ve dealt with people who have been only partially sighted or blind, you know how much touch means, and how to be guided by the hand or to be led by the hand is something for which they are very grateful. And Jesus does all of that.
The unique aspect of this particular healing, of course, is that it takes place in two stages. You will notice in verse 23, after Jesus touches the man for the first time, he asks him, “Do you see anything?” And the man says, “Well, I can people, but they look like trees walking around.” And after he touches him the second time, Mark records, in verse 25, in the final phrase, “This man saw everything.” So, in 23, “Do you see anything?” “Yes, I see something.” And then, in verse 25, “He saw everything.”
And so, as a result of this, Jesus sent him home. There was no need for him to return to the village, back to the place where he would be identified as a blind man. Almost routinely, blind men were beggars at this point in history. Unless they were sustained by their families, they would be taken by families or by friends and placed in a prominent place in the village or in the town square, where they may be able to beg for alms. And so, it wouldn’t be the presence of this man in the village that would be striking; it would be the absence of the man in the village. And people on that particular occasion may have had the reason to say, “I wonder where the blind man is?” And some may have pointed out that his friends had taken him to meet Jesus, and they may have said, “Well, I wonder what happens as a result of that?” And they would have said, “Well, I don’t know, because he has never shown up again. After they took him away, he hasn’t come back.”
Well, he had gone home. Dad had arrived home early. Do you remember when your dad came home early? It was always a great afternoon for me when I came home from school to find my father home, because it usually meant something good. It usually meant a picnic. It usually meant some kind of intervention. And I usually rejoiced in it. And I can imagine that on this occasion when dad appeared home, it must have really set the cat among the pigeons in this house. After all, what do they expect but for him to come home the usual way, led by his friends. They would hear him shuffling up the passageway. They would hear the voices, the familiar sounds of his friends saying, “Come on, now, you’re almost there, you’re almost at the door,” and guiding him in. But on this occasion, no! And how amazed his wife must have been. And how thrilled he must have been to take her face in his hands and to look into her eyes, to take his children’s hands and hold them in his, and turn them over, and look at them. And what an evening meal! And his wife saying, “Would you stop staring, please?” And him saying, “How can I help it?” And she said, “Well, that’s justifiable. You left blind. You came home seeing.”
All the way through the Bible, that is a picture of what it means to become a Christian: from blindness to sight. Not getting it, getting it.
Now, for Jesus to act in this way was not on account of the fact that this man’s condition was peculiarly difficult. Presumably, he acted in this way as a sign to his disciples, because you remember the context is that he’s already asked his disciples, “Do you have eyes…”—verse 18—“Do you have eyes but fail to see?” And the answer to that was, yes. I mean, they didn’t say yes, but it was obviously yes, because they were blind to the truth about the identity of Jesus. And just as it took miraculous intervention in the life of this man concerning physical sight, so it was going to take miraculous intervention in the lives of these disciples if they were going to discover who Jesus really was. And even after they were to make that discovery, there was going to be so much that remained obscure and cloudy. Even after they got part one, then they would find themselves reacting in a way that sees things as the way the man saw people like trees that were walking.
That’s the illustration there in 22–26. We’ll leave it there.
From 27 to 30, we then go on to discover the confession that is made concerning Jesus. Now, Mark tells us that they moved on from the location of the blind man; they came to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. And as they were walking along the road—routinely, we would expect them, in conversation with one another—and he said to them, “What’s the word on the street concerning me? Who do people say that I am?” It’s an understandable question, isn’t it? He’d done so many things, he’d said so many things, he knew that people were responding; they were reacting in one way or another. And so he said, “What are the kind of things that people are saying about me?”
And I’m very struck by the answer. Now, we might have expected that people said the same kind of things that they say today: “Well, they say you’re a good man,” or “They say that you’re a moral teacher.” “They say that you appear to be a religious guru.” “They say that you are in the long continuum of people who have stood on the stage of human history and made dramatic claims.” Those are all the kind of things that are said today concerning Jesus.
But you will notice, that’s not what they say: “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist.’” But John the Baptist had been killed. How could he be John the Baptist? They thought that he might be John the Baptist raised from the dead. Some said they thought that he was perhaps Elijah, because there were these enigmatic promises of the appearing of Elijah—the reappearing of Elijah—before the Messiah came. And that Elijah figure is actually subsumed under John the Baptist. But people were thinking of this individual as a prophet. In other words, his words and his works smacked of the supernatural and spoke of an eternal dimension. They thought of him as coming from another place. When they heard his words, when they saw his deeds, they could not understand all of that dimension and capacity in purely horizontal terms.
“Okay,” says Jesus, “well, let me ask you a more important question: Who do you fellas say that I am? Who do you say I am?” Now, you think about this for a moment. The disciples had seen and heard plenty. Remember, he’s asked them, “Do you have ears to hear and you don’t hear? Do you have eyes to see and you don’t see? Who do you say I am?”
Now, we could go all the way through part one of this gospel—all the way back through eight chapters—but it would be tedious, but let’s just remind ourselves: At the word of Jesus, these individuals had left everything to follow him. He had come along the lakeside, and he had called Peter and Andrew and James and John, and they had become his followers. That in itself is remarkable. I mean, how many people can walk through town and say to you, “I want you to follow me, I want you to quit being a fisher for fish, and you’re going to become a fisher of man,” and you pull your boat up on the shore, and you leave everything, and you become his follower? That’s what they had done. They had marveled as Matthew, the tax collector—Levi, the tax collector—was added to the disciple band. They may even have thought at the time that it was a bad addition; after all, he came from a disreputable background, unlike these characters, who were from a sort of tidy, successful business background. They had trembled in the aftermath of the stilling of the storm on the lake. They had said on that occasion to one another, “Who is this man, that even the winds and the waves obey him?” They’re trying to put the jigsaw puzzle together: “We’ve become his followers. Matthew has become his follower. Others are being added. We, the fishermen who know the sea, are paralyzed with fear out on the lake; he stands up and says, ‘Be quiet,’ and the winds and the waves die down.” Legitimately they ask the question, “Who is this man?” or “What kind of man is this, that even winds and waves obey him?”
And especially after the calling of Matthew, he doesn’t simply take him away from everything, but he responds to Matthew’s invitation to go to his house. And Matthew’s parties apparently were fairly notorious. They were filled with disreputable people—sinners and all kinds of folks—and Jesus had gone there. And the Pharisees had said, “Well, who is this? What kind of person is this that eats with sinners? If he’s really a sort of messianic figure, he will stay away from all these people. So we don’t know what to do with him.” They had seen that. They had marveled as Jesus had looked into the eyes of the man who was paralyzed, who’d been let down through the roof by his friends, and he looked into the man’s eyes, and you remember what he said to him? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And someone in the crowds says, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” That was the legitimate question: Who is this?
“Some say Elijah, John the Baptist, a prophet, but what about you? Who do you say?” And then, from nowhere, Peter says, “You are the Messiah. You are the Messiah. You are the Christ.” Now, he didn’t reason it out. I mean, I can imagine the rest, the eleven, looking at him, going, “Where’d you get that from? How did you come up with that? ‘You are the Messiah.’” I don’t expect that all the eleven were standing there sort of saying, “Oh, yeah, I was just about to say that. I had… I had figured that out as well, you know.” Phillip said, “No, I got it. I… Why did you say it first? I… I knew. I was going to speak.” Yeah, sure. We’ve all been in that kind of class. We’ve all been there.
No, Peter didn’t reason it out—although, in light of all that Mark has recorded concerning Jesus, his confession was a reasonable confession. But it was not a confession that came about as a result of reason. Matthew tells us that in response to Peter’s statement, Jesus then said, “This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father who is in heaven.” Notice the word: “revealed.” In other words, this was revelation. This was not investigation that produced conclusion, but this was revelation which concurred with the investigation. In other words, the revelation made sense of all that had preceded it in the record of the gospel here.
So, in Matthew you have a word of explanation, and here in Mark you have an illustration. But in both Mark and in Matthew, the writers are making clear the same thing: the absolute necessity of miraculous intervention. That’s the point. Matthew gives it by way of a statement; Mark gives it by way of illustration. But as we’re about to discover, the understanding of the disciples concerning Jesus and his ministry was, even at this stage, only in the place where people looked like trees walking around.
And I think that’s the reason why Jesus says in verse 30 that he doesn’t want them to tell anyone about him. The inference in verse 30 is that Jesus accepted Peter’s confession as being true and accurate. When Peter said, “You are the Christ,” if that had not been the case, Jesus would have contradicted him. Jesus would have said, “No, you shouldn’t say that, Peter.” So the inference from verse 30 is that Jesus accepted Peter’s confession. Peter says, “You’re the Messiah,” and the only thing that Jesus then says is, “I don’t want you to go out and tell people about this.” Why not? Well, because they didn’t have it right. They had got far enough to get lesson one down; they got the right answer to the first lesson. But they were going to need the second lesson to make sense of the notion of messiahship. And all the way through the Gospels you will find that Jesus is telling people again and again, “Don’t tell anybody about this.” And people read that, and they say, “Well, this is so surprising. I thought they were supposed to tell everybody about this! Why does he call them to silence?” The answer is, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s better to say nothing until you know what you’re talking about. Because otherwise you will simply cause confusion—and especially if the people to whom you’re talking have messianic notions that involve political insurrection, and the overthrow of authority, and the triumphing of a particular view.
One of the commentators says, “Only when Jesus was a helpless prisoner in the hands of his enemies and his messianic claim must seem ridiculous was his Messiahship to be openly proclaimed.” Only when Jesus had a crown of thorns on his head; only when he had been spat on and hit with reeds; only when he had been mocked and dressed up in a purple robe; only when he looked absolutely abject and totally ignominious—only then does his messiahship come full force out of his own mouth. It is in that context that the high priest says to him, “Are you the Christ?” “I am,” said Jesus. The high priest presumably asked it in a spirit of animosity, incredulity. Picture it: here is this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, bloodied and beaten, a helpless-looking character from every perspective, about to undergo the most brutal means of execution that the world has ever conceived, crucifixion. And there in the context the high priest says, “And are you the Messiah?” Like, “Heh, the Messiah, huh?”
See, the disciples, they were not ready for this. And it is only when we understand that that we have anything to say concerning the messiahship of Jesus. So, here’s the watershed. Because at this point we move from lesson one, the identity of Jesus, to lesson two, which forms the balance of the gospel concerning the significance of his identity.
So, we move from the illustration to the confession to the prediction, and that is the prediction that Jesus makes. Verse 32 says he speaks “plainly.” He speaks plainly. He began to speak plainly about this. He has told them that the Son of Man “must suffer many things”—must suffer many things. We might refer to this as the divine “must.” Why must he suffer many things? Why can we not just have a Messiah who is a triumphant Messiah? Who appears from nowhere, has lots of nice things to say, encourages people to put them in a notebook, try their best to obey them, sit and meditate on the concepts, conceive of the notions of spirituality, look into themselves and find answers to their own questions, and hang their notions eventually on these messianic claims?
Why can’t we have a Messiah like that? Because that wouldn’t be the Messiah. The Messiah he said, must—“the Son of Man must suffer many things.” A suffering Messiah? “And be rejected by the elders, [and] chief priests and teachers of the law.” A Jewish person said, “If the Messiah comes, presumably he will be real tight with the teachers and the rulers of the law.” You would expect that, wouldn’t you? In fact, he’s in animosity with them. And he’s going to “be killed.” A dead Messiah? How can you have a dead Messiah? “And after three days rise again.” They obviously missed that entirely.
“Well,” you say, “Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as the Messiah; he refers to himself as the Son of Man. In verse 31, in fact, he speaks in the third person.” This is Jesus’ most usual self-designation. You’ll find it in the gospel records almost seventy times. And Jesus chooses this picture, which emerges from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. I’m not going to delay here; it will reward your own follow-up study. But what Jesus does is, he takes the notion of the Son of Man as it is given to us in the Old Testament and then, if you like, he fills it up, or he clothes it with himself. All of the Old Testament designations eventually collapse under the fulfillment in Jesus. So, he is the prophet beyond all prophets, he is the priest who brings forgiveness, not by the offering of an external sacrifice, but by the giving of himself, and he is the king who out-kings all the other kings.
And this designation allows Jesus to combine two notions: one, transcendent majesty, and two, vicarious suffering. In other words, he brings together in this designation notions that to this point his followers just couldn’t get. That’s why he begins immediately to give them this instruction. Interestingly, for those of you who are interested, this prediction by Jesus does not begin a new section as it appears in the NIV, if you’re using that text; but Jesus’ prediction is part of one long sentence that ties in to the previous verses. It’s still the same sentence as in verse 30: “Don’t go out and tell anybody,” he says, “because the Son of Man must suffer many things.”
Now, let’s be fair to the disciples. The disciples are trying to put it all together in their own minds. They know what the prophets have said. So, let’s say, for example, somebody says, “You know, I was thinking just the other day of what the prophet Isaiah said in chapter 9: ‘Unto us a child is born, and to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. And of the increase of his government there will be no end, and he will reign on David’s throne forever and forever.’” One of the other disciples says, “Yeah!” And then another one says, “Well, how does that fit with this? How do you get Isaiah 9 in terms of the government on his shoulders, and then you get what Jesus is telling us here about a cross on his shoulders?” Not a lot has changed. Twenty-first-century America is still interested in a Jesus who has the government on his shoulders; we’re not as interested in a Jesus who has a cross on his shoulders. But we’ll come to that another time.
That brings us to our final word, which is the word confrontation—confrontation. Jesus, who had taken the blind man aside, and had done so in compassion, finds himself being taken aside—verse 32—by Peter, and this is in order that Peter might rebuke him. Our good friend Dick Lucas says humorously of this, “Peter is now going to explain the Old Testament to Jesus!” Such unbelievable presumption! He must be full of enthusiasm as a result of having got the question right, you know: “Who do you say I am?” “You are the Messiah.” Terrific! Now he’s a genius. Now he’s at the top of the class. Now he’s going to help Jesus get rid of these silly ideas that he’s just begun to spout about suffering and death and so on.
And so, Jesus looks at his disciples and he rebukes Peter. Look at what he says: he says, “You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” In other words, “You just don’t get it, do you? When I fed the five thousand, you didn’t get it. When I calmed the storm, you didn’t get it. And although you’ve managed to come up with ‘You are the Messiah,’ you still don’t get it.”
And so, he says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Why? Because Peter was Satan? No! Because Peter was taking the same tack as Satan. What was Satan’s tack in the wilderness? To divert Jesus from the path of obedience to the Father’s will. Isn’t that what happens in Matthew chapter 4? “[And] the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.” He says, “If you’re the Son of God, throw yourself down. Do a trick for me. If you will do these things, if you will bow down and worship me, then I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world.” And Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan!” And that’s the same terminology that he uses here with Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!”
You see, because what Peter was doing was exactly what the Evil One was doing—seeking to divert Jesus from the Father’s will. The Father’s will from all of eternity was that Christ would become the substitute for our sins. Satan is happy to go along with a messiah, just so long as it is not this Messiah. The Evil One is happy to champion messiahs, and gurus, and avatars, and people throughout all of history. He’s happy to suggest that if we could all get together and rejoice in the company of one another that this would be fine. The one thing that he is vehemently and totally opposed to is a Messiah who dies on a cross and rises from the dead.
And so, let me say a word of warning to pastors, first in my own heart, and to all who will then be on the receiving end of this study: if the Evil One can seduce pastors in our day to leave aside the messy business of the cross, to bypass substitutionary atonement, to say nothing of Christ’s blood as a propitiation of God’s wrath, then he has gotten a great gain. If he can divert the gospel minister to the side streets of human wisdom and self-fulfillment, then the cross of Christ is emptied of its power—1 Corinthians 1:17. Perhaps we will come to this at a later date, but you should be able to make the application in your own mind as I speak to you.
Would you say that, on average, the stirring, striking message which pulsates through those who would affirm the verities of basic Christianity is a message that centers on the fact that Christ became sin for us—that centers on the fact that men and women by nature are sinful, responsible, guilty, and helpless? Now, be honest. You must answer, “No!” Most of the message is about how men and women are really quite nice, and with a little tweaking here and there can probably turn out to be even nicer still—a suggestion that Jesus will come and help them fix their marriages, that he will come and teach them how to bring up their teenage children, repair their finances, and prepare for the eventualities of life. And many people have embraced that! There are thousands who believe themselves to be Christians because they’ve bought that as the story. But that is not the story! That is a crossless Christ. That is a Messiah of our own contriving. If you want to reject the Messiah, at least reject the Messiah as he’s given to us in the Bible.
“Oh, well, you can’t tell people that they’re sinful. It’s their genes. It’s determinism. It’s whatever it is.” Well, let’s have the Bible tell us: “It’s not what goes into a man that defiles a man; it’s what comes out of a man that defiles him.” And we’re responsible. We’re not automatons. Contemporary philosophy is at great pains to suggest that there is actually no freedom of choice, that man is not free to make choices, that freedom is an illusion, and our choices are all predetermined, and that we are the victims of genetic structure and all kinds of influences. The Bible says no, we’re actually responsible. And not only are we responsible, but we’re guilty. And we’re guilty of sin. We’re not guilty of coming from a bad background. We’re not guilty of self-choices. We’re guilty as sinners, and we’re helpless. Now, once you get that, then you begin to say, “Well, wait a minute. This story of a Messiah who dies in the place of people like that is starting to make a little sense.”
Well, we’ll finish here. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, remember? “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from … God, for they[’re] foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them.” So, we expect that the natural reaction of man to a study such as this is to say, “That’s absolutely silly. That’s foolish. You can’t possibly be asserting that, Alistair. Do you mean to tell me that this and this and this… Are you suggesting for a moment…?” You see, because the cross undermines our self-righteousness. And people don’t like that. I don’t like that! And the only way that I can come to the cross is with a broken spirit and a bended knee.
By nature, I don’t have a problem with a Messiah, as long as it’s a Messiah that fits my expectations. But Jesus doesn’t fit our expectations. Jesus reorientates our entire thinking—about life, about himself, about the reason for our existence, about our continuance on this earth, and about our eternal destiny. So that is why when a man or a woman comes to Jesus and declares him to be the Lord of eternity, declares him to be the Majesty, declares him to be the King of the universe, declares him to be their Savior from sin, then you know what’s happened: there’s been a miraculous intervention.
Has there been a miraculous intervention in your life? I’m not asking if you decided to come to Parkside and clean up your act. That’s nice. No, that’s not the question. The question is, Has God miraculously intervened in your life? If you say, “I don’t know,” I’ll guarantee you he hasn’t. Because when he does, you’ll know, and your wife’ll know, and your work associates will know, and your children will know. Do you think for a moment that any of the children missed the fact that their dad came home seeing? “You look a little different this evening, Dad. Has something happened to you?” No, they would never say that! They’d say, “Dad, look at me! Let me look at you!” That’s an illustration of conversion. Are you converted?
You say, “Well, you couldn’t convert me.” No, that’s dead certain. I wouldn’t try. Why would I do what only God can do?
Let us pray:
God our Father, in the dying moments of our time together, we ask that you will look upon us in your mercy. We’re not interested in the voice of a mere man, we’re not interested in any peculiar insights that may be pushed into the passage, but we are dreadfully interested and desperately concerned that we might look at the Bible and discover that it is a book which understands us, and that it might cut to the very quick of our existence, and show us ourselves as in need of a Savior, and show us Christ as the very Savior we need. And then, that we would be granted grace, that we might reach out and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.” And then that we might be able to declare him to be all that he is throughout all the pages of Scripture—no matter what men may say, no matter what our culture may think, no matter how much our present political structures may seek to squeeze the very life out of us and to silence our tongues, we declare Jesus Christ to be Lord, at whose name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And in his name we pray. Amen.
 Mark 4:41 (paraphrased).
 Mark 2:15–17 (paraphrased).
 Mark 2:5 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 2:7 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 16:17 (paraphrased).
 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Mark, The Cambridge Greek New Testament Commentary, ed. C. F. D. Moule, rev. ed. (1959; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 271.
 Mark 14:61–62 (paraphrased).
 See Daniel 7:13–14.
 Isaiah 9:6–7 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 4:5 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 4:6, 9–10 (paraphrased).
 Mark 7:15, Matthew 15:11 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 9:24 (paraphrased).
 Philippians 2:10–11 (paraphrased).