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This post concludes with one of the last of Jesus’s miracles in Mark and another example of spiritual blindness, although on the surface, it concerns physical blindness.

Curiously, the editors — clergy and theologians — of the three-year Lectionary used for public worship saw fit to suppress much of Mark 8, although spiritual blindness — partial or full — still affects us, even Christians.

These passages which have been omitted from the Lectionary are part of my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 8:22-26

Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida

 22And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23And 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?” 24And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26And he sent him to his home, saying,  “Do not even enter the village.”

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Last week’s post discussed Jesus’s rebuke to the disciples about worry and lack of faith. He told them to remember His miracles — in this case, of providing food — when there was very little.

Although today’s miracle appears to be a straightforward matter of restoring sight, it is more complex than that.

It is helpful to consider how the Jews of Jesus’s time viewed blindness. Historically, from Old Testament times, the Jews believed that any misfortune, including physical disability, resulted from sin. They were God’s punishments. Think of Job’s ‘friends’ who believed that God cursed him as chastisement. They saw Job as a bad man, as someone who must have offended the Almighty.

This perspective continued during the time of Jesus’s ministry. In John 9:1-3, we read (emphases mine):

1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

In other words, whether we like it or not, these are displays of God’s sovereignty. We shall come back to this story shortly.

Combined with this belief that disability and disease were punishments for sin was the sufferers’ exclusion from everyday life. They couldn’t go to synagogue or readily socialise with others. Recall the healing of the hemorrhaging woman who was cut off from everyone for 12 years.

Back to physical blindness. John MacArthur explains that it was rampant. Yes, some cases were congenital. Others resulted from disease. Man, he points out, lived for nearly two millennia without cures for some diseases, as it wasn’t until the 19th century that physicians were able to discover cures or mitigation of maladies which were debilitating and that people had to live with. Even today, as far as blindness is concerned, whilst progress has been made, the condition cannot be cured.

In Jesus’s time, diseased people and the blind really were outcasts. MacArthur says:

Their theology basically lined up with Job’s friends who assumed that because Job was having a lot of trouble, there was a lot of sin present. And so they were put out of the synagogue, these kinds of people, and they were alienated from normal social activity and life and perhaps only their family and friends would even so much as touch them, they were the untouchables. Pharisees wouldn’t touch them, Sadducees, other separatists didn’t want to touch them. Rabbis didn’t want to touch them.

So these people are in a desperate category. You have to understand again that for Jesus to step into that world at that time with that massive amount of illness as a part of life and a theology that went along with that kind of rampant illness that basically said you’re being cursed by God, and just literally dispatch disease out of the land of Israel and cured everybody who came to Him, there was a huge statement being made about the compassion of God and the power of Christ. I mean, there wouldn’t have been nothing like this in the memory of anyone because there had never been anything like this in the history of the world.

So, this makes the sin of unbelief even more stark and Jesus’s response to this stubbornness more understandable when He said that eternal condemnation would fall upon those who rejected Him.

And so it is in John 9, much of which is in the Lectionary, by the way. Jesus healed the aforementioned blind man — a different one to Mark’s. Here are verses 4 through 12 from John 9. Note the two-part healing, perhaps testing the man’s obedience — not dissimilar to what we find in today’s passage from Mark:

4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

The chapter continues with a culmination of censure by the Pharisees for Jesus’s seeming audacity to heal on the Sabbath.

In today’s miracle from Mark 8, the blind man’s friends present him to Jesus (verse 22). Note that unlike the other miracles, the man has not asked to go and be healed. So, perhaps he has a spiritual blindness or is fully resigned to living life without physical sight.

Matthew Henry expands on the situation and tells us how Jesus pays attention to the intercessions of friends on our behalf:

Here appears the faith of those that brought him-they doubted not but that one touch of Christ’s hand would recover him his sight; but the man himself showed not that earnestness for, or expectation of, a cure that other blind men did. If those that are spiritually blind, do not pray for themselves, yet let their friends and relations pray for them, that Christ would be pleased to touch them.

John MacArthur has more on this particular miracle:

First of all, it has the uniqueness of being one of two miracles that you find only in Mark. There are many miracles that Matthew and Luke tell, that Matthew, Luke and John tell, that are in more than one gospel therefore. There are only two in the gospel of Mark that aren’t anywhere else and these two appear…this one and one in chapter 7, where Jesus healed the one who was a deaf mute ..And it’s interesting to read it because of the parallels. They brought to Him one who was deaf, just as they brought the blind man. They implored Him to lay His hand on him, just as they asked for the blind man that Jesus would touch him. And again, Jesus took him aside from the crowd, just as He did the blind man, taking him out of the village. He put His fingers into His ears, touched him, spit, touched his tongue just as He touched the blind man’s eyes and put spit on them. And then again in verse 36 He gave them orders not to tell anyone, just as He did with the case of the blind man …

This miracle occurs in Bethsaida. As I mentioned in a previous entry on Mark 6:

This Bethsaida is different from the Pool of Bethesda or Pool of Bethsaida in John 5. The port of Bethsaida is along the Sea of Galilee. The name means ‘fish house’, so fishing was probably the primary local ‘industry’ there.

MacArthur fills in the background to Jesus and Bethsaida, which also pertains to spiritual blindness. Before we return to his sermon, however, there are a few facts to remember about this place. Three Apostles came from Bethsaida: Peter, Andrew and Philip. Peter dictated these Gospel stories to Mark, who was not amongst the Twelve. Jesus fed the 5,000 near Bethsaida. Also, it must have been a bustling town with its fishing industry, as Herod sought to expand it; Luke refers to it as a polis — the Greek for ‘city’ — in Luke 9:10. So, whilst it was not as large as Jerusalem, it was a growing town or small city.

MacArthur points out:

Bethsaida is not just any town. They have had high exposure to Jesus. And if you will remember this, in the eleventh chapter of Matthew Jesus in verse 20 began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done. The cities in which most of His miracles were done because they didn’t repent, so He denounces them. Here they are.

From Matthew 11:20-24, which includes condemnation of Capernaum, where Jesus had his ‘headquarters’:

Woe to Unrepentant Cities

 20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

MacArthur explains:

And that is repeated in Luke 10:13, the same thing. Bethsaida, home of three Apostles. Scene of many, many, many miracles, including the feeding of the vast multitude, high exposure to the Lord and His power is cursed. And what is that curse? … that judgment will be rendered individually to people and to places. Tyre and Sidon, idolatrous, pagan, Gentile, notoriously wicked, a seaport known for crime, vice, prostitution violence, profanity, greed, injustice, doomed by the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 25 and 47 of his prophecy, guilty of selling Jewish slaves, according to Amos chapter 1 verse 9, this was a vile, vile, vile area. Tyre and Sidon were two wicked cities.

On the other hand, there’s Bethsaida…Jewish, proud of its religious heritage, proud of its religious loyalty, a synagogue town, the people who migrated to the temple to worship and sacrifice, and Jesus says, “Hell will be hotter for the inhabitants of Bethsaida then it will be for the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon,” far worse, far worse judgment falls on them.

Our Lord’s leaving Bethsaida, our Lord’s denying the man the right to go back and tell the town what had happened to him is to assure the disciples of the seriousness of this curse. Yes they need to understand grace, they need to understand compassion and the tenderness of Jesus and the touch of Jesus, but His disciples need to understand judgment also. And because Bethsaida did not repent when they had such exposure to Christ, they’ll have a far greater judgment.

What is the point of this miracle? To demonstrate deity, to anticipate the Kingdom, to confirm judgment. There’s a fourth turning point that comes here. Jesus now is leaving this place and this is … the final exit and it hasn’t gone well from the standpoint of the disciples, it hasn’t gone well. And He’s now leaving.

Back to today’s miracle. Jesus separated the man from his friends and guided him out of the village, perhaps for a better vantage point when the healing occurs and perhaps to show him a wider vista of God’s creation (verse 23).

Each of Jesus’s healings was different. He did not heal the same way every time.

Perhaps because of this man’s spiritual as well as physical blindness, He applied His spit to the man’s eyes in this case. It acts as a balm of spiritual grace and physical wholeness.

As with the man in John 9, this is also a two-part healing. After applying the spit, Jesus asked Mark’s blind man about his sight. The man’s response about men looking like trees in verse 24 indicates that he had partial but not perfect sight.

Jesus touched the man’s eyes a second time (verse 25). When the man opened them, his vision was perfect. Our Lord never healed by halves. When the cured left Him, they were perfectly restored.

Henry points out that this physical healing might have also been analogous to the man’s simultaneous spiritual healing, bringing him to faith:

(2.) Because it should be to the patient according to his faith; and perhaps this man’s faith was at first very weak, but afterward gathered strength, and accordingly his cure was. Not that Christ always went by this rule, but thus he would sometimes put a rebuke upon those who came to him, doubting. (3.) Thus Christ would show how, and in what method, those are healed by his grace, who by nature are spiritually blind; at first, their knowledge is confused, they see men as trees walking; but, like the light of the morning, it shines more and more to the perfect day, and then they see all things clearly, Prov. 4:18. Let us enquire then, if we see aught of those things which faith is the substance and evidence of; and if through grace we see any thing of them, we may hope that we shall see yet more and more, for Jesus Christ will perfect for ever those that are sanctified.

Note that Jesus cautioned the man to return straight home, avoiding entering Bethsaida (verse 26). Jesus had, for all intents and purposes, now deserted Bethsaida. The townspeople had made their choice to remain in their darkness, their spiritual blindness. Jesus and the disciples were on their way to the region of Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27). By the time the man reached home, they would have left Bethsaida. But also, as Henry observes, the people of Bethsaida did not deserve to hear about this miracle:

let not those be gratified with the sight of him when he was cured, who would not show so much respect to Christ as to go a step out of the town, to see this cure wrought. Christ doth not forbid him to tell it to others, but he must not tell it to any in the town. Slighting Christ’s favours is forfeiting them; and Christ will make those know the worth of their privileges by the want of them, that would not know them otherwise. Bethsaida, in the day of her visitation, would not know the things that belonged to her peace, and now they are hid from her eyes. They will not see, and therefore shall not see.

Now for an important note about St Mark’s Gospel. After this point, Mark’s narrative changes. This is the demarcation point in his Gospel, and we are half way through it.

Yet, on the subject of spiritual blindness, we discover the first mention in Mark that the Apostles’ spiritual sight is improving in Peter’s clear declaration that Jesus is Christ the Lord (Mark 8:29-30):

29And 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.

For those of you ministering to Muslims, this is very important. Muslims maintain that Jesus is but a prophet because nowhere in the Gospels does anyone say that He is Christ. It seems they must be reading an abridged version of the Gospels, because this is one clear example of an Apostle verbalising his recognition that Jesus is Lord.

The previous lessons in Mark 8 on spiritual blindness were coming together for the Apostles who have seen more clearly in terms of faith. Now they understood Jesus’s caution about leaven concerning the Pharisees and Sadducees.

MacArthur says:

Could it be… I can’t be dogmatic cause the text doesn’t say it…but could it be that this the only time you have a two-stage miracle is right at the crux of the point that the disciples saw some things but didn’t see everything clearly? Why is that there and only Mark has it and it’s right here?

They believed. They had turned from the darkness and walked into the light. They came out of darkness into light, out of death into life, but their ability to see comes in stages. Does Mark place this here because that’s how our spiritual sight comes, in stages? This is an unforgettable miracle, is it also intended to be an unforgettable analogy? Like the man whose sight came in stages? So the disciples’ spiritual sight comes in stages gradually more and more? First it’s out of focus, and finally and eventually after the cross and after the resurrection it becomes crystal clear and they see it perfectly?

As for the second half of Mark, he explains:

This miracle really is the beginning of the second act of Mark’s historical drama. Act one is Jesus’ public ministry with the people. Act two is Jesus’ private ministry with the disciples. Act three is Jesus’ passion … So we are entering in to His private ministry, a final private miracle launches His private time with the disciples, and from there He with them goes to Caesarea Philippi and back down through Galilee with no public ministry. It’s time for the training of His disciples.

Next time: Mark 9:1

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