Children often ask amusing questions of God.
- Dear God, are you a ninja? Is that why I can’t see you? Jacob.
- Dear God, are you really invisible or is that just a trick? Lucy.
- Dear God, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you got now? Jane.
- Dear God, I bet it’s very hard for you to love everybody in the world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it. Nan.
- Dear God, if you watch in church on Sunday, I will show you my new shoes. Mickey.
- Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. Joyce.
While those questions are amusing coming from a 6 or a 9 year old, they are disconcerting if posed by a 45 year old. If our understanding of God doesn’t improve as we grow older, it may be caused by spiritual blindness. As we see from Jesus’ encounter with a blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), spiritual blindness can be relieved by the continued touch of Jesus.
The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida is unique in several respects. It is only recorded in Mark and is the only two-stage miracle which Jesus performed. It is a turning point in the gospel. Prior to this event, Jesus’ ministry has primarily been a public one in Galilee. After this, his primary ministry will be a private one preparing his disciples for his coming death.
The miracle highlights the need for Jesus to heal our spiritual blindness. Sandwiched between two healing miracles (the deaf and mute man in 7:31-37 and the blind man in 8:22-26), the disciples are struggling to understand what Jesus is doing (8:1-21). In the following section, Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah (8:27-30), but is then rebuked (8:33) for wanting Jesus to bypass the cross. Like the blind man, Peter had spiritual sight but failed to see the details of Jesus’ messiahship. The miracle demonstrates that Spiritual blindness can be relieved by the continued touch of Jesus.
As the story opens, Jesus and his disciples arrive at Bethsaida (22). The town is near where Jesus fed the 5,000 (6:30-44). It is a village that received judgment due to unbelief (Matthew 11:21-22).
Blindness was endemic to ancient culture. The lack of understanding of hygiene, the unavailability of medicine, the exposure to the elements and domestic trauma all contributed to circumstances that left many people blind. This was certainly the experience of an unnamed man in Bethsaida. The only thing he had in his favor was some concerned friends who brought him to Jesus and begged him to heal him.
How did you come to faith in Christ? Did you have a concerned neighbor who invited you to Awana or Sunday School as a child? Did a coworker counsel you about a troubled marriage and suggest that Jesus could bring peace to your family?
Knowing that the village would be busy, noisy, and distracting for a man who could not see, Jesus takes him outside of town where he could focus on the Jesus whom he could not see (23). Jesus’ approach stands in stark contrast to the religious leaders. They blamed a physical disability on sin (John 9:2) and wanted nothing to do with those who suffered. In contrast, Jesus got personally involved and touched the man.
After spitting and touching the man’s eyes with his saliva, Jesus asked him an unusual question, “Do you see anything?” Jesus’ actions demonstrated that he will heal the man completely, but it will occur in stages. The man answered that he saw people who looked like trees. Since he knew what trees looked like (24), the man was not born blind. He could see now, but not clearly.
Jesus touches him a second time and heals him completely (25). The two-stage miracle doesn’t mean Jesus lacked power, the blindness was too severe, or the man lacked faith. Jesus had previously demonstrated his power over nature (4:35-41; 6:45-56), demons (5:1-20), death (5:21-43), sickness (5:24-34), lack of resources (6:30-44; 8:1-10), and disability (7:31-35). There is no comment about the quality or caliber of the man’s faith. It is simply how Jesus performed the miracle.
The gospels give six examples of how Jesus healed the blindness of eight individuals. Four were healed with a simple touch (Matthew 9:27-31; 20:30-34). One was healed without an explanation of the process (Matthew 12:22). One was healed with spittle and a touch (Mark 8:22-26). Blind Bartimaeus was healed with a spoken word (Mark 10:46-52). One was healed with mud and clay and by washing in the pool of Siloam (John 9:1-7). Jesus did not use a one-size-fits-all approach to performing miracles and ministry. Each miracle was unique to the individual.
Jesus sent the man home with instructions not to go back to Bethsaida (26). It might mean that Bethsaida was not his home or that Jesus wanted to spare him from further difficulty due to the pronounced judgment on the city.
I take away four lessons from this passage.
- Each one of us is spiritually blinded by sin, and in need of healing. Only through the continued touch of Jesus can we be healed. Has Christ opened your eyes spiritually?
- Jesus deals with people in different ways. As no two miracles or healings are alike, so each one’s testimony will be unique. What’s your story?
- Spiritual growth comes in stages. Are you making progress towards spiritual maturity?
- Spiritually blind people need caring friends who will bring them to Jesus. Who can you introduce to the Savior?
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 31, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.