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Archive for the ‘Mark 8’ Category

[An earlier version of this message was preached in May 2004 in a Church of God congregation in Zurich, Switzerland.]

I want to talk to you about what it means for us to take up our cross and encourage you in your practice of this. Turn in your Bibles to Mark 8:34-35 – Jesus said,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

First of all, there are a couple of misconceptions about what it means for us to take up our cross that falsely limit its application in our lives. The truth is that –

To take up your cross will affect every part of your life

Let’s look at these misconceptions. Some people say that taking up the cross is a only an inner, spiritual experience, something that takes place in our hearts – an inner cross where we die to our selfish desires.

Well, there is some truth in this, for there is something called an inner cross. For instance Jesus had to struggle within at Gethsemane in prayer, when he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” He had to deny himself and put God’s will first.

But it wasn’t just about his inner attitudes. Because after Gethsemane came Golgotha. No, Jesus had to take up his cross with real life actions – his suffering and death on the cross.

Yes, the cross has to do with what goes on within you, but it is also about your outward behavior. For if you die to your desires within this will show up in cruciform behavior and actions without. As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What is within your heart, is what will come out in your deeds.

Some people say that taking up the cross is only about suffering persecution, so that it only applies to a particular part of our lives, when we suffer for our faith.

Well the cross certainly does refer to persecution and followers of Jesus must literally suffer and do at times literally give up their lives.

But Jesus himself connects his call to take up the cross in Mark 8 with self-denial, something we are to practice in everyday life. Also in Luke 14 he connects the cross to something as practical as surrendering our earthly wealth to God. No, the cross has to do with all that we do in this world as followers of Jesus. Suffering for sure, but also helping a neighbor, doing ministry, serving someone a meal, etc..

Now I want you to get a sense of what it looks like to take up your cross. I want us to look at the –

The cruciform pattern of Jesus

 Paul talks about this in Philippians 2:5-11 and I want us to read this.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

There is in these verses a “cruciform pattern” to Jesus’ life – in two stages:

First of all, there is a downward movement. Jesus lowered himself. And he did this in two steps:

First, Jesus became a servant. Though he was at the highest place in all of creation, he lowered himself to serve the needs of others. He denied himself, he lost his life by setting aside his place, his privileges and his prestige in order to lower himself to serve. He did this as he healed others, taught, set people free, loved them, and in general gave of himself to others.

But not only did Jesus serve, when his humble service was rejected he lowered himself even further. Jesus endured suffering and death. In this case his self- denial led to the literal loss of his life as he sacrificed himself on the cross for others.

Then, there is an upward movement. When he was as low as one can go, Jesus waited upon God and God raised him up. God raised him from the dead and seated him at the highest place in all of creation – at his own right hand. He was blessed and honored.

So this cruciform pattern has two stages – a lowering stage and a raising stage.

Now let’s look at –

How this works out in our lives

We are to live out this cruciform pattern. As Paul says, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” – 2:5. It is not just about Jesus, it is about us following Jesus. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said.

  • We are lower ourselves to serve others’ needs, and we are to accept suffering from those who reject this. As we do this, we sacrifice and die to our life here on earth; we deny ourselves and lose our lives.
  • And then we are to wait upon God to raise us up to new life.

– This is to be the pattern in our life considered as a whole – that we lowered ourselves and then God will raise us up at the resurrection.

– And this is to be the pattern of our daily walk, as we take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) and “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:21) to ourselves, and God makes us new in our heart and actions.

This then is what it means “to take up your cross.”

But as this phrase indicates, our focus in to be on the downward movement. Jesus focused on the lowering stage. Paul said, “he made himself nothing.” The raising stage was left for God to accomplish. Jesus trusted that God would raise him up.

We too are to focus on the lowering stage – serving other’s needs and choosing to endure suffering and rejection for this. And then we trust God to raise us up from our lowliness at the right time in this life and then at the resurrection.

The downward movement is necessary. Everyone wants the second stage, right? Who doesn’t want to be raised up, to be honored, to be recognized, to be blessed?

But the first stage, the path to this – lowliness, who wants this? We want to skip right to the second stage. But you can’t have the one without the other. Without the lowliness, there is no exaltation.

In Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35, if we seek to save our lives, that is, to hold on to what we have in our earthly lives; to have earthly honor now, we will lose our lives. We have to lose our earthly life – the lowering stage – before we gain our lives, being raised up by God.

Since this is so, you can see that –

The way of the cross is not easy

It takes real humility to put others first, to lay aside your privileges, rights, status and comforts for others. And to suffer rejection and ridicule for this.

It takes real love for God and others to deny yourself and to sacrifice in this way for the needs of others day in and day out, not heroically (being noticed by others) but obscurely.

It takes also endurance. Enduring lowliness, times of despair and times of weakness. It involves waiting upon God when it doesn’t seem that he will act. Remember Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So let me end with –

Some words of encouragement

When you feel like giving up, remember we have Jesus’ clear words of promise from Jesus that we will one day be raised up. As he said:

  • Those who are last, will be first
  • Those who humble themselves, God will raise up
  • Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, will find life in the Kingdom of God
  • Those who lose their lives, will find their lives

And not only do we have Jesus’ words, in the midst of our lowliness we must remember the clear example of Jesus’ life. He proved his words and promises to be true through his own life and actions, because God came through for him.

He endured the greatest lowliness, despair and weakness, but God raised him up. And just as God came through for him, God will come through for you as well.

And so in the words of Galatians 6:9 – “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

William Higgins

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We are back again in Mark 8:22-26, the story of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida. Let’s read this to refresh our memoires.

“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.’”

Last week we saw a couple of interesting things about this story. First, this is one of three times that we have Jesus using spit to heal someone. Second, this is the only healing recorded in the gospels that takes two tries, or has two steps.

Today I want us to take another angle on this story. It’s one that is pointed out by many commentators, and I think there’s something to it.

To do this we need to understand how this story fits into the larger story that Mark is telling us about Jesus. So, first we look at the story right before ours –

The blindness of the disciples – Mark 8:14-21

This is where Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. And the disciples think that he’s talking about them not bringing along enough bread.

Jesus gets frustrated. He asks, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? . . . And do you not remember?” – Mark 8:17-18. To even talk about a lack of bread betrays a deeper misunderstanding on their part. Not only do they not get his figurative use of bread, they haven’t gotten who Jesus is.

Jesus goes on ‘Don’t you remember the feeding of the 5,000, and the feeding of the 4,000?, and all the bread that was left over?’ ‘Why would I be concerned about a lack of bread?’

The disciples don’t understand that he is the one who can multiply bread. The fundamental issue Jesus is asking in all of these questions is this, ‘Don’t you know by now who I am?’ As he ends in Mark 8:21, “Do you not yet understand?”

And in the middle of all this, in v. 18, he calls this lack of understanding blindness and deafness. He says, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” This is a common metaphor that we still use today. One who, figuratively, can’t see (or hear) lacks perception, or understanding. Jesus is saying, ‘You just don’t get it! You just can’t take it in, can you?’

Next, we look at the story just after ours, which I label –

Peter’s partial perception of who Jesus is – Mark 8:27-33

As they left Bethsaida they started on their way North to Caesarea Philippi. But the trip would eventually lead South to Jerusalem and the cross.

And so Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” – Mark 8:29.  Notice the same focus on the identity of Jesus in both stories. And finally, Peter gets it! He says, “You are the Christ” – Mark 8:29. All the clues and signs; healings, exorcisms and teaching. Perhaps he moved from a suspicion that this might be so, to a hope that it was true, now to a clear confession of faith, ‘You are the Messiah.’

Peter understands. He can see! And presumably the other disciples as well. But, right away we find out, that this vision is still quite blurry. (Remind you of our story??)

Just after Peter’s confession, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed . . ..” – Mark 8:31. But Peter rebukes Jesus – 8:32. Don’t talk like that Jesus! That’s not who you’re supposed to be. You’re the Messiah. What do you mean suffering? What do you mean getting killed? No, no, no Jesus. The kingdom of God comes when the Messiah unveils his power and leads God’s people in triumph over all the nations, defeating them in war and ruling over them.

Peter understands partially, Jesus is the Messiah. But he doesn’t yet understand how Jesus is to be the Messiah. He doesn’t understand the cross.

So Jesus rebukes Peter – Mark 8:33. Be quiet! Your thinking is all messed up. Then he teaches that not only must he go to the cross, anyone who wants to be his disciple must take up their cross and lose their life – Mark 8:34-35.

Jesus is saying, the kingdom comes through the cross (and then the resurrection). It doesn’t come through earthly power, war and politics (which is why Jesus didn’t pursue these). It comes through lowliness, suffering love, and then trusting in God to come through for you. It comes through the cross and resurrection.

Peter sees partly, but his understanding is till fuzzy and blurred. He doesn’t get the part about the cross and suffering love being the way that the kingdom is brought into reality in this world.

Now, let’s look at –

The healing as a prophetic object lesson

Our story comes right between the two we have just looked at. And our story comes at the turning point of the gospel as a whole, where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, and then where Jesus shifts and begins to teach them that he must suffer and die.

It comes right before we see that Peter needs two steps to understand who Jesus is:

  • Step one: Peter sees that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is confused about what this means, especially the cross. He is no longer blind but his vision is blurry, like the man in our story.
  • And then, after the resurrection, comes step two: He sees that Jesus had to die and then be resurrected to bring in the kingdom of God. It was then that he saw clearly, like the man in our story. After the second step.

I believe that Jesus may have used two steps to heal the blind man in our story to prophetically look forward to a similar process in his disciples’ understanding of his identity. So in answer to our question last week, ‘Why didn’t Jesus just heal him right away?’ It may have been intentional for this very reason. And they could look back on it and understand that he knew what was going on ahead of time.

And even if this is saying too much, that Jesus did this intentionally, I believe that Mark arranged his story in such a way that it highlights the symbolic nature of the healing of the blind man – to foreshadow the process of the disciples coming to an understand who Jesus is.

The prophetic object lesson is this – the disciples’ understanding of who he is will come in two stages. But also the message is there that Jesus is able to bring them to clear vision, just like with the blind man.

Alright, let’s apply this to us with some –

Lessons

In general we can say that we often move from blurry vision to clearer vision. We don’t fully understand everything about Jesus and the Christian life and so we need time. We are on a journey. And we have to grow and mature.

And, of course, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Even our clearest vision in this life, will be made more clear when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

More specifically, I ask, ‘Is your vision of Jesus and the kingdom and the cross blurred?’ Oh sure, we know that Jesus had to die. We came into the picture thousands of years after he already did. But we often don’t understand how the cross works for us.

The same Jesus who said he had to go to the cross, also told us to take up our crosses. The same Jesus who was teaching Peter that the kingdom of God comes, not through worldly power, but by suffering love, also teaches us the same. Just as Jesus brought forth the kingdom through the cross, we are to advance the kingdom through the cross.

But most of us are like Peter. Most Christians are still in step one! Our vision is blurred; we are confused about all this cross stuff. We have a veiled and partial understanding of Jesus and the kingdom. But Jesus calls us to follow him, not to take a different path. We are also to expand Jesus’ kingdom by means of lowliness and suffering love, and then calling on God to come and act, just like Jesus did. We are to follow the same path. This is how the kingdom of God is made manifest in this world.

Finally, our story gives us hope, because in it we see that Jesus is able to cure our blindness. Just as he healed the blind man in two steps, he was able in two stages to show the disciples who he is, and how the kingdom works. He gave them clear vision.

And he can do the same for us. He is able! If we are open to it. He can deal with our blindness, and give us clear sight and understanding. Ask him to open your eyes!

William Higgins

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We are looking at the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida today. As the title says, this is ‘an unusual healing.’ Although, having said that, it does have some parallels to the healing of the deaf mute in Mark 7 (and both of these are only found in the gospel of Mark). Let’s look at this as we get started and see what this might mean. [For more on this story and why it has two stages – The blind man of Bethsaida – Take two.]

Introduction

Read through Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 7:31-37 and notice the following similarities:

1.       A place reference begins the story

2.       The person is brought by others

3.       They beg of Jesus

4.       They want Jesus to touch him

5.       There is a concern for privacy

6.       Jesus uses spit

7.       He speaks to the man

8.       The man is healed

9.       There is a concern for crowds

[Nearly all commentators note parallels here. This is my own construal. For more see – Parallel healing stories]

These parallels serve to connect these two stories together. And these two healings look back to Isaiah 35:5-6, which refers to the coming of the kingdom and the Messiah. [See also Isaiah 29:18. The broader passage seems to have several parallels with Mark 7-8.] It says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” So right off the bat there is an embedded message – the kingdom is here and Jesus is the Messiah.

Alright, now let’s look in more detail at –

Our story

v. 22 – “And they came to Bethsaida.”

The name means “house of fisherman.” This is where Peter, Andrew and Philip were originally from according to John 1:44.

The city is on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just to the east of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus meets the blind man.

v. 22 – “And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.”

These “people” must have recognized Jesus. It was, most likely, not far from here that Jesus had fed the 5,000.

Like others in the gospels, they bring someone they know, who has a need, to Jesus for help. This is an expression of faith on their part (Mark 2:5). They wanted Jesus “to touch” the blind man, for they knew that the touch of Jesus brings healing.

In that day, the blind would be the ones begging for alms from the people. Here the people are begging for him, for healing from Jesus.

v. 23 – “And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village . . ..”

Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him away. This is kind of tender. He does it himself, not using a disciple. As far as we know, everyone else is left behind and it is just Jesus and the man, with perhaps the disciples.

Why out of the village in private? Jesus is concerned about the crowds. He is always being mobbed by them. Yet he came for something more important than healing as many people as he could before he collapsed and died of exhaustion.

And as well he was beginning his journey to Jerusalem and the end of his earthly ministry. So he had much work to do with his disciples, teaching them and preparing them.

Step one of the healing. This is the only healing in the gospels that has a two step process. [Although notice that the casting out of the demons in Mark 5 is a two step process]. Let’s look at this.

v. 23-24 – “ . . . 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.’”

Jesus uses an odd process here to heal the man. Most often it is simply with a command, or no details are given.

Here Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and then touched him. (I have never seen a faith healer do this today. I mean, would you go forward if you knew he was going to spit in your eyes?). Jesus uses spit in two other instances – Mark 7:33 and John 9:6-7. The saliva of some was considered to have healing properties. Perhaps this is why Jesus does this.

Also unique to this healing story is that Jesus asks the man a question – “Do you see anything?” [Although, again, see Mark 5 when Jesus asks the demons a question].

The phrase about trees is hard to make sense of. Literally it says, “I see people that like trees I see walking.”

  • This can mean that he sees people that look like trees.
  • Or, he can only tell the difference between people and trees in that people move.

It would appear that the man is not blind from birth, because he knows what trees look like.

If we ask, ‘Why wasn’t the healing complete the first time?’, it is true that some thought healing a blind person was especially hard. And there are no examples of this in the Old Testament. But it is also true that later, in Mark 10, Jesus heals another blind man right away.

The reason for the two stages may be an object lesson that Jesus is giving, which I hope to look at next week. So we’ll save that.

Step two of the healing.

v. 25 – “Then he laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

Jesus doesn’t stop with the man only barely seeing. He touches him “again” and he is able to see clearly.

The completeness of the healing is emphasized by three phrases – “he opened his eyes” or he looked intently; “his sight was restored”; and “he saw everything clearly.” This makes it clear that Jesus was successful.

v. 26 – “And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Again, Jesus seems to be concerned about the crowd that could form if people knew what happened. He is trying to focus on his going to Jerusalem and his disciples.

Alright, let’s draw out some –

Lessons

Like the people who brought this man to Jesus, and many others in the gospels – We should bring people to Jesus who have needs. Who do you know that fits this bill?

Too often we get caught in trying to fix people ourselves, when what we need to do is bring them to Jesus. He is the Messiah, not us. He is the one who makes people whole.

Let Jesus do his work. Sometimes Jesus worked in weird ways, at least to us. Here he went outside the village, he spit on him and there was a two stage process for the man to be made whole.  But the man went along in faith, and he received God’s blessing.

We too need to let Jesus do his work. And in faith go along as well, even if we don’t understand everything that Jesus is doing with us. Jesus knows what he’s doing.

Next we learn some things about who Jesus is from this story. Jesus is the Messiah. We saw the connection of this and the story in Mark 7 to Isaiah 35:5-6. By healing the deaf and mute man and the blind man, we are pointed back to the Scripture. And so Jesus is showing us that the kingdom is here and he is the Messiah, by doing what this passage talks about.

These healings are a sign for those who have eyes to see. In a story a few verses before ours, the Pharisees in Mark 8:11-13, still wanted a sign. But they have had more than enough signs, if they wanted to see them. And so Jesus ignores them.

In the story just after our story, in Mark 8:29, Peter finally gets it. He confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ” or Messiah. He got the message.

Finally, we see that Jesus is God’s Son. Psalm 146:8 says of God, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” Jesus, once again, shows us that he is like God, his Father. He too can open the eyes of the blind. Like Father, like Son. He is indeed the Son of God.

Next week, Lord willing, we will look at this same passage again in the context of the flow of the story of Mark and the object lesson of the two stage healing of the blind man.

William Higgins

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