Who is not fascinated by the miracles recorded in the Bible? Much like the crowds who followed after Jesus, these extraordinary signs create wonder and amazement in us as well. They are one of the distinguishing hallmarks that set the biblical record apart from all other writings, ancient or modern. Biblical miracles had a specific purpose. They served as a testimony or confirmation of the reality of God and his divine operation in history. According to Hebrews 2:4, God legitimated the message of Christ and the disciples with “signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
Message and Miracle
Message and miracle went hand in hand. Miracles also authenticated the messenger. Peter said that Jesus was attested by God with “miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). When John the Baptist inquired about Jesus’ identity, Jesus simply referred to the miracles (and the message), saying, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosyare cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). The identity of Christ and the arrival of God’s kingdom are at the heart of Mark’s Gospel, and he builds his case for both through the context of the miraculous. In fact, one-third of Mark’s Gospel is devoted to miracles, more than any other Gospel, especially demonic exorcisms. For Mark, the miracles of Jesus showcased God’s power and authority over Satan and his waning kingdom (Luke 11:20).
A Unique Healing
But there is one miracle in particular found only in Mark that has not only fascinated but baffled Christians. It is the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26. What is so unusual about this healing is that it takes place in two stages. Unlike other occasions recorded in the Gospels, this healing was not instantaneous. After taking the man outside of the village, Jesus spat on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him. Isolating the man was not necessarily unusual, but the act of Jesus using his own saliva, literally spitting in the man’s face, is strange. Jesus then asked the man, “Do you see anything?” The man replied, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Mark then states that Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes a second time, and his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly.
Many have wondered why it took Jesus two attempts before restoring the man’s sight completely. Was Jesus’ first attempt a failure? After all, others had been healed immediately. Surely this man’s condition was not uniquely different from all the other blind people in Judea that Jesus had healed instantly. Why the two-stage process?
Context Is Key
When I was a student at Cincinnati Christian University, I had the privilege of studying hermeneutics (the science of studying Scripture) with Professor Tom Friskney. One of his favorite statements was, “Context is key.” In order to understand this miracle, it is necessary to view it against the backdrop of the entire chapter. In reading the wider narrative, we see that the man’s perception or understanding of Jesus is quite blurry. Just after Jesus had the second biggest block party in Galilee, which included a menu of fish and bread for 4,000 guests, the disciples were arguing about a lack of food. Jesus used optical expressions when rebuking their so-called spiritual blindness. He said, “Do you still not see or understand?” (Mark 8:17). “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” (v. 18). Following the healing of the blind man, they traveled to the district of Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” According to popular opinion he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets. Finally, after asking his disciples the same question, Peter stated that Jesus is “the Messiah” (v. 29). And just when we think Peter gets it, moments later Jesus equated him with Satan and rebuked him for his dim perception and lack of understanding.
A Teaching Moment
These two stories, which appear on either side of the healing of the blind man, create what some scholars call the “Marcan sandwich.” They help explain the mystery of the healing that lies between these two “slices.” Jesus never passed up an opportunity to teach a lesson to the disciples. And because miracles were a medium to instruct about spiritual truths, Jesus used this occasion for spiritual enlightenment, a kind of living parable. Based on this point of view, the two-step healing process was intentional. Jesus could have healed the man instantly, but he chose to do it this way for a reason. In stage one, Jesus reenacted so-to-speak his ability and authority to heal, to perform miracles. And just like the blind man, most people, especially his own disciples, did not have a clear vision of Jesus, despite of all the miracles they had witnessed up to this point. They still possessed a fuzzy, distorted view of the Messiah and his kingdom. Step two represents the idea that eventually, after Jesus had completed his work, the disciples would “see everything clearly.”
Sharpening Our Focus
The Bethsaida miracle is a spiritual eye-opener and has a lot to say to us today. It forces us to ask ourselves if we really understand Jesus. Do we have a clear view of who he is, what he taught, and what he expects of us? Most of us believe we do, but to what degree? How clear is our vision? Do we possess a blurry, somewhat distorted vision of our Savior? Do we try to conform Jesus to our own perceptions of him, or do we see him the way he desires? These are vital questions, especially in this age of tolerance and compromise. People have always attempted to create Christ in their own image, an image that best suits their life choices and self-originating worldviews. But Jesus says, “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” What things might be causing a distorted view for you? The best cure for spiritual blindness is to commit to digging into the Bible and letting it speak to you on its own terms. We must be careful not to force our own perceptions onto the pages of Scripture. The Bible is like a soothing salve on our spiritual eyesight. We must also pray continually. Spend time each day talking to Jesus. Ask him to help you understand. You might be surprised by what you see!
Kevin Morrow is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Becky, live in Joplin, Missouri.