Highlights of the Highway (2)
E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
Mark 8. 22-23
By the Roadside
The Blind man of Bethsaida, 8. 22-26
'And He cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him', 8. 22
This miracle was:
(a) Peculiar to Mark
Did Mark introduce this miracle at this juncture because of the 'spiritual blindness' of the disciples? 'Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? . . . How is it that ye do not understand?' 8. 18, 21; were His words to them. Like the miracle of the deaf-mute of Decapolis, 7. 31-37, it was performed apart, 'out of the town'; was progressive in its action; and accompanied by outward signs.
(b) Progressive in its Character
The blind man was brought by others to the Lord, since he may at this stage have not had a firm faith in Christ and this may account for the gradual method of the cure. The Saviour's understanding and compassion is seen in that He took him by the hand and led him out of the town, probably because 'touch' means more than 'sound' to a blind person. Applying His saliva to the man's eyes and putting His hands upon him He asked if he saw anything. He replied, 'I see men as trees walking', 8. 24, thus giving him an opportunity to witness a stage in his recovery. Perhaps not born blind, he recognized men as trees, since near objects usually appear larger when seen dimly and indistinctly. 'When Christ first opens our eyes we have exaggerated ideas of the progress and achievement of man; when He has adjusted our eyes our fellows are reduced to proper proportions', H. St. John.
c) Perfect in its Climax
'After that He put His hands again upon his eyes . . . and he was restored, and saw every man clearly', 8. 25.
In all other miracles our Lord's cures were immediate and complete, but Christ does not deal with people 'en masse' but as individuals with separate needs. Sometimes a man may experience a 'Damascus conversion' as did Paul, Acts 9. 3; with others it may be through a godly upbringing, as in the case of Timothy, 2 Tim. 3. 15, who from a babe was acquainted with the holy scriptures.
(d) Prohibited in its Announcement
He sent him away to his house and forbade him tell anyone about it, 8. 26. The Lord would not be known as a mere miracle-worker, and He had spoken similarly to the friends of the deaf-mute, 7. 36, although they disobeyed His command. Was it that He wished the man's kinsfolk to be the first to know of his joy? It has been suggested that Bethsaida was still under the penalty of the Lord's accusation as given in Matt. 11. 21-24; even so there was still mercy for those who sought it in sincerity.
To the Suburbs
Caesarea Phiilppi, 8. 27-33
(i) The Confession of His Deity
Situated on one of the sources of the Jordan, near the foot of Mt. Hermon, Caesarea Philippi had been rebuilt and enlarged by Herod Philip, the Tetrarch. It was called Caesarea in honour of the Roman Emperor, and Philippi, to distinguish it from the Caesarea on the coast. It was the most northernly point visited by the Lord who now sought its solitude. Rejected as Messiah by the Jewish rulers and the people, Christ asked His disciples, 'Whom do men say that I am?', 8. 27. The answer revealed a variety of opinions, some saying that He was John the Baptist risen from the dead, an opinion held by Herod Antipas, Matt. 14. 1, 2; others that He was Elijah in accordance with Malachi 4. 5, and still others that He was Jeremiah, Matt. 16. 14, or one of the prophets. Luke writes 'one of the old prophets risen again', Luke 9. 19. It is noteworthy that none regarded Him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. Turning from the general to the personal, He asked His disciples 'But whom say ye that I am?', 8, 28, 29. Peter confessed, 'Thou art the Christ', 8. 29, and Matthew adds, 'the Son of the living God', Matt, 16. 16, while Luke records, 'the Christ of God', thus declaring His office and nature.
In His reply to Peter's confession, Matt. 16. 17-19, the Lord used three word pictures, a) rock, b) gates and c) keys.
'Thou art Peter (petros) and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church', Matt. 16. 18
'Petros' describes a piece of rock or pebble while 'petra' relates to the whole essential rock, for it was not on Peter that Christ would build His church but on Himself. The figure of God as a rock was not strange to Jewish thought for there are frequent references to this in the Old Testament, Deut. 32. 4; 1 Sam. 2. 2: Psa. 18. 31, etc. Here then is strength, stability and security, and as the parable demonstrates, the house built upon the rock withstands the storm and torrent, Matt. 7. 25.
'The gates of Hades shall not prevail against if, Matt. 16. 18. It is not the church that is on the defensive but the gates of Hades which cannot withstand its onward march. There was One who broke the bonds of death, 'for it was not possible that He should be holden of death . . . Thou wilt not leave my soul to hades nor suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption', Acts 2. 24, 27. (RV).
'And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven', Matt. 16. 19.
The key was the symbol of authority, power and responsibility. Eliakim carried the key of the house of David on his shoulder, and as a faithful steward of the house was responsible for opening and shutting its doors, Isa. 22. 22. As a faithful steward of the kingdom, Peter opened 'the door of faith' to the Jews at Pentecost, Acts 2. 41, and later to the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius, Acts 10. This privilege was not to be the sole prerogative of Peter, but was extended to all the apostles and to every believer in Christ, Matt. 18. 18. In the Rabbinical schools that which was 'binding' was obligatory, while a 'loosing' meant that which was optional, a matter of ethical authority. The authority of the church in matters of doctrine and conduct is based upon the authority of Christ, who is in the midst of them, Matt. 18. 20, and it is ratified in heaven. Any claim of authority in the church made for Peter by the Roman Catholic church, and supposedly passed on to the popes is therefore baseless. There is no instance in the New Testament of any special authority given to Peter above the rest of the apostles.
(ii) The Crisis of His Death
'And He charged them that they should tell no man of Him', 8. 30.
Matthew records that 'flesh and blood' had not revealed this truth to Peter but 'my Father which is in heaven', Matt. 16. 17. This would explain the reason for the charge since merely telling could bring no genuine conviction of His deity. The Father, through the Son, by the Spirit alone can do this, 1 Cor. 2. 14.
'And He began to teach them, that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected . . . and be killed, and after three days rise again', 8. 31.
This was the first open prediction of the Lord's suffering, and marked a crisis point in His teaching. The disciples were to learn that He was not now the 'Conquering Messiah' of Isaiah 11, but the 'Suffering Servant' of Isaiah 53. (They would not fully understand this until Pentecost, for on the way to Bethany, before the ascension, two of them asked, 'Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?', Acts 1. 6). Startled by the Lord's words Peter rebuked Him, for the idea of His suffering was utterly opposed to the disciples' expectations. Peter, formerly impetuous though right, is now still impetuous but wrong.
(iii) The Challenge of the Devil The Lord rebuked Peter saying, 'Get thee behind me Satan', 8. 33. The words previously spoken to the devil in the wilderness, Luke 4. 8, are now addressed to Peter on whom He had just bestowed such favour. Behind this further temptation was the same adversary who would offer Him the crown without the cross, as he had done in the wilderness. Matthew adds 'thou art an offence (a stumbling stone) unto me', Matt. 16. 23. Farrar writes, 'In calling Peter an offence, the Lord probably alluded to his name and compared him to a stone in the path over which the wayfarer stumbles'. The comparison must have sunk deeply into the apostle's mind, for he too, in his epistle warns his readers against some to whom, because they believe not, the Head stone of the corner became 'a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence', 1 Pet. 2. 8.