Last week we looked at Jesus’s purpose in healing many people. There is the account of a very strange healing in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus and his disciples had come to Bethsaida and a blind man was brought to Him. Jesus took the blind man outside the village where He spat on his eyes and laid his hands upon them as well. Jesus then asked the man if he could see anything, to which he replied, “I see people, but they look like trees walking.” Jesus then laid his hands on the man’s eyes a second time and the man’s sight was completely restored (8:22-25 ESV).
Why was the blind man not completely healed after the first time Jesus laid his hands on him? Did Jesus not do it right the first time? Was Jesus confused or struggling? Definitely not. Jesus is all-powerful and all-knowing; He could have healed the blind man completely after the first time if He wanted to. Jesus purposefully did it in “two phases”.
To understand Jesus’s way of healing the blind man, we need to understand the significance of seeing or looking in the Bible. There are many helpful references in Scripture. We find an important one in the book of Numbers. The Israelites had been traveling through the wilderness with Moses and the people grew impatient and complained (21:5). Consequently, the Lord struck the Israelites with snakes that went among them and bit them, so that many of the Israelites died. Realizing their sin, the Israelites repented and asked Moses to speak to the Lord on behalf of them. The Lord commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to place it on a pole. Those bitten by the snakes would live when they saw or looked upon the bronze serpent.
Jesus spoke of this to Nicodemus when He was explaining what it meant to be born again, “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 – emphasis added). Here, Jesus substituted seeing or looking with believing. Jesus was ultimately referring to His death, where He would be lifted up on the cross. Everyone who “looked” at Him on the cross would live. This does not refer to just a literal “looking”, but a believing, a trusting that Jesus’s sacrifice paid the price for all sin. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, all humans deserve death, because of sin, but when they look upon the Bronze Serpent, Jesus, death will only be a bridge to Eternal Life with God.
Now why is this important to understand Jesus’s healing of a blind man? A closer look will help us to see (puns intended!) that this healing served as a symbol of understanding the whole Gospel. Right after Jesus healed this blind man Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, but was confused when Jesus told him that He would suffer and die (Mark 8:27-33).
Without the Gospel, all humans are spiritually blind. Only God can open our eyes to see Jesus for who He truly is. Peter and the rest of Jesus’s disciples were like the blind man who, after Jesus laid his hands on him the first time, could only see in part. They were beginning to understand Jesus’s purpose, but did not fully grasp it yet.
To confirm this, Jesus’ disciples argued amongst themselves about whom they thought were the greatest, at the end of Mark 9. Jesus foretold his suffering and death to them a third time and yet James and John responded by asking Jesus to do for them whatever they wanted; that they may sit “one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (10:35-37) Jesus gently rebuked them for their misunderstanding.
We find Jesus healing another blind man, Bartimaeus, right after. Interestingly, and definitely with no coincidence, Jesus uses the exact same words as He did when he spoke to his disciples: “What to you want me to do for you?” (10:36; 50). Bartimaeus gave a better request than James and John – he wanted to see – and, instantly, his sight was restored.
It’s very easy for us as Christians to criticize the disciples for their ignorant behaviour and arrogance, but each one of us were once blind to Jesus’s identity, His truth and our sin. God, in His great mercy, opened our eyes so that we could see our sin and gaze upon Jesus at Calvary, so that His death could bring us life.
Even after our spiritual sight has been restored, we can easily forget to fix our eyes on the Cross. Especially when a pandemic hits the world. The author of Hebrews encourages Christians to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1b-2 – emphasis added). When we fix our eyes upon Jesus “the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace” (H.H. Lemmel).