Often in the book of Proverbs, the wise believer is commended as one who has insight into God’s world and His truth. Frequently, the word used for this is translated “discernment,” which carries the idea of having a penetrating insight into the nature of something, often with the intent to tell good from evil. Additionally, the “eye” in Proverbs is often the organ of spiritual perception and discernment, in that one is not merely seeing physically, but using the eyes (in both physical and metaphorical senses) to have insight into God’s truth and spiritual reality.
Given this OT background, along with the frequent metaphors of blindness and darkness to denote deeper spiritual realities, it is not surprising that one of the most unusual miracles in Mark’s gospel would be overflowing with such parabolic freight. This blind man’s healing is only preserved for us in Mark, and is also the only recorded miracle our Lord performs in stages. As we dive into its depths, we will see this is profoundly intentional on His part, and designed to teach us spectacular and necessary truth to inform and enliven our walk with Him.
A. The Arrival (v. 22a)
The Lord and His men have arrived on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, getting further and further away from the Pharisees and their corruption of the Holy City. Interestingly, there are two towns named Bethsaida in the gospels. One is on the northwestern side of the sea, a small fishing village that Peter, Andrew, and Philip called home. The other, the one named here in our text, is a village that eventually grew into a larger city (cf. Luke 9:10) through the ambition and influence of Herod the Great. Not far from here our Lord fed five thousand men and thousands more women and children, and it is on the way to Caesarea Philippi, where the 12 will face their final exam from our Lord on the nature of His identity and person.
The 12 follow Jesus into the city. While within its limits (we are not told precisely where, though it seems it would have been large enough for a fairly significant crowd), the threshold to the miracle is laid.
B. The Request of the People (v. 22b)
Unsurprisingly, once the Lord is recognized, it is not long before a sizeable crowd gathers wanting to be healed. (How greedily we take for granted the wonderful medical advancements and access to them that characterize our own day!) We are not told if the Lord healed others, though it is likely He did. We are told, however, about a blind man, brought on the arms of men and women who love him and wish to ease his suffering. It is likely these people have heard of the Lord’s power through the miracle of food multiplication performed near them earlier (perhaps they had even been among the beneficiaries!). In my thinking, it is virtually certain they were believers in Jesus, men and women who had become convinced of His power to save and heal, and are willing to bring their friend to Him because they know He can help. What tender, childlike confidence in the Lord’s personal attention, concern, and sovereign power! What a throwing of themselves on His promises and laying hold of His willingness! O that God would mold our hearts into this lovely image!
Blindness, of course, was all too common in the ancient world, whether through disease or accidents. Often, blind people (like lepers and other debilitatingly ill people) were assumed to be cursed by God, unclean, and being punished for some sin (this theology was so culturally ingrained that the disciples assume it when asking the Lord about the man born blind; John 9:2). The blind were vulnerable, utterly dependent on others to get around, and were reduced to begging for money since they could not perform any kind of labor or service.
The friends and relatives of this man do some begging of their own—“implore” is lit. “begged”! They know where to go and whom to ask, and they trust Him to help. “Please,” they ask, “cling to him, hold fast to him; let the life and power You have flow into him and make him new!”
As with all of His miracles, this one gloriously announces the Messiah has come and His kingdom is in their midst with great sovereign power to redeem and make right, from the inside out. Jesus heals the soul first and foremost, but does not ignore and will ultimately heal all things when He returns to this earth, for the One who made all and saw it all cursed by sin and death will gloriously redeem all to demonstrate His power, victory, eternal plan for an earthly kingdom, and redeeming love.
Jesus initiates another salvo on Satan, and graciously redeems yet another aspect of another life, in the next section to which we turn.
C. The Miracle, Part 1 (vv. 23-24)
Jesus takes the man’s hand and pulls him outside the city. There are several things going on here. First, He is expressing personal interest and concern to someone who had probably not had real human contact and interest for a long time. Even being touched gently was a treat for this man. Second, Jesus wants to ensure that the miracle is not a spectacle or eavesdropped-upon, but that it is personal between the man and Him, and away from eyes that would accuse it of being a demonic deception or clamor for Jesus to be their miracle-worker but not their King and Savior from sin.
As He did with the deaf-mute man in chapter 7, our Lord spits on the man—this time, on His eyes (the deaf mute was touched on his ears and tongue). This shocks and jars us, but it has a specific, symbolic point: Jesus is touching the man at his point of need, and doing so with a tangible, physical representation of the Lord’s own perfect human-divine life. God does not have saliva, but the God-Man, who represents sinners on behalf of God and comes to redeem the world from the curse of sin and establish His eternal kingdom, does. He has come to give us His own perfect life that redeems our lives on every level and in every aspect. There is even an intimacy to using the saliva—our Lord is taking part of Himself (part of His mouth, a mouth that speaks only truth and sustains men and universes and angels by “the word of His power”!) and personally identifying with the man at his point of need. Jesus is “standing in the gap” and asking His Father to move for His own sake. He lays hands—again identifying with and reassuring the man that his need will be met—and then what?
Here, Jesus does something He never does any other time He performs a miracle: He asks a question. Normally, we see the Lord speak assertively and authoritatively, saying it is simply done. But here, He has intentionally only partially healed the man (a point we will examine later), and asks him the question to draw out his acknowledgment of that fact.
The man looks up—blind people often looked down since they had nothing to see if they looked at the sky or people’s faces—and says he sees men (likely the disciples milling around from a distance) but that they look like walking trees. In other words, he can begin to make out human-like blurs, but rather than seeing Peter’s robe or John’s eyes, he just sees tree trunk-like bodies and waving branches of arms.
D. The Miracle, Part 2 (vv. 25-26)
Having gotten the man’s response, our Lord touches him again. Here is where things get interesting. The Lord removes his hands, and the text says the man “looked intently”—literally, to see through, or to have penetrating sight. Its’ as if the man is participating in his own miracle. He looks, and keeps looking, and focusing, and things get clearer, and the fog dissipates, and he can see.
He can see! Imagine the first face you see clearly is Jesus.’ Imagine seeing Him smiling at you with love and personal attention. Imagine Him giving your deadened eyes the power to see after years of unmitigated darkness, and as you look (and keep looking), the fog grows less and less, and things grow sharper and clearer, until you can see the flecks of color in His eyes, the swirls on His calloused fingers, the worn fringe of His robe.
Jesus tells the man something most interesting: “Go home, and do not enter the village” (v. 26). Evidently, the man did not live in Bethsaida, but on the outskirts, and was either in the city to beg, brought there (because Jesus was there) by relatives, or both. So Jesus is telling the man he has a new life. His begging days are over. He can go home and be his own man and have a new way of life all because of Jesus and His grace. Additionally, Jesus also wishes to keep the miracle as quiet as possible; such a dramatic display of power, in the wrong minds, will draw distraction from the Lord’s primary mission of saving sinners and confuse the fruit (redemption on every level of life) with the root (restored covenant relationship to God as Savior).
Now, the million-dollar query: Why on earth would Jesus heal this man in stages? Surely He had the power to heal him instantaneously! And He did! But we must be aware of the wider context. Has not our Lord just finished rebuking His men who, though they are saved and see Him and understand some of His truth, have partially hardened hearts and minds that are slow to understand, to perceive, to make connections and implications and applications? They see, but they don’t see. Not in the same way as the Pharisees, for 11 of the 12 see savingly. But they see only men walking like trees.
Jesus is doing for this man physically what He has done for His men spiritually. He has given them sight—unearned, unmerited, unsought. But there is far more for them to see, and see better, and understand, and apply. And they, like him, must by faith “look intently” until they see it! Is it not the same with us? There is so much more for us to know of His work and His truth and His world, and so much more for us to do with all our might with it!
In Ephesians 1, Paul writes that the eyes of believers must be opened to understand grand spiritual realities and to know what to do with them. We see much already—we see the glory of God, through the Bible, in the face of Jesus Christ. But O how much more He wishes for us to know, and love, and do!
O God, give your people new vision to see all there is to see, to love it and You rightly, and to build glorious lives and ministries through that knowledge to honor You and extend Your rule through Your Son for Your glory alone forever. Amen.