It’s one thing to confess Jesus is the Messiah, but another to understand what that means. If we don’t get it, we might as well see trees walking around…
Missing the Point
Last week we ended on an unsettling note.
Firstly, Jesus had entered into foreign territory and was healing people the Jews considered to be “dirty dogs.”
Then, even after multiplying seven loaves of bread and a few small fish to feed 4,000 people, the disciples still don’t understand the significance of who Jesus is and what he was sent to do.
Exasperated, Jesus sternly asks them, “Do you not yet understand?”
We can almost hear the disappointment in Jesus’s words and we can feel the disciple’s embarrassment.
But Mark is leading us by the hand. And it’s here that we come to Mark’s thesis: the grand revelation of who this Jesus is and what, exactly, that means.
It’s also the revelation of who we are as Christians. And it hasn’t come too soon!
But Mark’s point starts in a very strange way.
Jesus heals a blind man, but something goes seriously wrong.
…and when Jesus had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” (Mark 8:23-24 RSV)
Did Jesus mess up?
Not quite. This passage should call to mind what Jesus said just a few verses previously:
Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? (Mark 8:18 RSV)
Jesus, all along, has been revealing himself as the Messiah, the one who would cleanse us of our idolatrous sin and make us people of God.
He has, all long, been showing us that God’s kingdom comes about in unexpected ways.
Yet, the disciples still lack faith. They still want a different sort of Messiah.
They are, if you will, like the blind man. They have seen all that Jesus has done and they have heard all that he has taught, yet they only see “trees” walking around – they don’t see the truth of the Messiah.
In many ways, we also fail to see Jesus for who he really is. We place on him all our expectations of who we want the Messiah to be and what we want our Messiah to do for us.
We haven’t really been healed of our blindness and opened our eyes to who the Messiah says he is and how he brings about God’s kingdom.
In short, like the blind man and the disciples, we see “trees” walking around and need healing.
Who Do You Say the Messiah Is?
For Jesus, this becomes a teaching moment.
Now, privately with his disciples, Jesus starts a discussion about what it means to be the Messiah – it’s a discussion of his true identity, his true mission.
When Jesus asks them who they say he is, they have all sorts of answers.
And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elias; and others one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:28 Edited RSV)
But Jesus wants to know who they think he is. After all, they’ve spent the most time with him. Here’s their chance to redeem themselves and, for a moment, it seems they do.
Peter answered him, “You are the Christ [Messiah].” (Mark 8:29 RSV)
An “A” for Peter!
He correctly understands that Jesus isn’t just some sort of prophet, healer, or even a great man. He is the Messiah, the one who will redeem Israel.
You can imagine Jesus breathing a sigh of relief. “Whew, they are finally catching on!” he must be thinking.
So, he elaborates on Peter’s confession of faith,
…the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31 RSV)
It’s clear that Peter doesn’t think of the Messiah in these terms. He had a different definition of “Messiah” in mind.
In fact, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying these things. And Jesus responds with one of the most famous lines in scripture:
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” (Mark 8:33 RSV)
It’s a sobering reminder that the Messiah and the coming kingdom does not conform the ideals of this world!
Yet, it’s true…the Messiah must suffer. But it’s through this suffering that the Messiah will be, ironically, glorified.
The Suffering Messiah
In fact, this is the point. The thesis that Mark has been driving at the whole time.
Through the Messiah’s suffering, creation will be renewed, transformed, and transfigured.
But when Peter denied Jesus’s suffering, he was, in essence, denying the final glorification of the Messiah and the renewal of creation – the means by which everything is set right.
This is why he gets called, “Satan.”
But, where does this leave us as Christians? What is our part in all of this?
Co-Suffering with the Messiah
Well, Jesus simply says that we find our vocation within his suffering.
And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man 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; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? (Mark 8:34-37 RSV)
The Christian, you see, isn’t saved from suffering but precisely through suffering.
This is probably one of the hardest things for us to grasp.
We understand that there is real evil in the world and we desperately want to know: why? Like Job of old who suffered great torments at the hand of Satan, we find this unjust.
If Jesus died and rose almost 2,000 years ago and this is the event that tramples down death by death, why does evil and death still persist? Why do we still suffer?
There’s no easy answer to this, and Mark’s gospel isn’t trying to answer this question.
What we can say is that through our suffering, we give up our idolatries, our selfishness, our identity and we unite ourselves to Christ. We take on his identity and shed our sinful selves.
As a people united to the Messiah, our pain and suffering begins to be healed. But it’s only in the resurrection that we are fully cured.
Perhaps the closest image the Bible gives us of this healing from present suffering is of a woman in childbirth.
When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:21-22 RSV)
This is our hope, our faith, our expectation.
We may suffer now as we seek to unite ourselves to the Messiah but, in the resurrection, we will be healed, comforted, and our hearts will rejoice.
And this is all because the Messiah first suffered for us on the cross. Through this comes the glorification of the Messiah and the transfiguration of the world
It’s this that the disciples didn’t understand.
Perhaps we still don’t quite understand but we’re only now beginning our journey to the cross.
P.S. Journey With Us as We Go to the Cross!
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