As we have made our way through the Gospel of Mark, a recurring theme has been disciples who just don’t get it .
Firstly, back in chapter 4, we saw the disciples panicking during the storm on the lake while Jesus, the one through whom the wind, rain, and seas were made, was sound asleep. They did not yet understand who the Messiah was. They knew he was great, but they had no inkling just how great he really was.
Later, in chapter 5, Jesus jostled by the crowd as he walked along, felt power drain from him. He stopped to ask who had touched him and the disciples, once again, were incredulous. “What do you mean, ‘Who touched me?’? Everyone is touching you!” Yet again, their view of the Saviour was far too small. They saw him as a great man, but not as the God-Man.
In chapter 6, a crowd of five thousand had been listening to Jesus teach. He instructed his disciples to give the crowd something to eat. Flabbergasted, they replied, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” Jesus then fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Again, they came away amazed. Who was this man? Jesus then walked on water and, instead of worshipping him, they were terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost.
In chapter 7, Jesus fed the four thousand and asked them, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” (vv. 17–18)
Then Mark recorded a few miracles, bookended front and back by the healing of a blind man.
After the first healing of the blind man, we see Peter, who seems to have had a moment of clear vision—a bit like when you’re at the optometrist and they flick the right combination of lenses in front of your eyes—suddenly seeing the world through crisp and clean eyes. Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ. Finally!
But, no, straight afterwards, Peter, flush with confidence after his recent affirmation, rebuked Christ for speaking about his impending death, and Jesus called him, “Satan,” telling him to “get behind” him. Ouch! Evidently he still didn’t get it!
The disciples were then unable to heal a demonised boy, but Jesus was able. Later we the disciples argued about who was the greatest, and shooed unimportant children away. Then James and John were found asking for positions of honour and authority in the kingdom. No doubt, they had an earthly kingdom in mind here. Jesus, having freed Israel from Roman oppression, would set up a government, with himself as King (obviously!), but he would surely need a Number 2 man. James and John felt that they were right for the job. Then we have the account of Bartimaeus’s healing and read of his recovered his sight despite the crowd trying to silence him.
If you’re like me, you find yourself reading these accounts and shaking your head or rolling your eyes. Why couldn’t these guys see it? How dumb could they be?
Or perhaps you aren’t like me. Perhaps you find yourself sympathising with the disciples in their blindness. You wonder doubtfully if you would have seen and interpreted the signs of the times and whether you would have recognised Jesus for who he was: the Son of God. Perhaps you feel like the disciples and the Pharisees deserve a little slack. Was it really that clear?
But, yes, it really was. There had been numerous prophecies about the Messiah throughout Israel’s history and ample evidence to confirm that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the promised Son of David. Why could they not see it?
Well, their understanding of the kingdom was far too small. Their view of God was far too small.
They had forgotten that it was only because of sin that they had to offer thousands of sacrifices to atone for their sins every year. They had forgotten about the penalty for sin being death. They were so wrapped up in the physical land of Palestine that they had forgotten about the problem that, even if Messiah were to rescue them and set up a glorious, Solomon-like kingdom, they would not be around very long to enjoy it. Their world was too small. Their gaze was too low. They could only see their own two feet.
We marvel at their blindness and shake our heads at their small view of Christ, even though he was right there in front of them. And yet we do precisely the same thing.
We may have a better idea of just who Jesus was and a more consistent appreciation for just how important Christ’s coming was for the world. We may be more aware of the fact that he came to remove sin and reconcile us with the Father, rather than set up a utopia on a broken earth.
But we too, like the disciples, allow our gaze to fall. We, like the disciples, look at the miracles in front of us—like the gospel and the salvation of souls—and turn away, anxious about our finances.
Like the disciples, we become myopic, able only to think about the here and now. In our times of prayer, we focus only on health, exams, promotions, and the like.
As a church, we can become man-centred in the way we look for jokes and entertainment in the preaching, in the way we complain about the uncomfortable chairs, the frequency of Communion, or the music, which doesn’t quite tickle our fancy.
We get easily offended and leave the church when we are challenged or confronted with the word. Or when a sinner sins against us.
We stay home from Family Bible Hour class, or YP, or Grace Groups because we are “just too tired.” And we put off getting involved in discipleship and ministry because it isn’t really convenient.
When we behave like this, we are living just like the blind disciples. They had no excuse, and we certainly have none. The fact is, the world, the flesh, and the devil are all working tirelessly against us to keep us from growing in Christlikeness. They want to keep us from becoming who we were made to be and seeing what we need to see and loving what we need to love. We need not only to be aware of this warfare, but we need to actively manoeuvre against the enemy. Passivity in war is nothing but delayed defeat. We need to be careful about how much we expose ourselves to the world in terms of our entertainment and company, and we need to be expending the effort to fill our minds with the things of God so that we might be transformed in our thinking and able to see what he sees, love what he loves, and hate what he hates.
You may feel like reading your Bible every day is pointless, especially as you trudge through the genealogies, cubits, ephahs, and pomegranates. But keep at it, for through the word we are given a vision of the glory of God.
It may be a real hack to get up early and get the kids ready in time for FBH, but set that alarm and get your family going, for it is through exposing your children to the word that their blindness will be removed.
It may be a wrench to discontinue watching that series or walk out of that movie, but “do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
The more you set your eyes on the things of the world, the more the cataracts of worldliness will dim your sight. To close your physical eyes and pray with a brother or sister may feel as pointless as talking to yourself, but bow your head for it is through prayer that our faith is made sight.
It may be that attending Grace Group is the last thing you feel up to after a difficult day at work, but do the hard thing and go anyway and see how you can apply the word to everyday life and help others to do the same.
I could go on and list example after example, but you get the picture. The point is this: Just like Bartimaeus, our sight has been gloriously restored and we have been enabled to see the risen Lord. More than that, we have followed him and been invited to participate in something far greater than ourselves. So let’s not squander that opportunity by returning to our blind begging, setting our gaze too low, and never raising our eyes higher than our own two feet.