Our text this morning comes from Mark 8:22-33.
And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around." Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village."
Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, "Who do people say that I am?" They told Him, saying, "John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets." And He continued by questioning them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ." And He warned them to tell no one about Him.
And He began to teach them that 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. And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
Many have identified these words as the pinnacle of Mark's gospel. For eight chapters, Mark has been describing Jesus to us -- His teaching, His miracles, His compassion, His message, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). For eight chapters, Mark has been describing who Jesus is.
And now, in verse 29, Peter identifies Jesus as "the Christ." With that confession, Mark's gospel takes a turn. The emphasis no longer is upon who Jesus is. The emphasis is now upon what Jesus will do. That's the point of verse 31, ...
And He began to teach them that 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.
This is the first time that Jesus mentions His upcoming death. It will be a horrible death. He will be rejected by the religious leaders. He will be killed. It will be a hopeful death. He will rise again from the dead. So, this is a unique passage in the gospel of Mark. It's the hinge that ties the entire gospel together.
But, it's also a unique passage in the miracle that is presented just before Peter's confession -- the miracle of the blind man in Bethsaida. This miracle is recorded only of the gospel of Mark. Matthew doesn't record it. Luke doesn't record it. John doesn't record it. Only Mark. And, more importantly, this is the only miracle that is recorded in two stages. At first, Jesus gives the man sight. And then, Jesus gives the man understanding of what he sees.
The best words to describe these two stages are sensation and perception. These words first came to my mind last summer as our family was in the car during our summer vacation. My daughter, Carissa, was studying for a CLEP test. This is a test that she could pass to give her college credit. She was studying developmental psychology. I was helping her study by learning along with her.
At one point, the book we were studying talked about the developmental process a child goes through in dealing with the world. At first, a child is bombarded with neurological impulses from all around; light, sound, and smells all come into his little brain. Furthermore, as he begins to explore, the child will taste and touch. But, as the child grows in maturity, he will begin to interpret the light and understand the objects around him, and he will soon grab for them. He will begin to interpret the sounds coming from different places, eventually learning their meaning and even beginning to talk. He will figure out what tastes good and what tastes bad, so that he won't put everything in his mouth.
Psychologists describe this as the move from mere sensation to perception. Sensation describes the raw form of stimulus that comes from our senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Perception describes the way that we interpret what comes into our brains, making sense of it all.
On that vacation drive, I remember hearing those two words: sensation and perception and thinking of this text, because that it exactly what we see. We see Jesus performing two miracles. The first miracle of sensation. The second miracle of perception. Thus the title of my message this morning: Sensation and Perception.
Let's look at my first point,
1. Sensation (verses 22-24)
And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him.
This story begins with a few familiar elements. It begins with a geographic reference (7:1, 24, 31). Jesus "came to Bethsaida." Bethsaida was a village along the Sea of Galilee on the eastern side of where the Jordan river flows into the Sea.
Also, we have some friends bringing a sick man to Jesus to heal (verse 22). The deaf man recorded in chapter 7 was brought by others (7:32). The man lowered down the roof was brought by friends (2:3). In fact, whenever Jesus was healing, it was often the case that the healthy ones brought the sick to Jesus to heal (1:32; 6:56). Such was the case here.
Their request was familiar. They wanted Jesus to "touch" the blind man. Those who brought the deaf man to Jesus also wanted Jesus to touch Him (7:32). They had heard enough about Jesus and that had seen Him operate enough that they knew His touch could heal. Do you remember the woman, who was bleeding for 12 years? She said, "If I just touch His garments, I will get well" (5:28). Mark said, ...
Wherever he entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
And so, those who brought this blind man before Jesus wanted Him "to touch Him," which, they believed would give him sight. In verse 23, we see the miracle take place.
Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him.
Just like the deaf man (7:33), Jesus took this man aside, probably to avoid the embarrassment of the on-looking crowds. Again, like with the deaf man (7:33), Jesus spit. This time Jesus spit in His eyes. Why? I'm not sure. Probably to identify with what He was doing. He was curing this man's sight. Jesus spit on his eyes. Jesus laid His hands on him.
... He asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around."
Now, some think that Jesus only healed the man partially, and that Jesus went back to finish the job in verse 25. But, I don't think so. A genuine miracle took place at this moment. The man's eyes began to work. His eyes were now able to take in light and see. Before, his eyes weren't functioning at all. Now they are.
But, in some ways, this man is like a newborn baby who has the sensation of sight, but is unable to interpret the sight and understand what it means. He doesn't yet have the ability of perception.
When this man turned back to the crowds, he saw people, upright with arms that looked like branches. And these men were walking around like trees. But, of course, this man knew that trees didn't walk around. This isn't unusual.
Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, wrote a book entitled, "An Anthropologist on Mars." In the book, he presents seven case histories of people with various neurological conditions. He follows these people outside of the hospital and into their own environments to see how they interact. One of the essays is entitled, "To See and Not See."
This, by the way is really at the heart of this passage. Back in verse 17 and 18, Jesus asked the disciples, "Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?" In some measure, this is the problem with the man that Jesus healed. He could see. That is, his eyes were able to take light into them and sense the men around him. But, he could not see in the sense that he was unable to perceive what all of the light coming into his eyes actually meant.
This was the problem of the disciples before the feeding of the 4,000. They asked, "Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?" (verse 4). This was the problem of the disciples after the feeding of the 4,000. They were discussing "the fact that they had no bread" (verse 16). This was Peter's problem in our next section (as we shall see in a few moments).
Anyway, this essay written by Professor Sacks entitled, "To See and Not See", tells the tale of a man named Virgil, a 50 year-old man, who was blind from childhood. In 1991, he had a cataract removed and a new lens implanted in one eye. At this point, I pick up Creation Magazine's account of the story, ...
When the bandages were removed, Virgil could see, but he had no idea what he was seeing. Light, movement and colour were all mixed up and meaningless; all were just a blur. His brain could make no sense of the images that his optic nerve was transmitting. Although he now had eyesight, he was still mentally blind—a condition of perceptual incapacity known medically as agnosia.
Virgil could read the third line on a standard Snellan eye chart, equivalent to a visual acuity of about 20/100 (with a best of 20/80). However, he could not distinguish words, even though he could read Braille fluently, as well as raised or inscribed letters; he could easily read the inscribed letters on tombstones by touch. A cat was particularly puzzling, as he could see parts clearly—a paw, the nose, the tail—but the cat as a whole was only a blur, as were human faces. At the zoo, Virgil found it difficult to identify animals, and did so either by their motion or by a single feature, e.g. a kangaroo because it hopped, a giraffe because of its height, a zebra because of its stripes, and lions because of their roar. A few days after his operation, Virgil said that 'trees didn't look like anything on earth,' but a month later he finally put a tree together and realized that the trunk and leaves formed a complete unit.
People who have formerly been used to a world they accessed only by touch, hearing, taste, and smell tend to be baffled by 'appearance' which, being optical, has no correlation in the other senses. People who have been totally blind from birth (congenital blindness) or early childhood have lived in a world of time alone, not time and space. Thus the step at the end of a porch is something which occurs for a blind person a short time after he leaves the doorway, rather than something he is aware of in space. Sacks quotes the autobiography (Touching the Rock) of John Hull, a blind man, who says that, for the blind, people are there only when they speak; they come and they go out of nothing.
Sighted babies learn to master all this as time goes by, an achievement, it should be noted, which is beyond the capacity of even our largest super-computers. People who become blind later in life have built up a 'visual memory' of the way things look and how they fit together in space. However, for the newly sighted, it is a huge learning task involving a radical change in both neurological and psychological functioning, a change in 'the perceptual habits and strategies of a lifetime'—in short, in identity.
Sacks says that these sorts of difficulties 'are almost universal among the early blinded restored to sight,' and he mentions a patient, S.B., who could not recognize individual faces a year after his eye operation, despite his then having perfectly normal elementary vision.
From such case histories, it appears that when sight is suddenly restored, there is the need for the development of some new pathways in the visual cortex of the brain. Thus the story of the Bethsaida blind man who saw 'people as trees walking' is not a poetic account; it is a clinical description. Like Virgil, this blind man could see, but he had the additional complication of agnosia—he could not make sense of what he was seeing. Jesus, having given his eyes sight, then heals his agnosia—in one miraculous instant his brain was taught what the rest of us have learned from childhood. 
And that's what we see in verse 25,
2. Perception (verses 25-26)
This is my second point: perception.
Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.
Perhaps this miracle was greater than the first (if it's possible to put degrees of difficulty on miracles). In the first miracle, the man merely needed lenses in his eyes, or a cataract removed, or he needed a new optic nerve, altogether. Any of these things were phenomenal.
But, in verse 25, we see Jesus doing a greater miracle -- instantaneously rearranging the synapses in the brain, so that this man could discern what his eyes were "seeing." I believe that this is the greater miracle. It's the miracle of perception.
And this man "began to see everything clearly." That is, he began to perceive everything around him. He began to discern space and shapes and colors and movements. His vision was 20/20. Everything was clear and crisp. He didn't need a year or two or five for his brain to learn the optical impulses that were coming to his brain. No, he was able to perceive it instantaneously.
The prophets of old had anticipated this sort of event. Isaiah 35:5 says, "Then the eyes of the blind will be opened." Let us marvel at our Lord.
Yet, we see again, the common call of Jesus (in verse 26).
And He sent him to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village."
Presumably, this man wasn't from Bethsaida. He was from other parts. Jesus sends him home, not even permitting him to visit Bethsaida. We constantly see this from Jesus. He told the leper to "say nothing to anyone" (1:44). He told the parents of the child He raised from the dead to tell no one (5:43). He told the deaf man to tell no one (7:36).
And here, the idea is the same. Go straight home. You don't have to spread my name in Bethsaida.
Certainly, this must have something to do with nature of Jesus' ministry. His ministry wasn't primarily a healing ministry. When the crowds got too big, Jesus said, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for" (1:38). He wanted to keep His ministry low-profile.
But, at this point, we need to ask the question. "Why did Jesus perform this miracle in two stages? Why did Jesus first give sensation and then give perception?" Certainly, Jesus could have performed both of these miracles at once.
When Jesus calmed the storm, He performed two miracles: He stopped the wind and He calmed the sea. The wind and the waves obeyed Him (4:35-41). When Jesus healed the deaf man, He performed two miracles: He opened his ears. He gave him speech (7:31-37). In chapter 10, we will read about Bartimaeus, who received his sight. Jesus didn't do it in stages. Rather, He gave both sensation and perception at the same time (10:46-52).
So, why did Jesus not do so here? Mark doesn't tell us. But, I do believe that we get a hint in the context.
Remember last week, when we saw Jesus feed the 4,000? His disciples didn't get it. He asked them, "Having eyes, do you not see?" And coming up, we see a bit of the same thing. As Peter confesses who Jesus is, He will see, but not see clearly.
So, let's turn to my third point this morning. I'm
calling it ...
3. Sensation (verses 27-30)
Again, we begin with a geographical reference, ...
Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi;
This is taking them north, 30 miles or so to the city of Caesarea. So as not to be confused with the Caesarea along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, this is Caesarea Philippi, where Herod Philip, the tetrarch reigned. It's in Gentile land. I would guess that Jesus and His disciples found a bit of privacy there. And it was here that Jesus reveals who He is. Verse 27 continues, ...
... and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, "Who do people say that I am?" They told Him, saying, "John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets."
This was a good question to ask the disciples. There are things that people will tell the disciples that they wouldn't ever tell Jesus. I know what this is about. As a pastor of a church, I know that there are things that you would never tell me. However, you might tell others in the church. It's just how it is with leadership. Jesus was the leader of the disciples. He was prodding a bit to see what people were saying.
The answers were interesting. Some said, "John the Baptist." John was Jesus' cousin. They weren't the same person. However, they were both preachers. They both preached repentance. They both had large crowds following them. Some were obviously confused as to their identity.
Some said, "Elijah." The prophet Malachi had prophesied that Elijah would come before the great and terrible day of the LORD(Mal. 4:5). The Jews were anticipating the coming of Elijah. They rightly sensed the nearness of the kingdom. And some thought that Jesus was the Elijah who was coming before the end. But, this wasn't quite right either.
Some said, "one of the prophets." It has been 400 years since Israel had any prophets. And yet, with the coming of Jesus, and the authority with which He spoke, some thought that He was a prophet. But, still, this wasn't quite right either.
With these answers, you can sense the overall perception that the people had about Jesus. They knew that He was someone special, even if they didn't quite understand who He was. And so, Jesus turned the question away from the crowds, and toward the disciples.
And He continued by questioning them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Literally, the Greek reads, "But you. Who do you say that I am?" This was what Jesus was really getting at in the first place. He wasn't a crowd-pleaser. It didn't much matter to Him what the people thought. But, it did matter a great deal to him what the disciples thought.
... Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ."
That's it! That's the answer to the first 8 chapters of the gospel of Mark! He got it! Yes, Jesus is the Christ. Christ is the Greek word, which means, "Messiah!" Yes, Jesus is the Messiah! Yes, Jesus is the long awaited one! Yes, Jesus is the Anointed One of God! He is the one who came to redeem Israel!
From Matthew's account, we know that Peter didn't say these things because of his remarkable insight. Rather, it took a miracle. It took the special revelation of God. "Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17). This was no less a miracle than when the blind man's eyes were opened! This was no less a miracle than when the dead man's ears were opened! This was no less a miracle than when Jesus fed the 4,000!
And I say this church family. It is no less a miracle when anyone has their eyes opened to see the reality of who Jesus is. It's a divine work of God in our hearts. He changes us, so that we see Him!
Peter finally saw the truth of who Jesus was. And yet (according to verse 30), ...
And He warned them to tell no one about Him.
They still had much to learn about Jesus (as we shall
see). They weren't ready to tell the world about Jesus. That day would come. It just
wasn't now. Because, as we see in my final point, Peter had Sensation (verses 27-30),
but he also had ...
4. No Perception (verses 31-33)
In other words, Peter had eyes, but he did not see. He saw something, but he didn't see clearly. When He looked at Jesus, he was like a tree, walking around (verse 24).
In verses 31-33, we see Peter's lack of understanding what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah.
And He began to teach them that 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.
Here's the glories of the gospel. Jesus Christ came and suffered. He suffered ridicule at the hands of the Pharisees. He suffered injustice at the hands of the Chief priests. He suffered physically at the hands of the Romans. Jesus was rejected by those who should have embraced Him. He came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And it was Israel who turned their backs on Him. Jesus was killed by the very ones He came to save. But, that wasn't all that there was to the story. It continued. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered death. He conquered sin.
We but need to believe in Him, and we too will conquer death and sin through Him. We read in verse 32, ...
And He was stating the matter plainly.
Peter understood what Jesus was saying. But, Peter didn't understand what Jesus was saying. Peter had eyes to see. But, Peter didn't see. Peter had sensation. But, Peter had no perception.
... And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
Can you imagine? Rebuking Jesus? It's only because his blindness was so great!
He had a different understanding of what the Messiah ought to be. He pictured the Messiah who was going to come as a political ruler and free Israel from the tyranny of the Romans! He pictured the Psalm 2 Messiah. The Messiah who will come, installed as King upon Zion! (Ps. 2:6). The Messiah who will come as the one who breaks His enemies as with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9). The Messiah who will come, shattering the enemies like earthenware (Ps. 2:9). The Messiah who will come in His wrath and fury (Ps. 2:12).
He pictured the Isaiah 9 Messiah. The Messiah who would sit on the throne of David (Is. 9:7). The Messiah who would place the government on His shoulders (Is. 9:6). The Messiah who would have no end to the increase of His government (Is. 9:7).
He pictured the Psalm 110 Messiah. The Messiah who will have all His enemies placed as a footstool for His feet (Ps. 110:1). The Messiah who will rule in the midst of His enemies (Ps. 110:2). The Messiah who will "shatter kings in the day of His wrath" (Ps. 110:5). The Messiah who will "judge among the nations ... [and] fill them with corpses" (Ps. 110:6).
And this will come. Jesus will come again to fully establish His kingdom. There will be a day when "the kingdom of the world [will become] the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. 11:15). And in that day, Jesus "will reign forever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). But, this isn't what Jesus came to do on earth the first time He came. It was necessary for the Christ first to suffer, and [then] to enter into His glory (Luke 24:26).
Thus, Jesus presented to Peter the Isaiah 53 Messiah: the suffering servant. The one who was despised and forsaken of men (Is. 53:3); was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3); was oppressed and afflicted (Is. 53:7); was pierced through for our transgressions (Is. 53:5); was crushed for our iniquities (Is. 53:5); was cut off out of the land of the living (Is. 53:8).
His death was for our gain. He bore our griefs (Is. 53:4). He carried our sorrow (Is. 53:4). By His scourging we are healed (Is. 53:5). Our iniquity has fallen on Him (Is. 53:6), because He "rendered Himself as a guilt offering" for our sin (Is. 53:10).
Peter didn't understand this. Rather, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he thought that Jesus "was going to redeem Israel [politically]" (Luke 24:21). But, Jesus told Peter that He came to redeem Israel spiritually. And it just didn't compute. And so, Peter rebuked Jesus. Just as Jesus rebuked the demons, and they fled (1:25; 3:12), so also Peter rebuked Jesus, expecting Him to alter His course. But, Jesus returned the fire. We read in verse 33, ...
But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
Peter had No Perception (verses 31-33). And Jesus strongly rebuked Peter. But, not only was His rebuke strong, it was also public. Jesus didn't take Peter aside and speak with him privately to straighten out matters between them (as Peter had done in verse 32). No, this rebuke was spoken in the presence of all the disciples. Jesus wanted every single one of His disciples to know that Peter's ways were not God's ways. Rather, Peter's ways were the ways of the devil!
Oh, how quickly things can change! At one moment, Peter was speaking the revelation of God, Himself. Less than a minute later, Peter was the mouthpiece of Satan. Peter had sensation, but had no perception. This is why Jesus "warned them to tell no one about Him" (Mark 8:30) -- because, they were so muddled in their understanding about Him, that they would be preaching the plan of Satan, rather than the plan of God.
But, the plan of God is simple. Jesus came to suffer. Jesus came to die. Jesus came to rise from the dead. Jesus repeated this over and over and over again to His disciples.
For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later." But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.
Again, we see how the disciples heard, but didn't hear. We see how the disciples saw, but didn't see. They needed to understand. And so, Jesus repeats Himself again, ...
They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again."
I still don't think that the disciples understood. Following these words, James and John ask for the great seats in the kingdom, on the right and left hand of Jesus (10:37). And Jesus points them to the suffering that is first needed (10:38-40). They wanted the glory without the suffering. They didn't understand that it was suffering first and glory later.
And then, in chapter 10, verse 45, Jesus states it as plain as can be, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Here is the great reality of the gospel. This is the great reality of why we gather here this morning. Jesus Christ came to die. He came to die as a ransom for our sins.
Do you understand this? (8:17) Do you believe this?
One of my all time favorite Sesame Street videos has Grover teaching his audience the simple concepts: around, over, under, through, near and far. He teaches by running around a set of swinging doors, then showing his face over the doors and under the doors. Finally, he walks through the swinging doors. He then says, “Near” and runs away from the camera, saying “Far” from a distance. All the time he does this he sings a catchy little song, …
Around, around, around, around,
Over, under, through.
Around, around, around, around,
Over, under, through.
Near, … Far, … Near, … Far.
At the end doing his little jig, Grover is obviously winded from his running. He says how nice it is that his audience understands everything. Incredulously, he discerns that they don’t understand. And so he asks, “You don’t understand?!!” At which point, he does his entire around, over, under through, near and far routine again, obviously fatiguing along the way. He then expresses his gladness that now his audience understands. But, they don’t! So, again, Grover exclaims, “You don’t understand?!!” And so, off he goes on his routine again. However, this time, he falls over from exhaustion. 
This reminds me of Jesus’ feelings as He dealt with His disciples. Over and over and over again, Jesus explained to his disciples that He was going to suffer and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). He told them. But, each time, they didn’t understand. So, Jesus repeated his future. And they still didn’t understand. I can hear Jesus exclaiming to the disciples, “You don’t understand?!!” (Mark 8:17).
We can be thankful that Jesus was patient with his disciples, and that these things actually took place. For, in doing so, Jesus “became a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Isn't this the struggle of us all? We have sensation. We lack perception. "We see through a veil dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). That's how God designed life -- that we might live by faith.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church
on June 10, 2012 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.
 See http://creation.com/walking-trees and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Anthropologist_on_Mars and Creation Ex Nihilo Magazine, 21:4 - Sep-Nov 1999, pp. 54-55.
 You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKu3NE7Omkw.