(The apologetics series that normally runs in this Thursday slot will return in two weeks' time. For this week and next, I have a couple devotional articles I wrote for my local newspaper.)
This summer I have the privilege of taking part in an archaeological expedition in Israel, unearthing a site that might be one of the towns that played witness to Jesus’ ministry nearly two thousand years ago. Specifically, the dig directors believe it to be the site of Bethsaida, mentioned several times in the Gospels as the hometown of Peter and Andrew (Jesus’ disciples), as well as one of their most frequent stops when ministering around Galilee. On one of those stops in Bethsaida, Jesus performed what is perhaps his strangest miracle of healing.
In the story (told in Mark 8:22-25), a blind man is brought to Jesus, and Jesus leads him away from the crowd, to a place where they can interact one-on-one. The Gospels are full of healing stories, so we know that Jesus can heal with simply a touch or a word. But here he does something weirder: he spits on the man’s eyes. The story gets stranger still, because it quickly becomes apparent that the man is only partially healed. When Jesus asks him what he can see, he reports a fuzzy, disordered image. So Jesus puts his hands on the man’s eyes, and this time his sight is fully restored. The two-step nature of the miracle is strange, since elsewhere in the Gospels it seems like Jesus’ healings are instantaneous and complete. But here, it appears to take Jesus two tries.
What’s going on in this story? Scholars have debated it for years, and there are many interesting interpretations. Despite all our study and speculation, though, we may never know for sure why Jesus did things the way he did. But we can observe some ways in which the pattern of this healing is similar to our own relationship with Jesus.
First, consider the fact that Jesus uses spit to heal the man. We sometimes have the false idea that when we come to faith in Christ, it’s going to be a super-spiritual experience, with our hearts and minds immediately exalted to heavenly realities. But the truth is, God works in our hearts far more often in dull, ordinary, everyday ways. He uses the simple things of life—like our families, the color of a sunset, the sound of the wind in the trees, or even the difficult seasons of our lives—to draw us closer to him. God doesn’t immediately transport us out of earthly realities; he makes use of them to help us know him more.
Second, consider the two-step pattern of the healing. This is actually very similar to the normal pattern of coming to faith in Christ. Against our expectations of an immediate, utterly transformational event, many new Christians find that they’re still the same people after getting saved, and that they haven’t been instantaneously transfigured into pictures of angelic radiance. The normal pattern is this: God saves us by making us spiritually alive in Christ, and then he teaches us how to live. Just as with the blind man in the story, Jesus restores our spiritual sight, and then helps us learn to see rightly. So don’t get too discouraged when you see the same old problems popping up in your life. Just bring them to Jesus. He’s the one who saved us, and he’s the one who is still at work, teaching us the way of holiness. He gave us back our spiritual sight when we were blind, but we still need his touch to learn how to use those powers of sight in the right way. Growing as a Christian is a journey, and it’s a journey with only one set of directions that you need to remember: when you don’t know which way to go, turn to Jesus.