Summary: A Christian is a follower of Christ, but what does it mean to be a follower? Jesus answers this question telling us to take up our cross, but what Jesus means by "take up his cross" may be very different than what we imagine it to mean.
An out-of-towner drove his car into a ditch in a desolated area. Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big strong horse named Buddy.
He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, "Pull, Nellie, pull!" Buddy didn’t move.
Then the farmer hollered, "Pull, Buster, pull!" Buddy didn’t respond.
Once more the farmer commanded, "Pull, Coco, pull!" Nothing.
Then the farmer nonchalantly said, "Pull, Buddy, pull!" And the horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch.
The motorist was most appreciative and very curious. He asked the farmer, “Why did you call your horse by the wrong name three times.
"Well mister... My horse Buddy is blind and if he thought he was the only one pulling out the car, he wouldn’t even try!"
If we are asked what does it mean to be a Christian? – we would respond that a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. Is that the answer that Jesus himself would give? I mean, how do you define “to follow”? “To follow” seems like a fairly wide open response. Does it mean I follow the teaching of Jesus? Or that I give my life over to Jesus? Does it mean I go to church and learn about Jesus? Or perhaps, does it mean I just really, really like Jesus? Today Jesus answers that question for us, “What does it mean to be a Christian”?
Jesus posses the question of what it means to be one of his followers in the context of blindness. As the physically blind the men who are spiritually blind see, BUT both the physically blind and the spiritually blind don’t see very well at first do they? We see this with the blind man seeing men first as trees and we see this with Peter who challenges Jesus on his statement about suffering. Jesus sees that Peter and the rest of the disciples are not fully able to see who he really is, so he explains what it means to be one of his followers? He uses the image of taking up and carrying one’s cross.
This is an image that we are familiar with today, and in fact we hear it used quite often, “That is my cross to bear”. However, our cultural understanding is certainly not the biblical understanding and it seems we misunderstand what Jesus is saying just as much as the disciples….
Let’s start with the blind man. As we have gone through the gospel of Mark we have seen healing after healing. Jesus heals the lame, the deaf, the ill, the blind. Here we have another one of the many healings from Jesus…but this one is a bit different. Usually when Jesus heals, he just says the word and everything is perfect. But here Jesus has to touch him twice. Is Jesus losing his touch? No, this does not mean a loss of power, Jesus is leading the disciples into what will happen next. Notice, Jesus asks, “Can you see anything”, he doesn’t ask, “Can you see something”? See the emphasis is not on what the man saw, but if the man saw – and so we see with Peter, the emphasis is not on what Peter sees, but the fact that he is finally starting to see. The blind man’s sight is restored slowly, but completely and we see this with the disciples, they may not fully understand yet, but like the blind man, someday they will. Their recognition is as if their eyes had been opened, but things are still somewhat blurry.
Now after Jesus heals the blind man, Jesus then moves into an area dominated very strongly by Roman associations, it is an area were it is strongly affirmed by the population that Caesar is lord. This is where Jesus is to reveal who he is, right in the middle of the spiritually blind. It is here that Jesus contrast human reality with spiritual reality by asking the defining question: Who do you say that I am? This is the defining moment in this book. Everything is different from here on in. Now the reality of who Jesus really is, starts to dawn more and more on the disciples. It is from this point that they start to realize what they have gotten themselves into.
In verse 27 we see Jesus traveling with his disciples and teaching them as they traveled. When he asks the question, “Who do people say I am?”, the word for people here means those from whom revelation is veiled. In other words, Jesus asks the question in such a way that the disciples understand the contrast he is setting up. See, what Jesus is asking is this: Tell me what those who are not called by me are saying about me?
So the disciples answer with what they have heard. Jesus power astonishes everyone and provokes questions about his true identity, but who he is remains a mystery. They try to place Jesus in a category, but he doesn’t fit into already established categories, so they speculate. People know Jesus is different and powerful so they come up with what is closest in their minds of who they know are people with ultimate godly power.