Caesarea Philippi is twenty five miles straight north of Bethsaida where Jesus healed the blind man. I tell you this not because I think you have a great interest in the geography of Israel. I tell you this to remind you for a moment of the very earthly reality of the life of Jesus. He literally walked among us. He walked everywhere He went, no horses, no chariots, no special transportation. If they walked this road in one day it was a long day’s walk. At three miles an hour that would be just over eight hours, not counting restroom and meal stops with 13 people. Jesus’ life among us was no walk in the park. He walked countless miles on long winding hilly dusty rocky roads. He no doubt wore out countless pairs of sandals. Remember last week Jesus took the blind man out of the village and healed him in two stages. I think there may be a parallel between that story and this story and in the parallel a reason why Jesus healed in two stages. Jesus takes Peter and the disciples outside of the village of Bethsaida to open their eyes. And when He opens their eyes, He does it in two stages, first partially and then fully. First they see Him as the Messiah, then they see what kind of Messiah. Caesarea Philippi was a thoroughly pagan and Gentile city as you might imagine by the name. Herod the Great had constructed a temple there to worship the deified Caesar Augustus. There were also places of worship for the Greek god Pan and the Roman god Zeus and the Syrian god Baal. When Herod the Great died he had four sons so he divided his realm into four parts and the northern most part went to his son Philip. Philip’s brother Herod Antipas was the one who killed John the Baptist. Did Jesus take His disciples there on purpose? Did He take them into the midst of paganism where multiple gods were revered and worshipped to ask them who they thought He was? Was this a lesson in comparative world religions? Who is Jesus in comparison to all the other gods?
As we come to the last words of the last book of the OT, I got to thinking about last words. We usually think of last words as being especially important or poignant. We think a person’s last words should somehow be especially worth listening to, worth sitting up and taking notice of. Kim Ahlers was telling me about how her family was all able to gather by the bedside of her grandmother in her last hours and how her grandmother made a point of speaking good words to all of them. I got to thinking about what famous last words have been spoken in history so I went on-line and looked up famous last words. I read literally hundreds of them from all through history. Some were humorous because they probably didn’t realize they were speaking their last words. Like the last words of a redneck, “Hey, everybody watch this!” Groucho Marx said, “Die, my dear? Why, that's the last thing I'll do!” Another notorious sinner said, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do” (Oscar Wilde, d. November 30, 1900). A couple to more sober words from famous people: President Woodrow Wilson simply said, “I am ready.” And then there is Nathan Hale’s famous line, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” (American spy, hanged in 1776). Of course I was drawn to those whose final words reflect a sense eternal life in Christ. Edgar Allen Poe: “Lord, help my poor soul.” Mother Teresa: “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you” (Sept 5, 1997). John Wesley: “The best of all is: God is with us.” John Newton: “I am in the land of the dying, and I am soon going to the land of the living” (Anglican preacher, abolitionist, and writer of "Amazing Grace."). You know what struck me most after reading hundreds of last words? How few of them where noteworthy, how few of them seem thought out, how few of them where really wise words for those being left behind. I was dismayed at how trivial or petty or insignificant most of them were. It’s became painfully obvious to me that a lot of people have never given it much thought. And it also became painfully obvious to me that most of us don’t really know when the last moment will be so we may be caught off guard and not even have a chance to leave some good last words. We need to think about our last words and we need to think about what we want them to be while we are still of sound mind. Why not plan your last words and leave them with your will. Let them be about eternal things, things that matter the most. Michelangelo did that in one sentence, “I give my soul to God, my body to the earth, and my worldly possessions to my nearest of kin, charging them to remember the sufferings of Jesus Christ.”
Friends brought him to Jesus. How good are your friends? Do you have any friends who can get in your face and tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it? Do you have any friends that care about you so much they would do anything for you, even take you to get help when you don’t think you need help? And how good a friend are you? Have you ever loved someone so much that you have risked your relationship to tell them what they absolutely needed to hear? What greater act of caring and love is there than that? What better gift can be given to a friend or colleague or relative than some glimpse of our Lord Jesus Christ? Some Scripture, some truth, some insight, some explanation, some testimony of God’s grace. To whom has God give you to turn on some light in their darkness? A nameless blind name in the town of Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee had some friends who brought him to Jesus and they begged Jesus to touch their friend. We are not told of any faith on the part of the man, but his friends demonstrated their faith by bringing him to Jesus with the expectation that just a touch from Jesus would heal him. Your faith, your prayers can bring others to Jesus and to His healing touch. Let you who are spiritual and who have spiritual eyes pray for those who are spiritually blind, that Jesus might touch them as He has touched you.
The power of very small influences is staggering when you start to think about it. A microscopic germ can reduce a grown man to total weakness. A microscopic dust particle can render a computer chip worthless. A grain of sand in an eye or a pebble in a shoe can cause much pain. One small spark can set an entire forest ablaze. One small word can make our day or ruin our day. A little baby completely and forever changes a couple’s life. A little leaven can swell up a whole loaf of bread. And one small error in doctrine can eventually grow to destroy whole souls. Jesus saw in one small argument the seeds of spiritual destruction and warned His disciples about it, but the seeds were so small the disciples didn’t see them. Our text this morning is about the spiritual dangers of being deaf and blind. Two weeks ago we considered the miraculous healing of a deaf man and next week we will consider the miraculous healing of a blind man. But in between those two miracles is the story of two groups of deaf and blind men, the Pharisees and the disciples. And of the two kinds of infirmities, physical deafness and blindness or spiritual deafness and blindness, spiritual is far more tragic and deadly, and is cause for deep sorrow and sighs. We will look at this text in two parts, first deaf and blind Pharisees who demand signs from heaven and then deaf and blind disciples who misunderstand signs of leaven.
Some wise wag once remarked, “There are three kinds of people in the world, those who are good at math and those who aren’t.” Or there are two kinds of people in the world, those who always divide people into two groups and those who don’t. Then there is the obvious one, there are two kinds of people in the world, male and female. Our text this evening describes two kinds of people and speaks to two kinds of people.
What do you think of crowds? What’s the biggest crowd you have ever been in? A sporting event, a concert, some rally or big conference? I was trying to think what my biggest crowd was, maybe downtown Milwaukee for a Fourth of July fireworks show, over 100K. Phama remembers it too well, we lost little three year old Marc in the crowd and it was a bit terrifying. How about the crowds on the Guide in Bellingham or at Costco or the mall? Do you try to avoid them, do you stay away or wish they would go away? Do you find yourself getting annoyed or frustrated or impatient? What do you see when you see a huge crowd? Whenever Jesus saw a great crowd or a great city His heart was stirred with a great compassion. He saw souls, eternal souls dying in their sin and unbelief. No one felt as much as Christ when He saw a great crowd, no one saw so deeply and so eternally. When you are on the Guide or at Costco or walking through the mall do you see souls, many facing a Christ-less eternity? Are you ever stirred to compassion, stirred to pray? Many of Jesus’ emotions are recorded in Scripture. His joy, sorrow, anger, amazement, gratitude. But no emotion is recorded as often as His compassion. While He walked among us here on this earth, what He felt most was compassion. Compassion for the hunger and thirst in our souls, for being lost sheep without a shepherd. The disciples were annoyed and frustrated and impatient with crowds, with people always scrambling for attention. They were always trying to shoo people way and keep everyone away from Jesus. They always wanted to dismiss the poor and needy, people with demands. There are three things I want us to see about Jesus from our text this morning.