This sermon is part of the sermon series "Seeing and Obeying Christ". See series.
It's amazing the places where people think they see Jesus. I found all these pictures on the internet of Jesus sightings: on a banana peel, a water stain, a ketchup lid, the bottom of a frying pan. It's silly when people see Jesus where he isn't. But it is tragic not to see Jesus when he's right before our eyes, because Jesus must be seen to be believed. Give me a few minutes, and you'll see what I mean.
Mark wrote his Gospel so that people could see Jesus for who he is. The first verse says, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark tells the story of Jesus as a sort of action adventure. Not much talk except short, punchy parables. There's a lot of action. We see grace course through the limbs of a paralyzed man who walks home. We see Jesus rout a regiment of demons all bivouacked in a tortured man. We see Jesus wake a little girl from death as though naptime was over. We see him feed thousands from a recipe of five loaves and two fish, leaving twelve times more leftovers than he started with. He walks on wind-whipped water before our eyes and gives a deaf man hearing and speech. It's enough to make your head spin! Mark 7:37 says, "People were overwhelmed with amazement. 'He has done everything well,' they said." The problem with all those miracles, much like the parables Jesus told, was that despite what they saw, people didn't see the point.
Then in Mark 8 at the halfway point in this story, Jesus repeats himself, twice. He does one miracle he's done before. Then he splits a miracle, you might say, into two halves. And, if that isn't strange enough, he does a different version of the two-half miracle again. What's that about? Turn to Mark 8.
The problem of spiritual blindness
In Mark 6 we are told the story of the feeding of the 5,000. Now in chapter 8 we have a kind of reprise, the feeding of the 4,000. The stories are strikingly similar, except for the details. Both are unique and astonishing miracles. The thing about miracles, it seems, is that they're hard to miss. They're "eye-poppin." You see something you've never seen before. And at least in Jesus' case, almost everyone knew it was the power of God at work, though some said it was the work of Satan. This, like all Jesus' other miracles, was an unmistakable display of compassion and power that anyone could see. So, later when Jesus had the disciples alone, he threw them for a loop when, in effect, he pointed back to those two miracles and said, "Why don't you get it? How can you be so blind?" And they looked at each other like people who had missed the punch line. They had no clue that there was anything to get. So that's where we start; there is more to the stories of Jesus than meets the eye (8:1-10).
The disciples saw Jesus' miracle, but it didn't occur to them that Jesus spoke in parables even when he was working miracles. In fact, it didn't occur to anyone that Jesus' miracles carried a message that only discerning eyes would see. To them, Jesus' miracles meant simply that he was a God-sent miracle-worker. Apparently everyone was blind to the fact that Jesus' miracles were divine pronouncements; there were powerful pictures in those miracles. It is an easy thing to miss, then and now.
The reason we don't see the meaning in Jesus' miracles is blindness. I remember first learning about color blindness in grade school and being astonished that some of my classmates could not see the colored numbers in the box that were plain as day to me. How can you not see that? I've since learned that color blindness is usually a genetic problem. So is spiritual blindness. It's in our DNA, all of us. People can see Jesus, look right at him and what he's said and done, and see only part of what is there. And that's a problem, not of intelligence, but of blindness.
Beware the blindness that keeps you from seeing Jesus. In Mark 8:11-21 there are two kinds of blind people. The first were the Pharisees. "The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, 'Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.' Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side."
The Pharisees posed as guardians of God's truth who, out of prudence, would not believe Jesus was from God unless God himself spoke from heaven to say so in some incontrovertible way—a thundering announcement out of the clear blue sky maybe, or a beam of light focused on Jesus with angels arrayed around him. Jesus would not give them that kind of sign because, even if he had, they simply would not have bowed to him, or for that matter, to God himself. There is a kind of skepticism that masquerades as tough-minded when it is really only stiff-necked.
Jesus' point to his disciples is that this kind of hard-hearted blindness disguised as truth-seeking skepticism is like yeast. Yeast is practically invisible, but it changes what it touches. Yeast puffs up. It ferments. "Yeast" quietly works its way into the heart and mind, tainting how we think about Jesus, how we see him.
As Jesus' disciples, we can no more avoid these intellectual and religious hypocrites now than they could then, but these are dangerous people. They are not dangerous because they are thoughtful, or even because they are skeptical. Christians have nothing to fear from tough thinkers or from hard questions. But these kinds of people are dangerous because they are wicked, because they are anything but tough thinkers. It is not their minds we have to fear, or their skeptical caution, but their stubborn wills. For there is no way they will ever surrender an inch to God, no matter what sign he shows them. And that proud hypocrisy can get into us like yeast! Watch out!
The second kind of blind people here, of course, are the disciples themselves. They're blind like people who can't see the forest from the trees. They're blind like people who smile blankly because they don't realize that the story you just told has a point. Verses 14-21:
The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. "Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod." They discussed this with one another and said, "It is because we have no bread." Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they replied. "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven." He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"
Maybe they're not the only ones who don't get it. They didn't understand that being low on bread was not their real problem. Jesus' heart was still sighing under the frustration of the Pharisees' hypocrisy, but the disciples were poking around in the glove compartment looking for something to eat. More than that, they had just seen a miracle of multiplied bread—a repeat miracle, no less—packed with meaning, and they had no clue that they were supposed to think about it, to interpret it. They didn't realize this was a calling card identifying Jesus. They had no clue that the Bread of Life was in their boat. They were blind because they didn't know how to look. We blush because we know our sight is no better. But what can we do? We just saw we had a miracle repeated. Next we have a miracle halved. Verses 22-26:
They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, "Don't go into the village."
Now why would Jesus do that? Do you think he got distracted mid-miracle and lost his mojo? Was this guy's blindness a really bad case requiring two treatments? Perhaps the man jerked his head away at the crucial moment and some of the miracle power missed. What did we just learn? We learned that miracles have meanings. In particular, they tell us more about Jesus than we realize, more than that he is a miracle-worker.
When Jesus asks the man after the first touch, "Do you see anything," the disciples might well have thought, Wait a minute! He just asked us that question: "Do you have eyes but fail to see?" We've got something in common with this guy. The feeding of the multitude miracle was repeated. Now, in a way, this two-half miracle of healing the blind man is repeated if you look closely in verses 27-30. With Jesus, seeing is believing. Here is the center of this whole book. Everything in Mark has led up to this, and everything after it starts here. Almost no one who had seen and heard Jesus thought he was just Jesus of Nazareth. He was more. Apparently a lot of people thought he was some great godly man of the past come back to life. But in a land where presumably everyone was waiting for the Messiah, that wasn't who people thought Jesus was, because no one could see, not even those who were closest to him and loved him.
But then, in a kind of blurted miracle, Peter sees. Verse 29: "'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Messiah.'" According to Matthew's more detailed account of this story, Jesus responded, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but my Father in heaven." Mark says that too, in a way, but he did it by telling the story of the blind man whom Jesus touched. Despite all his teachings and miracles, despite all the evidence right before our eyes, no one will ever see Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, unless Jesus heals our blindness, unless God the Father reveals what we cannot see for ourselves. The problem is certainly not a lack of evidence, but simply a dark and dull blindness that only God's touch can cure.
Seeing Jesus for who he is
At the heart of our Christian faith is this confession: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. God anointed him as King and Priest over God's people, and all who come to God must come through Jesus the Messiah. So it seems the disciples' blindness has been healed with that great realization: "You are the Christ." But like the story before it, this is a miracle of two halves. This confession, as central and thoroughly true as it is, is akin to the blind man's statement, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." The man was seeing about as well as I do without my glasses. Better than blindness, no doubt about it, but not exactly healed either. So it was with Peter and his friends. Verses 31-33:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
No one sees Jesus truly who will not see his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection as the heart of God's plan for the salvation of lost sinners. It is a tough pill to swallow. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, [whose eyes Jesus has healed], both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Do you see how Jesus says to Peter, "Out of my sight, Satan!" Wow! One minute Peter finally sees and the next he's in league with the Prince of Darkness. But nothing is more at the heart of Satan's work in this world than blinding people to the absolute necessity of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection to accomplish the will of God. As far as Satan is concerned, go ahead and call yourself a Christian; go ahead and say you think Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Just leave the cross and the resurrection out of it, and he will have won.
Jesus diagnosed Peter's blindness: "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Peter, like most people, didn't want too much from Jesus, but too little. People want a Jesus who'll be sure they never have to spend a cold night on a snow-blocked highway. They want a Jesus who fixes tickets and keeps their taxes low. They want a Jesus who answers prayers and still works miracles for them. But we are still blind if we do not see that all is lost if we gain the whole world yet forfeit our souls. And it was to save lost souls that Jesus came, suffered, died, and rose again.
I knew a man years ago, [Arthur] Klapan, by name, a Jew and a school teacher in Brooklyn, who loved singing. So he joined a choir, and the choir performed Handel's Messiah. That's how it came to be that Arthur sang, "For unto us a child is born," and "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world." He sang, "I know that my redeemer liveth." And he sang, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." And somehow in Arthur's singing of all that truth, Jesus touched his eyes, not once but twice, and he saw clearly. He confessed Jesus as his crucified and risen Messiah, and he was born again. Hallelujah!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.