I can see clearly now - Mark 8:22-26
At the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s a family of hillbillies was crossing America looking for work. One day they drove their battered car through a city in the mid west. It was the first time any of them had ever seen a major city, and Dad was keen to investigate. He really wanted to see inside a posh expensive modern hotel. So he parked the car outside the biggest and best hotel in town and took his son with him inside. As they entered the foyer they were staggered at the splendour of it all. They had never seen anything like this. Then the father spotted a strange cubicle at the far end of the foyer. Its doors opened automatically and in walked an old lady with a stick. Somehow the doors mysteriously closed again automatically. Shortly afterwards the doors glided open again and out came a stunningly beautiful young woman with high heels and long blond hair. Well Dads eyes were popping out at this stage. He seized his sons arm and without taking his eyes away from the lift, he said: "Son, go and get your mother."
Sometimes our eyes can deceive us. We dont always see what is really there. And today in Marks gospel, we are studying a passage which is concerned with real sight, spiritual sight. The ability to see spiritual truth. If youve been with us over the past weeks, youll know that we have been studying Marks gospel. And Mark has been teaching us some staggering truths about Jesus- He can heal in an instant, he has the power to calm storms with one word, he can deal with evil and overcome it, he can claim to forgive sins and then prove it by raised up a paralysed man. All staggering truths. But maybe one question is nagging away in the back of our minds. Why dont people believe in Jesus? You see not only is Mark at pains to tell us about the highs of Jesus ministry, the crowd pulling healings, the extraordinary nature miracles; hes also clear that many, and especially the religious leaders, refused to accept Jesus. In fact, well see today that even the disciples were slow off the blocks. Why? Surely in the face of this staggering amount of evidence people will accept Jesus? Well the answer is no. They wont. And the reason is quite simply spiritual blindness. For understanding who Jesus is and why he has come is a spiritual gift. Spiritual sight is a gift that Jesus alone can give.
You see we have come to a key passage in Marks gospel. It is crunch time. Jesus will ask us a direct question- who do we say Jesus is? And the reason Mark has included this little miracle of the healing of the blind man is to teach us a very important lesson. Spiritual sight is a gift of Jesus. This healing is not just another miracle- its also an acted parable in real life. And Jesus is aiming to teach us about spiritual sight. So what do we learn? Well in order to understand this miracle properly were going briefly to study the passages either side of it, and well discover three things about spiritual sight:
1) Spiritual sight is not natural
2) Spiritual sight is given by Jesus
3) Spiritual sight understands Jesus
1) Spiritual sight is not natural
I think if I were in Jesus shoes, I would be very depressed by this stage in my ministry. At the beginning of chapter 8, Mark tells us that Jesus has just fed another large crowd. This time it is in gentile territory, and Jesus is making the point that he is the Saviour for the Gentiles and the Jews. Just as he provided for the Jews in the feeding of the 5000, now he provides for the gentiles in the feeding of the 4000. But during the discussion which follows in the boat as they cross the lake, it becomes clear that still the disciples have not got it. Have a look at verse 17. Jesus says to them: "Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, ears but fail to hear?" The problem was that they had not understood what Jesus was doing in the feeding miracles. He was showing them not just that he has the amazing ability to provide, and so they shouldnt be worried about their lack of packed lunch, but also the implications of the miracles- that Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the great providing God, the same God who provided the Israelites with food in the desert. That same God is there before them in the boat as a man. And that was what they failed to grasp. It was the same thing the Pharisees refused to grasp. They just could not accept Jesus claims to being God.
Now why was this? In the face of an incredible miracle like this feeding, why did they not twig. I often find myself thinking, "These disciples were so stupid. I mean if I had been there, I would have got it!" Well the reason they did not understand is in Jesus words in verse 17. Their hearts are hardened. It is a spiritual problem. They cannot see because they are natural born rebels to God. Oh yes, they can see with their eyes physically. They saw Jesus break the bread. They saw the twelve baskets left over with the 5000, and the seven left over with the 4000. They saw in one sense, but they didnt see in another sense. They failed to grasp the spiritual truth behind the miracles. And the reason? They were sinful hard hearted
people like you and me.
You see every human being is in the same position. None of us here can understand spiritual truth about God of our own accord. Our hearts are naturally so opposed to God that by nature we dont want anything to do with him. We refuse to believe. You often see this most clearly when you are seeking to explain the gospel to another person. A few years ago, I spent a long time discussing the gospel with a particular student. After many hours of discussion, it became clear that he could understand many of the basic facts about the gospel- He could understand that Jesus did staggering things, that he made amazing claims, that he was demanding our very lives. He even said it all made sense and he could believe it. But did he become a Christian? No. The reason? Because he did not see that it was relevant to his life. No matter how many talks he went to, no matter how carefully I explained the gospel to him, still he did not believe in his heart. And the reason was he didnt want to, in fact he couldnt for his heart was hardened against God. He couldnt see spiritually. He saw in one sense, but not in another. Now part of me found that experience very depressing. Here was a guy who was so close to becoming a Christian. And yet he was just as far off as when we started. But another part of me was thankful. Because I knew that ultimately it was Gods job to change a person. I could not do it. And it was in that truth that I had to trust. Because as Mark reminds us here, spiritual truth is not natural to people. And that is a truth we need to be reminded of again and again. We like the disciples are naturally spiritually blind- we cannot see. And that is our status. And as we seek to share the gospel with friends and colleagues, this should always be in the back of our minds. Rather it needs God to do something miraculous, which brings us on to our second point.
2) Spiritual sight is given by Jesus
So now we come to the miracle itself. And the first thing to notice is that this miracle has many similarities with the miracle we looked at last week, the healing of the deaf and mute man in chapter 7. Mark intends us to see them as a pair. In both stories Jesus takes the man by the hand away from the crowd. He perhaps wants time with the man alone, to build up a personal relationship. In both cases we can see Jesus gentle compassion in dealing with individuals who are troubled in some way. In both healings Jesus uses very physical means, spittle and touch. This would be particularly important for a blind man who could not see what Jesus was doing. The way Jesus deals with him, touching him and spitting in his eyes, makes it very clear to the blind man what is going on. Both men end up being healed, the one speaking clearly, the other seeing clearly. And in both cases the men are told to be silent. The deaf mute though breaks all the rules and goes about telling everyone. And the most likely explanation for Jesus telling them to be silent is because he did not want his mission jeopardised. He has not come to be a healer but a preacher he tells us in Mark 1. So there are many similarities.
But there are enough differences for us to think that Mark has something particular to teach us in this miracle story, the healing of the blind man. The first thing as we have seen is the context. Jesus has just been rebuking the disciples for their lack of spiritual sight. They cannot see. Here comes a man who Jesus heals of blindness. And also you can see just how many references to sight there are in this little passage. Just in verse 25 there are three: "His eyes were opened, his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly." And then there is this strange double healing that Jesus needs to perform. What is going on here? Some argue that Jesus didnt have enough power to do it. Well that cannot be right because at other times Jesus healed with a word, or even from a distance. No it cannot be Jesus power which is in doubt. Some people think that the mans faith was not strong enough, which is possible. Maybe Jesus wanted to teach the man to be dependant upon him. To be honest Mark does not tell us why. But what is clear is that Mark intends us to see here an acted parable. And the lesson is quite simple- Jesus alone has the power to give sight, whether physical or spiritual. And the fact that the man can only see dimly at first illustrates Peters confession in the following verses. Yes he has grasped some of who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, the Christ; hes got that, but theres a lot more to come. In fact this enlightened Peter will be called Satan in verse 33. So hes got a way to go, and it wont be until after the resurrection that his eyes, like this blind mans will be fully opened. But however dimly Peter sees the spiritual implications of who Jesus is, yet Mark is teaching that even spiritual sight is a gift of God. In fact Matthew in his version of events makes it even clearer as Jesus says to Peter, "This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." And that is what the healing of the blind man illustrates: that spiritual sight, as well as physical sight is God given.
Now this is a vital lesson for us to be reminded of, because as we saw in the first point, each of us are naturally blind to the truth. So for any of us to understand who Jesus is, is a miracle of God. None of us deserves such sight. But God in his grace gives it to us. And it is not something that can be earned. Imagine that three people are on a sinking ship and they each decide to swim for land 1000 miles away. One is an Olympic swimmer, one an average swimmer, the other a non swimmer. So they each jump in. Within five minutes the non swimmer has drowned, within a few hours the average swimmer has drowned, and the Olympic swimmer presses on. He swims fifty miles in 24 hours. But of course, however well he has done, he is never going to make it to land 1000 miles away. It doesnt matter how good a swimmer you are. You will never make it. And we can never get ourselves spiritual sight. It is a gift. Its not about being in the in crowd, or the secret club like many sects and cults down the ages. It is not about having the knack or not, not those infuriating Magic Eye books which end up in our household being thrown across the lounge. No, spiritual sight is a gift of Jesus Christ to be accepted humbly.
And that of course is why Christians can never look down their noses at anyone else. We are only Christians because of what God has done for us. Proud Christians are a contradiction in terms. I came across a story recently about one particular church which had seen a number of marvellous conversions. One man was a burglar who had been sent to prison for seven years and had become a Christian on his release. Well one Sunday, the pastor was leading the communion and he noticed the burglar receiving communion next to a High Court Judge, the very same Judge that had sent the burglar to prison. Neither seemed to be aware of the other. After the service the Judge asked the pastor, "Did you see who I was kneeling next to during the communion?" "Yes," said the pastor, "but I didnt think youd noticed." There was a pause and then the Judge said, "What an amazing miracle of grace." "Yes, it is," replied the pastor. "Oh," said the Judge, "But Im not referring to the burglar, Im talking about myself." He went on to explain. "You see, it was natural for the burglar to receive the grace of God when he came out of prison. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw that Jesus was his Saviour he knew there was salvation and hope and he knew how much he needed Christ. But look at me. I was taught from the cradle to live as a gentleman; that my word was my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, to take Communion and so on. I went to Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a Judge. It was Gods grace that drew me; it was Gods grace that opened my heart to receive it. Im a greater miracle of his grace."
You see that judge had learnt an important lesson. That spiritual sight is a free gift of God. And no matter how good you think you are, you need it too, as do I. How this teaching of Jesus goes against the grain today! Were taught from infancy to make a go of life ourselves, always to be self-assertive because its a dog eat dog world. Well not in Gods world. God says: "You cannot help yourself. Let me do it for you. Receive this gift of sight." That is why humility should be the natural characteristic of the Christian. Because we know where we stand. Well have you received that free gift of spiritual sight to see who Jesus is? Some people are too proud to accept it. Dont be! This is one gift you need for your eternal salvation. Thats the second thing we learn about spiritual sight. It is a gift of Jesus Christ.
3) Spiritual sight understands Jesus
Then finally spiritual sight understands Jesus or to put it another way spiritual sight sees Jesus as he really is. And this was something that Peter hadnt realised. Hed only got half the answer. Like the blind man he could only see men like trees walking in a spiritual sense. When Jesus asked: "Who do you say that I am," Peter answered firmly "You are the Christ." He saw that Jesus was the Messiah. And yet he failed to see clearly. He hadnt grasped yet what kind of Saviour Jesus would be. He would have to be a suffering Saviour, one who would have to go the cross. And Peter was having none of it. So Jesus had to rebuke him. Get behind me Satan, he said. And yet after the resurrection Peter would stand up in front of thousands and declare that Jesus is the suffering Messiah who has also risen from the dead, the King who must be revered, the Lord who must be obeyed. The difference? He had been given full spiritual sight. He saw the truth, his eyes had been fully opened.
And that is the mark of the true Christian, the one who sees and understands Jesus as he really is. You see Jesus is not just a heavenly sugar daddy, a saviour who gives us everything we want and allows us to keep running our lives our way, free from the fear of judgement. Rather he is a Lord to be followed. This is the Jesus who went to the cross for us and expects us to follow. This is the Jesus who did not spare himself for our sakes, and expects us to do the same for him and his cause. This is the Jesus who faced ridicule and hatred in doing his Fathers will and demands that we walk the same path. Anything less is not Biblical Christianity. We are still blind to the truth of the New Testament. For when we see Jesus as he truly is, the glorious risen Saviour and also the risen Lord who is God, then we understand the implications for us- to bow the knew, ask for his mercy and live his way.
John Newton was a man who knew these truths only too well. Newton lived in the eighteenth century and by his own admission was the lowest of the low, a wretch of a man hating God and everything to do with him. He was a slave trader, and a cruel, blasphemous one at that. He lived a life of debauchery, raping black woman and girls at his leisure. "My whole life", he said later, "was a course of most horrid impiety and profaneness." Not only did he deny God and the truth of the gospels, but he actively encouraged others to do so. Even by eighteenth century standards Newton was a terrible person. And yet, one night during the most ferocious storm of his sea faring life, he cried out to God for mercy. He surprised himself that he could utter such a desperate prayer, and doubted that God, if he did exist, would ever think of forgiving such a foul person as him. But gradually in that storm tossed boat, John Newtons blindness began to be healed. "I needed an Almighty Saviour who would step in and take my sins away . I saw that because of the sufferings of Jesus, he took away my sins so that I might be forgiven." Later John Newton wrote these words: "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see." And yet Newton would not leave it there. Later on in his life he would take up the challenge of living Christs way and risk everything to put an end to the horrific trade of black slaves in which he had been so deeply immersed. And so he continued: "Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come; tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." John Newton had come to discover that spiritual sight is a gracious and amazing gift from God and he had seen and understood just who Jesus is, not just his Saviour but also his Lord.
For some of us here this amazing grace that John Newton discovered is still an alien mystery. Well I implore you, come to Christ this morning. Come to him for this amazing forgiveness and a fresh start, to know the living and true God, and to receive that sight that Jesus promises to offer. But for many of us, we have been given this gift. We know and rejoice in that amazing grace. Well are we praying for spiritual sight for our friends and relatives? Do we rejoice with humility that God should save a wretch like us, and do we delight to throw caution to the wind for our crucified Lord, to put him on the throne and self upon the cross, and to trust that one day that grace will lead us home?
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