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Seeing Christ Clearly
The Gospel of Mark 8:22-26
I’ve done some amazingly dumb stuff in my life. One of the top 50 was the morning I was leaving work after a 12-hour shift of laboring in the Albertson’s produce warehouse all night. The fog that particular morning was so thick, with lights on I could only see four to six feet in front of my exploding ‘72 Pinto. I had never experienced anything like it.
So what did I decide to do–wait another hour until the fog thinned out? No–that would’ve made sense. Or how about drive about 3 mph following the center line, honking on occasion to warn other vehicles until the fog thinned out, or I made it home? No–still too reasonable. I decided I would drive 40 mph to see how fast I could get home, while following the center-line 6 feet ahead as a driving challenge. How fast could I get home while driving blind?
I was exhausted, I wanted to get home to get some sleep, and I thought what a great challenge it would be to drive not being able to see where I was going–yippee! It is a miracle any of us live past 20, and it was God’s grace I didn’t kill someone driving home that morning.
Would you all agree that sight is a pretty important function? You bet. Seeing is crucial, and seeing clearly is a blessing. Yet right here in our church family, I know people who need glasses to see, but won’t use them. There are others who legally need glasses to drive, but won’t wear them. I know people who need their eyes checked, but refuse to do so–out of some weird vanity, they refuse to see with clarity. Yet how did seeing get regulated to a lesser priority? We know how important seeing is, but some refuse to see.
Even more important than physical sight is spiritual sight. Never forget, Christian–on this planet, you are actually the only ones who can see. Even though everyone is walking around as if they are alive, without Christ they are spiritually dead. And even though everyone is walking around as if they can see, without Christ they’re spiritually blind. Second Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Which is why John wrote in Revelation 3:18, “I advise you to buy from Me [at the end of the verse] eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” With true salvation, Jesus offers you sight. The ability to see reality, to no longer be blind, wandering aimlessly, groping in the dark–but now seeing life through an accurate and clear lens. But before you get too proud of your sight, Ephesians 1:18 prods us this way. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” These verses raise two crucial questions from the start. Have you been born again so you are no longer spiritually blind, and as a Christian, are you seeing Christ clearly?
Today as we return to our study of Mark, our Lord heals a blind man and gives Him sight. This miracle only appears here in Mark 8 and is unusual, in that the miracle occurs in two stages–which is really unique in Mark, since Mark is the writer who describes everything with immediacy. Come on, the Greek Word for immediately is one of Mark’s favorites. So open your Bibles to Mark 8:22 to 26, and stand with me in honor of the Word of God, and listen carefully to this passage.
Mark 8:22 through 26, “And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. 23 Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ 24 And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.’ 25 Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. 26 And He sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’” Let’s pray—“Lord, I pray that you would give some eyes to see today, and for your children, give us a clearer picture of exactly who you truly are in all your glory.”
Why would this miracle take place in two stages? Some say to prevent the blind man from too much shock. Or Jesus was repairing two things–his optic nerve, then the lens. Or Jesus was restoring his physical sight, then his spiritual sight. Though those all sound good, they fall short of the real reason. What is that? I am so glad you asked.
This miracle is not only to heal a blind man, but to give the disciples a spiritual eyewash–they’re having a hard time seeing Christ accurately, clearly, fully. They’re not getting it. They see Christ as God’s man, the Messiah, the Son of God but fail to realize that Christ IS God come in the flesh, on a mission to offer Himself on the cross, to die for the sins of His children, which separates them from God. They’re missing both the person and passion of Christ.
And the Lord uses this healing as a message to His men. The Lord is telling His men, “You are just like this blind man–you’re seeing Me partially, incompletely, unclearly. You’re not getting it. You are driving in a fog, following the line, but have no idea who I am and where I am headed.”
Some of you are saying, “Chris, we love your preaching, but I have to be honest, I don’t see that here in the text.” I thought you’d say that, so look with me at the context and let me show you how obvious this is. Do you miss the obvious?
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were camping. They pitched their tent and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, Holmes wakes Watson. “Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce.” Watson says, “I see millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life out there.” Holmes replies, “Watson, you idiot, somebody stole our tent!”
Don’t miss the obvious–the disciples were clueless as to Christ’s true identity, so the Lord makes it obvious to them. Right before healing this blind man in Mark 8:17 to 21, “And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember… 21 … Do you not yet understand?’”
Look at what immediately follows this miracle in Mark 8:27, “Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, ‘Who do people say that I am?’” Peter says He’s the Christ, but then misunderstands Christ’s mission–Christ says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Right before this miracle, the disciples are not seeing accurately—and right after this miracle, the disciples don’t see Christ accurately.
This healing is unique to Mark the immediate, yet this miracle is uniquely in two stages. Stage one is seeing unclearly, and stage two is seeing clearly. I believe that this miracle is given here as evidence of Christ’s power and grace, and given intentionally to call His disciples to see Christ clearly.
It is the last year of Christ’s public ministry. He’s headed to the cross, and has been seeking more opportunities to prepare His men for what is ahead. He’s just fed the 4,000, but is still battling the external salvation by human achievement religious leaders. It is the last lap of the race, and coming down to the wire His men need to know who Christ is. Their spiritual vision is essential to their future labors. They can no longer walk around like trees, acting spiritually dead, even though physically alive. And they can no longer act blind, but must see reality. How does it all start?
#1 A Caring Request Verse 22
There is a lot of action in the Greek language as verse 22 begins, “And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him.” Mark, the author of action, using the present tense, continual action describes a lot of things happening all at once here. They arrive at a new location, Bethsaida, on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, on the east side of the entrance of the Jordan River.
Bethsaida is 80 miles north of Jerusalem as the crow flies. It’s near where Jesus fed the 5,000, and near where He walked on water. And it is the hometown of the apostle Philip. Like cities which grow up from villages are often still called villages, Mark refers to Bethsaida as a village in verse 23, but this village was now a small city. Philip the Tetrarch from the line of Herod had enlarged and beautified it, and named it Bethsaida Julias in honor of Julia, the daughter of the Emperor Augustus.
Once they arrived, an unknown group, referred to as “they brought” in verse 22, brought a blind man to Christ. The picture painted by the Greek word “brought” is they literally carried him or bore the burden of assisting him to be able to stand before Christ. They love this man so much they paid the price to get him to be able to stand in front of Christ.
“They” are probably family or friends, since Mark tells us they implore Christ to heal him. Implore has the idea of a caring request–they’re begging and pleading Jesus to bring comfort to this blind friend they love. Verse 22 tells us they want Christ to touch their friend–the text is literally that He might touch him, with the assumption that Christ’s touch would bring instant healing from blindness. Their friend is blind–he cannot see where to walk, he can’t see the sunrise or sunset, he can’t see the faces of his friends or family. He is unable to comprehend life as we know it.
Blindness was an epidemic in ancient cultures–there was disease, exposure to the elements, domestic trauma, and the result was many people lost their ability to see clearly or to see at all. But he’s loved. It is not the blind man who begs Christ. The blind man is the not the one who initiates the request for help, but it is his family or friends who plead on his behalf. They’re the ones who bring the needy man and initiate the plea for help, leading us to a caring request.
#2 A Compassionate Savior Verse 23
Feel the tenderness of Christ, as He cares for this man who can’t see. In verse 23, “Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’” Mark uses a series of participles to describe the compassion of Christ towards the blind man, and demonstrates the Lord’s process to communicate the need for clear sight to His men.
First The Lord takes the blind man by the hand
The Lord actually acts upon Himself to grab this man’s hand. You can see Him here, initiating this action and coming alongside this man who cannot see and taking him away with Him. Can you picture one of those tender, come-with-me moments. Apparently without speaking any word, Jesus compassionately seizes the man’s hand and leads him out of town. This is what His friends or family asked for—touch him. But he’s not instantly healed . . . yet. The situation is not right yet, and the Lord has something unique in mind for this miracle. So what does He do?
Second The Lord leads the blind man out of the village
Verse 23, “He brought him out of the village.” Can you picture this? The King of all kings, the greatest being that exists, the Creator of the entire universe is leading a blind man by the hand out of the village, carefully working His way around obstacles—“step this way, watch your head, now follow me, careful.” Wow, the compassion of Christ is overwhelming.
Your Savior is not a God who is distant. He is not one who only cares about the big issues, but is involved with the little issues of our lives, which is a really good thing, since my life is mainly made up of little things, with a few big things sprinkled in. I have to point out–taking the blind man out of the village could have been a way to avoid Pharisee involvement. And taking him out of the village could also be an indictment on the city of Bethsaida.
Do you remember the warning Jesus gave to Bethsaida in Luke 10 and Matthew 11:21, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” By taking him away at this late date, it could be the Lord saying, “You’ve seen enough and you’ll see no more…you’ve been pursued and you have rejected Me–therefore, I will not perform any more miracles in your midst. But at the very least, the Lord takes him away from the crowds and the pressure of the city to a place where He can express great compassion.
The Lord guides this blind man to where he’ll be able to see. And His desire is to help you see who He is–will you ask Him to guide you, or will you continue to resist Him, test Him? The Lord is not going to overwhelm the blind man, but help him feel at ease, make certain he knows this is not some sort of flim-flam cure, but a genuine healing from God. So Jesus avoids publicity, secures the attention of the blind man, and sets up a perfect opportunity to teach His own men to see.
Third The Lord spits on blind eyes and lays hands on him
Verse 23, “Again and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him,”—wow! Jesus spit in his eye–spit in your eye. Hey, what is the first thing most people do when they cut their fingertip? What? You pop that baby right in your mouth–it makes it feel better. It is no wonder the ancient world thought spittle had some healing properties. So Jesus communicates to the blind man He’s going to heal his eyes with some spittle, and gives him great hope by communication that the healing is about to happen by laying hands on his eyes. Obviously for a blind man, touch means more than sound. But what happens next is not typical.
#3 A Clearing Process Verses 23c to 25
Listen to the exchange between Christ and this blind man. And notice the number of times the verb, “to see” is used, starting in verse 23, “He asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ 24 And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.’ 25 Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.” Jesus, the blind man and His disciples are out of the village, so the Lord begins this process of healing the man’s eyes and communicating to His disciples about their sight. How does the Lord start?
First The Lord asks the blind man a pointed question Verse 23c
“He asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’” The question actually indicates the Lord knew his vision would not be completely restored. When asking him “Do you see anything?” Jesus uses the verb “to see”, blepo, used 132 times in the New Testament, “to see, to look, to take heed–to see it.” Can . . . you . . . see? I wonder if the Lord is looking at the blind man or His men when He asks this question, since not only is the blind man not seeing clearly, but also the Lord’s disciples are not seeing Christ clearly yet.
Second The blind man reports unclear sight Verse 24
Look what he says in verse 24, “And he looked up and said, ’I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.’” Mark uses colorful phraseology here. The first thing the blind man does is, verse 24, “And he looked up.” Looking up has the idea of regaining sight and receiving sight. So the blind man, who could see nothing, now sees something.
I remember being out in the middle of the forest on an unusual night–it was pitch black, black clouds, no stars, no lights. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. As I hiked to my destination, I kept imagining poisonous saber-toothed moths attacking me. I literally felt my way back to my evening location, and I remember the relief I felt when one tiny light finally broke through the black, and lit the rest of my way home.
Can you imagine the thrill of the blind man who could see nothing, but now can see something? What’s he see? Verse 24, “’I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.’” The light has broken through, but seeing is still unclear. He sees shapes, but they’re not distinct. He isn’t seeing fully, completely, nor totally. Just like the disciples who’re not seeing Christ fully. In the original, Mark tells us the blind man uses two different words for “see” in his answer. “I see [blepo] men, for I see, [horo–they appear] them like trees walking around.” I visibly see blepo men, but they appear horo like walking trees. ”For I see them like trees,” is literally they appear to me, or I perceive them to be like walking trees.
They didn’t have zombies back then, so when someone wanted to describe living dead people, or people who didn’t quite get it, they’d say, “They look like trees walking around.” And when the blind man says, “I see men,” he is literally saying, “I see the men–these specific twelve men around me, I see Your men, Jesus, the twelve disciples.” They’re moving about around him, and he sees them walking about, but they look like large, indistinct objects. He could see their form, but not their features.
The tense of “I see” and “they appear to me as” tells you the man is no longer blind, but continually sees now–but only in this incomplete manner. Plus his description informs you he was not born blind, since he knows what trees actually look like. But even though he’s no longer totally blind, he’s definitely not seeing clearly. What’s Jesus’ problem? How come he could see only part way? Modern day fake-healers would say it was because the blind man didn’t have enough faith. But what do we say? Were Jesus’ divine batteries too low? No.
The Lord uses this partial process on purpose–for a lesson. Like the disciples who had just seen Christ feed 4,000 people and yet still didn’t see Him for what He really is–their Creator, their God and their only Savior. This blind man also doesn’t see others in an accurate manner, and quite possibly the blind man doesn’t see Christ accurately either. He’s still in a thick fog, with only a centerline to follow. So what does Jesus do?
Third The Lord completes the healing Verse 25
“Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.” Notice how Mark starts verse 25, “Then again,” marking a second stage in this process. Then the Lord generally lays his hands on his eyes for a second time. “Eyes” is the Greek word opthalmous–sound familiar? So the Lord gently lays His hands over the blind man’s two eyes, and look what happens.
Verse 25 says the blind man, not Jesus, “he looked intently.” “Intently” is the word diablepo, to see through–to see clearly, to open one’s eyes so they work. You can see through them. To the point, Mark says the blind man’s eyes were restored. Restored is used eight times in the New Testament to describe a withered hand completely made whole again, and of Israel now back in prominence in God’s rule in the coming Kingdom—restored.
The blind man is now seeing better than 20/20—restored. That which was partial is now fully complete. And just to make certain you don’t miss it, Mark adds a last phrase in verse 25 at the very end, “and began to see everything clearly.” Mark uses the imperfect tense for “to see” to tell us this is a complete and ongoing healing from blindness. And Mark adds a preposition to blepo, so it means see in–literally to fix a gaze, to see things for what they really are. He saw Christ for who He really is–to contemplate and get it.
He saw everything that was happening here clearly. Clearly means he can see long distances as if they’re up-close. It comes from two words–afar and radiance. He now sees things that were far off with brilliant radiance. Things that were fuzzy and unclear are now sharp and focused. That which was in darkness has now come into the light. Any unknown question looming before has now been answered.
More than his sight, the blind man sees through what’s happened. No longer looking at Christ through wax paper, the blind man sees Christ for who He really is. I believe Mark is telling us the blind man knows who it is–who has healed him, which explains why Mark ends with verse 26.
#4 A Commissioned Conclusion Verse 26
“And He sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’” Simply, don’t go back into the village Bethsaida–they’re unbelieving there, they’ve heard and seen enough. Do not go back to Bethsaida. I am officially sending you to go back to your home (commissioning you like an apostle) for you to be my witness there. You are being sent.
There are those who suggest that by sending the healed man away, Jesus is avoiding the crowds who will seek external healing, or avoiding those who might want to make Him a political deliverer, or because Christ is moving to the cross to not get distracted, to no longer invest His ministry on external healings but internal transformation. No longer on sight but salvation–no longer healing physical ills, but curing spiritual sins.
After all, healing someone does not rescue them from Hell–only dying in their place for their sins can accomplish that. But it seems simplest and the words of verse 26 make it clear—“Do not go back into Bethsaida but go home, and proclaim.” You know who I am, so go back to friends and family–go back to a place that has not heard my words, nor seen my miracles like Bethsaida, and be my witness there. This is why I healed you–this is why I opened your eyes to see Me accurately. Not merely as your healer, but as your Savior, your God. So now I send you—go home and impact the people you love with the news of who I am now that you’ve seen me clearly.
Do you see Christ clearly? Non-Christian, you are blind–plead to God for sight. But Christian, are you seeing clearly? Sadly, many churchgoers do not see Christ accurately–are you . . .
1 DISTORTED by your emotions in following Christ
Too many Christians today are all about emotions, experiences and events. They define great preaching only by the level of passion of the preacher, and not by the accuracy nor feeding of his exegesis. They believe they’re walking in the Spirit only when they feel love. They assess every event only by whether it made them feel good. They only step out in obedience when they’re moved by the Gospel. They only believe worship is deep when they’re moved by emotions.
Everything with Christ is only spiritual for them if they feel something. How they feel about Christ is what their faith is all about. Listen friends, the Christian life is not about what you feel. The Christian life is about what you know and who you know. Animals live by instinct. People live by feelings. But Christians live by the truth of God’s Word. One believing writer put it this way, “I’ve known people who simply stop, and refuse to budge until they get the emotions back. They don’t ‘feel’ like going to church. When their emotions are gone, attending church wouldn’t be real worship if they went. Therefore they don’t go.”
Since they don’t “feel” like showing love to their wives or respect to their husbands, it wouldn’t be a spiritual action to them. So they don’t do it. They don’t “feel” like reading their Bibles, it’s a “dry” experience without emotion. So they don’t do it–why? Because no emotion is involved, therefore it can’t be genuine nor gospel driven. So what do they do about it? They pursue getting emotions back.
They sing some chorus over and over, or pray until they cry, or ask God to break their heart so they can feel again, or whatever it might take to stir up those flighty emotions. They chase their emotions, their experiences, and attend events so they can get going again spiritually.
Do you know what that is? It is “making a god of your glands”. It is living by feeling, not faith–by sensations, not the Spirit. It is tempting God, and another form of unbelief. I’m not calling for hollow, rote, ritualistic, going-through-the-motions Christianity on the one hand. But I am calling you to repent of constantly surfing to find the waves of emotions, on the other.
There’s a category of attitude, of mindset, of frame of mind that exists in between those two extremes. It’s called living by conviction. It may overlap the realm of the emotions. It may cut straight across emotions. But conviction isn’t chained to it. It survives it, it goes on–you go on, even when emotions ebb. And when they ebb, you don’t seek the emotions, you seek God. You trust in Him, with or without emotions.
What is the fuel of your soul? How is it that we trust? It is the truths of the Scriptures which fuel our hearts. Our emotions come and go. Look to God’s Word, not emotion. For a generation, subtly, we’ve been drawn away with words like pleasure, heart, joy, satisfaction, desire of the inner person to the point where we’ve become addicted to and dependent on emotions. That is not what the Bible teaches. Like the Psalmist, when you are afraid, can you put your trust in God? Like Job, though He slay me, will I hope in Him? Can you be like Paul in 2 Corinthians who was sorrowful, yet always rejoicing?
Can you rejoice always, give thanks always, and not have to be emotionally happy or sappy or rappy? Don’t follow your emotions–follow Christ as revealed in His Word. Are you seeing Christ clearly, or are you seeing only emotion? Cut through the fog of emotions and follow God’s Word alone. Don’t live distorted by your emotions–you won’t see Christ. Many believers also get . . .
2 DISTRACTED with lower priorities than Christ—are you?
They stop loving Christ and only, merely, love what He gives. They don’t want Christ, but they want fellowship with the church, or someone to fix their problems or sympathize with their hurts. They look for the benefits and blessings, and have completely lost what it means to worship Christ as a living sacrifice, where Christ is submitted to in everything as their Lord.
Others are distracted from Christ by their children or their job, or their sports or entertainment or finances or their recreation. It could be your health, grandkids, finding a mate or even a date–it could be the hope to wake up tomorrow and not be achy. Ask others, “What is my greatest passion?” If it is not Christ, you’ve lost Christ in the midst of your Christianity. Beware, friends–you may even be distracted by ministry, the church, teaching, training, shepherding and doing things for Christ, which can also distract you from Christ.
So here’s the test. What do you think about most during your free moments? What do you hope for most in your desires? Who do you dream about pleasing most? Those questions will expose your first love. If it’s not Christ, then do what Revelation 2:4 says to do when you lose your first love. Underline three words in verse 5. Revelation 2:4 and 5, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”
Remember where you used to be with Christ, repent of how far you have drifted from Christ, and repeat (or do the deeds you did at first) for Christ.
Step out of the fog, friends. Don’t mess around with the Holy Spirit–if He is describing you, then do not delay, debate, discuss, get discouraged, or deny this. Repent of being distracted by lower priorities than Christ, and return to walk in moment-by-moment submission to Him. Don’t be distorted by emotions or distracted by lesser priorities. Sadly, there are also church attenders who are . . .
3 DELAYED from submission to Christ and the cross–is that you?
Far too many church attenders know about Jesus. They prayed a prayer, had an emotional experience, walked an aisle, made a decision, signed a card, but they’re not yet born again. They give occasionally, attend sometimes, know Christian people, attend Bible studies, and may even be well-known in their church–but they do not know Christ.
So Jesus makes it really clear in Mark 8:34, “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” Those who truly understand what it means that Christ died for their sins on the cross, are also those who are willing to die for Christ.
Have you exchanged all that you are for all that He is? Is Christ your life? Have you surrendered your life to Him? Does He have all your time, words, money, actions and relationships–in your heart, have you denied yourself and are you following Christ? Not that you don’t battle with your flesh or will, but when pushed against the wall, you know, Christ is your all and it shows. Are you in the fog of delay? Submit to Christ. And many of you today are part of the family that is . . .
4 DELIGHTING in Christ by faith and looking forward to sight
All those who love Christ are striving to know Him by faith through His Word, like 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” And all of us who know Christ are looking forward to that day when our faith will be turned to sight as 1 John 3:2 promises, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” Are you looking forward to full sight? All who know Christ cannot wait for that day. Let’s pray.