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Mark 8:11-21: The Struggle to See Print E-mail
Sunday, 23 September 2007

Most of us have gone to the eye doctor at some point in our lives.  I have always thought that the odd thing about visiting the eye doctor is that you usually leave seeing worse than you did when you got there.  Of course, I understand that when they dilate your pupils it makes it hard to see, but it just seems odd.  For most of us, this is the closest we ever get to physical blindness.  Granted, we could close our eyes for an extended amount of time or where a blindfold, but we will still not understand blindness.  Yet, if we were to go physically blind, we would be well aware of it.  In other words, we would not still think that we could see if we could no longer see.  Our blindness would be obvious.  This is how it is with physical blindness.

Yet, spiritual blindness is a bit more tricky.  It is actually more dangerous than physical blindness because it can lead our souls to hell.  Yet, the great problem with spiritual blindness is that we are often unaware of the fact that we are actually blind.  It is one thing to be blind and know it.  It is whole other deal to be blind and unaware.  The dangers involved in this latter situation are profound.

Jesus has encountered such blindness throughout His ministry.  The scribes and the Pharisees have repeatedly misunderstood Jesusí actions and teaching.  Many of those in the crowds have struggled to make sense of the parables (see 4:10-12).  Even the disciples up to this point have failed to really grasp the significance of Jesus and His ministry (a situation that will soon change).  Before Mark transitions to a stage of more revelation and more understanding by the disciples, he gives us two more stories to illustrate the struggle to believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Ironically, spiritual blindness and physical blindness are closely related.  We have noted before that we, like the Pharisees and the disciples, are obsessed with the visible, with what we can see with our eyes.  Unfortunately this obsession can lead us to wrong conclusions.  I want to identify a couple of lessons that we can learn from our text this morning about our struggle with the physical.

First, obsession with the physical will blind us to the spiritual.

We see this lesson in Jesusí dealing with the Pharisees in verses 11-13.  Look at those with me.  The Pharisees keep coming to Jesus looking for a sign, or confirmation, that He really is who He claims to be.  They want a sign from heaven.  Yet, at this point, Mark makes it clear that they are already convinced that He is a fake.  They only ask for a sign to test him, not because they really want to see a sign and believe.  Even though Jesus has performed many miracles and healings and cast out many demons, the Pharisees refuse to believe.  To them, they have not seen enough proof with their eyes that Jesus is actually the Messiah.  All they have seen is a trouble maker, who questions their accepted traditions and is leading people away the truth. 

Paul picks up on this seeking of a sign by the Jews in 1 Corinthians 1.  He says in verses 22-24: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Paul is saying, ĎYou want to see the power of God on display, then look at the cross.  You want to see the wisdom of God, then look at the cross.  It may look like weakness and foolishness, but donít let your eyes deceive you, it is the wisdom and power of God.í  The Pharisees stumbled over Jesus because He was not what their eyes expected.  They were blinded by their expectations and their obsession with the physical.

Yet, they were not alone in struggling to understand Jesus.  Look at verses 14-16.  When Jesus gets into the boat after the troubling discussion with the Pharisees, He warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, seemingly meaning their unbelief in Him as the Messiah.  Yet, the disciples do not get the warning.  Rather, they are worried about the fact that they did not bring enough bread for the journey.  They reason to themselves: ĎSurely Jesus is upset with us for forgetting to bring the bread.í  They completely missed the point.  Jesus is warning them against unbelief and they are worried about what they are going to eat.  Their obsession with the physical (their lack of bread) blinds them to the spiritual (their need to avoid unbelief).

Of course, it is easy to condemn the disciples at this point.  How could they be worried about bread at such a time as this?  Yet, before we are too quick with our scolding, we must acknowledge that we too are often obsessed with the physical at the expense of the spiritual.  We see someone pray a prayer or get baptized and we conclude that they are in the Kingdom, no reason to ever question it.  We see a Church growing numerically and we conclude that they are healthy and pleasing to the Lord.  Or the opposite, we do not see someone make a visible response or numerical growth and so we conclude that the Lord is not at work.  No, we are making the mistake of obsessing over the visible.  The Lordís blessings are often disguised and we miss them because of our obsession with what we can see.  The Lord warns us against unbelief and we are too concerned with numbers and money to even notice.  Like the disciples, we are often blinded and not even aware.

Second, Jesus warns us to avoid this obsession.

This second lesson is pretty obvious to us, but it is important to see Jesusí condemnation in the text.  First, consider his response to the Pharisees.  Mark tells us that Jesus sighed deeply in his spirit and told them that they would not be given the sign that they asked for.  Then Mark tells us that he left them.  It is possible that Mark intended this to signify Jesusí rejection of the Pharisees.  Their obsession with the physical will leave them blinded to the truth of the gospel.  This is what Jesus is warning the disciples about in verse 15. 

Second, consider Jesusí response to the disciples in verses 17-21.  Look at those verses with me.  In verses 17-18, Jesus uses strong language to describe the disciples, even harking back to Isaiah 6.  He is telling them that their worry over bread, over what they will eat, over the physical, is revealing that they are still blind and deaf to spiritual matters.  He asks them a simple question at the end of verse 18: Do you not remember?  From there He recounts the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000.  He includes the details about how much food was left over seemingly to emphasize the silliness of their concern about bread.  How can they be worried about what they will eat when Jesus has already fed thousands of people with next to nothing? How could they not remember that? 

Once again, we might be tempted to be hard on the disciples at this point.  Yet, we too struggle to remember all the God has provided for us.  This was the constant cry of the Old Testament writers to Israel: remember.  It is why we come to the table each week: to remember.  But we donít so many times.  We forget.  We forget Godís provision in the past.  We forget Godís promises for the future.  We forget what really matters and focus on the wrong things.  We simply fail to remember.  Rather, we need to focus on the spiritual and trust the Lord to provide for the physical.  He has called us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and to trust Him to provide all the things that we need (see Matthew 6:33). 

This does not mean that we can avoid the biblical commands to be good stewards.  No, it means that we need to redefine what good stewardship looks like.  It means that we need to make sure that our priorities are in order.  It means that we do not need to misunderstand Jesusí clear warning against unbelief because we are worried about whether we have enough bread, or numbers, or money, or whatever else it is that distracts us from the truth.

The error of unbelief is all around us.  People are constantly looking for signs and trying to test God to see if He really is there.  They want proof.  What do we offer?  Christ crucified, the greatest display of the power and wisdom of God.  Many will continue to stumble over such a message.  Many will remain blind and not even know it.  Yet, their only hope is still the gospel.  We are charged with the task of telling blind men that they are blind and in need of a cure.  It is not an easy task, but it is one that is accompanied with the very power of God for salvation (see Romans 1:16).

So, let me close with an important question this morning: Do you not yet understand?  This is the question that Jesus asked the disciples in verse 21.  They had seen so much.  They had witnessed miracles, they had been taught through parables, even been given private instruction, they had twice eaten bread that was multiplied to feed thousands.  Yet, they continued to struggle with unbelief.  Amazingly, we have witnessed even more than them.  We know the whole story.  We know that Jesus came not only to heal and teach and feed, but to give His life as a ransom for many.  We know that He would take the wrath of God in our place on the cross.  We know that three days later God would raise Him from the dead to signify that He accepted Jesusí sacrifice of atonement for our sins.  Not only that, but we know that He will return one Day for the Church and will taker Her to be with Him forever.  All this we know and have seen. 

So, then, let me return to the question: do you not yet understand?  Have you not yet gladly given up all things to follow Christ?  Are you still waiting for a sign?  Are you still worried about what you are going to eat?  May you learn from the disciples this morning and avoid the leaven of the Pharisees.  May you forsake all and follow hard after Christ.  May you see, possibly for the first time, that you are spiritually blind and in need of a Savior.

As for those of us who have been saved, may we continually recognize our need to remember all that God has done for us.  This morning we have a very specific way to do that, namely by coming to the Table.  May we come to the Table this morning believing in Christís sacrifice for our sins and trusting Him to provide all that we will ever need.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 October 2007 )

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