They Look Like Trees

Brian Peterson, Speaker

Mark 8:22-26 | October 22 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
October 22
They Look Like Trees | Mark 8:22-26
Brian Peterson, Speaker

Let us pray together. So, our Father, this morning then we thank you that you have given to us all things, that we may have life and life abundant. We bless you, oh God, that you have prepared for us, you’ve gone before and prepared for us a heavenly home which is perfect in all of its ways. For you alone have made it, and you are there. We pray now that as we come before you, you would remind us that you are here. That you would take your seat with us and among us, that we would be made glad by your presence, for we are your people, the sheep of your field. Have your way with us this morning. Go before us, circle us round about, for we commend our time to you now for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now, would you turn in your copy of the scripture this morning to Mark’s gospel and to chapter 8. Mark, chapter 8. This morning we sit on the precipice of celebrating an important event in the world’s history, not just church history, not just Christian history, but we sit on the precipice of an important event in the world’s history, and of course I’m talking about the Reformation. Now if you’re newer to the Christian faith or perhaps you’re just beginning to explore these things and you wonder what all the hubbub’s about, the Reformation, some 500 years ago now, we’ll celebrate the date that we can pinpoint, the breath of God going forth and changing a people, changing a nation, changing a continent and transforming the world. We can pinpoint that date to October 31, 1517. Five hundred years ago God breathed out his spirit on a land and forever changed the world. God does that, you know.

Before I go any further, let me just remind you that God does that. The Reformation was good. Semper reformata, better. The Reformation and the call for always reforming. At its core, it was about sensing one’s need of God. It was about sensing the glory of God. And let me just tell you, some of you who sit in the back of the sanctuary perhaps may not feel the music like when you sit here, or in the front rows, but this morning is a reformation. I can feel the music, the singing of the choir. That’s what the Reformation’s all about. It’s about feeling, sensing, your need of God. It’s about sensing your own inability. And when we sing these majestic hymns, and we hear all these voices and all the music instrumentation, it is all designed by God to draw us in that we may sense the truth of the words that we sing. God is on the move. As C.S. Lewis would put it, Aslan is on the move. And he is moving among us, breathing out his spirit. And I want you this morning to sense once again your need of God. And I want you to see and to feel that God meets your deepest need in the person of Jesus Christ.

And so I want you to notice something from Mark chapter 8. Not our passage, we’re going to be in verse 22 and following, but Mark 8, look at verse 17. And that little pericope, that section there. Jesus by now has already fed the 5000. He’s already fed the 4000. This feeding of these people, the feeding of the 5000, the disciples seemed always to struggle to understand all of its significance. So by the time we get to Mark chapter 8, they’re still struggling to understand. And so Jesus says to them in verse 17 and following, “Jesus, aware of this,” that is to say they’ve seen Jesus feed the multitudes miraculously doing so with just some fish and some bread, and now they are on their way and they’re grumbling with one another “we don’t have any food to eat, where are we going to get our food,” and this kind of thing, and so verse 17: “Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes,” here’s our key verse, “having eves, do you not yet see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the 5000, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you take up?” That is, how many leftovers? “And they said to him, ’12.’ And the seven, for the 4000, how many baskets full of broken pieces then did you take up? And they said to him, ‘7.’ And he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?'”

And what’s the answer to that? Apparently not. They don’t, they don’t get it. They don’t understand that for our Lord it’s always about Jesus’ desires for his disciples to see clearly. That is Jesus’ great desire. That’s what Reformation is all about. That you would see clearly who God is. That you would see clearly who you are, and what your need is of the living God.

And so this morning I want you to lay everything else aside and I want you to think only of yourself. And I want you to think only of Jesus Christ standing at the edge of your pew, and saying to you, “Do you not yet see? Do you not yet see clearly?”

And so it’s no wonder then that as soon as Jesus leaves this place where he is prevailing upon them to see clearly, his disciples, that Jesus encounters this blind man who cannot see. And in order to teach us profound things concerning himself and his gospel, our Lord performs this very unique miracle. One that occurs in stages. It’s not normal, but Jesus performs this miracle in stages.

And so what’s going on here? Well, let’s see what our Lord would have for us in this text. Mark 8, verse 22 and following: “And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.'”

So we catch up with Jesus, he’s in Bethsaida, or Bethsaida, this is the same place or very near to the same place where Jesus had performed his miracle of the feeding of the 5000. It’s still a part of Gentile territory. It’s way up on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. At this moment, at this period of Jesus’ ministry, he’s been bouncing back and forth across the Sea of Galilee, and the hostilities towards Jesus are on the rise.

By the time we arrive at these middle portions, I know we’re just jumping in here to the book of Mark, so let me just set the context for you here. By the time we arrive at these middle chapters of Mark’s gospel, say Mark 6, 7, 8, 9…the hostilities towards Jesus are really starting to increase. And for the disciples, that means that their life is starting to become a little more difficult as well, now suddenly the disciples must count the cost. No longer is it just following Jesus and sort of liking what he was doing. Water to wine, that’s good. We’ll keep going. We like that. Be born again, okay. That’s good. We like that. And now in this portion of Mark’s gospel, it’s starting to get real.

Now most of you know we lived in California. We had a tradition in our home on Thanksgiving. For many years we had a pool, it was California, after all. And we would talk it up at Thanksgiving time, talk it up and talk it up, and we would get all, you know, we’d kind of start beating our chest a little bit because our tradition was that on Thanksgiving morning, our family would take a polar plunge. Now, again, California, polar, you know. I remember that year it dropped down below 78, it was freezing! And the first child to jump into the pool and submerge himself or herself entirely, that child gets the first choice of Thanksgiving dessert. That was our tradition. So we’d talk it up real bit and everybody would get all jazzed up, and occasionally it would actually be somewhat cold and the water would actually be pretty darn cold, and the kids would go out there, I would go out there, we’d stand there, and then with excitement on our faces, somebody would inevitably stick their feet in the water. Then their countenance changes. It’s starting to get real.

On a far more serious note, you can just see the disciples’ countenance changing. It’s starting to get real for them. Jesus’ healing of people isn’t always celebrated like perhaps it was earlier in his public ministry. Because now Jesus is saying to them, to those that are listening and those who are watching these miracles take place, he’s saying to them things like “I cannot be ignored.” And when Jesus can’t be ignored, it means that he has to be dealt with. And Jesus will not let anybody go undealt with. Jesus will deal with you.

And so he is with all of these people. And that means people are ratcheting up their intentions, and they are often bad. And so Jesus comes to this place and they bring this poor blind man, and he’s teaching his disciples lessons that they must never forget if they are to persevere until the end, and those are the lessons that I believe he has for us this morning.

And the first thing that we need to notice is that Jesus gives himself to this blind man. What does Jesus give the blind man? Well, he gives him sight, yes, he gives him sight. But Jesus gives himself to this blind man. Now if you know your Bible, then perhaps this miracle may sound somewhat familiar to you, the crowds have brought to Jesus before blind people. In just a couple of chapters earlier in the gospel of Mark, for instance, the disciples, or some people in the area nearby brought to the disciples a man who was both deaf and mute and they begged Jesus to heal him, and the way that Jesus healed him was to spit into the ground and make out of his spittle a healing ointment.

Something similar here. Jesus is compelled by these people who bring their friend to heal him, and so he spits on his face. The verb used to describe what these faithful friends did for this blind man is that they begged him. We must not know much about this man. You would think that perhaps his family would have brought him; mother, father, his children, if he had a wife, somebody… None of that. It was his friends who appear to have brought him. And when they come to Jesus, they beg him. The verb here to describe begging him is a familiar word to some of you, it is the word parakaleo. It’s the word for the Holy Spirit. The verb parakaleo means to call alongside. It comes from words that you put together, and that’s what it means, to call alongside with a sense of urgency. That’s what they are doing to Jesus, that’s what they’re saying to Jesus. “Come to our friend here.” It’s as if they won’t let him go. They will not let Jesus go, and they compel him. “Come to our friend, come to his side, come to his aid and heal him.”

They are, in effect, confessing the lordship of Jesus Christ. Because you don’t ask for a miraculous healing from a mere man. You don’t ask for a miraculous healing from a weak or from a frail healer, or even from a lunatic, or most certainly from an untrustworthy wanderer. You ask for healing from a God who hears. And they are grabbing ahold of him and they’re saying to Jesus, “We won’t let you go.”

I have been there. I know the helpless feeling of going to the healer with nothing to contribute except my earnest plea. So there is something of a theology of prayer here. It’s not too much to say that they wrestle with God, and God responds in kind. He wrestles with them. They are confessing their own inability. They are confessing the lordship of Jesus Christ when they bring this helpless blind man to him. But there’s more than that. They are coming to him with the certain sense of expectation that this Jesus can heal our friend, but there is a glaring disconnect that Jesus wants to expose. Oh, the faithfulness of our Lord here. There is a glaring disconnect that Jesus wants to expose. His friends had expectations to be sure. The blind man, perhaps, had expectations. They knew that Jesus could heal. His fame was growing through Galilee, even at the far northern tips, his fame was growing. They knew that this man could heal. They knew that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of God, and they had come to expect, that with a single touch, Jesus could heal their friend and then “we’re out of here.”

“Come and heal our friend, we’ll just get in line, we’re the next in line to punch our ticket. Heal our friend.” The blind man says, “yeah, yeah, yeah, heal that, heal me, and then we’re outta here.” But Jesus refuses.

May I say it like this: How often we want the benefits of Christ without Christ himself. We do the same. How often we want the benefits of Christ, perhaps even my best life now. But where is my hunger for Christ himself? The danger of a life in a comfortable place, and make no mistake about it, south Charlotte is terribly comfortable, is that Jesus Christ becomes a happy appendage to an otherwise fine life. But what they didn’t know, what they didn’t appropriate to their own lives, was that Jesus Christ also had a claim on their lives. Do you see the disconnect here? The disconnect between what they believe about Jesus Christ and who Jesus Christ actually was. The disconnect is what they believe, what they want from Jesus Christ, and what it is that Jesus Christ actually wants to give to them. He is saying to his disciples, who were alone watching this miracle unfold, he is saying to his disciples “I have a claim on you. This man has come out, they want me to heal him. I’ll heal him. But I have a claim on him,” and remember this is for his disciples” sake. We’ll get to that in just a moment, but this is for his disciples’ sake. And he is saying to his disciples “I have a claim on your life, and I don’t want you to waste your life.”

And so I say to you, I don’t want you to waste your life. By giving yourself to light things. I want you to know that your life belongs to him. I want you to know that your life belongs to the living God. You are to offer yourselves as a living what? Sacrifice. Because your life belongs to him. We sing it all the time. “My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ, my savior and my God.” Paul would say, in Colossians chapter 3, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Perhaps some of you are drifting, and I say to you pastorally perhaps some of you are drifting. You go through motions, you’re a motion-goer. You sing songs, you check off a few boxes, but you know, you know, somewhere deep inside there, in the inner recesses of your own soul, you know that God has a claim on you. And he is calling you to a life of holiness, and of purity, and perhaps he’s calling some of you to go. And perhaps some of you who are drifting in the sense that your faith was strong but growing weak. This miracle is among the many that remind you that Jesus stands on the precipice and he says to you, “Sinner, oh sinner, come home. I have a claim on you. I have a claim on your life.” And Jesus is saying to his disciples, “You’re like this blind man, and I have a claim on you, too. And I offer to you so much more than a casual acquaintance, than a casual healing, or a wonderful life. Because I offer you myself.” And Jesus is saying to us, as he is saying to that blind man, as he is saying to those friends, as he is saying to his disciples, “I am enough. I am enough for you.”

But there is another thing, and that is the inescapable question mark that hangs around this passage, and that is the gradual healing. Why this gradual healing? Jesus spits, touches the blind man with it, asks “what do you see?” and the blind man can see partially, so Jesus does it again.

Now for many years I was like some of you perhaps, I was a woodworker. I had a great shop. I had a great shop, a shop that was far too good for a person of my measly little skills. And I still have 10 fingers, and so I figured I’d quit while I was ahead. The house that we bought needed a lot of work. We made it beautiful. It was a wonderful home, but it needed, when we first bought it out west, a great deal of work. And so my woodshop was the place where I fixed my house. And I learned something about myself: If I have to cut a board 36 inches, I never cut it 36 inches. I cut it 36-3/4. And then 36-1/2, and I’d keep sneaking up on it until it was just right, until it fits.

Do you suppose that’s what Jesus is doing here? Here’s the blind man: “You want healing? Okay. Can you see?” “Sort of.” “Let’s try this one, you know. How about now?” “Now I can.” Is that what happened? Of course not. Silliness.

This is not Jesus’ trial and error miracle school. He is leading both the blind man and the disciples into all truth. He is teaching them something here. Something about the very nature of what it is to be a Christian. “What do you see?” “I see people, but I don’t see them clearly. I know those are people, but they look like trees to me. They’re walking, so I know they’re people,” but he doesn’t yet see clearly. At least not yet.

And Jesus is saying to his disciples, “That’s how you are.” That’s why the gradual healing. It’s for the disciples’ sake. Because if you’re anything like me, and I’m very much like this blind man, I’m rushed out there by my friends, and Jesus pulls me aside, he takes me out of the crowd, you notice that? He takes him away, out into the wilderness so it’s just this private little setting, and I am ready. I can’t see and I want to see, and I’m ready for Jesus to touch me and be healed. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He does it in stages. It’s not for this blind man’s sake, it’s for the disciples who are watching it.

You’re like this man. You’re just like him. You see, yes, but you don’t see clearly. This is an unusual miracle. And all of the other healings, blind people and bleeding people and deaf people and mute people and water into wine and walking on water and calming storms and casting out demons and all the other things that Jesus does, it’s a single word. Just one word. Or just a single touch of his garment. Healing. But not here.

I think for the blind man Jesus is highly strategic, because what do you notice about this whole scene. What’s the glaring reality of this whole scene? Who comes to Jesus begging for this healing? His friends do. It’s not the man himself. There’s almost no sense, there’s almost no sense in the man. Almost seems to be no faith at all. And Jesus wants the man to be engaged in this healing, he wants the man to walk away and get it. He wants this man to walk away and say what we all sang, “What a wonderful name it is, the name of Jesus.” He wants the blind man eventually to see, but first he wants the blind man to feel. He wants the blind man to feel what’s going on here. To feel his helplessness. To undo any sense of a casual Jesus that this man may have had, as though he’s just the one who happens to be there next in line to punch his ticket to a healing. And so Jesus personalizes this man’s greater need, which is to see, yes, but to see the glory of the Lord.

Are you a hungry person? Are you hungry for the glory of the Lord? I’ll tell you, when -year-old catch a glimpse by faith of the glory of God it changes everything, doesn’t it? Martyn Lloyd-Jones, known as one of the best, most faithful and effective preachers of the 1900s, somewhere in the middle of that century, he was traveling about and he was preaching and he was Reformed and everybody in the Reformed community thought that was wonderful, and he would go spend time with all these guys that were not Reformed. The horror! And some of them criticized him for it: “How are you spending time with all these people? Why are you going to their pulpits and preaching? Why are you sharing your pulpit with them and doing all of these ministry things with people that are not of the same mind that you and I are? Shouldn’t you just kind of be with us?”

And Lloyd-Jones, maybe the finest preacher of the century, said to them a line that has stuck with me since I first read it many years ago. He said “I can forgive a man nearly anything so long as he leaves me with a sense of the glory of God.”

When you behold the glory of God, it changes things. It changes everything. It changed Martin Luther. It changed all the common folk in Germany. It changed the entire continent of Europe. It changed why it was that the explorers wanted to come to the New World. It changed the very nature and dynamic of the colonies. It changes people as a whole, the glory of God.

One of the five pillars of the Reformation, soli Deo Gloria, all things to the glory of God alone. That’s what Jesus is after here. You want a healing? I can heal your eyesight, it’s not a problem. But your greater need is to see Jesus. Your greater need is to sense your need of the glory of God.

And don’t forget about these disciples who are watching. You can almost see it, can’t you? Here’s Jesus, here’s the blind man, here’s his friends who are compelling upon Jesus, and Jesus is healing this blind man and his disciples are over here and you can almost see Jesus healing this blind man, looking at his disciples and saying, “This is you. This is you.”

You need to sense your need of the glory of God because you do not yet see clearly. Jesus wants his disciples, not just the man, but he wants his disciples to learn something about themselves. And he wants this thought to linger in their souls. Because your greatest need is the glory of God.

You know sometimes the very best and healthiest thing you can do for your own spiritual growth and your own maturity is to let things linger a while, let them linger in your soul. Jesus has something for his people here, and he wants that to linger, that your greatest need is to sense your need of the glory of God. That’s why Jesus does this healing in stages. That’s why not just this immediate healing like every other healing. He wants the man, he wants the disciples, to sense their greater need.

And I want you to notice what he reveals to these disciples immediately after this moment. It’s all about the glory of the living God here. And from here, the disciples, the next three things that take place in the life of Jesus.

First, Peter’s great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” And then Jesus teaches them something about the cross work, the death, burial, resurrection from the grave. They’re starting to get it. And then the third thing that happens right after this is the transfiguration, this moment when the glory of God will fall upon Jesus of Nazareth in a unique way, this breathtaking manifestation of his glory. So all of this will come immediately after Jesus says to these disciples, “You don’t yet see clearly, but you need to. You don’t yet see clearly. You don’t yet see who I am. You don’t yet see my mission. You don’t yet see that I have called you for eternal purposes.”

But it’s coming. They will gain clarity, when Jesus will go from this place with his disciples, with this blind man, their eyes begin to be opened to things that matter eternally.

So what’s this all got to do with you and with me? Well, I hope you sense that my biggest burden is that you would sense your need for the glory of God. To see clearly what he is doing in and through your life. Paul said to the Corinthian church, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves through everyone’s conscience in the sight of God, even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Do you not yet see? I was praying with the choir and musicians here on the platform earlier this morning, and together we were praying that all would become invisible, that we as a congregation this morning might see Christ. That’s what we pray for, that’s what we labor for. That we would be invisible, because your greatest need is the glory of Jesus Christ. I want you to see clearly, I want you to let the splendor of God’s holy call on your life, shine its light in the deepest recesses of your soul. And I want you to lay yourself bare before God in humble contrition and confession. I want you to be quiet and still before God who is opening your eyes, who is opening your ears, and I want you to hear him saying to you, “Sinner, oh, sinner, come home. You who are weary and heavy laden, you who are drifting and growing far away from the shores.”

Jesus is opening your eyes that you might behold wonderful things, like the disciples, like the healed man, let us rise before God with confidence, and see the good work that he is doing, and see the good work he will be faithful to do until the day of his return when the glory of the Lord shall be before all earth.

Let’s pray together. Our Father, this morning we are grateful that you have given to us the eternal promises of your Son. We pray, our Lord, that you would. I pray for those that are perhaps in need of seeing your glory, that you would come and rescue them. How I pray, Lord, that you will commune with your people and meet them and open our eyes, that we may behold wonderful things. As we will sing in a moment, we want to love you more, for you are Christ, Son of the living God, open our eyes that we may sense your glory, see your glory, and be forever changed as you have done so many times before so we ask you to do again. Change us from the inside out, that we may know you, and your Christ, the Son of the living God. In whose name we pray. Amen.