The Lord's Day Evening
June 14, 2009
with Jesus: A Blind Man:
“Blind Man in Bethsaida”
The Reverend Mr. Nathan D. Shurden
In Mark 8 we're on our second installment of our summer series “Encounters with Jesus.” And we find ourselves in the Gospel of Mark tonight, half way through the book of Mark. Mark 8 — sixteen chapters in the Gospel of Mark, and so we find our time and place tonight at a pivotal spot in the Gospel of Mark. You see in your bulletin that we're reading verses 22-26; I'd like to extend that reading if I may tonight to verse 31. Before we read God's word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You for the deep and profound privilege of being able to gather on the Lord's Day evening, a beautiful Lord's Day evening, at the end of a day of worship, rest, and gladness; to be able to come into Your house with Your people and hear Your word proclaimed. We ask this night, O Father, that You would come in power by Your Spirit and the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ and that we would know that You are here with us, for we would experience the illumination of Your Spirit; that You would keep from us all spiritual blindness, all distraction, all deception, all misunderstanding; and, that we might behold the beauty of Your word in all of its truth and power. This is our hearts’ cry, O Father. It is Your power to do so. Would You please meet with us in Your word. In Jesus' name. Amen.
“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 men, 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.’
“And Jesus went on with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told Him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.
“And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Amen. And thus far the reading of God's holy word.
As I was studying this passage this week, I found a book that I had read long ago, and have read several times even since. It was a book, in fact, that I had debated reading again this summer with some of my interns. It is one of my joys in the summer for my interns to have a little extra time here at the church as well as me to have a little extra time to spend with them, and so sometimes what we do during our times of discipleship is to read books together. We try to read at least one fun volume…at least one fun volume for the summer. The volume that I contemplated reading this summer was the book Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis. In studying for this passage tonight, that book was imprinted on the back of my mind again because so much of what we see laced throughout this passage we see implied and then explicitly stated in C.S. Lewis’ book, Till We Have Faces. Some of you are probably not familiar with that work. It comes under the title, “A Myth Retold.” It is the old myth of Cupid and Psyche, and in Lewis’ retelling there is this city called Glome that was on the outskirts of Hellenized Rome, probably two or so centuries before the birth of Christ…mythological town. In that mythological town there is a king, and the king has three daughters, two of which play a significant role in the course of the book. One of the daughter's name is Oruel and the other is Psyche. Oruel is the older and was born of the first wife of the king, who died; and Psyche was the youngest daughter, who was born of the second wife of the king, who has now also died — actually died in childbirth. Oruel becomes a kind of mother figure throughout the course of the book for Psyche. Psyche losing a mother in childbirth obviously needed lots of care, the kind of care that a king could not give, and Oruel, being old enough, was able to do so.
As you can imagine, the relationship between these two daughters was fascinating, deep, and abiding. Well, one day in Glome there came a great plague to the city. It was coupled with a drought and with a famine. It became clear to the priest who was serving in Glome that this was a pagan city. The priest believed that if Psyche, the beautiful younger daughter, would be sacrificed to the god Ungit, who was an embodiment of Venus (hope you’re keeping up with all this)…if she was sacrificed, then the drought would go away, the famine would go away, the plague would disappear, and Glome would go forward as a city. Now as you can imagine, the king…his precious, beautiful, beloved daughter…that was the last thing he wanted to do. But seeing the devastation of his people he finally complied, and Psyche was taken out into the woods to be strapped to a holy tree, to be left to the gods to do whatever it is that they wished with her.
A few days passed and Oruel, the elder sister who loved Psyche so much, goes out into the woods to find the bones. She wants to give her sister a burial that would be appropriate and proper. Well, as she goes she finds Psyche not dead, but more alive than she's ever been. She's crossed over the river and she's now abiding in a valley, and she is vibrant in a way that Oruel has never seen before. But she's clothed, at least from Oruel's sight, in rags. And Oruel begins to worry about her. She talks about this husband whom she has met, this god she now serves. She talks about these marvelous robes in which she is dressed and this wonderful mansion in which she lives. And Oruel, not believing in all of the divine mystery, can't see it. She can't see it.
Now in our passage tonight, in many senses we have a passage with such deep spiritual mysteries at play that the mysteries are so great it requires spiritual eyes to see them. One of the things that we can say about miracles — lots of things that we could say about them in the course of our time together tonight, but one thing that we can say absolutely about the purpose of miracles is that miracles reveal something.
Their purpose is to show forth something. They speak…they have a message to communicate…they reveal something. Almost in every single miracle we can anticipate to learn something about the power of Jesus. This would make sense. He is, after all, the power behind the miracle. And we almost always learn something about the nature of the kingdom of God, the kind of kingdom that He's building, the kingdom that pushes back the curse, the kingdom that will overcome all the effects of the curse and of sin.
In the passage tonight those two things are definitely clear, but we learn a third thing. We learn something about ourselves. We learn something about our spiritual blindness. Now, to learn this lesson I want to look at this passage deeply under three headings. I want to look firstly under the reality of spiritual blindness, and then secondly under the root cause of spiritual blindness — what causes this spiritual blindness; and then, lastly, thirdly, the remedy for our spiritual blindness.
So, first the reality of our spiritual blindness.
It is actually quite the paradox that here in Mark 8 we are settling into the subject of spiritual blindness. We know much about the Gospel of Mark. You know that half way through the Gospel of Mark we come to a significant place. It's a place typically reflected on as Peter's confession. It's the time and place in which Peter actually identifies clearly who Jesus is. Now, this is the driving question of the entirety of the Book of Mark: Who is this Jesus? He comes on the scene in the most strange and bizarre way; He displays all of His power in miracles and signs and wonders; He teaches with authority — it says an authority that is unlike the scribes and the Pharisees. Who is this Jesus? And here in chapter 8, right in the middle of the Book of Mark, we get it. Peter tells us: He is Christ. The rest of the Book of Mark is actually spent unpacking that very subject, what it means now that Peter has identified Jesus as the Christ.
If you look on down past the section…actually, right at the end of the section we read tonight, verse 31…notice what Jesus begins to do. It's right below the section of verse 29-30 where Peter has just said, “You are the Christ,” and then notice what Jesus begins to do. Verse 31:
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Now if we were going to identify one verse in the entirety of the Book of Mark that summarized the Book of Mark, it would be this one. We've just learned from Jesus the rest of the story. In the next eight chapters — chapter 8 to chapter 16 — are going to be Jesus’ rejection by the chief elders and the Pharisees and the scribes, His crucifixion, His suffering, His death, and His ultimate resurrection. That's what we're going to see. So Jesus immediately…He gets this information, identification from Peter, and He begins to say, ‘Peter, this is what it means to be the Messiah. This is what it means to be the anointed One. I've come down from heaven so that I might die on the cross for your sins an atoning death, and be raised to everlasting life.’ And we know that Peter didn't really have that in mind. We get that later on in the passage. He actually had something very different in mind.
Now the fascinating thing about this is that this is the bright and shining moment in the middle of the Book of Mark where like a lightning bolt we have clarity as to who Jesus is; and yet, on both sides — before this section of Peter's confession and after the section of Peter's confession — we will see that there is rabid blindness, spiritual blindness, all around. You can see this really all the way throughout the Book of Mark, but if you've still got your Bibles open turn back to Mark 7… Mark 7:17, 18. You see it most poignantly in the disciples, and here at verse 17…this is after the point at which Jesus has just given a long discussion on what it means to be defiled, that it's the inside, the heart that defiles the man, not something that comes from the outside…it's what's on the inside that defiles the man…and Jesus has just spoken of this in the sight of the Pharisees. And the disciples go with Him, it says in the next section:
“They entered the house [verse 17] and left the people. And He said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding?’”
Here it is in the Book of Mark! Right here, heading up to this great moment where we're going to identify Jesus — blindness! We hear Jesus’ teaching, but we don't get it. We don't understand what it is that He's trying to say, what He's trying to communicate.
Now turn forward to Mark 8:14-21. This is the section just previous to what we just read. Jesus has just talked about the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, speaking about their influence: Beware of the influence of the Pharisees and Herod on you. They’re nothing but whitewashed tombs, nothing but hypocrites. Be aware and be on guard against their influence.
And then notice what we see here. The disciples begin talking about bread — real bread. Jesus is talking about spiritual leaven that leavens the lump of the community, and the disciples begin going, ‘Oh, yeah! We forgot the bread from the feeding of the 4,000 back just a little bit ago. We only have one loaf with us.’ And Jesus begins to say [verse 17],
“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”
Immediately here in this passage we find Jesus exposing the blindness of the disciples
Now these are the men who have walked faithfully with Jesus for three years. We are quickly approaching the last week of Jesus’ life, and the disciples still don't get it. Well, the same is true of course of the Pharisees, who have been in the picture the entire time. They've come to Jesus in the previous section asking for a sign, and of course it's the section just after the feeding of the 4,000. Jesus has just given them a sign! A sign from heavenly places! And the Pharisees are saying, ‘Well, Jesus, if You’d just give us a sign, we’d believe. Then we’d know You’re from heaven.’
Every direction we look we see spiritual blindness, and then right in the middle of this section, right before this growing clarity, what do we see? We see the story of a miracle — a blind man. See what Mark is doing? Mark is saying that the disciples, the ones who are closest to Jesus and who have given everything for Jesus, and who are following Jesus, are oftentimes confused by Him. They don't always know what's going on with Him. And the Pharisees, well, they’re always looking for a sign, always coming out to argue with Jesus and to test Him and they never can receive exactly what they want to put their faith and confidence in Christ. Everywhere in every direction, Jesus looks and sees blindness, and then He comes on the shore of Bethsaida and who comes to Him? A blind man. A blind man.
Now the first principle that Mark is seeking to drive home to us is that whether or not you’re close to Jesus like the disciples or whether or not you’re far, far from Jesus like the Pharisees, there is in all of us a deep and real spiritual blindness. There is a spiritual blindness that pervades everyone as they relate to Jesus. Now this spiritual blindness does not necessarily mean you've not seen the light; the disciples have clearly given everything away to follow Jesus, and yet along the way they seem to have grown quite dull. They seem to have missed the spiritual perceptions that they needed to really grasp what Jesus was after. So they’re following Him, but they don't get it.
And then there are those who are interested in Jesus, but they’re waiting for enough confidence to see something just glorious enough where then they might start following Him. Do you see the two poles? And we're seeing blindness in everyone, aren't we? What causes this? What causes this kind of spiritual blindness? It's in the disciples, it's in those who profess the name of Christ, it's in those who hate Christ, those who don't see Christ…what causes such pervasive spiritual blindness?
This is Point Two: The root cause of spiritual blindness is your desperately wicked heart. Your desperately wicked heart. Patrick Downey just wrote a new book. He is a Professor of Philosophy at St. Mary's College in California. The name of the book was stunning to me when I first received a copy of it…in big letters right on the front: Desperately Wicked. That was the title. The subtitle is, “Reflections on Theology and Philosophy and History Regarding People's Beliefs, and Reflections on the Wickedness of the Heart.” Something like that. Some sort of subtitle like that — “desperately wicked.” Now the book is an interesting book in and of itself because of its meditation, and it has some positive things and some negative things to say, but what struck me was the beginning paragraph. This is how he begins the book:
“‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ With this claim of the prophet Jeremiah we begin our book. What are we to make of this? Could this be true about my heart? About your heart? Even if it were true, would you be able to know it? And if it were true, would you ever admit it? More than likely the response to a claim such as “your heart is desperately wicked, even beyond finding out” is to recoil with indignation and anger. Who is Jeremiah to say such a thing? Not only is it not true, but the very goodness that I perceive within my heart suggests that maybe Jeremiah is desperately wicked — not me. Well, perhaps that's what Jeremiah means, but then again, might your anger and might your indignation suggest the very fact that he's right? After all, every indignation begins to show up when an argument is weak or when an argument is lost altogether.”
You see what Downey is saying. He's saying that the very point at which we begin to hear what Jeremiah says of us, that the blindness is so great and the blindness is not because of something external but there's something internal, there's something so desperately wicked about you and me that as soon as we hear it we begin to go, “That's not me! That's not who I am! When I look into the recesses of my heart, that's not what I perceive. There are so many things that I do well. There are so many people I see worse than me. How could he say that my heart is desperately wicked, that it's so wicked that it's beyond finding out?”
The “desperately wickedness” that Jeremiah is speaking of is that sin in my heart and your heart is shot through to such a degree that the very nature of sin has so clouded our view of ourselves that we are cast under the deception of Satan, and that in our mind's eye and in our view of who we are, we are legends in our own mind. I can recount for you all of the great things that I've done, and Jeremiah is saying, Well, I can recount all of the motives by which you did them. I can recount of all of the great times in which I've served the Lord; and he says, Well, I can pick apart every inclination of your heart, and I know that even in the midst of your most righteous deeds, I smell the stench of sin.
The wonderful thing about a series such as this, about a miracle such as this, about a living illustration such as this is that it reminds us that when we encounter Jesus we see ourselves for who we really are. We live in a day and time, and we live with a mood of the age [that it] is for us as individuals to seek, to find out who we are, on our own. I wish I had a dime for every conversation where someone needed to take a break from something or needed to quit a job to go into another one because they didn't “find themselves” in it. If we were all honest, we could even point in time and say that at various moments throughout every day I don't feel as if I'm “myself.” What I've found when I'm tempted in such a line to be able to go and seek out my own identify and to find who my truest self is, I get caught in an entangled web. And as I go deeper into the recesses of my heart, it's like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. There's no getting out of it. And it's because the heart is desperately wicked and it is beyond finding out.
I'd like to propose that the way in which you would be able to find out who you are most truly, if you would dare such a venture, would be to search for the God who made you. And when you find Him, you will find your truest self. But there should come a Surgeon General's warning with that: What you will see will be Jeremiah 17:9, and you will say like Isaiah in the presence of God, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I am undone in Your presence, O God.” We see in this passage that the spiritual blindness that pervades an unbeliever like a Pharisee and even a believer like a disciple who has been blinded by his own sin…the root cause of this is that there is a desperately wicked heart that's underneath.
I'm tempted to go back to Downey's question: “But if you were to find out that's true, would you ever admit it?” You know, I don't think that you would. I don't think I would, either. If I were to have to see my sin in all of its horribleness, in all of its grossness and I would be as aware of what it said about me, I think I'd do just like Adam and Eve. I'd run and hide. The glory of this passage before us is that it gives us the confidence to come out of the woodwork, because the same God who reveals our sin and sees us to the bottom — He knows the sins that you have thought in the course of this sermon…He knows them. He knows them when you’re not even aware of them…that same God has come to encounter you in all of His grace and His love.
Not only do we see the reality of spiritual blindness and the cause of spiritual blindness, we see the remedy of spiritual blindness here. Notice what happens in verse 22. The blind man…this is what the disciples are going to have to do…this is what the Pharisees, should they ever come to know the Lord…it's what Nicodemus had to do. He had to go and he had to be brought. Someone had to take him (he's blind)…someone had to take him to Jesus, and someone beg to Jesus that He would touch him. Someone begged Jesus that He would touch him.
Friends, as we gather tonight around this passage, and as I know that the hearts of many of you, as my own heart, battle sin and the shame and the guilt that clouds it, I often think that I wonder if the gathering of the saints is a safe place for a sinner such as me. There is no safer place, for here you can know and be known; all of what you are can be revealed, and yet in a moment of its revealing all of the grace and the love can be poured out upon you because Jesus will reach out and touch you. And some of you are saying, “I don't know how to do that.” And that's exactly where you begin. In the quiet of your heart, you go, “Lord, I've never known You. I know nothing but blindness. I've always tried to keep up appearances. I feel really good about who I am, but I see now as I see Your word working, I'm not who I'm cracked up to be. And I can't on my own moral effort make my way out.” You see, that's the beginning of a prayer that God hears. It's a blind man, a blind woman, coming to a Savior who will touch them.
Some of you are disciples who love the Lord deeply. You've walked with Him for years. But it's been a long time since you've felt intimacy with the Lord. Even in the midst of the congregation, the Sunday Schools and small groups and worship, and in the time of socializing between events, you’re alone in the midst of the crowd and you’re alone in relationship to the Lord — at least in the way in which you feel. In this particular miracle what we see is there are oftentimes not just one touch of Jesus that takes away everything, but it's oftentimes the second touch and the third touch, and a fourth touch, where you come back before the Lord and you say, “Lord, I'm beginning to see something, but all I see is men walking as trees. I'm not seeing clearly. It's still dark. I'm seeing the light like I've never seen before, but I don't see it clearly. I need you, Lord, to touch me again.”
You see, Peter was touched. Peter was confused a few verses earlier, and then he knows this is the Christ in the next few verses. And then in the next couple of verses he's going to forget all about what the Christ is supposed to do. Doesn't he sound like a disciple? Doesn't he sound like you?
A passage such as this tonight is telling us that the way in which we get out of spiritual blindness is not to avoid it, it's not to ignore it, it's not to act like it's not there, it's not to (like the Pharisees) pretend that we see. That is the road to destruction. It's to come before the Lord like a blind man, and when you get touched, you say, “Lord, touch me again, and never quit touching me.” And in so doing, you will know the Lord, for He will meet you as you seek Him. And as you seek Him, He will find you.
Our Father in heaven, even in this night, O Lord, in the company of the upright there is still darkness. And for some of us, Lord, it is the valley of the shadow of death. Tonight, O Lord, would You by Your grace come, and would You show yourself in our hearts and in our community to be the light of the world, who takes away the sins of the world. Come, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.
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