Mark: Lord, I Was Blind, I Could Not See

Sermon by Derek Thomas on November 24, 2004

Mark 8:22-26

Tuesday Evening

November 23, 2004

Mark 8:22-26

“Lord, I Was Blind; I Could Not See”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Please turn in your Bibles to Mark’s Gospel once again. We
have been working our way through Mark’s Gospel. We’re about half way through
the Gospel, in chapter eight, and we come this evening to a little story…it’s
very short, it’s somewhat strange. It’s been something on my mind ever since
last Wednesday when I realized I would have to speak on this tonight. It’s a
wonderful, wonderful story of Jesus’ healing a blind man in the region of
Bethsaida.

Now before we read the passage together, let’s come
before God in prayer. Let’s pray.

Gracious Lord and Heavenly Father, we want with
all of our hearts to see none but Jesus only; Jesus only in Your word; Jesus
only in our lives. And we ask for the help of Your Spirit: Holy Spirit, come
and grant us the grace of illumination, that we might read, learn, and inwardly
digest all that You have caused to be written. Help us to mark the truth, and
to apply it to our lives for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

This is God’s holy word. We find it in Mark chapter
eight, and beginning at verse twenty-two and reading through to verse
twenty-six.

“And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Him, and entreated
Him to touch him. And taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of
the village; and after spitting on his eyes, and laying His hands upon him, He
asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I
am seeing them like trees, walking about.” Then again He laid His hands upon
his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything
clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Amen. And may God add His blessing to the reading of His
holy and inerrant word.

Now as we have seen in these past few weeks as Jesus
calls these disciples of His, they have been brought to faith and trust in Jesus
Christ, and their birth is meant to issue in growth. They’re meant to grow;
they’re meant to become mature in their understanding and in their profession of
what it means to be a Christian.

Paul would write to the Thessalonians and say how
thankful he was because “your faith is growing more and more.” And Peter, in
both of his epistles, seems to be preoccupied with the issue of growing. In I
Peter he says that memorable passage: “Like newborn babes, desire the sincere
milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” And in II Peter, almost at the
end of the epistle, he gives that exhortation: “Grow in grace.” Grow in
grace. And it’s interesting to me that Peter should be so preoccupied with the
issue of growing, because perhaps he’s recalling how difficult for him in
particular, and for many of the other disciples, to grow. Maybe Peter is
thinking of this particular incident that’s before us this evening.

Whatever we make of this story and whatever we make
of what Jesus does on the one hand, in the actual life of the one who is healed
the fact that Jesus did it in two stages: He heals him of his blindness so that
he can see men, but like trees walking; and then, in a second stage restores his
sight fully. Whatever we make of that–and my instinct is that we make almost
nothing of that–the real lesson is not what Jesus was doing in that man: the
real lesson is in what Jesus is trying to teach His disciples by illustrating it
in what He was doing in that man.

I want to acknowledge that I can’t think of this
passage without thinking of a particular sermon that I must have read when I was
a student at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, when I was in a former life
studying mathematics. And somebody gave me this book (it wasn’t this copy; this
is a brand new copy and actually belongs to the bookstore), but this is Dr.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression. And in it Dr. Martyn
Lloyd-Jones has a very famous sermon on this passage: “I See Men Like Trees
Walking.”

Now, I deliberately did not read this sermon before
I prepared this sermon, because otherwise I would never have prepared another
sermon except the one Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached. But I still remember bits of
this sermon from my head. I think this is one of the sort of “top twenty” books
in my favorite books of all time: Spiritual Depression by Dr. Martyn
Lloyd-Jones.

Now, this miracle: it takes place in Bethsaida.
Bethsaida is to the north and slightly to the east of the Sea of Galilee. You
remember, Jesus has just been in Decapolis, which is to the south, and depending
on who you’re reading, maybe fifteen or twenty miles away from the coast of the
southern coastline of the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus had healed a man who was deaf and partially
dumb. They have fed four thousand people bread and some fish, and then they
have had this interchange with the Pharisees, and they’ve made their way
northwards toward Bethsaida.

In the boat journey heading towards Bethsaida, you
remember there breaks out amongst the disciples this argument. They suddenly
realize as soon as they get into the boat that they haven’t got any bread. It’s
amusing…it’s funny. Mark is recording this, and Peter is probably whispering
this in Mark’s ear. Imagine! We’ve just been feeding four thousand people with
more loaves than we could count, and we got into the boat, and they’ve only got
one loaf. And they’re accusing each other, and they’re quarreling amongst each
other. They’re distressed; they’re thoroughly and completely occupied with
themselves.

And now falls this miracle in Bethsaida: an unusual
miracle; Jesus does it in an extraordinary way. He doesn’t usually perform
miracles in this fashion, by half healing a person and then fully healing him;
and the only thing that we can conjecture is that He’s doing this for a very
deliberate reason. He’s doing it in order to instruct the disciples about
something. And He’s saying to the disciples, this is where you are. This is
what you are like. You’ve been partially healed, but you don’t see clearly.
You see men, but you see men like trees walking.

Some of you, if you took off your spectacles, (or
took out your contact lenses, in my case)…I couldn’t see further. I couldn’t
see the front row. Well, I don’t think there is anybody in the gallery, but if
there was I wouldn’t see them! That’s the issue that Jesus is teaching these
disciples. They are His disciples, but they don’t see clearly. They don’t see
clearly.

What exactly was Jesus suggesting when this man
says, “I see men like trees, walking”?
Let me suggest three things.

I. His disciples have no clear
understanding of certain truths.

Let me suggest first of all that His disciples have
no clear understanding of certain truths. These disciples were on the verge of
making one of the greatest pronouncements in the Gospel. It will fall in the
next section, but as far as you and I are concerned it’s going to be January.

In the next section, it’s the turning point in the
Gospel. It’s the occasion further north, again in Bethsaida, in Caesarea
Philippi; it’s that moment when Peter will say, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of
the living God.” And it’s a blinding, revelatory moment. “Flesh and blood
hasn’t revealed this unto you, but My Father which is in heaven,” Jesus says.
It’s one of those heart-stopping moments when Peter (and don’t you love that
it’s Peter?) …Peter makes this astonishing, marvelous declaration as to the
identity of Jesus.

It’s a transition in the Gospels. Jesus will ask
the question, “Who do men say that I am?” And there are all kinds of answers.
‘Some say You’re John the Baptist, come back to life again. Some say that
You’re Elijah, redivivus. Some say that You’re one of the prophets….’
There were all kinds of ideas and speculations and half-formed thoughts as to
who Jesus was; but these disciples, they had some apprehension as to who Jesus
was. They’d left everything; they’d become His disciples. They’d left their
homes, they’d left their jobs. They were embarking on what would be a
three-year missionary journey with Jesus. They’d begun to see who He was: a
great man, certainly; a great leader of men, certainly; a great teacher and
prophet, certainly; but, much more than that. But how much more?

Who exactly was Jesus, that He was a mouthpiece for
God? That He was a great prophet? That He talked with astonishing clarity, and
sometimes with great profundity the things of God? But they were constantly
being stretched in their levels of understanding and comprehension as to who
Jesus was. They saw Him, but as trees walking.

It shows us that in the experience of these
disciples, clear-sightedness came only gradually. It came only gradually, and
just in these past few weeks at the seminary–it’s that time of the year when I’m
teaching the Doctrine of the Trinity–and the astonishing way in which it takes
centuries for clarity of that doctrine, a core doctrine, a central doctrine, a
central affirmation that defines who God is: that God is one God, and yet there
is more than one Who is that one God; that God– in the immortal words of our
senior minister from the pulpit here one Sunday morning–that God is not an
undifferentiated monad: that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy
Spirit is God, and yet you don’t have three Gods: there is only one God. The
astonishing way in which a man like Athanasius, Athanasius contra mundum,
Athanasius against the world, Athanasius against the Arians and the
Semi-Arians–little children who’d been taught to sing in the streets that there
was a time when the sun was not. And Athanasius, coming out in clear, affirming
tones that Jesus was as much God as the Father is God.

You all know that little expression, “not an iota of
a difference” —but Athanasius…and it comes from this particular controversy,
because an iota makes all the difference in the world. It was the difference
between two Greek words: homoiousios and homoousios
1 and the difference between them is one letter,
the letter iota. And one says Jesus was ‘like God’, and the other says
that Jesus ‘was God.’ And Athanasius, affirming with absolute clarity that Jesus
was God… God raising up a man like Tertullian in North Africa to bring to us
the language, the vocabulary that we still employ: words like personTrinity: that God exists, and within that essence there are
three subsistencies: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And the language of the Nicenal-Constanopolitan
Creed of 387 A.D., that Jesus is “God of God; very God of very God, begotten,
not made; being of one substance with the Father, by Whom all things were
made.” And yet the suspicion even within those very words that Jesus is God of
God–as though perhaps the church was affirming that Jesus was deriving His
godhead, His deity from the Father, and actually coming down to the sixteenth
century to John Calvin, to affirm without any equivocation the absolute deity of
Jesus: that Jesus’ deity is underived in any way, in any fashion; that there’s
no subordination of the deity of Jesus to the Father; that He is equal with the
Father. It took fifteen hundred years for the church to see that in all of its
clarity. Amazing…about the deity of Jesus….

The same could be said about the doctrine of
justification by faith. Of course, the church had affirmed it to some degree
before Luther in 1517; of course, the Hussites and the Waldencians and Wycliffe
and others had affirmed the language of justification, but it took fifteen
hundred years for the church to express that truth in all of its clarity. I’m
saying they saw these things, but they saw them like trees walking.

And Jesus is saying to these disciples of His, ‘You
see, yes, you’re not blind; you’re not what you once were.’ They’d been brought
to sight, but their sight is partial. They don’t yet fully grasp who Jesus is.
They don’t yet fully grasp all the implications of the truths that come together
as a consequence of Jesus’ coming into the world. “I see men like trees,
walking,” this man said. And Jesus is saying to His disciples, ‘You know, that’s
just like you.’

II. Secondly, they had no clear
engagement of faith.

They had no clear engagement of faith.
They’re in the boat. They realize they only have one loaf, and sitting with
them in the boat is Jesus, the Lord of glory, the One who has just enabled them
to be part of that miracle of feeding the four thousand, and before that the
feeding of the five thousand; the healing of that deaf and partially mute man.
And what were they doing? They’re not saying, ‘Lord, do you know, we’re so
silly. We forgot to bring bread, but You’re with us, and we need not be
concerned about what we’re going to eat in the next few hours, because You’re
with us! If You can multiply loaves and fishes to feed four thousand and five
thousand, You can do it for the twelve of us here in this boat.’

But that’s not what they’re doing. They’re
arguing. They’re quarrelling. They’re wrapped up in themselves. Did they
believe? Of course they believed! Had they exercised faith in Jesus Christ?
Yes, of course they had exercised faith in Jesus Christ! He had called them;
and they had followed Him, and they’d given assent to what He had claimed; and
they had trusted Him. But there are degrees of faith, and their faith is weak,
and their faith is fragile. And sometimes their faith is as thin as a spider’s
thread. Now, Spurgeon said as long as that spider’s thread is lodged in the
very heart of Jesus, it is saving faith; but it is still a spider’s thread, it’s
weak faith. It’s small faith.

Jesus would say to them in a story in Luke 8, “Where
is your faith?” You remember, in the storm–on a boat again in the Sea of
Galilee, and Jesus is sleeping in the back of the boat, and they wake Him, and
they’re all concerned and flustered; and Jesus says to them, “Where is your
faith?” You believe, but where is your faith now? “I see men, but I see them
like trees, walking.”

In the very next chapter, in Mark 9 a man comes to
Jesus whose son is sick, and he comes to Jesus and says, “If you can, You can
make him whole.” And Jesus says, “If I can? All things are possible to him who
believes.” And Jesus heals the boy, and the man cries out, “I believe! Help my
unbelief!” And isn’t that our experience all the time? ‘I do believe, Lord; I
do believe the promises of the gospel, that they’re yes and amen in Jesus
Christ. But You put me in situations and I find myself not believing them. I
find myself running to self-help methods. I find myself not recalling, and not
resting, and not trusting in those promises.’

Haven’t you come here to this very prayer meeting,
some of you, and you’ve come weighed down with a load of care: problems in your
family, problems in your children, problems in your place of work. And you’ve
come, and in this very prayer meeting as you’ve listened to brothers and sisters
praying, and as you’ve listened to the word being read and expounded, as you’ve
sung the great hymns of faith, Jesus has come beside you and said, ‘Where is
your faith? Where is your faith? Trust Me. Put your trust in Me.’

Lack of faith, weak faith, makes our affections
cold. It’s like a marriage in which a relationship isn’t being fed and
nourished. “I see men, but I see them like trees, walking.” My love for Jesus
sometimes doesn’t excite me as it should, as once it did. My love is grown weak
and cold and faint. Lack of faith makes us look to ourselves, like these
disciples in the boat were doing, because there’s this gravitational pull
towards self-justification within each one of us. We lose sight of Toplady’s
great words,

“Nothing in my hand I bring;

simply to Thy cross I cling.

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless, look to Thee for
grace.

Foul, I to the fountain fly.

Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

Unbelief makes us weak when Satan is prowling about,
seeking whom he may devour. What piece of armor, what piece of armor protects
us from the fiery darts of the evil one? It is the shield of faith. It’s the
shield of faith. Faith weans us from all forms of self-sufficiency and
self-reliance, and self-absorption. Faith is the eyes that see; faith is the
ears that hear; faith is the hands that embrace…and all directed to Jesus
Christ. “I see men,” this man says, “but I see them like trees, walking.”
And there’s a third thing here.

III. They have no clear
perception of the nature of their calling

They have no clear perception of the nature
of their calling. What’s going to happen next, in the Gospel of Mark? It’s the
incident at Caesarea Philippi. What is Jesus going to say to His disciples?
He’s going to give the clearest pronouncement yet that He will be betrayed; that
He will be handed over to sinners; that He will be executed; that He will be
crucified; that He will die. And you remember what Peter did? Peter took Him
aside and began to rebuke Him. Imagine that! The arrogance of it! Peter takes
Him aside and says to Jesus, ‘Lord, You must be mistaken!’ And you remember
what Jesus says to His disciples? “If any man will come after Me, let him deny
himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” And I think that Jesus here in
Bethsaida is saying to His disciples, ‘You don’t see that yet. You think you
see what it means to be a Christian; you think you see what it means to be a
disciple; you think you see from all of the blessings of feeding five thousand,
and seeing people having their hearing restored and their eyesight restored, and
dead people coming to life again…’

But there’s another side of suffering, and what Dr.
Flood referred to in his prayer this evening is persecution, and you don’t see
that yet. “I see men, but I see them like trees, walking.”

We’re called, you and I, to be soldiers. Let your
mind think of some of those images of Fallujah, that hand-to-hand,
street-to-street, house-to-house combat in all of its ugliness…in all of its
ugliness. And my friends, that’s what we are called to be: soldiers engaged in
hand-to-hand conflict. Hand-to-hand conflict. It’s as though Jesus is saying
to Peter, ‘You will die in Rome and be crucified upside down.’ It’s as though
Jesus is saying to Andrew, ‘You will go to Greece, and you will be martyred
there.’ It’s as though Jesus is saying to Bartholomew, ‘You will go to Armenia,
and you will become a martyr there.’ And to James, the son of Alphaeus, ‘You
will go to Syria, and they will club you to death there.’ And to Matthew
(according to some), ‘You will go to Ethiopia, and you will be stabbed to
death.’ And Matthias, who took Judas’ place, and Andrew along with him,
‘Together you will go to Syria, and you will be burnt to death. And Philip, You
will die a cruel, cruel death in Carthage. And Simon the Zealot, You will go to
Persia, and because of your refusal to worship the sun god, you’ll be killed.
And Thomas, “doubting Thomas”, You’ll go to India, and four soldiers with spears
will kill you.’

You think you see what it means to be a disciple,
but all you see, Jesus is saying, is trees walking. Let me fill you in little
by little on what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. A
strange little story is Jesus’ way, I think, of teaching His beloved disciples
that they need to grow. They need to grow if they are to face what is coming to
them.

And my friends, do you think they saw any of this?
No, of course not. But what about you? And what about me? And I wonder
tonight if you’re saying, ‘Well, that is me. That is me. I see, I do see, I do
see…but I see men like trees walking. I don’t have a clear understanding of
certain things. I don’t have a clear engagement of my faith. I don’t have a
clear perception of the nature of what it is Jesus has called me to.’

Then go to Him, my friend. Go to Him. He doesn’t
want you to be half-sighted. He wants you to grow, and He wants you to see, and
He wants you to see clearly. He wants to be able to say to you, “I will be with
you.” He wants you to say, ‘I want to be out-and-out for Jesus Christ, no
matter what the cost. I don’t want to live my life with one foot in this world
and one foot in the church. I want to walk in Your ways. I want to be a
disciple wholly committed to Your cause.’ Jesus is saying, ‘Then you need to
grow. You need to grow, and I will help you grow.’

It’s a marvelous, marvelous little story, but it’s a
story that reflects so very much where we are. Let’s pray together.

Gracious God and ever-blessed Father, as we look
at this story tonight we see a glimpse of ourselves. We see, we truly do see;
we’re no longer blind as we once were, but we don’t see clearly, and we don’t
express our faith as we ought to express it. And we’re only half engaged in the
business of being a disciple, and we pray, O gracious God, give us hearts and
give us eyes that desire to see You and what You have called us to, clearly.
Grow us, we pray, because we don’t want to be children forever. And forgive us
our sins, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord’s benediction.

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

1. homoiousios (“like substance”) vs. homoousios
(“same substance”)

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