Can you see clearly?

Mark 8:22-38

2 March 2008

Woodley Baptist Church

Morning Service


I actually like wearing glasses, but apparently not everyone who needs them does.

A short-sighted Croatian pensioner sparked a police manhunt when he mistakenly picked up another boy instead of his grandson from a kindergarten. Luka Karlovic, 70, arrived at a kindergarten in Zagreb to pick up his five-year-old grandson Petar, but when an employee called for the boy to come and meet his grandfather another Petar stepped forward, and Karlovic drove off with him.

The mistake was only realised half an hour later when the missing boy's father turned up at the kindergarten to take him home. Karlovic said, 'My eyesight is getting a bit poor now and this was the first time I had seen my grandson for six months. I thought he looked a bit different, but I just put it down to the fact that kids can change a lot at that age in a short space of time.'

Here's another one:

Two men in a road race covered an extra 20 miles - because they were too short-sighted to read the map or signposts. Les Uxley and Barry Bedford were taking part in a 50-mile circular run around Rotherham, South Yorkshire minus their glasses.

But the Barnsley pair ended up on a road between Worksop and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. They eventually found their way back to the start after getting lost for 18 hours.

Mr Huxley told Radio Sheffield how they knew they had gone wrong: "We didn't see anybody else, and no-one had come past us."

Mr Bedford said, "Our motto is 'We've started so we'll finish', although after this we might change it to 'Don't forget your specs'!"

Our Bible passage today in Mark chapter 8 is all about being able to see clearly. So please put your reading glasses on and turn with me to Mark 8, verse 22 [page 982].

Blindness, myopia and sight

In verses 22 to 26 Mark gives us a little scene recounting one of Jesus' many healing miracles. All Jesus' healings are extraordinary, but this one is very surprising, because Jesus seems to botch it!

Jesus takes the blind man, spits on his eyes (as you do), lays hands on him, and — ta-da! — the man can see. Well, no, not quite.

What the man says is that he can't yet see clearly. The healing is only partial. When he looks around he says, I see people; they look like trees walking around.ref

So Jesus puts his hands on the man a second time, and this time there is no doubt that the healing is complete, Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.ref

So the question is, did Jesus make a mistake? Was his initial healing botched? And if not, then why the two-stage process?

Well, I think we have to assume that Jesus could have healed the man at once if he had wanted to. He had no trouble healing other blind people in one go. Therefore, if he chose to heal in two stages, it was deliberate.

This two stage healing was a teaching point for the disciples and for us. Jesus wanted to illustrate a spiritual truth in a memorable way; he wanted to press home a message with a practical demonstration.

And the spiritual truth that he wants to teach is that there are stages in answering the question "who is Jesus?". Most are completely blind; some have received partial sight; and a few can see clearly. And we find each of these stages of understanding Jesus presented in the following verses.

As the blind man went through stages of clarity of sight, so the disciples are going through stages of seeing who Jesus is.

First we find that the people's stab in the dark shows that they are blind. Second we see Peter's startling declaration that shows he can see. And third we see Peter's Satanic denial that shows he can't yet see clearly.

A Stab in the Dark

So, first, the people's stab in the dark shows they are blind.

Jesus asks his disciples in verse 27 Who do people say I am?ref, to which they reply Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.ref

In short, the people haven't got a clue. As far as Jesus' true identity is concerned they are blind. Oh, they know he is significant, and they know he is religious, but that's about as far as it goes.

This is actually not so different from the disciples' situation at the time. Just flip back to verses 17 and 18 of Mark chapter 8, to the incident that immediately precedes the healing of the blind man. Here we find Jesus telling the disciples directly that they are blind to his true identity.

Verse 17, Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember?ref

So we see that it's possible to spend months with Jesus himself and still be blind to his true identity. It's possible to spend years in church and never know the true Jesus.

A Startling Declaration

In verse 29 we find that Peter makes a startling declaration that shows he can see.

Jesus follows up his first question, who do people say I am? with a direct challenge to the disciples, But what about you? he asked. Who do you say I am?ref

Peter's answer is astonishing and true, You are the Christ.ref

Peter has seen that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One — they all mean the same thing.

The Messiah was the great hope of the Jewish people. The expected Messiah would free them from the occupation of their land by the Romans and other foreign powers. The Messiah would destroy God's enemies by the word of his mouth. He would gather the scattered people of Israel together. He would rule them as king in justice and glory, and bring everlasting peace to the land. If you've seen the movie, think The Matrix: the Messiah is the liberator of the people.

This was the picture Peter had in mind when he declared that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus had come to rescue the people from their enemies and re-establish the kingdom of Israel.

It's a pretty remarkable conclusion for Peter to come to based on Jesus' ministry so far. Jesus has not shown the slightest political or military ambition that we're told about. But as Jesus says to Peter in Matthew's account of this incident, Blessed are you... for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.ref

Like the blind man, Peter has been given sight. Before, he was blind to Jesus' identity, now he can see because God has given him sight. Or can he?

A Satanic Denial

Verse 31 of Mark 8 is the turning point of Mark's gospel. From this point on Jesus' teaching changes: from now on he will be focused on his death and his journey to Jerusalem where he knows suffering and humiliation eventually await.

After Peter's declaration that he is the Christ, — the deliverer, the rescuer — Jesus very deliberately starts teaching the disciples what sort of Christ he is.

Verse 31, He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about thisref.

In response to this Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.ref

What made Peter dare to contradict Jesus? To tell him off for his teaching?

Well, at the core of Peter's belief as a first century Jew was the fact that the Messiah did not suffer. The Messiah did not die. The Messiah was the conqueror, not the conquered. What's the point of a movie in which the hero dies in the first scene?

Peter had so proudly declared Jesus the Christ, and pinned all his hopes on it. Now everything Jesus was saying could only mean he wasn't the Christ after all. So Peter rebuked him! I guess he said something like "don't be so defeatist Jesus; you can be the winner!"

Jesus' response is devastating: Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.ref

Jesus knew that he must suffer; he must die. If he didn't suffer and die in our place then there would be no forgiveness for us. He had to bear our sin in his body on the cross. There was no other way to save us. And he had to save us, because he loves us so very much.

When Jesus had faced temptation in the wilderness at the start of his ministry, Satan had offered him a short-cut to glory, side-stepping the cross. But Jesus had rejected him then, and Jesus rejects him now. For the Son of God there was no side-stepping the cross. It was the whole point of him becoming man.

So we see that when Peter declared Jesus the Christ, he had the right title but the wrong understanding. Peter's Satanic denial shows that he can't yet see clearly. He could see partially — he could see that Jesus is the rescuer — but he couldn't yet see that Jesus had to suffer and die in order to rescue. He didn't see at all that God's plan went far further than the mere liberation of Israel: as far as the salvation of all who follow his Son.


What are we to make of all this? Well, in verse 34, Jesus summons the crowd as well as his disciples and challenges them. And his challenges is to us as well. Jesus holds up in front of us a clear picture of what it means to follow him. If we are people who see clearly, then we will read these words and say "yes, yes! That's how it must be. That's how I want to live." If we don't react like that, then we haven't yet seen clearly who Jesus is.

First he says, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.ref

The culture we live in is all about self, isn't it? Self-acceptance, self-assertion, self-belief, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-expression, self-fulfilment, self-image, self-indulgence, self-reliance, self-respect, self-worth.

Into this culture, Jesus speaks "deny your self".

Now, when Jesus says this he's not talking really about trivial forms of self-denial. Perhaps you've given up something for Lent. I've given up the booze; Penny has taken the harder path and given up chocolate. But Jesus means something much more profound than giving things up for Lent.

Denying our selves is saying no to what we want and yes to Jesus in every aspect of our lives. It means no longer living to please ourselves, but living our whole lives for the sake of God and others.

It's easy to see where we are not denying our selves.

Whenever we put our selves first, we are failing to deny ourselves.

Jesus modelled for us, and calls us to, a completely different life. He calls us to come and die. "Take up your cross!" he says.

If you do a Google search for the phrase "the cross he has to bear" the top hit is for a chap who says, "The biggest cross he has to bear is being a long-term supporter of Aldershot Town Football Club" . Now, if he'd said Tottenham Hotspurs football club, I might have agreed, but Aldershot? Seriously, when we talk about bearing the cross like this — my bunions are the cross I have to bear — then we seriously get the picture wrong.

When Jesus invites us to take up our cross, he is inviting us to die with him. The condemned criminal "picked up his cross" and carried it to the place of his own execution. When we deny our selves it is to encompass every area of our lives, so that in the end we die to ourselves. We are called to give ourselves up to the last breath, not holding back one drop. In the end we are to live only for God and for others, just as the Messiah we follow did.

Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone want to follow this man, if this is the way he will lead us?

Well, the answer is in verses 35-37. Losing our lives like this is the only way to save them. We cannot save ourselves; we can only follow the saviour.

If we truly have perfect sight then we will see that the joy and delight of being with Jesus is worth any sacrifice. Perfect sight is such a clear vision of the world to come, that we can see it will be far, far more precious than anything this world has to offer. We will long to be there so much, that we will endure anything in this life to get there.

Jim Elliot was a missionary to Ecuador who really saw this clearly. Famously he wrote in his journal, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." He was killed at the age of 28 by those he went to spread the gospel to. He lost his earthly life, but so what? He can never lose the life he now has with God.

In verse 38 Jesus gives us a test to find out whether we will deny ourselves. If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.ref

Here is a simple test: are you ashamed of Jesus? Are you embarrassed to tell people that you love this suffering, crucified, humiliated man with all your heart? If we are ashamed and embarrassed to declare our faith in Jesus, then the only reason is because we care too much about our "self" and what people think of us. We haven't yet truly lost our selves in him.

Could you tell your colleagues? Could you tell your boss? Could you tell your parents? Your children? Could you tell your friends?

Think for a moment: who is the one person you could never tell that you belong to Jesus. That you try to obey the things he said almost 2000 years ago. That you believe he is the Lord of the universe and that one day we will all stand before him to be judged?

Who would you find it hardest of all to say these things to?

Well, here's a challenge. Tell them. Pray to God and tell that person this week. Then you will know that you can deny yourself.

Bishop Ryle wrote these words,

Let us often ask ourselves whether our Christianity costs us anything? Does it entail any sacrifice? Has it the true stamp of heaven? Does it carry with it any cross? ... A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing. It will do us no good in the life that now is. It will lead to no salvation in the life to come.

Do you get it? Can you see clearly?


To conclude: Jesus' question to each one of us this morning is the same as he asked his disciples: "what about you? Who do you say I am?

Perhaps Your answer to this question shows that you remain completely blind to him. As far as you are concerned Jesus is a great moral teacher; an impressive prophet; an inspiring example of self-sacrifice. He is one among a number of important spiritual leaders. If that's your view of Jesus, then you are completely blind: you've never seen the Jesus of the Bible.

Or perhaps your answer to the question "who do you say I am?" shows that you can see partially. You rightly know that Jesus is your Saviour. But you understand that only in terms of Jesus being there to solve your problems, to heal your sicknesses, to bring you prosperity. He is your Saviour who helps you live a fulfilled and triumphant life.

If that's the full extent of your view of Jesus, then you can see, but you don't yet see clearly.

Or perhaps your answer to the question is that you have such a vision of the glory of Christ that you are prepared to follow him wherever he leads. You will take up your cross and die to yourself, you will deny yourself daily, because you have a such clear sight of the glory that lies ahead that you know that it is worth it.

My guess is that none of us has truly reached this clarity of vision: 20:20 spiritual insight. In so many ways we still expect Jesus simply to meet our selfish needs and desires, rather than denying ourselves for his sake. No matter how long we have been believers, the self won't die.

But the blind man was eventually healed completely as Jesus touched him. And the disciples eventually saw Jesus' identity clearly as they continued to spend time with him. So too, we will slowly gain a clearer picture of him as long as we continue following him on the way of the cross.