Sermons

May 12/13, 2018

Spiritual Blindness

Jason Meyer | Mark 8:22-38

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.”

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. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”—Mark 8:22–38 

Introduction

On this Mother’s Day, we want you to know that we see you and honor you. We are thankful for all that you do. Your output and your impact is truly remarkable. I also want you to know that we see other women on this day as well. We see you, single women, who wonder if you will ever be wives or mothers. We see you, couples, who struggle deeply with infertility. We see you, mothers, who have lost children and have had to go through deep loss and grieving. We also see you, mothers, who have children who won’t be sending cards or making phone calls or taking you out to eat because the relationship is so broken. And we know that there are some here who have mothers who have hurt them and wounded them deeply and it is hard to have anything to celebrate. For some this is a joyous day. For some this day can be one of the most painful days on the calendar.

This text today is for all of us. We will walk through it and you may wonder if I have forgotten it is Mother’s Day. I have not. I will return to apply the text to Mother’s Day more fully at the end of the sermon. I am just wanting to say that up front because I have heard of some infamous preaching snafus—like the preacher who told me that he was doing a series on different doctrines and he had forgotten about Mother’s Day. So Mother’s Day just happened to land on the day that he was preaching about the doctrine of hell. I guess we will call that a frowning providence.

We have come to the turn in the Gospel of Mark. The climactic question last week was if the disciples have eyes to see. The entire next section is framed around spiritual blindness. This section begins with the healing of a blind man (8:22–26) and ends with the healing of a blind man (10:46–52). These bookends are about physical blindness, but the stories in the middle are about spiritual blindness. Let’s pray for eyes to see what the Lord is doing through his word.

  1. Partial Physical Blindness (vv. 22–26)
  2. Partial Spiritual Blindness (vv. 27–33)
  3. Addressing the Blindness (vv. 34–38)

1) Partial Physical Blindness (vv. 22–26) 

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.”

This story is only found in the Gospel of Mark. It is unique. Let’s look at what is unique about it. The obvious point that actually troubles some people is why it took Jesus two times to heal this blindness. After the first healing attempt, Jesus asks him if he can see anything, and the man says, “I see people, but they look like trees walking” (v. 24). Then Jesus went to heal him a second time and this time “he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (v. 25).

It is troubling because you think, “Could Jesus not get it right the first time? Why did he need a second try?” The answer is quite simple. This healing is a parable. This is not uncommon in Mark’s Gospel. We will saw the same thing on Palm Sunday when we looked at the cursing of the fig tree as a parable or object lesson. So here is the question: We have a two-stage healing of blindness—a man who can partially see, but is still partially blind. What is that an object lesson for or a parable of? The answer is the disciple’s partial spiritual sight and their partial spiritual blindness.

2) Partial Spiritual Blindness (vv. 27–33)

A. Partial Spiritual Sight (vv. 27–30)

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.

After reading this you have to wonder if I have made a mistake in calling this point “partial spiritual blindness.” Jesus asked his disciples about his identity. Others are giving all the wrong answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. But Peter gets it right! “You are the Christ.” So isn’t this the answer to the question of the last story? …

“Do you get it yet, disciples? Can you see who I am yet?”

“Yes, we see clearly. You are the Christ.”

Again Jesus tells them to tell no one about him. Why does he keep telling them to be silent about this? Answer: Because they don’t really understand yet. They are still partially blind. The next verses make it crystal clear. 

B. Partial Spiritual Blindness (vv. 31–33)

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. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus has only hinted about his death up to this point. He said things like, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mark 2:20). Now he is explicit and emphatic. The text says, “he said this plainly” (v. 32). He calls himself the Son of Man. This was a favorite title that Jesus used for himself that does not merely mean that he is a human being. It is a title drawn from Daniel 7:13–14—a mysterious figure “one like a Son of Man” comes to the Ancient of Days and receives a kingdom.

“I saw in the night visions,

       and behold, with the clouds of heaven
            there came one like a son of man,
       and he came to the Ancient of Days
            and was presented before him.
       And to him was given dominion
            and glory and a kingdom,
       that all peoples, nations, and languages
            should serve him;
       his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
            which shall not pass away,
       and his kingdom one
            that shall not be destroyed.”

But now something extraordinary happens. He says that he is going to suffer many things—there will be an official rejection by Jewish leaders (elders, chief priests, scribes) and murder. Two things are brought together that were never clearly brought together before. There is a Daniel 7 person who receives an everlasting kingdom and whom all the nations will serve, and there is an Isaiah 53 suffering servant who will be despised and rejected and slaughtered. Jesus brings them together and says that they are the same person—him. And death will not be the end of his kingdom. His kingdom will be established through his death and resurrection. This king is going to defeat death. His death and resurrection will bring about the death of death.

This is all too much for Peter. It is so overwhelming for him that he momentarily stops being a disciple or a follower of Jesus and jumps in front seat and becomes the teacher in verse 32: “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” This is blindness. Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah and now, in the next moment, Peter is telling Jesus that he must not understand what being a Messiah is all about. Messiah’s don’t die. You are supposed to go and defeat all of our enemies—not be killed by them. This is not the way it is supposed to work. You are wrong about yourself and why you came! 

Then Jesus puts Peter back in his place as a follower, instead of a teacher.

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”—Mark 8:33

Peter would lead all of his disciples astray, and so he rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me.” That means go back to your proper place as a disciple—behind me as a follower, not in front of me as my teacher.

Why does he call Peter “Satan?” Doesn’t that seem a little harsh? I think the answer is fairly simple: Satan’s original temptation to Jesus was that he could have all the kingdoms of the world, and he offered a short cut—a path that did not involve the cross. “Just bow before me and you will have them all.”

Peter’s “teaching” is taking a page right out of Satan’s playbook: You are the King but you don’t have to die—you can avoid all that. 

Then Jesus says something further to Peter: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (6:33). In other words, my death and resurrection are part of the plan of God. His thoughts are not your thoughts and his ways are not your ways. I will not fit the earthly expectations of other kings. I am unlike anything found in the patterns of power in this world.

Jesus will make this same contrast again in Mark 10:43–45: “All worldly rulers overpower people and create servants to serve them. I am going to use my power to serve others by dying for them. You obviously do not have a category for this yet. You are blind to it because you are so tied to your assumptions about what a king should be like and what his victory would look like.”

So now Jesus is going to act as a spiritual optometrist and remove the remaining blindness by addressing their false assumptions. This teaching is not just for the disciples, but for the crowds as well.

3) Addressing the Blindness (vv. 34–38)

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Main Point: Jesus is a King, but He is a King who carries a cross. If we follow him, we must carry a cross too.

Let’s unpack this a little. This has to come as a double shock. Not only will Jesus die on a cross, but those who follow him will also have to carry a cross. Jesus says that to be one of his followers, people must do three things: (1) say “no” to themselves [“deny himself]”, (2) say “yes” to their death [“take up his cross”], and (3) follow Jesus. 

This message would have shaken these disciples to the core. Jesus was asking them to say “no” to themselves—deny some of their deepest desires and longings and then say “yes” to their death. We need to recover the scandal and the shock of the cross. Cicero, the Roman philosopher who died 50 years before the birth of Christ wrote, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime; to flog him is an abomination; to slay him is almost an act of murder; to crucify him is—what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” The Jews regarded the cross as a curse, because Deuteronomy taught that those who are hung on a tree are cursed.

Was there ever a more counter-cultural message than this? Now comes the key question. Why would anyone ever do this? Give up your rights? Surrender! Say yes to your death? Lose the right to call the shots? It looks like Jesus did a profoundly awful job at selling or marketing his message. This message cuts against the grain of everything we hear today. This sounds profoundly unappealing to modern day Americans. We are always being told to “have it your way.” We are taught that we should follow our heart. Find what is in your heart and then follow it and don’t let anyone stand in the way.

Now someone comes along and says, surrender your way and embrace my way. Why? Jesus has already shown that following your heart is a lie that does not lead to life, but death: For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21–23).

We have to learn to say a profound “no” to some of our deepest longings because they may lead to death. Proverbs 14:12 has already stated this point with crystal clarity: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

But Jesus is saying, “As you deny yourself, you find your real self and eternal life in me. All other ways seem right, but they end in death.” This is counter-intuitive—at first it seems wrong, but it alone ends in life. All other ways are a dead end.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?—Mark 8:35–37

When you try to save your life by trusting your own sense of direction, you will fail. You will try to save your life your own way by going your own way and you will lose your life. The only way to find life is to lose your life (don’t try to go your own way and do your own thing) and let Jesus save it.

It may not make sense to you because it will mean going a different way than the rest of the world. They are pursuing things that seem right to them (gaining by gaining). You get ahead by getting more stuff—saying “yes” to what you want all the time; don’t deny yourself anything. If you want it, go take it. But Jesus says, “Look where that path leads. It is a dead end.” Let’s say that you are so wildly successful in your quest to say “yes” and never “no” to yourself that you end up gaining the whole world. Is it worth it to gain the world and lose your soul? Would you rather have a lot for a little while and then nothing forever, or would you rather have less for a little while in order to have everything forever?

Let me make this as clear as I possibly can. Many people think that Jesus is calling for a commitment. He is not. A commitment means that you get to define how committed or uncommitted you are. That is why “commitment” language is popular today in preaching. But preaching in past generations always called for “surrender.” Surrender means that you do not get to negotiate the terms or make a deal that suits you better. In surrendering, you give up your right to define and control the terms. It means that you accept the terms of the other.

Jesus comes to you as you are driving, and you invite him in. “You can be in the passenger seat, but if you start saying too much, I may ask you to take the back seat.” Jesus refuses. He must have the driver’s seat. He says, “I am the only one who knows the way because I am the way and the truth and the life” (cf. John 14:6). You can’t claim to follow him and keep the driver’s seat or the captain’s seat.

The main question for all eternity will be, “Did we follow Jesus in this life or did we go our own way because we were ashamed of him?” Jesus says that how we answer that question will determine his response to us when he comes again in the glory of his Father with the holy angels: For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). If we were ashamed of him in this life, he will be ashamed of us in the life to come—which will mean eternal death and separation from him. Will we be ashamed of his words or will we embrace them? Eternity hinges on our response.

Conclusion: Mother’s Day

So what does all of this have to do with Mother’s Day? I spoke to many different situations people find themselves in this morning at the beginning of the service. It is amazing how unsentimental Jesus is in his words about discipleship. He doesn’t have a different message for single women, or couples who struggle with infertility, or mothers who have lost children, or mothers with broken relationships. 

It is true, as we have been seeing, that Jesus sighs deeply and has compassion and knows our pain and identifies with us. But none of that mitigates from the main message of discipleship: In your current situation, will you follow me? There is a cross to bear, will you follow me? I don’t promise you a spouse. I don’t promise you a long earthly life for your children. I don’t promise you that all your relationships with your family will get better.

In fact, Matthew’s version of this message on discipleship and what carrying a cross means makes this emphatic.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”—Matthew 10:34–39

Discipleship is a question of allegiance. You could take the easier road and try to be at peace with everyone. I talk to people from different Muslim backgrounds here at Bethlehem who’ve had their parents disown them for following Christ. Mother’s Day must be painful for them. Jesus says I am a King, but I am a King who carries a cross. If you follow me, you will carry a cross too. Allegiance to me makes all other allegiances secondary, not primary. If you are forced to choose between your family and me, then my followers must choose me.

Mothers, I want you to imagine the power of discipleship that happens when you as a follower of Christ share that message with your children. I am raising you and nurturing you and teaching you. I can give you clothes, and teach you about hygiene, and cook you meals, and help you with homework. I want to see you succeed at school and in relationships and get a good job. But the thing that I want more than anything else is to see you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. In our family, I may be your earthly mom, but if you come to Jesus, in the family of God you would become my sister in Christ or brother in Christ. I can give you many things, but I can’t give you eternal life, I can’t give you an eternal home. Only he can. That is why I am following him. That is why I am pleading with you to follow him.

You may be wondering why there has to be a cross at all. Life-changing love is always substitutionary sacrifice. Think of parenting. Kids have many needs— especially when they are young. That means that you will have to give yourself for them. You will have to read them books that you may not find super enjoyable after you have read them for the thousandth time (but you do because you love them). You have to listen to your children and talk with them, and it will not always be a super interesting conversation. They must be dressed and bathed and fed and taught and affirmed. You will have to sacrifice a good bit of your time and energy and freedom. 

But don’t you see? That is what God did. God is more loving than any of us will ever be. And he didn’t just give some of his time and energy and care. He gave everything. He left the glorious domain of heaven and came to earth. He became a dependent child! Can you believe it? He came and was willing to give everything—his very life blood—suffering and bleeding and dying so that he could pay the price to bring us to God and into the family of God forever. 

You can follow him and find that your relationships are less at peace than before. It doesn’t mean that all your deepest desires will be granted for children and success. We all are in between touches of Jesus. The second touch will come with the Second Coming. O, how we will see on that day! We will be changed to be like him because we will see him as he is. All the tears that fill our eyes will be wiped away, and we will see him face to face.

Sermon Discussion Questions

Outline

  1. Partial Physical Blindness (Mark 8:22–26)
  2. Partial Spiritual Blindness (Mark 8:27–33)
  3. Addressing the Blindness (Mark 8:34–38)

Main Point: Jesus is a King, but he is a King who carries a cross. If we follow him, we must carry a cross too.

Discussion Questions

  • Why does Jesus perform a two-stage healing in verses 22–26? Did he not get it right the first time, or is there more going on here than meets the eye?
  • When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, what does he see or understand about the meaning of “Messiah”? What does the next story (vv. 31–33) reveal that Peter does not understand about the Messiah?
  • How does Jesus define discipleship in verses 34–38?

Application Questions

  • How does your life fit the description of discipleship in verses 34–38?
  • Are there areas in your life where you are tempted to be ashamed of Jesus and his words? Are there places in your life where you need to say “no” to yourself so that you can say “yes” to Jesus?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

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