Seeing and Believing
Seeing is believing, as the proverb says. As the proverb says, the only way that one can truly believe is to see. However, we know this to be false. The eye can play tricks on your brain, such as optical illusions. Just because I see a man pull a bunny out of an empty hat does not mean I am a ‘believer.’ All things require faith in something. The proverb seeing is believing requires faith in your eyesight to reflect what you see accurately. Today we see three groups of men who are blind in one way or another. Mark gloriously writes his gospel showing the connections between stories.
I. Sign Seeking Pharisees (10-13)
The Pharisees come to Jesus again and begin arguing with Jesus. They come seeking a sign from heaven from him. Mark explains that they do so to be able to test him. The word test in all four gospels is used negatively to seek to set a trap. Not to get the correct answer but an answer that would be used as evidence against him (Cf. Mark 3:6). It is used once before in the Gospel of Mark when Satan came to test Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 1:13). The Pharisees are not merely trying to answer the question but are seeking to oppose Jesus. This is important when we look at the other two people. The Pharisees are coming to Christ, making their mind up about who he is, an enemy that needs to be destroyed.
The Pharisee’s come asking for a sign from heaven. Signs in the Old Testament often accompanied the word of God as proof of God’s word. Moses is told that he will speak for God, and he will perform two signs as evidence of the truthfulness of God’s word (Ex 4). However, a sign does not extensively prove the words spoken are from God. In Deuteronomy chapter 13, verses 1-5, we are told that you should not listen to him if a prophet comes and performs a sign but tells you to worship other gods. The purpose of signs is to point us to God’s word so that we should listen to them. In Deuteronomy 18:15, God tells the people that he will send a prophet (Jesus) but the important that “you should listen.” The Pharisees sought a sign not to test if Jesus was a true prophet but to accuse him falsely. Jesus, who knows the hearts of the Pharisees, “sighed deeply.” He is confronted with their unfaithfulness and their unbelief. This is not a light sigh, but one that shows their complete blindness to Christ. The Pharisees are like the unbelieving wilderness who had seen God perform great signs and wonders, has delivered them, protected them, fed them, and yet still do not believe. They saw many a sign and yet wanted one more.
Jesus responds and explains that this generation will not see a sign. Then abruptly leaves. We think of Christ’s patience and compassion, as we will see in the following passages, yet in this instance, with the Pharisees, Jesus walked away. The sad reality is that some people, if not many people, will ask many a question but not care about the answer. They will spend their lives looking but never finding it. They will wander this world lost. They have learned their Bible verses to attack Christians but never want to find out about the God who revealed himself in Scripture. There will be a time when Christ returns, and those who came like the Pharisees to make those stumble and fall will be held accountable. Yet, we still preach Christ and Christ crucified. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth,
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:18–25).
I. Weak Disciples (14-21)
As the disciples get into the boat, they start a discussion about forgetting to bring the bread. The cycle of “I thought you got some” went through the disciples. They only had one loaf of bread with them. Yet Jesus speaks to them and gives them a very important lesson to learn. He says, “watch out, beware….” Like the big letters on a warning sign, pay attention to what this says because the consequences could be deadly if you do not listen or pay attention. We do this in our house. We have levels of instructions. Some are passing by comments, “I don’t think that is a good idea.” The consequences might be a small bump. Yet they grow from explanations, to stop what you are doing, come here and look at me. This has not happened, but “playing with a knife in the electrical outlet is not just a bad idea but a deadly idea.”
Jesus says, “watch out, beware…” that means stop what you are doing, look at me and listen. Beware of the leaven of Pharisees and Herod. Leaven is used in the New Testament almost every time it is used negatively (Jesus uses it positively in Matt 13:33, Luke 13:21). First, we need to understand what leaven is, and then we can look at what the leaven of the Pharisees is. First, leaven was a piece of fermented dough kept from previous baking. It was dissolved in water and used in cooking to make the bread rise. The smallest amount of leaven is enough to make a whole loaf rise.
The second aspect to this warning from Jesus is the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Some have suggested that it is demanding a sign (cf. Luke 23:8). Matthew explains the leaven of the Pharisees is their teaching (Matt 16:12). Luke describes it as their hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). Although Mark does not explicitly spell out what the leaven of Pharisees and Herod is, I think it is a combination of all of the above, seeking a sign, their teaching, and hypocrisy. Ultimately their unbelief. However, the disciples are still discussing how little bread they have. Jesus has told them to stop and listen, and yet they did neither. Jesus asks them a question, “why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?” However, the questions that follow are real heart-hitting questions.
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? (Mark 8:17–18)
Tough questions are sometimes hard not because the answer is hard to come by, but the question probes deeper than looking for an answer. “Did you eat that cupcake I was saving for a special event?” The answer is yes or no, but our conscience can cut to the heart. The disciples who are the closest to Jesus still do not perceive or understand. These words take us back to Mark 4:12 (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10), when we are told why Jesus taught in parables, “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” What was once used as a reference to those outside is named among the disciples. Jeremiah 5:21, in a passage speaking of the judgment of Judah, wrote, “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.” Two verses later, Jeremiah explains that the people of Israel have a stubborn and rebellious heart, which echoes Ezekiel (Eze 12:12). The disciples at this point have hard hearts. We have known this (Mark 6:51), yet Mark points out again that they still do not perceive or understand. The disciples have hard hearts, just as the Pharisees did (Mark 3:5-6). One commentator succinctly summarizes this problem, “The disciples mirror humanity-at-large, which is so stuck in its own world and cares that it is blind and deaf to God. The disciples are anxious about lack of bread, but Jesus is anxious about their lack of faith.” The disciples discuss bread or lack thereof yet do not realize that Jesus is the bread of life. The Syrophoenician woman understood, she only needed a crumb, yet the disciples are oblivious.
Jesus gently reminds them what they have forgotten. In the boat, right before their eyes, they had Jesus Christ, the one who had taken five loaves, feed five thousand, and had twelve baskets left over. Yet, they failed to see Jesus as the great shepherd promised in Ezekiel 34. They saw Jesus take seven laves, feed four thousand, and have seven baskets left over. Yet they failed to understand as the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham that through Abraham all the nations shall be blessed (Gen 12:3). They have Jesus, who is the bread of life before them, who promises, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And they are worried about how many loaves they have. Hence why Jesus asks, “Do you not yet understand?” RC Sproul rightly identifies an important word in this question, and that is “yet,” the disciples, unlike the Pharisee’s will one day understand and perceive who Jesus is. They do not know yet, but they will. What a great comfort for us. As we pray for others, they might not understand yet. But one day, they might let us continue to pray for those who have eyes but do not see and ears that do not hear and pray that they might have their hearts regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
II. The blind man sees (22-26)
Mark tells the story of a blind man who is brought to Jesus to be healed. This is placed in this portion of Mark, as he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21). Mark writes this true story down and places it here as a real parable. This parable is connected to the man in Decapolis who is deaf and has a speech impediment (Mark 7:31-37). As we pointed out when we studied that passage that these two stories follow a similar format. Jesus comes to an area, the crowd brings a man to Jesus to heal him, he takes them away from the crowd, he heals the man and gives them instruction. These stories act as bread in the sandwich about the lack of understanding by the disciples, who are spiritually deaf, blind, and dumb. It is only Jesus who can open their ears, eyes and make them speak. Like the story of Jesus healing the man in Mark 7:31-37, this account Mark 8:22-26 is not found in Matthew and Luke. Again we are reminded that Mark is writing on behalf of Peter, and these two stories are significant to Peter and his discipleship. The essential theme in the previous section of this passage has been seeing a sign and then the disciples not being able to see. In this small passage (Mark 8:22-26), there are eight different Greek words for seeing. The disciples who are like this man are unable to see.
Jesus takes this man outside of the village, spits on his eyes, and lays his hands on him. For the sake of time, we will not look in-depth at the spitting and the laying on of hands. However, I will highlight the question that Jesus asks the blind man. “Do you see anything?” Previously Jesus would make a definitive statement such as, “Be opened.” However, in this passage, he asks the man a question. This is not because Jesus lacked his powers but as an example of the progression of the disciples. He asks a question just he had asked eight questions previously (Mark 8:16-21). This is the only miracle in the gospels that occurs in stages (This is why some have suggested it does not appear in Matthew and Luke). These stages of healing are the “yet” in Jesus’ last question to his disciples. Jesus laid his hands on the blind man again, and he opened his eyes, and he could see. As we will see next week, the disciples will be able to see.
Have you ever wondered why you pray for a person? You look at their life, and you feel your prayers are unheard. You think to yourself that they will never understand. You pray and pray earnestly, but it appears that they are continuing on their path, rejecting Jesus. However, we need to be reminded of passages like this. That they do not understand yet. Many people looked at the Apostle Paul’s life before his conversion and said it was helpless. Yet, one day his eyes were opened. Many people said the same about John Newton, who are image-bearers of God and hauled them across the sea like animals. Yet, one day he saw the amazing grace that would save a wretch like him. We might have people in our own lives that we look at and say. There is no way. But that is what makes it a miracle. Do not give up on them yet because God has not given up on them. Continue to pray for them. Maybe you are a person who says. I am not good enough, don’t give up on Jesus yet, even if your friends must drag you to him like the blind man. In all of this, I just pray that we are not like the Pharisees who constantly seek to come asking questions but never really wanting answers.