November 1, 2010 David Balzer

Mark 8:1-9:13: Believing is Seeing

Modern art doesn’t mean much to me. It’s all a bit of a mystery! I’ll go to the National Gallery in Canberra and look at “Blue Poles” … close up… far away… sitting… standing… upside-down.

I look around me at all the people gazing intelligently at the painting. So I squint my eyes, and tilt my head a little to the right. But still nothing!

I try to DE-FOCUS – to look THROUGH the painting -like one of those three dimensional pictures. But no matter how hard I try, it still looks like a bunch of squiggles and lines and splotches!

People tell me it’s really a fine piece of art, but it still looks to me like a finger painting Elyse did.

If I could just go there with someone who UNDERSTOOD modern art. I’m sure that as they explained the painting to me, my understanding and enjoyment would be much greater. And I’d actually start to SEE the painting.

Nothing about Blue Poles ITSELF would have changed. But it would be a change in ME which made all the difference. A change in how I SAW the painting.

Some people go to the Art Gallery thinking that THEY’RE checking the PAINTINGS out. But the reality is that the authority of the paintings is beyond question. They’re great art. It’s the VIEWERS THEMSELVES who are being checked out. They’re getting an EYE EXAMINATION. To check how well they see. Whether they’re people who appreciate modern art, or ignoramuses like me.

And it’s the same with Jesus. As people look at HIM, and respond to HIM, it’s THESE PEOPLE who are caught in the searching glare of the spotlight. They’re having their own eye examination. To find out how well they see.

1. Not seeing (8:1-21)

Everything Jesus has done so far has been part of the EYE TEST. As the disciples LOOK at his healing the sick. As they SEE his casting out demons, and calming storms, and walking on water, it’s THE DISCIPLES who are on show. Who are being put to the test. “How well do you see?” Jesus says.

An eye test (1-10):

And now it’s time for the next part of the test. Verse 1. ANOTHER huge crowd is hanging around. And once again, they’ve run out of food. It’s time for REMEDIAL EYE SIGHT. LEARNING TO LOOK.

Verse 2. The test begins. Jesus says, “Here’s the problem. I’ve got compassion for these poor people. They’ve been here three days, and they’ve run out of food. Should I send them home hungry? … But then they’ll probably collapse of hunger. What do you reckon? (Your time starts now)”

How will the disciples answer? Have they been studying up? Have they finally cottoned on? Or do they need to PHONE A FRIEND?

Verse 4. “But where in this remote place can ANYONE get enough bread to feed them?”

BUMP –BOH! Wrong answer! So Jesus starts. “See if you remember this. How many loaves do you have?”

“Seven”

“OK, Now tell everyone to sit down! (Anything yet?)” The disciples shake their heads!

So Jesus continues. He takes the bread, says grace, and breaks it into pieces. (He looks over at the disciples. “Any cogs turning yet?”) The disciples look dumb. He gives the bread to the disciples to hand out to the people. They find some fish as well.

And some time between handing out the bread and fish, and cleaning up again, the light finally dawns! UUUUUH! You’ve done that already! Where can ANYONE get bread? Only JESUS can get bread!

It’s Jesus’ remedial lesson to the slow-learning disciples. He does it AGAIN because they didn’t get it the first time. 5000 Jews got fed in Ch 6. And now in Ch 8, in the Gentile region of the Decapolis, 4000 men – a MIXTURE of Gentiles and Jews – get the same treatment.

Blind Optometrists (11-13):

And just like last time, after dinner the crowd go away, and Jesus and the disciples hop into the boat. They head back to the Jewish side of the lake.

And who’s waiting for them. A bunch of M.J.O.B.O.’s. Members of the Jewish Organisation of Blind Optometrists. They’re the Pharisees who should be shedding the light of God’s Word on people’s lives. Helping them to see clearly. But the problem is they’re blind as bats themselves.

Look at what they say to Jesus. They think they’re giving HIM a test. Verse 11. They come and begin to question Jesus. TO TEST HIM, they ask for A SIGN FROM HEAVEN.

You see, like all good Jews, they were waiting for God’s kingdom to come. And looking for the SIGNS. Signs in the heavens. And signs FROM heaven. That God was working in a mighty way.

And when the signs started, they expected war and violence. Enemies would be defeated. Once and for all. And there’d be justice and peace. And God would reign.

And what Jesus was doing just didn’t stack up to that. Or at least that’s what the blind optometrists thought.

Jesus sighs deeply. And he tells them that, because they’re looking in the wrong places, they’ll miss the signs altogether. “I tell you the truth. No sign will be given to you”.

And then he hops in the boat again. Back away from Jewish territory. Because they’re not going to get any more of Jesus’ signs.

Not seeing (14-21)

Now, we’re pretty used to the BOAT being a place where the disciples get let in on a few secrets. A few lessons about who Jesus is. And this time’s no exception. Verse 14. The disciples must have finished off their bags of leftovers, because they’ve almost run out of bread. And as they’re talking, Jesus gives them a parable. Another eye test. To see how well they’re seeing. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod!”

He wants to make sure they SEE these false shepherds for what they are. NEITHER is looking after the sheep.

And because leaders have so much power, it only takes A SMALL NUMBER to do a lot of damage. Just like YEAST. You only need a small amount to make a big difference.

Mike Turner just picked up a whole stack of HOME BREWING EQUIPMENT. It’s an ALL NATURAL PRODUCT, so it must be healthy. At least that’s what Mike says! All you need is yeast, sugar, water and some flavouring.

Compared to the rest of the ingredients, you only use A SMALL AMOUNT of yeast. But it’s the ACTIVE ingredient. There’s a lot more sugar, but it’s the yeast which works on the sugar to make the alcohol. The yeast is doing all the work.

And it’s the same with these false shepherds. Even though there’s a lot more sheep than shepherds, it’s the shepherds who feed on the sheep. And Jesus warns the disciples to see them for what they really are.

But the disciples haven’t got a clue. Verse 16. “What’s he going on about yeast for? It’s because we didn’t bring any bread”

And it’s now that Jesus talks about how BLIND they are. “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you STILL not see or understand? Are YOUR HEARTS HARDENED? {18} Do you have EYES but FAIL TO SEE, and ears but fail to hear?

But it’s not physical sight. They’ve got EYES alright, but they can’t PERCEIVE. The problem is to do with the INSIDES. They’ve got hard HEARTS.

They can SEE the evidence for who Jesus is, but they refuse to RECOGNISE WHAT THAT MEANS FOR THEM. They see the evidence of the 5000 fed AND the 4000 fed, but it doesn’t carry over into TRUST. It doesn’t affect their ATTITUDES.

Perhaps that’s you. Perhaps you KNOW lots about Jesus, but your life doesn’t SHOW that you trust him. Perhaps what you KNOW only affects your “Sunday self”. The rest of the week you’re a different person. Just the same as your non-Christian friends. That’s a hard heart.

You need to pray for God’s forgiveness. And to ask him to give you a SOFT heart. A heart that doesn’t just RECOGNISE the facts about Jesus, but which loves to TRUST those facts. That loves to put them to the test again and again. “You say you’re Lord, I’m going to TEST it today.”

“With my neighbours, or my bills, or the kids, or my financial security, or my marriage. WHATEVER. I’m handing it all over to YOU.”

2. Half-seeing, then Seeing (8:22-26)

Well, eventually the boat makes it across the lake. Again. And a blind man comes to be healed. And Jesus heals him. But he also USES him as a living parable. To show the disciples what it means to SEE properly. And how far off they are.

Verse 22. Some people bring the blind man to Jesus, and beg him to touch him. Jesus touches him, alright. But it’s not quite what they were expecting.

23. He takes the blind man by the hand, and leads him out of the village. And then he puts spit on the blind man’s eyes, and puts his hands on them.

The man looks around. And says, “I see people, but they look like trees walking around”. He’s half-seeing. So Jesus puts his hands on the man’s eyes again. And this time when he opens his eyes, not only does he see, but he sees clearly.

The first time, the man could SEE, but his PERCEPTION was all wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the PEOPLE. They’re not REALLY trees. But there’s a problem with the way that information was being INTERPRETED, or PROCESSED. He’s seeing. But not understanding.

Seeing, but not understanding. Just like the disciples!! And that’s the point!

The two-part healing has got nothing to do with Jesus SAYING THE WRONG WORDS, or NOT HAVING ENOUGH POWER. He’s doing it this way to make a point. To show the disciples that there’s hope for them too. That even though they see “trees walking” at the moment, Jesus is the one who can make them see clearly.

And it often works like that for people TODAY. They reckon they know what Jesus is on about. Perhaps they even sit in churches for years. But one day, their eyes are finally opened. And they realise that everything they knew with their HEADS, they NOW know with THEIR HEARTS.

Jesus is not just saviour and Lord and God. But he’s THEIR Saviour and THEIR Lord and THEIR God.

They’ve seen Jesus clearly.

3. An Eye Test Part Two (8:27-30)

And just to see how well they’re getting the point, Jesus gives them another eye test. Have a look at verse 27. Question 1 of the exam. “Who do PEOPLE say that I am? They think for a moment. Chew on their pencils. And Peter gives the same three wrong answers from Ch 6.

John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets. Three trees walking around. Three wrong answers from people who aren’t seeing clearly.

And then Jesus comes to the second part of the test., The $64, 000 question. Verse 29. “But what about YOU? Who do YOU say that I am?”

Now comes the crunch. It’s the bottom line of the optometrist’s chart. Can you make out those letters? What does it say? “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, verse 29, “YOU ARE THE CHRIST. THE MESSIAH”.

Bingo. He’s hit the nail on the head. He’s won the money. He’s finally seeing clearly. Or is he? Because look at what happens next.

4. The eye test continued- a reality check! (8:31-9:13)

Jesus continues the eye examination. He tweaks a few knobs, and turns a few dials. To see if they really understand what it means for him to be the Christ. They’ve got his TITLE right, but do they know anything about the JOB DESCRIPTION? It’s his reality check against any wrong ideas.

Verse 31.

The Son of Man must SUFFER MANY THINGS

and BE REJECTED BY THE ELDERS, CHIEF PRIESTS AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW,

and he must BE KILLED

and after three days RISE AGAIN.

“How does THAT fit into your plans? Is THAT what you see when you look at me as Messiah?”

And Peter shows that he hasn’t REALLY seen clearly at all. He’s still seeing trees walking. He’s seeing a military king, not a crucified king. So he REBUKES Jesus. “How will the Romans ever be defeated with talk like that? What sort of army will you get with that sort of psych-up speech?”

But Jesus turns the rebuke back on Peter. “Get behind me Satan. That’s not GOD’S plan. Your head’s full of MAN’S plans instead. You’ve listened to the theories of the Pharisees. I warned you not to listen to them. They think God’s kingdom’s going to come with a military victory. But that’s MAN’S plans, not God’s.”

And he keeps showing them what his kingdom is REALLY like. Verse 34. If anyone wants to join my kingdom. My rebel army. He has to take up, not a sword, but a … CROSS. Yes, you heard me right – a CROSS!

If you run with men’s plans. And try to save your life by the sword, you’ll end up losing it. But whoever LOSES HIS LIFE IN ME. Who denies himself. Becomes a foot-soldier who carries a cross. Will SAVE his life. That’s God’s plans.

We need to be careful that, as a church, we don’t get sucked into man’s plans, rather than God’s. People will tell us that a successful church is one that has the right programs, or buildings, or music, or strategy, or corporate identity. But they’re just man’s plans. Carrying swords.

God’s plans are about carrying crosses. What does that mean for Western Blacktown? It means that we recognise that ministry as a church is about following Jesus. First and foremost. Having compassion on the weak. Preaching good news. Saving the lost. Serving each other. All the things that Jesus did, we need to be doing.

Integrity, more than appearance.

Heart, more than head.

Being, more than doing.

Loving, more than knowing.

Giving, not receiving.

Serving, not ruling

Honesty, more than outward shows.

Foolishness, not wisdom

Crosses, not swords

And Jesus continues. Verse 38. If you’re ashamed about suffering and rejection and death, then be careful that the Son of Man isn’t ashamed of you when his TRUE glory is seen.

When he comes back to judge. When the Son of Man comes in His father’s glory, and with his angels. Now THAT’S going to be a victory procession worth seeing. And it’s important that the disciples don’t lose sight of THAT procession because they’ve got their eyes on some puny human victory parade.

And just to show them what he’s got in store, he shows them what his glory is like. What’s beyond the cross. Beyond the suffering and the servanthood and the shame.

He takes Peter, James and John up onto a high mountain. Verse 2.

And for those of us who know our Old Testaments, we know that Jesus is showing us HE’S GOD.

He waits six days. That’s how long Moses waited at the foot of Mt Sinai. And when he went up the mountain after six days, he met God. Listen to Exodus 24 verse 15:

(Exo 24:15-18 NIV)  When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, {16} and THE GLORY OF THE LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For SIX DAYS the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. {17} To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. {18} Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Moses is meeting with God. Just what the three disciples are doing. Before their eyes, Jesus is changed. Transfigured. The word is “metamorphisised”. Like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. And what do they see?

Verse 3. His clothes became dazzling white. Jesus – changed from EARTHLY man, into resurrected, heavenly SON of Man. And the three finally see clearly. They finally catch a glimpse of who Jesus is.

And Moses is there. He’s talking with Jesus. He’s got experience at this “meeting with God on a mountain” thing. So he’s talking with Jesus – just like he did with God on Mt Sinai.

And Elijah’s there, too. He’s talking with Jesus. Because he’s got experience at meeting with God on a mountain, too. Do you remember? It’s in 1 Kings 19. Verse 8. He’s just defeated the 450 prophets of Baal. And he travels to Horeb (that’s another name for Mt Sinai). The mountain of God. And God comes and speaks with him too.

Elijah is talking with God. So it makes sense that he’s there on the mountain talking to Jesus.

And then to top off the testimony of these two, God joins in. He adds his approval. Almost the same words as Jesus’ baptism. Verse 7. “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him”.

The disciples saw Jesus as Messiah as a mighty warrior. But Jesus gives them a reality check. The Messiah will rescue his people all right… by suffering and death. And those who follow him need to be prepared for more of the same. They’ll have to carry a cross, not a sword.

In the short-term, Jesus’ way is carrying a cross. But in the long-term, there’s glory and victory.

And that’s what we need to be looking at. Focussing on the transfigured Jesus. What he’ll look like when he comes again.

And it’s this perspective which KEEPS us following Jesus while we’re dragging our crosses. It’s this perspective which keeps us naming the name of Jesus, and not being ashamed. It’s this perspective that keeps us losing our life in Jesus, when all our instincts tell us to try with all our might to SAVE our life.

Tell me to get a REAL job. To keep my money for myself. To spend time doing things for ME, not others. To live by MY priorities, not by those of Jesus.

And it’s this perspective of the transfigured Jesus which Hugh Latimer took to his death.

Hugh Latimer was an Anglican bishop during the English Reformation. The year was 1555. He was a great preacher with a real compassion for the humble and poor. His sermons were full of warmth and humour and simplicity. He wouldn’t put up with any nonsense from other ministers and bishops. He’d chastise them for laziness or forgetting their sheep. He was a disciple who carried his cross.

You see, the Catholics were back in power, and they were making things tough for the Anglicans. Interrogations, prison, and murder. And because Bishop Latimer wouldn’t deny his faith, he was taken from prison with his good friend, Bishop Ridley. To be killed. And they were tied to the stake. The fire was lit underneath them. And Latimer’s last words, recorded by John Foxe in his Book of Martyrs, were to his friend beside him, as the flames licked their feet. Words that showed that his eyes weren’t on man’s plans, but on God’s plans. God’s plans that said that there could be victory in their defeat. Plans that said God’s strength could shine through their weakness.

“Play the man, Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out!”

This was a man who saw Jesus clearly. Who saw that losing in the short-term didn’t mean losing forever.

It’s this same perspective which will give us the strength to follow after him. I hope and pray that we’re never expected to follow where Latimer followed. But our Christian brothers and sisters in East Timor have. Or Africa. They’ve taken up their cross LITERALLY. They’ve followed Jesus to their death.

That probably won’t happen to us, but we need to be prepared for it.

We must deny ourselves.

We must follow him.

We must stop trying to save our own life.

We must be bold to name his name, and not be ashamed.

And we must keep a clear vision of Jesus as he is NOW. Pure white. Exalted. And waiting for us. Waiting to welcome us home. To declare his ownership and his approval of us when we finally make it home.

That’s what seeing Jesus clearly is all about.

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