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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Jesus Opens Our Eyes to See Him
Text:Mark 8:22-26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 146:1,4                                                                                        

Ps 119:7,8

Reading – Isaiah 35:1-7; Mark 8

Ps 107:1,2,6,8

Sermon – Mark 8:22-26

Hy 18:1,3

Hy 19:1,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, if you’ve ever been sick or had some kind of physical ailment, you’ll know that full healing can take a long time. There’s an initial visit to the doctor, and he might order some tests. A few weeks later, you go back for the results—if they are conclusive, anyway—and he tells you about treatment. Then you begin medication, or you go for surgery. But the visits aren’t done yet. Because medicine can take time to work. And after surgery, there’s always recovery and rehab, and more follow-up visits.

This whole process means that we can become impatient with our journey toward healing. We can wonder what’s taking so long, why the doctors can’t just make things go quicker. And sometimes healing doesn’t ever seem to come, and we realize this is something that’s going to stay with us.

We don’t know if this is how the blind man of Bethsaida was feeling. But when he’s brought to Jesus in Mark 8, he has to be patient. Jesus is requested to heal him, which He is willing to do. But then the blind man needs “a follow-up visit.” The first treatment doesn’t seem to work, and Jesus has to touch him a second time before his vision becomes clear.

If you compare this event to so many other healings of our Lord, it’s unusual. Where is the almighty power of Christ that we’ve come to expect in situations like this? Why was the first “operation” unsuccessful? Did Jesus lose his healing ability for a moment? No. Yet in this healing story there’s a lesson about ignorance and faith, blindness and sight. Let’s take a closer look under this theme,

Jesus heals the blind man of Bethsaida:

  1. a stubborn blindness
  2. a powerful opening
  3. a concealing command


1) a stubborn blindness: In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is busy as a preacher and teacher, announcing the good news of the kingdom. But it wasn’t enough for him to proclaim that the kingdom is coming, then leave people the way He found them. He’d be considered a man of empty words, full of hot air. No, He also had to act. He had to show that God was serious about fixing things, that the kingdom is about word and deed.

This is what’s going on in Mark 8. Jesus comes to Bethsaida, a large and prosperous town in Galilee. And clearly his reputation has preceded him, for Mark says, “They brought a blind man to him, and begged him to touch him” (v 22).

Few of us are familiar with blindness and what it’s like. But blindness was—and in some parts of the Middle East and Africa, it still is—a struggle that is known to many people, and especially to the poor. Because of bad hygiene and untreated infections, it wasn’t unusual for people to walk around with eyes that were covered over with pus, blind or half-way there.

Such a condition would totally rule a person’s life. A blind person couldn’t work, so most of them were beggars. What’s more, they were dependent on others to lead them around. On this day, it’s the crowds who bring the blind man to Jesus. They know this man’s misery, and they want to see him helped. Or perhaps they’re just eager to witness another miracle performed.

Whatever the motive, they probably didn’t hold the blind man in high regard. Being blind or disabled in some other way was considered evidence of God’s judgment. You’d probably done something to deserve this! Hear what the disciples ask in John 9, about the man blind from birth, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v 2). They figured that someone had to be to blame!

For Jesus though, the man’s sin is not the issue. It wasn’t the issue in John 9, and it’s not here in Mark 8. Jesus will heal, but notice that He wants to do this in private, away from the crowds: “He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of town” (v 23). In Mark we’ve often seen Jesus wanting to keep things secret. But in doing what He does in our text, Jesus also shows himself to be a compassionate healer. Pulling him aside is probably for the good of the blind man. Imagine that he opens his eyes after years of darkness, and he sees hundreds of people gawking at him, pointing and shouting. Jesus probably thought it’d be better if the thrill of seeing again came to him without spectators. So He leads the man away.

Then comes a first unusual thing about this healing: Jesus uses a physical means to restore his sight. He doesn’t just say the words—as He did so often before—but there’s a technique to it! Look at verse 23, “And when He had spit on his eyes and put his hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.” Just a chapter before, you can see a similar thing, when Jesus heals a man who is deaf and mute. In 7:33, “He took [the man] aside from the multitude, and put his fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue.”

Commentators say that this was more common in that time. In that first century world there were many “healers” and “doctors,” people who went around trying to relieve suffering. And one of the “tricks in their bag” was the healing power of saliva: a bit of spit was often part of the cure. That sounds odd to us, but it’s not so strange when you think of our first instinct after burning our finger on something, or being bitten—we put it into our mouths, to ease the pain. Saliva can soothe.

But does Jesus really need to do this: put spit on his eyes? Isn’t this below his dignity? We can’t say for sure what his reasons are. It probably reveals again his compassion for the blind man, that He wants to reassure him during an anxious few moments. Without sight, the man had no idea what this stranger was doing as He led him away. So when he heard Jesus spit on his fingers, and then when he felt him touch his eyes, he could know that he was about to be cured.

But then there’s that second curious thing. For this is a miracle that’s not immediate, but gradual. For after Jesus touches his eyes, the man looks up and says, “I see men like trees, walking” (v 24). He has sight now, but things are hazy. He’s not getting a clear picture. And on the one hand, he probably would’ve been overjoyed to see anything! So what if his family and friends all looked like walking trees? At least he can see. He might’ve been happy, but Jesus will complete what He started.

So what’s the point of it? Doesn’t this unsuccessful healing make Jesus seem less powerful? Here is where the context of the chapter is so important. It’s like anyone who has bought a house—they know the great importance of location. Well, location is also very important for Scripture. Where is a text found? What do the surroundings say about it, the link between one event and another?

And when we look at Mark 8, we find clues. Notice that the blind man is not the only one without sight in this chapter—in fact, there’s a whole plague of blindness! But it’s blindness of a different kind. First, there’s the Pharisees in verse 11. They are asking for a sign from Jesus, even when they know all the old prophecies better than anyone. The promised Saviour was right in front of them, but they didn’t want to see him. Even if He showed his wisdom and power, they’d say He was a fraud.

Then there’s the twelve disciples. They’ve been with him for a couple years now. They’ve seen hundreds of miracles, but they still don’t get who Jesus is. Even after the feeding of the 5000, and then the 4000, they’re worried about not having enough to eat. They still don’t trust in the ability and goodness of Christ. Hear how Jesus rebukes them in verses 17-18, “Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see?

The Pharisees are blind. The disciples are blind. The crowds are blind too. Because right after our text, Jesus asks, “Who do men say that I am?” (v 27). And the disciples report what they’ve been hearing. The crowds said He is “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (v 28). That last part was true, but not true enough, because Jesus is much more than a prophet! In this way the people are a lot like that blind man who saw the walking trees: the crowds can see some things about Jesus—a partial truth—but not as He really is.

This two-stage miracle then, isn’t just for the blind man, it’s for Jesus’ disciples. He wants to teach them a lesson about perception and reality, about the difference between seeing something and really seeing it, understanding and believing. So many people were only seeing Jesus dimly—but if they would really live and be saved by him, they needed clarity. They need to see Jesus truly and distinctly.

And beloved, that’s still how it is: we need to see who Christ really is. It’s possible for a person to know a lot about Jesus. You see his great works in Scripture, and you hear about his glory in church. Yet a person can be so far from really knowing Jesus as Lord, and walking with Christ by faith. He can be right in front of us, but we don’t see him truly, not with the eyes of faith. That’s the real blindness, the truest misery. You agree with everything that the Bible says about Jesus: He’s God, the promised Christ, and the ascended King. Yet all this can stay at the level of observation. They can be religious facts, concepts that float around in our mind until we have to talk about them at Bible study or at a homevisit. But we don’t see Christ clearly.

It’s the danger of spiritual blindness, a condition that can affect any of us. Because we can also have wrong ideas about Jesus, and have a fuzzy picture of him in our mind. What do I mean? Maybe you’ve thought of Jesus as the great Problem-Solver. He is someone who can help get rid of all your problems, whether in your marriage or finances or your career or your health. He’s here to make your life better. Or maybe Jesus is someone who just wants to be your friend—we love him because He makes us comfortable, and we can talk with him anytime. Or then again, maybe this Jesus is distant from us—He’s a stranger that we know by name, but not by acquaintance. We can’t actually imagine Jesus loving us, or us loving him. At the end of the day, we don’t trust him.

But do we know who Jesus is? Do you know what Jesus did for you, by accepting his cross? And do you understand what Jesus calls you to do with your life? This takes a vision that is true. It’s the reason Paul prays for the Ephesians that the “eyes of their heart” would be enlightened (1:18). We all need enlightened eyes, because we’re in the dark about what’s really important. Our perception of what’s really true in this life is clouded by our sin, and it’s fogged over by our desires. We’re blind to what is real and important. So together with the blind man of Bethsaida and the disciples we need, 


2) a powerful opening: He might do it in two steps, but Jesus won’t take long to finish this healing. Verse 25, “Then He put his hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and he saw everyone clearly.” This is exactly why Jesus came. Blindness and hunger and demon possession and poverty were all parts of this world’s brokenness, caused by sin. And Jesus came to heal and restore.

It’s what the prophets had said. Like in Isaiah 35, when the LORD reveals the future glory of Zion. In those days, says the prophet, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing” (vv 5-6). That was Jesus’ ministry: not just promises of healing, but the reality.

We saw a plague of blindness in our chapter, that spiritual blindness of seeing him, but not really knowing who Christ is. In the same way, we see healing in this chapter—there’s an opening of the eyes that’s even more profound than what’s received by that man from Bethsaida. It comes in the verses immediately following. For again, Jesus is taking people aside; in this case, it’s his disciples. They’re on the road, away from the crowds. And again, it’s a two-stage opening. For Jesus first asks them about how the crowds perceive him. As we’ve heard, they thought He was some kind of prophet.

But then comes the second step. Jesus goes further, “But who do you say that I am?” (v 29). And Peter answers: “You are the Christ.” You are God’s Messiah. You’re the Saviour. Notice that there’s an important change since earlier in the chapter. Maybe this was a few days later, maybe a week or three. But now, finally, the disciples are starting to connect the dots. They’re starting to see who Jesus really is: “You are the Christ.”

When you look at the book of Mark in its entirety—if you map out the whole Gospel like a journey—then you see that this confession is the fork in the road. In Mark, this is the moment where things take a new direction. For once they confess Jesus as Christ, He’ll tell his disciples something very important: He’s not just a prophet. Not just a good friend, or a helper. He’s not just someone who can satisfy our desires, or who can defeat our worst enemies. No, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v 31). This is who He is, and this is the reason He’s come.

Jesus came, not to take away our illnesses and diseases. He came, not to solve our earthly problems and brokenness. But He came to get at the root cause of all this. This “physician” treats more than the symptoms, and He does more than dull the pain. By his suffering, He deals with our sin. By his death, He puts people right with God.

Already here in chapter 8, we’re getting close to the summit, that last week of Jesus’ life. As we’ve pointed out before, Mark spends six out of his sixteen chapters telling us about those final days. Because that’s where the real question gets answered. Who is Jesus, really? Why did Jesus come to this earth? Who do we need Jesus to be? We don’t need him to be our doctor, our financial advisor, our family therapist, or our life coach. We don’t need him to tell us how everything is going to turn out. No, we need him to be the Saviour. We need him to pull us out of our sin and misery, to conquer Satan who’s trying to ruin our life and this world. We need Christ to powerfully open our eyes, so that we can see God rightly.

For the disciples this confession was a dramatic moment. And sometimes you hear people talk about moments like this, about the day when they came to believe in Christ and everything changed in an instant. But there’s not always such rapid progress. Faith and holiness take time. Like going to the doctors year after year, we might even get impatient with God, because changes don’t happen overnight. Sometimes we get frustrated with how slow is our progress in the faith, for there’s many areas that we’re weak: in trusting, in serving, in loving. But so it will be, for everyone.

The insights of faith take years to deepen. Opening our eyes and seeing Christ clearly can take time. The wisdom of fearing God comes from a lifetime of opening his Word. Developing the practices of prayer and devotion and godliness need our continual attention. We all need to persevere in this. This is why Peter urges us in his first letter, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.” Grow. Progress in the faith. Seek to mature in the gospel. Keep learning his ways.

And when you look again at Mark 8, you see the disciples are still learning too. Peter might’ve made the good confession in one verse, but he’s still confused a few verses later. He doesn’t like the whole idea of Jesus going to suffer and die. So Jesus has to rebuke him with some very serious words. Eyes are still being opened! Again and again, Jesus will have to “put his hands on them.” Then once He’s risen from the dead, Jesus will have to send them his Spirit, so that they really know and understand.

Yes, the process continues. And here’s probably one of the hardest things to accept: that being a Christian means there’s going to be suffering along the way. Not just the suffering of illness or loneliness or poverty, but the suffering of oppression on account of our faith. The last part of Mark 8 makes this clear. For Jesus says, “Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (v 34). And then again, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and shameful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of his Father” (v 38).

We don’t much like the thought of being bothered about the faith. We don’t like the thought of being marginalized or laughed at because we hold to what the Bible says. But Christ tells us this, so that we’re ready. He says that no matter the age or place, his followers won’t have it easy. It means taking up the cross, that terrible instrument of suffering. It means giving up the world. It means sacrificing for the One who was sacrificed for you. Our eyes need opening to this—that if they mistreated the Master, they will mistreat his servants too. That brings us to consider the last part of our text,


3) a concealing command: As Christians, we know that it’s our calling to be prophets, to go and to tell others about Christ. We struggle to do it, but it has to be done. After all, we just heard we shouldn’t be ashamed of Jesus before others, but should speak his name boldly. That’s what makes the last verse of our text one final puzzle. For once Jesus has healed the blind man, He says, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town” (v 26). Keep it a secret.

You probably noticed the same thing happens a few verses later, after Peter’s confession. What does Jesus tell him? “You’re right, Peter—now go and announce it in Jerusalem! Start spreading the news!” No, Mark reports, “Then [Jesus] strictly warned them that they should tell no one about him” (v 30).

So why not? Because it’s not yet time. Jesus has his eyes fixed on the cross, He’s bound and determined to get to Golgotha. And no one really expects this, that the Messiah will be killed. Remember, there was still so much confusion about him. So if the crowds knew He was the Messiah, and then they heard about him being arrested by the Romans, the people crowds might force the issue, and make Jesus an earthly king.

And then what? No hardship for his disciples, it’s true. None of that ugly business of carrying a cross and losing your life. But there’d also be no life-giving ransom. No blood of the covenant, poured out for our forgiveness. And no triumph over Satan and his kingdom. No, at this moment, too much is at stake! Jesus has to make sure He gets to Jerusalem, surrenders to wicked men, and then lays down his life. For now it has to be kept quiet.

But not forever. We go from this secretive command to that open gospel announcement at the end of Mark, before Jesus ascends into heaven! Because once He’s done his saving work, Jesus wants this gospel preached to all nations. Once He’s gone to the cross and risen on the third day, He wants the disciples to go out and make more disciples. Jesus wants the eyes of all people to see his glory.

So let’s make this our prayer, even a daily prayer: “O Lord, open my eyes. God of glory, unveil yourself. By your Word and Spirit help me to see, that I may know you truly, and that I may trust you deeply, and so that I may love you more.”

Pray that God would drive away the darkness that blinds you. Pray that Christ would keep removing the scales from your eyes, so that you can see Him as He is. See that He’s the God who is always with you, that He’s the God who is ever faithful to his Word, that He’s the only God who deserves your worship and praise. May God help us to see. And may He help us to tell others Who it is that we’ve seen.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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