Following His Footsteps: “I Can See Clearly Now” (Part Two) – Mark 7-8

optical shimmeringwavesDid you ever see one of these “optical illusion” pictures? I saw one recently that looked like wavy lines, until I looked at it much more intensely – and then I could actually see a face peering through the lines back at me! It was a bit unnerving, but it reminded me of an important truth… our eyes can play “tricks” on us. We cannot always trust what we see…Did you ever have someone you trusted do something that was unbelievably hurtful, and you found out they were actually being deceptive? If you have ever hurt over such a broken relationship, then you have experienced the painful “learning curve” that taught you to put away the lie that “seeing is believing” – because sometimes it is NOT. Clearly we live in times where “image sculpting” occurs in advertising – changing the literal dimensions of a face or body to offer us an “ideal” that isn’t the model at all. We see it in the political world, where a bill passes that is given a snappy title that is often the very opposite of what the bill contains. As voters, we are increasingly treated to fashioned images of leaders that are carefully choreographed by consultants and pollsters.

As web users, we encounter people who make avatars, or personal icons, and then sculpt an image of their “identity” that bears no resemblance to who they are in real life. Look further, and you will see that study after study shows that online identity is significantly and often deliberately different than actual identity, and dating sites in particular have been repeatedly found to be filled with lies by those looking for someone with whom they would like to connect. Closer to home for most of us, let me ask a question in a room full of believers about how many have been ‘stung’ by passing on information that originated from a satire site that someone reported as a ‘real’ news site” – and the room will be filled with painful groans.

Recently a number of friends contacted me about the “great new archaeological finds by the Egyptian antiquities authority of some ancient chariots in the Red Sea”. The story began with a satire site that deliberately posts items on the web to trap people into looking stupid online – a way to mock the “naivety” of people who would believe the Bible in the first place. Thousands of believers chimed in to share on Facebook how excited they were about the find – but it was a deliberate hoax – and many were embarrassed. The bottom line is this: We live in a time when we must recognize that what we see may not be the truth.

This is not a new problem. We noted in our previous lesson following the life of Jesus that the Savior was surrounded by people who did not see Him clearly, and did not recognize Him for Who He is. He didn’t sculpt His image – they just see Him clearly. They didn’t see each other clearly either. They saw only part of what was truly right in front of their eyes. We noted the first two of seven stories that help us recognize an important truth. It is so important, we broke the seven stories into two lessons – but both offer the same insight…

Key Principle: In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.

Our world has been irreparably broken since the Fall of man – it could not right itself. The immeasurably powerful Creator was our only hope – and He saved us!

The truth is that not everyone is blind to these truths. Some people are able to see their need of a Savior, and their desperate condition– though they aren’t often the people we would expect to be able to do so. We noted that in Mark 7:1-23, neither the Pharisees, nor the disciples of Jesus could reliably see that man was so desperately broken inside – and that Jesus was their only hope. Pharisees thought they could change the inside of men by making them conform to religious cleansing and behavioral practices. The disciples bought into the same idea (because their world view up to that point overwhelmed their mind to prejudice them about what Jesus taught), and they needed to be corrected by the Savior. You would think that a doctor in the Law would be able to pick out the truth about the inner problem of man – but that isn’t true – because proximity to truth doesn’t guarantee understanding. A scientist can look at the extremely well-ordered structure of a cell in a microscope, but still conclude that it happened by random forces without any purpose – it happens in laboratories all over the western world today.

At the same time, proximity to those who carry the truth, though positive, is no guarantee that one will think correctly. Some of the greatest opponents of the church are those who grew up in one. The disciples remind us that you can spend significant time near to Jesus and His Word, and not see things more clearly. It takes an open heart that leads to a transformed mind to recognize what God is doing.

Here is the surprising part…As the passage continued, Mark showed the most unlikely people often see things more clearly than those who we think “ought to see”. Let’s observe one who DID see the truth…

The Syrophoenician woman saw things clearly (7:24-30).

Mark recorded:

Mark 7:24 Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre . And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. 25 But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” 29 And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” 30 And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.

Let’s look a bit more closely at these verses for a moment. As we do that, note that Jesus left the region of the kosher villages of Galilee, and set off north and west to the coastal regions of what today would be southern Lebanon. He made His way to a “retreat” or “withdrawal” with the disciples, and made an attempt to do so quietly – without any fanfare or crowds. The Master apparently saw the “handwriting on the wall” with the Pharisees and recognized His disciples needed to be removed from their midst in order to have their default ideology reshaped.

Mark was careful to identify the woman who approached Jesus as a local Gentile woman. He was careful to identify the need she presented as well. Her daughter was afflicted by a demonic presence and the mother begged to have Jesus send it away. The very first thing we see about the woman is her IDENTITY, but the next thing we learn is her BELIEF SYSTEM. Our last story about the Pharisees and the disciples made clear that those who had the right identity didn’t necessarily have the right belief system – and this story is a direct contrast with that one. This woman trusted that Jesus was able to deliver her child. She knew desperation – but she believed in hope. When Jesus resisted because she was a Gentile (and salvation was of the Jews), the woman replied that she was not under the impression Jesus was there for her, but humbly would accept any scrap the Master may throw in her family’s direction. Her voice rang with humility, in direct contrast to the Pharisaic voices of presumption. One of the problems of living around so much Biblical truth is that we begin to be puffed up and presume that our knowledge of God is actually a way to control His actions – and that is wrong.

The Syrophoenician woman made clear that she saw the people Jesus came to reach as the children of the message, but she was willing to accept whatever He gave her family – and the Master gave her what she craved – the child was freed. Mark reported that she left Him, but went home to discover the child made well, free of the demonic presence. Let me posit a thought: the hesitation to heal the child was both to make clear Jesus’ message and ministry, as well as to keep His ministry quiet in the region. When the child was made well, the whole area heard and began to respond, forcing Jesus to move to another location to do what He planned – to spend alone time with the disciples. He needed time to teach them quietly, and the enemy did everything possible to keep that from happening. We will see that unfold in the next story, as Jesus tries to stay quiet and instruct the disciples…

The healed didn’t recognize obedience clearly (7:31-37)

Changing from his approach in this series of stories on understanding through “eyesight”, Mark dropped in a story about a man that couldn’t hear, and when his ears were unblocked, he still couldn’t hear in his heart well enough to obey the Master. It was still a “truth perception” issue, but this time through the hearing. Mark wrote:

Mark 7:31 Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. 32 They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. 33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; 34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” 35 And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. 36 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. 37 They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Like the last story, this one began with a journey. He left the region of what is now southern Lebanon, and proceeded past Galilee into the east side of the Sea of Galilee, where the Gentile cities of the Decapolis were located – an area He was less well known and a place He was looking again for some quiet time. Some of the people of the region had heard of the Nazarene, and brought to Jesus man who could not speak well, because he was deaf. They asked, just as the Syrophoenician had, for a healing. Jesus took the man to a secluded spot because He wasn’t trying to call attention to His work – that wasn’t why He was there. He miraculously healed the man’s hearing, as well as his speech impediment – and the man was changed.

After not being able to hear for an extended period, the Master spoke to him directly – and the first clear sentences he heard were those that ordered him to keep quiet about the Healer, so that Jesus could spend time there is seclusion. The man heard the words with his renewed ears, but disregarded them because his heart was not new. He promptly disobeyed what he was told – probably thinking he was serving a “good purpose” by ignoring the word of Jesus and doing what he “thought” would please God.

In our day, we see this all the time. We see a buckling from standing by the expressed word of God for some “compassionate reason”. We see people ignoring the written text and violating the standard “for love” or “for outreach”. What is essential for us is simple humility: We don’t know more than God, and we aren’t more compassionate than He is. If He gives an instruction, we may not understand all the reasons why He did – but ours isn’t to evaluate God’s abilities – just to obey God’s Word. The man didn’t obey – and he will ever be remembered for that response to God’s goodness.

The Disciples didn’t readily recognize the Savior’s ability to provide (Mark 8:1-10).

As Mark continued to show us “some who perceived truth and many who did not” – he offered another story about the disciples in the string…

Mark 8:1 In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples and said to them, 2 “I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 “If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4 And His disciples answered Him, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” 5 And He was asking them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” 6 And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people. 7 They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be served as well. 8 And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. 9 About four thousand were there; and He sent them away. 10 And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples and came to the district of Dalmanutha.

The scene, by now, is all too familiar to us. People were in a place where there were no kosher bakers – they weren’t far from cities – but they were Gentile cities. Jesus ministered and crowds came. They loved hearing His words, and they wanted to spend time near Him – but they didn’t bring sufficient food with them. Truthfully, away from home there was little they could do to keep food preserved well, so a bit of bread, some olives and some dried fish may have been the best they could hope to get. This time, people were there for three days – at least some of them. They were out of food and hungry – and Jesus didn’t want to send them home with stomachs empty, for fear they would collapse along the way from hunger and exhaustion.

Jesus saw hungry people on a hillside – and so did His disciples. What Jesus did next is what He often did; He drew the disciples into the situation, so that He could include them in His solution. The remarkable thing is that problems are often God’s way of blessing us – because He invites us into His miraculous power to solve issues we cannot. Jesus deliberately enlisted the help of the men, for this is what God does. He could have simply sent a full-grown man as Messiah, but He enlisted a young unmarried girl who had “never known a man”.

The only kind of people God truly wants working for Him are the people who don’t think they are worthy, and clearly don’t have the ability to solve the issues apart from the empowering of God. People who are arrogant repel the Spirit of God. People who see themselves as self-sufficient make themselves ineligible to be used. The great mystery of God is that He chooses to use most mightily the humblest and least able among us. That is how we can so easily see His fingerprints on what is accomplished in and through us.

The disciples did exactly what many of us would have done – they looked at the physical assets and concluded they didn’t have an answer. What they forgot – what is so easy to forget – is that they were ADDRESSING THE ANSWER. Jesus didn’t point out the problem because He needed consultation on how to fix the problem. He called them to see the problem so that He could show them what was on his heart, and how they could be used of Him. That is why Jesus directed them back to the loaf count. He said in 8:5: “How many loaves do you have?” They had seven, and Jesus told them to have the people sit on the ground, and to give the loaves to Him. In the Bible, God sometimes brings water from a rock, or drops manna from the wind – but most of the time He asks us to bring what we HAVE first, and let Him use whatever that is to solve the problem. As they were serving the bread, they discovered some salted fish, and Jesus told them to add them to the day’s menu!

The people were fed and were satisfied, and the four thousand were then sent home. Jesus traveled by boat across the Sea of Galilee to the area west of Capernaum called Dalmanutha. On the trip back, I am quite sure the disciples reflected on what Jesus did through them and for them. The lesson had much more impact and was deeply personal – because they participated in the miraculous distribution. Herein is the great privilege of the work.

We don’t save people – but we bring the message that can. We don’t heal marriages – but we offer the family-saving, living Word that is able to light the broken path for the hurting couple – even if the wounds are self-inflicted. We can’t conquer addictions, but we can watch God bring power to a person once resigned to weakened victimization. We can’t break the stubborn heart and turn it to God – but the kindness, power and piercing truth of God’s Word can do all of that work – and we get the opportunity to share it. The only requirement God has for us is that we do all that we can not to hinder the work of the Spirit by adopting the world’s attitudes, and by participating in the lost world’s unholy actions. When we present ourselves to Him – the collaboration begins, and the lessons we gain from the participation are deep.

Mark wasn’t finished… there were two more short illustrations about the ability to see clearly…

The Disciples didn’t see how the Pharisees’ teaching hurt them (Mark 8:11-21).

Our world has an impact on us, and the world view of the teachers who have attempted to teach us about life and its purpose have left an etching on our heart. Sometimes they have done this to our benefit. Often, they have done it to our hurt. Let me show you through something Mark 8 shared long ago…

Mark 8:11 The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. 12 Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”13 Leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side. 14 And they had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. 15 And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 They began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? 18 “HAVING EYES, DO YOU NOT SEE? AND HAVING EARS, DO YOU NOT HEAR? And do you not remember, 19 when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” 20 “When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” 21 And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

The story opened with a conflict – an argument the Pharisees raised with Jesus – a demand that He produce a sign to validate the words that He taught. Jesus flatly refused to be led by them, and took the disciples away from them. The disciples didn’t know this was going to happen, and the trip came upon them suddenly. As a result, they forgot to pack bread, as they rushed to the boat and out onto the water. Jesus turned and told them: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” When He finished teaching them, they were quietly chatting amongst themselves about what the Master was talking about, and Jesus corrected them.

Here is the truth: The world around us IS having a devastating impact on the modern believer, just as the Pharisees – with their wrong world view – was having an impact on the disciples of Jesus in the beginning. We are all very susceptible to the world’s standards. We laugh at what our world does. We hunger for the foods prepared in a fallen world. Not everything is wrong, false and harmful – but much of it is. Worse yet, it is all prepared on a foundation at enmity with God.

John later wrote these words from the Spirit of God: 1 John 2:15 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.

Don’t misread what John wrote in those words. He didn’t say, “Hate the people of the world.” He said that the “world” he was speaking of was three prevalent attitudes that exude from the broken world system led by fallen men. First, there was the “lust of the flesh”. Second, there was the “lust of the eyes”. Finally, there was the “boastful pride of life”. What are these attitudes? If we are to refuse to love them, to coil away from them and refuse to let them lead us – we must know more of them.

• The “lust of the flesh” is: the word “lust” is “epithumia” – and denotes an intense desire or a burning hunger for something. This is something that captures the mind and intensely yearns to be satisfied. It is a want, a desire, and in most cases it is something that masquerades as an immediate need. The term “flesh” is “sarx” – a Greek term that isn’t necessarily a negative one at all. It is the word for “things of this world” or “material things”. The whole phrase simply means this: “A burning hunger to satisfy one’s self with things that are entirely of the material world.” No believer is to frame satisfaction from things found here, apart from their direct connection to the God that made them. Food is good, but it cannot satisfy us for more than a few hours, and must not become the focus of our life beyond celebrating God’s provision. Every desire of a physical nature is to be placed under the Spirit’s control and not to drive our behavior. We must be controlled in thought and action. We must be submitted to God and ready for His approval and call to service. Let me say it simply: “Don’t intensely yearn for things of the flesh, or they will lead you away from the things of God.” Be careful how much time you allow yourself to dwell on the pleasures of this world – because we are easily trapped into feeding our flesh while starving our soul.

• The “lust of the eye” is: Like the intense burning after all things physical, the lust of the eye is a creative idiom for a covetous, greedy or self-consumed mind. We “see” things that we want all the time (that is what a buffet line is for!) – but this is about craving things not given to us. This is about dwelling on things we want but cannot afford, things we dream of “owning” but could easily become “owned by”. This is the automobile that you buy that costs more than you can afford, so you enslave yourself to extra hours at work to get. It is about the house that you “simply must have” that swallows up your life. It is the boat you dream about, until it becomes the time-sucking idol of every sunny day.

• The “boastful pride of life” is: the term “boastful” is a translation of the Greek term “alazoneia” (al-ad-zon-i’-a), which could be accurately termed “an arrogant display”. The idea is one who lives the values of our day arrogantly, boastfully and without hesitation. If Jesus’ followers were called to be humble and meek (strength under control), those living the “boastful pride of life” would be living the opposite values.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, he summarized a great many of us: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (Lewis, C.S., The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. San Francisco: Harper Collins).

There is yet one more short story – the end of the series of “clear sight” that may be the most obvious example of all.

It may take MORE for some men to see clearly (Mark 8:22-26).

Mark capped off the set of stories with a “two-stage” healing – the only one in the Gospels of this kind when he wrote:

Mark 8:22 And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. 23 Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” 25 Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. 26 And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.

Someone brought a blind friend to Jesus to have his sight restored. Jesus took him aside to a quiet place and spit on His eyes, laid hands of him and asked him if he saw anything. Notice, Jesus didn’t ask if he saw things clearly, only if he could see something at all. Jesus was healing, but He was also teaching. The man replied that he saw people walking around, but they were fuzzy, unfocused… in fact they looked more like trees. Jesus touched his eyes a second time, and clarity came. The scene ended with Jesus telling the man, as He told others before, to be quiet about it – but this time He went the extra step of telling him to go somewhere other than the village he was brought from – so Jesus could get more time to be alone with His disciples.

The “two stage” healing was purposeful – not for Jesus, and not for the blind man – but for the disciples. The whole series of stories has been about their inability to see Jesus clearly. They listened to the Pharisees and didn’t truly grasp Jesus’ teaching. They avoided Gentiles, and didn’t see that some of them were more in tune with what Jesus was doing than His own countrymen. They watched Him multiply loaves for crowds on a number of occasions, and yet they seemed unsure of how they would face a lack of bread on an afternoon boat trip. They didn’t see clearly. They thought Pharisees were holy and Gentiles were useless. They thought that a lack of bread was a big problem for the One Who could calm the seas and feed the masses.

The truth is that many believers don’t really see things as they are. They don’t see lost people as truly and perilously facing a Christ-less eternity and a horrible end. Their next door neighbor seems so good and moral – they forget that depravity is a state of being that cannot be breached by good behavior – or the Messiah need not have died. Believers panic privately and online that sickness may overtake them or senseless evil may befall them – while they forget the Jesus is standing by watching over them.

Beloved, we must pick up the truth of the Word and see it clearly, while we proclaim it unceasingly. We must represent the Gospel as it truly is. Man is lost – good men and bad men – for the standard isn’t “goodness”, but “righteousness”. That cannot be attained by religion, right behavior or wrestling with self-discipline. There is no hope for the brokenness of the human condition apart from Jesus.

In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.

Many years ago, Pastor John Piper gave an illustration that is worth considering when thinking about our need of a Savior…

Picture two people in a car out for a drive along the north shore. The rider knows that there is a time bomb in the trunk and that any second might blow the car to pieces. The driver doesn’t believe there is one, and thinks that his rider is insane. The state patrol has been alerted that the car is indeed loaded with a bomb that will soon go off. They begin their search and pursuit. The rider suddenly sees the State Patrol far in the distance to the rear racing toward the car. His heart leaps with hope for possible rescue! If you are the rider who knows that there is a bomb in the trunk, the flashing red lights in the distance are very precious, and the closer they get, the more precious they become. But if you are the driver and you don’t think that there is a bomb in the trunk, the flashing red lights are a threat.

Many in our world don’t believe the time bomb is set to go off – but the Bible is clear. They are running out of time. They are losing time with each beat of their heart – facing a certain end. The whole planet is running out of time. The rider who knows must do all he or she can to make that clear – the danger is certain and the Rescuer is ready to deliver them.