Pastor David B. Curtis


Spiritual Blindness

Mark 8:11-26

Delivered 08/06/2006

In our previous studies, we have seen that beginning with chapter 6 of Mark, Mark is dealing with our Lord's training of the twelve disciples as He seeks to instruct them about who He is and help their faith grow. We have seen how after feeding five thousand, He gets into a confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus tells them their worship is vain. It is not what you eat that defiles you, but it is your heart. Then He left the nation of Israel and went into Gentile regions, into Tyre and Sidon on the coast of Palestine. There He delivered a Gentile woman's daughter from demon possession. Then He feeds four thousand Gentiles. In the passage we come to this morning, Jesus is back in Jewish territory and is confronted again by the Pharisees. We ended last week with:

Mark 8:10 (NASB) And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples, and came to the district of Dalmanutha.

Jesus took a boat and returned to Galilee. Dalmanutha is at present unknown to us. The parallel passage in Matthew has "and came to the region of Magadan," (15:39), which papyrus 45 also reads in Mark. This is also unknown. One family of texts (Caesarean) has Magdala in both Matthew and Mark, clearly a secondary reading, but it may be that Magdala, was in Magadan making it South of Capernaum.

Let me digress here for a moment to give you a little history on Capernaum. Capernaum, Korazin, and Bethsaida formed a triangle. These cities are about three miles apart. According to the Gospels, about 70% of Jesus' teaching took place in or next to these three cities.

Capernaum was a small village of about 2,500 people. We might think of it as just some small hick town. This would be wrong. It was in its day Harvard or Yale. If you take the Mishnah ­ the record of Jewish thinking from A.D. 0 - 100 ­ there are more quotes from Rabbis of Capernaum than all the rest of the Rabbis of the world put together. The Synagogue school found in Capernaum is four times larger than any other Synagogue school found until the 1500's. This is the world where Jesus ministered.

Jesus Christ and His disciples have crossed over the Sea of Galilee, leaving behind the now well feed four thousand Gentile followers who had been taught by the Lord for three days, and comes again to the Jews of Galilee.

In marked contrast to the positive reception shown by the four thousand who listened to the truth Jesus taught, we have the religious leaders who are ready to criticize the Lord at every opportunity:

Mark 8:11 (NASB) And the Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him.

Once again, here's an encounter with the Pharisees--the religious crowd, the experts in the Old Testament Scripture. Mark is careful to tell us they didn't come out to listen. They didn't come out to learn. They came out to argue. It is obvious that they are totally blinded men. Here they come and ask Him for a sign after they themselves had seen hundreds of signs He had done.

The Religious leaders of Israel had taken every opportunity to be critical of Jesus Christ: They criticized him for associating with the down and out crowd, tax collectors and prostitutes (Mark 2:16). They accused him of breaking the Old Testament Law (Mark 2:24). They demanded He observe their religious traditions (Mark 2:18 and Mark 7:1-5). And they even accused Him of being in league with Satan (Mark 3:22). They tried to trap Him into healing on the Sabbath, which He did, and now they try to test Him.

The Pharisees were a select denomination that had emerged in the first century before Christ. What does "Pharisee" mean? The title "Pharisee" literally meant: "the separated ones." Unlike many Jews of that era, the Pharisees had remained separate from pagan Greek philosophy and pagan Greek culture. They did this by holding fast to all of the Jewish traditions. They were the evangelicals of Orthodox Judaism. They held to the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. They believed in the supernatural, in angels, and in a life after death. They looked for the Messiah, even teaching about the Messiah. These men represented the best of Israel's biblical scholarship and teaching. They were the most serious-minded of anyone in Israel when it came to diligently obeying God's law. They had a heritage of having stood for truth through dark and dangerous days in Israel's past.

The word "argue" is the Greek word suzeteo, which is used in the Gospels and Acts to show doubt or rejection that leads to confrontation and argument. It shows that it is a result of something else, and that something else is their rejection. These religious leaders already had rejected the truth Jesus taught and now were debating, arguing with Him.

"Seeking from Him a sign" ­ the Pharisees wanted a sign from heaven. Perhaps they sought the "bath kol", that distant voice from heaven speaking directly to them, or fire coming down on the enemies of Israel as it had for Elijah and Elisha. But no sign would have convinced them of the truth, for they wanted something that would confirm them in their position. They would have interpreted it in their own fashion.

They were offended because He was not the Messiah and Savior that fit their mold and idea of Messiah. They were offended because He did not affirm them and their spirituality but called for their repentance and spoke of the vanity of their worship. They were offended because the teaching of Jesus Christ did not square with their style or content of teaching.

Matthew says that He added the words:

Matthew 12:39-40 (NASB) But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

That is, the only sign that would be given them was the sign of the resurrection. Yet, it is true that when the resurrection did occur, these Pharisees did not believe even this sign. So no sign would be given to them. Jesus refused to work a miracle. Leaving them in their blindness and stubborn determination to unbelief, He departed.

From Matthew's account, we also learn that the Sadducees were there:

Matthew 16:1 (NASB) And the Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Him asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.

It was very unusual for the Pharisees and Sadducees to confront Jesus together. They were at opposite ends of the spectrum of Jewish life. Pharisees were loved and accepted by the common man, having identified themselves with the mass of Israel's population. The Sadducees were quite different. As one writer put it, they "represented the thin, upper aristocratic crust of Jewry, and for a long time, the High Priest families."

Sadducees considered themselves at the top of the heap - and certainly above the Pharisees. They even disagreed on what was authoritative ­ with the Pharisees holding to the authority of the Law and of the oral law and traditions that accompanied it, while the Sadducees accepted only the Law.

So to find them traveling out of Jerusalem to Galilee to confront Jesus Christ was most unusual. Here we find even enemies joining hands in opposition to Christ!

Jesus demonstrated again and again His power over illness, demons, life, and death. He spoke as no man had spoken. Should it not have been obvious what was taking place? Should not these men that had studied the Scripture diligently have put the pieces of the puzzle together? Some did, such as Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and perhaps even Gamaliel, but most of them were blind and could not see the truth.

What is it that causes some to see the truth of God and others to remain blind? The sovereign choice of God:

Acts 13:48 (NASB) And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

God must open the eyes of the blind or they will forever remain blind:

John 12:37-40 (NASB) But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" 39 For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES, AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART; LEST THEY SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED, AND I HEAL THEM."

They did not believe because they could not believe. Most people think that the means of the new birth is the Word of God or faith. But regeneration is a direct act of God upon the spirit of a man. Truth cannot be the means of regeneration, because before a man is regenerated, he is blind and cannot see the truth, deaf and cannot hear the truth, dead and cannot respond to the truth. Truth cannot be the means of the new birth when the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit as 1 Corinthians 2:14 teaches. The increase of light will not enable a blind man to see; the disease of the eye must first be cured ­ so must a man be regenerated by the Spirit before he can receive the truth. It is solely a work of the God. Notice what Isaiah says:

Isaiah 42:1 (NASB) "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.

This is a prophecy of Jesus Christ. In verses 16-20 we have mention of those who are blind and an interplay between spiritual blindness and literal sight. In verse 16 we have the work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ:

Isaiah 42:16 (NASB) "And I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone."

This is the Lord doing what we are unable to do for ourselves. The blind are helpless in bringing about their own vision. We are as the blind, unable to do for ourselves, and must rely totally upon the work of Christ.

The atheist, Voltaire, once said: "Even if a miracle should be wrought in the open marketplace before a thousand sober witnesses, I would rather mistrust my senses than admit it a miracle." That's a very honest statement. He is saying, "I don't care what you tell me; I don't care what God does before me and a thousand witnesses. I'm telling you now I will not believe it." That is not an intellectual problem. That is a heart problem. He is blind to the things of God.

In our culture people will read a book like The DaVinci Code, and they will believe everything in it--when, with the slightest bit of effort, it can be easily discredited, full of historical errors. And those same people will turn around and dismiss the Bible--which, with a little bit of effort, can be determined to be historically accurate. It is simply because they are blind to the truth.

Mark 8:12 (NASB) And sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, "Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation."

Their unbelief moved Him deeply, and He recognized that unbelief was not only in them but in many of the people who had crowded around to see miracles. They were all looking for the wrong thing. And He was deeply saddened by it.

What is "this generation"? The word "generation" here is the Greek word genea, which means: "The whole multitude of men living at the same time." Genea is the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time; Contemporaries.

If you look at the way Jesus used the word "generation," I think it will be abundantly clear that it always refers to His contemporaries, the Jewish people of His own period. It is clear in this text, Jesus is talking about His contemporaries. So why, when we come to Matthew 24:34, do they want to make it mean something else?:

Matthew 24:34 (NASB) "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

When Jesus said "all these things" would occur before that generation was over, He was talking about everything that He had been discussing from verse 4 through verse 33. This included the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory. The disciples' question had been: When will Your parousia be? And in verse 34, He tells them it will happen in their generation. Jesus said that His parousia would take place in the generation of those people to whom He spoke. We should believe Him.

Mark 8:13-15 (NASB) And 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."

Jesus and His disciples get in the boat and leave the religious leaders standing on the shore in their blindness. They travel back to the other side ­ Gentile territory. Attention now turns back to the training of the Apostles.

Who had forgotten to take the bread, we are not told. Someone was responsible and had failed in their responsibility. Perhaps it was all of them. But whatever was the cause, they had realized to their dismay that they only had one loaf between them. There weren't a lot of 7/11's where they were going, so this was a problem. Mark is drawing attention to the fact that they were not only short of bread, but of the bread of truth ­ this in preparation for the awakening soon to come at Caesarea Philippi and its high mountain (8:27-9:8).

The situation drew from Jesus one of His enigmatic sayings. As He saw them worrying about shortage of bread, He still remembered the Pharisees' demand for a sign and used the situation as the basis for a lesson. They should not be concerned about lack of bread, but, rather, they should be concerned about the true bread (the genuine sign, which they had been privileged to witness), and how to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod:

Mark 8:15 (NASB) And He was giving orders to them, saying, "Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod."

The language here is very strong. It is Mark's way of saying this was very, very important. Now, I'm guessing Jesus taught quite a bit on this, and in Mark's typical fashion, he just tells us the summary. It was a warning of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.

This warning is unusual in that there were hardly two positions that were further apart than Herod versus the Pharisees. But Jesus lumps them both together. What did they have in common? What could be both the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod?

Leaven always carries with it the idea of influence. You take a little piece of leaven and place it in a lump of dough, which you are going to bake, and that little piece influences the entire lump, causing it to rise. Leaven was an appropriate metaphor for something that spreads; today we might employ the negative image of cancer.

Both the Pharisees and Herod were parties of influence. They had both seen and/or heard of Jesus. And they had come to some conclusions regarding Jesus. These conclusions are given to us in Mark's account. The Pharisees had gone on record in Mark 3:22 to say that Jesus performed His miracles by the power of Satan. They identified Him as a demon-possessed man. Herod had gone on record in Mark 6:14 to say that Jesus was nothing more than the reincarnation of John the Baptist. He did this out of a sense of superstition and guilt over having murdered John in the first place.

Both of these parties had made false assumptions about Jesus. And He warns His disciples against following in their footsteps. When we get to Mark 8:29 Jesus will ask His disciples as to their own assumption of His identity - "But who do you say that I am?" This is one of the most important questions you can ever be asked. Who is Jesus?

Mark 8:16 (NASB) And they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.

Instead of hearing and understanding the warning of Jesus, the disciples focused upon their lack of bread. Jesus was speaking of the spiritual. They were looking only to the physical. He was speaking of the spiritual leaven, which characterized unbelief. They saw only the leaven that is used in a bakery. And this generates a discussion among the disciples.

Mark 8:17-21 (NASB) 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 "And 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?"

Jesus asks a rhetorical question. He will ask it twice, "Do you not yet understand?"What is it that they are supposed to be understanding? What is His point? It is that they are worried about bread, and they have not yet come to terms with the fact that the Creator of all bread is in their midst. They are worried about lunch, and they have missed the fact that the One who holds all things together by the word of His power is with them and able to provide for them.

They saw Him feed five thousand people, and they picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. They saw Him feed four thousand people, and they picked up 7 baskets of leftovers. They have seen so many miracles that it is starting to get monotonous. Yet with all of this, they have missed the central point to which these miracles have been pointing.

Jesus is saying to these disciples, If I can feed over ten thousand people with a few loaves and fish, I can deal with one loaf for thirteen people. Stop worrying about the bread and listen to Me ­ trust me! This is a common message in the New Testament. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, said:

Matthew 6:26 (NASB) "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Since God feeds the birds, don't you think He'll take care of you, His child? First He tells them to look at the birds, and then He tells them to "consider the lilies."

Matthew 6:28-29 (NASB) "And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.

This word, "observe," is from the Greek word katamanthano, which means: "To learn thoroughly, i.e., to note carefully," but it also means: "to concentrate upon, think about it, to meditate upon it, to consider." When we are asked to consider something, we are to get a mental understanding of it, but also to concentrate or meditate on it. Think about it. When we have thoughts arise in our hearts and fears for the future, He tells us to consider these things; think about them in the light of Scripture.

If the Lord takes condescending care of wild flowers, will He not care for you?

Solomon was used as a proverb among the Jews; he was the measuring stick, and the glory of Solomon was the climax of earthly splendor, yet he was not clothed as one of these wild flowers. If the Lord has clothed little flowers with such majesty, why should we be concerned for our clothing? Jesus is saying that if His Father has so clothed each flower individually, do we need to be anxious about our temporal needs?

Matthew 6:30 (NASB) "But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?

Are you much better than grass? The Lord sent His only begotten Son to die for us in order to take away the penalty of our sins and provide Christ's perfect righteousness to clothe us. Should we not believe then that He will clothe us physically? This, is an a fortiori argument. The argument may be stated thus: If God clothes grass, certainly He will cloth His children.

"O men of little faith" ­ They weren't trusting God, and this is exactly what our Lord says to the disciples in our text about bread, according to Matthew:

Matthew 16:7-8 (NASB) And they began to discuss among themselves, saying, "It is because we took no bread." 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, "You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread?

Jesus is saying if you're going to follow Me, don't worry about what you're going to eat. Don't worry about what you're going to wear. Don't worry about a roof over your head. I will take care of all those things. Well then, what are we supposed to think about all day?:

Matthew 6:33 (NASB) "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.

The writer of Hebrews put it this way:

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB) Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

If you're going to run this race, and you're going to win it, you can't get tangled up in all the stuff of this world. Get your eyes fixed on Jesus. How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? By spending time with Him through His Word!

When Paul wrote to Timothy he said:

2 Timothy 2:4 (NASB) No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.

A good soldier doesn't get entangled in the stuff of everyday life; he can't afford to. He has got to get dialed into the mission. If you're a soldier today in Baghdad, you better not be distracted with 101 things. You better be paying attention to what you are doing, or you will die. That is what Paul was saying to Timothy. It's a common message that God has promised: I'll take care of the stuff of everyday life; just trust Me. How much time do we spend in any given day worrying about the "bread issues" in our life, distracted by 101 things--so that at the end of the day that's really all we've thought about, and we've given little thought about what God wanted to do through us that day?

In Jesus' encounter with the disciples, we have a rebuke of the self-reliant man. Jesus wanted them to cease trusting in themselves and begin to trust in what He could do. And that is precisely the same lesson we need to learn. All too often, we, like these disciples, try to depend on our resources when what we need to do is abandon ourselves totally to God. Only as we cast ourselves into His hands will we find the strength and power and grace to live by faith. We need to heed the lesson Jesus was trying to teach His disciples that "Man does not live by bread alone." What we need is not physical bread, but the Bread of Life, which He can provide. What we need is trust in the God, who alone can provide for our needs.

Why were they so taken up with the need for physical bread when He had proved Himself the provider of more than sufficient? Were they blind and deaf? Both the twelve and the seven (He made them say the numbers) had indicated sufficiency of provision for Israel and for the world. Did they really think then that He was concerned about their receiving bread (that is provision for their needs) from the Pharisees and Herod?

No, what He had done with the loaves had symbolized spiritual provision as well as physical provision. Had they not realized what this showed Him to be? Had they not recognized that His main aim had been to offer them spiritual food, and that was what He was talking about, the need to avoid the wrong "spiritual food"? He was referring to the danger of being misled by Pharisaic teaching and Herodian teaching. He longed that they would recognize in Him the One Who was all sufficient, and that they would think along spiritual lines, recognizing in Him the Bread of Life.

Jesus asks the double-barreled question:

Mark 8:18 (NASB) "HAVING EYES, DO YOU NOT SEE? AND HAVING EARS, DO YOU NOT HEAR? And do you not remember,

They have just seen Him heal a deaf man of his deafness. In the next paragraph, He will heal a blind man of his blindness. Jesus is asking, Are you also blind and deaf? This is a quote from:

Ezekiel 12:1-2 (NASB) Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 "Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house.

So here we are emphatically reminded that in spite of all that they have seen, they are still lacking in understanding, blind and deaf and even hardened.

Up to this point, we have been dealing with spiritual blindness. But now we are given an account of a man who was physically blind. The juxtaposition of these two accounts is no accident. This healing of the blind man will serve as an illustration of what Jesus must do to heal spiritual blindness:

Mark 8:22-26 (NASB) And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Him, and entreated^ Him to touch him. 23 And taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes, and laying His hands upon him, He asked him, "Do you see anything?" 24 And he looked up and said, "I see men, for I am seeing them like trees, walking about." 25 Then again He laid His hands upon 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."

I can think of fewer things more tragic than to be blind; to live in a world of darkness - never be able to read a book or see a sunset or watch the waves breaking at the crack of dawn; to never be able to watch a bird in flight or the smile of a baby or the royal colors of a rose garden. But what is much worse than blindness is spiritual blindness.

The healing of the blind man here and the deaf-mute in chapter seven are the only two miracles that appear only in Mark's Gospel. Also, this healing of the blind man is the only two-stage miracle that Jesus performs.

What our Lord does is symbolic, as were all of our Lord's miracles. They were parables in action, pictures of the truth He was attempting to convey. And in this case, spit becomes a symbol of the Word of God. It is the visible form of that which issues from the mouth. Our Lord was perhaps awakening the faith of this blind man, who could feel but could not see. And through the application of spit to his eyes, he sensed that something was going to happen that would involve the power of the spoken Word of God. At any rate, Jesus was certainly teaching his disciples this lesson. It is the Word, which is the creative agency in God's work, always.

Couldn't Jesus have healed the man all at once? Yes, He could have. But this healing is a parallel to the spiritual work that Jesus is going to do in the lives of the disciples. And I think that is why the healing is accomplished in stages.

You see, your spiritual blindness is not completely removed in a single instant. It is a gradual removal. When you first begin to see Jesus for who and what He is, you do not immediately have all knowledge concerning Him. Such knowledge is gained bit by bit. Here a little, there a little; line upon line and precept upon precept.

After further action, full sight is restored, the half blindness slips away and he can see fully. In the light of the whole context as described above, we may see this as an acted out parable. It was Jesus' expectation that it would be thus with the disciples, spiritually; first partly seeing and then receiving whole vision, and then with others who would follow them.

We have to understand this miracle in the context of the bigger picture. What had Jesus just said to His disciples? He said: Men, you have eyes but you do not see. And what is He trying to do? He is trying to touch them and bring sight to their blinded eyes. It is as if this miracle was a living metaphor where Jesus, just like He'd done with His disciples, pulled this blind man aside. And He touched him and he could see--but not clearly. So Jesus touched him again that he might see clearly.

It's a beautiful picture of what is going on in the life of these disciples. Jesus is touching them. He is teaching them. He is instructing them. He is wanting them to understand. And they're making progress. But they still don't see it clearly. But what's amazing is Jesus is so remarkably patient with them. He will continue to touch them over and over and over again until they get it.

But recognize that after Jesus ascended, they understood it so clearly that every person who has trusted Jesus as Savior can trace their witness back to one of these twelve men. Did they get it? They absolutely did. But it was a process. It took the continual touching of Jesus.

Jesus heals the deaf and gives sight to the blind, fulfilling the Old Testament prophesies. Jesus is Messiah, the giver of spiritual life. Trust Him.

Jesus had taken the man out of "the village" (verse 23), and now tells him not to return there, but to go straight home. This was, of course, partly to prevent the publicity that would result in sensation seeking crowds, but also clearly as a spiritual picture of what the disciples must do once their eyes were opened. They must not proclaim Him as Messiah until after His death and resurrection, for men were mistaken in their conceptions of the Messiah (8:30).

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