Summary: Our faith in Jesus Christ progressively heals us of our spiritual blindness.
(Note: This sermon was introduced with scene # 32 from "Traveling Light")
I’ve always had a secret fear about going blind. Out of all my senses, sight would be the most difficult for me to live without. Maybe it’s because I love to read so much. I always hated those assignments in high school that require you to be blindfolded while someone else led you by the arm. In fact, to be honest, I always cheated on those, so I could see just a little bit. Seeing is important to me, as I’m sure it is to you as well.
The Bible often uses the metaphor of physical sight to describe our spiritual understanding. People who don’t have any spiritual understanding are pictured in the Bible as blind. People who do have spiritual understanding are people who see. As the old John Newton hymn goes, "I once was blind but now I see." When we explain our faith in Jesus to a non-Christian friend and they reject our message, we shrug our shoulders and say, "She’s just blind to the truth." And similarly, when a skeptic tries to persuade us that God doesn’t exist, they shrug and say, "His faith has blinded him." So which is it? Does faith blind us or does it open our eyes?
That’s what I want to talk about today. We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Mark called Following Jesus in the Real World. We’re going to see two different kinds of spiritual blindness, and then how Jesus can heal our blindness. We’re going to see that believing is seeing.
1. The Blindness of Unbelief (Mark 8:10-13)
We’re going to begin by talking about the blindness of unbelief in vv. 10-13. This group of Pharisees represents the blindness of unbelief. Jesus travels to a region called Dalmanutha. While there he’s interrogated by a group of religious leaders known as Pharisees. Now we’ve met these guys before in Mark. As I’ve mentioned before, the Pharisees were a reform movement within Judaism that wanted to help ordinary Jewish people live holy, righteous lives. They were a movement that focused on personal holiness, especially as it related to Jewish purity laws. In fact, today’s rabbinic Judaism grew out of the Pharisaical movement of Jesus’ generation.
They don’t merely approach Jesus for a little theological chat. The word translated "question" here means "to argue" or "to dispute." Mark’s not describing a calm dialogue where two people try to come to an understanding. He’s picturing an argument where forceful differences of opinions are expressed and there’s no hope of breaching the gap that separates them.
Mark also tells us that their motive is to test Jesus, not in the sense of seeing whether he’s true or not, but in the sense of trying to trip him up. To trip him up, they demand that Jesus provide them with a "sign from heaven" that proves Jesus is who he claims to be, the Messiah. They’re not just asking for a miracle, because Jesus has already performed dozens of miracles, some of which they’ve seen with their own eyes. A sign from heaven is more than a miracle. A sign from heaven is an "visible, compelling proof" of Jesus’ authority. By asking for a sign from heaven, they’re asking for irrefutable, unequivocal, ironclad proof that removes any doubt as to Jesus’ identity (Garland, Mark, p. 314). Essentially, they’re ask Jesus to remove the need for faith in their response to Jesus.
But Jesus refuses to give them what they ask for. He signs deeply, which is a word that describes intense emotional upheaval. He knows that their demand for a sign from heaven after all the miracles he’s already performed is a symptom of their unbelief, their refusal to have faith. They represent a generation of people who refuse to believe, a generation who demands absolute confirmation to avoid the risk of faith. This group has been given everything necessary to take the step of faith, but when push comes to shove, they refuse to act in faith. They’re blind in their unbelief.
So Jesus gets in the boat and leaves. His departure signifies that he’s done with the Pharisees, that he’s terminated his dialogue with this group of religious leaders. This represents a final parting of the ways between Jesus and the Pharisees.
We find in the Pharisees a classic example of the blindness of unbelief. WHEN WE REFUSE TO DEMONSTRATE FAITH, WE REMAIN IN SPIRITUAL DARKNESS.
Believing really is a kind of seeing, and a refusal to believe is a decision to remain in the dark.
I remember back when I was an atheist during my high school years, I’d talk to my Christian friends about faith. I refused to believe; I wanted irrefutable, absolute, complete confirmation before I would become a Christian. I wanted the same thing the Pharisees wanted, a sign from heaven that eliminated the need for faith. In fact, I’d sometimes say, "May God strike me dead right now if he’s real." And of course, he didn’t strike me dead, which I took as proof that God didn’t exist. You see, back then I viewed faith as weakness for weak minded people. I agreed with Oxford University zoologist Richard Dawkins, who said, "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."