Questions God Asks

Do You See Anything?

Mark 8:22-25

Teaching t12665


We are concluding a series on some of the many questions God asks biblical characters.  We often ask questions because we are seeking information – but God doesn’t because He already knows all things.  Rather, He usually often asks questions as a wise counselor – to help us realize what our real needs are, the inadequacy of our attempts to meet those needs, and thus to be willing to receive the help He wants to give us.  Sometimes His questions are instructional – for the person asked and/or for others.  Jesus asked such a question to a blind man . . .

Read Mk. 8:22-25.  The man’s answer to Jesus’ question indicates that he probably hadn’t been born blind.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have known how people differed from trees.  This event raises several questions (e.g., Why did Jesus spit in his eyes?), but I want to focus on these two:

Why did Jesus ask the man this question?  Was He really trying to assess if his vision had returned?  Or does He ask for some other reason?

Why did Jesus heal this man in stages?  This is the only recorded time that He did this; all of His other healing miracles were instantaneous.  It is difficult to see how this was for the man’s benefit.

The meaning of this miracle

The answer to both of these questions lies in the context of this passage.  I agree with many commentators who think Jesus healed the man this way as an instructional device for His disciples.  In other words, this man illustrated Jesus’ disciples’ spiritual blindness, which they had thus far allowed Him to only partially heal.  Let’s look at the context to see if this interpretation makes sense.

The main point of this whole section of Mark’s gospel (chapters 4-8) is Jesus trying to get His disciples to “see clearly” who He is – the Messiah.  His healing miracles fulfilled Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah (quote Isa. 35:5).  Likewise, His miraculous multiplication of food (twice) demonstrated that He was the Prophet who was greater than Moses (Deut. 18).  His miraculous stilling of the storm (twice) demonstrated that He had divine authority (Ps. 107).

But the disciples were so spiritually blind that they didn’t see this.  After seeing Jesus feed 15,000+ people and seeing Him walk on water and still a storm on the same day, what was their reaction?  Read 6:51b,52a.  They “hadn’t gained any insight.”

After Jesus fed 12,000+ people, they had this conversation on their way home (read 8:14-18).  How could they be worried about lunch with Jesus in the boat?  It is because they do not “see” who He is!  Jesus presses this point with them (read 8:19,20) – but they can’t even connect these obvious dots.  Notice Jesus’ question that comes immediately before the incident with the blind man (read 8:21).  Do you see the parallel between this question and the question Jesus asked the blind man?

Immediately after this healing, Mark records another incident that illustrated the disciples’ partial “vision” concerning Jesus.  When Jesus asks them directly “Who do you say that I am?” Peter demonstrates enough “vision” to answer correctly (8:29).  But when Jesus says that He must go to Jerusalem to be rejected and crucified, Peter demonstrates that his “vision” is still defective by rebuking Jesus (read 8:32) – which earned Peter a rebuke from Jesus (8:33).

So the way Jesus healed this man illustrated that His disciples were still partially blind to His identity, and that they needed more healing in order to see clearly.  Let’s apply this . . .

The cause of spiritual blindness: a hardened heart

What does this passage teach us?  Certainly most of us see clearly who Jesus is, don’t we?  We believe that He is the Messiah.  The disciples believed this also – but they were still partially blind.  Many of us have made sacrifices to follow and serve Him.  The disciples did this also, yet that didn’t enable them to see clearly.  The reason for their defective vision, and for ours, is what Jesus called a “hardened heart” (read 6:52; 8:17). 

This term does not refer not to an amoral disease/disorder, like hardening of the arteries.  It means a “dull, insensitive” heart, a heart that is calloused because of repeated resistance.  To change the metaphor, it means self-generated spiritual cataracts.

What are the symptoms of a hardened heart?  We see two of them here:

Repeat 8:16-20.  In spite of Jesus’ repeated provision, they still don’t trust Him to care for them.  They still think like orphan street-urchins: “No one, not even God, is truly concerned for my welfare.  I’m on my own.  I must rely on my own resources to meet my own needs.”  This is a self-sufficient or self-protective heart.  Every time we take matters into our own hands to protect ourselves or meet our needs our way (like Jacob last week), we are demonstrating a hardened heart.

Repeat 8:33.  In spite of Jesus’ repeated proof that He knew what He was doing, they still don’t trust His plans.  They still think like Satan: “I am committed to my own plans for my life, and I will try to work everyone, including God, to fulfill my plans.”  This is a self-willed or self-promoting heart.  Every time we stubbornly resist God’s will, every time we exalt ourselves, every time we try to use Jesus like a Genie to fulfill our own agendas, we are demonstrating a hardened heart.

Bill Lawrence defines a hardened heart as “a chronic condition of the heart that is contaminated by expectations of self-reliance, position, power, recognition and control.”[1]  A. W. Tozer describes it this way: “. . . the self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They are not something we do, they are something we are, and therein lies both their subtlety and their power. To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention until the light of God is focused upon them.”[2]

The bad news is that we are no more able to fix our hardened hearts than we are able to unclog our own arteries or remove our own cataracts.  Self cannot and will not cast out self.  But the good news is that Jesus can cure our hardened hearts.  Let’s survey how He does this, and how we can cooperate with Him . . .

How Jesus cures our hardened hearts

Read Ezek. 36:25b-27a.  This is an Old Testament prediction that the Messiah will not only forgive our sins, but also remove our hardened (stone) hearts and give us responsive (flesh) hearts toward God by the power of His Spirit within us.  You can receive God’s Spirit by simply believing in Jesus (Eph. 1:13,14).  This prediction has a two-fold fulfillment:

The full cure will happen when Jesus returns and gives new bodies to all who belong to Him (Rom. 7:24 >> 8:23).  How I look forward to this day!!

In the meantime, Jesus’ Spirit will give us growing, substantial freedom from a hardened heart as we live in dependence on His power and guidance (Gal. 5:16).

What does it look like to walk by the Spirit?  How can we cooperate with Jesus as He works to cure our hardened hearts?  After He rebukes Peter for his hardened heart, Jesus gives him (and us) a three-fold answer to this question (read 8:34) – two negatives and one positive:

“Deny self” is not the same as what we call self-denial (i.e., self-restraint in diet, drink, etc.).  You can have admirable self-restraint and still be completely dominated by the self-life.  It means “Agree with Me that your self-life is your biggest problem” (vs. other people; circumstances; God’s treatment of me).  Jesus also said this in Mk. 7:21-23.  The disciples didn’t agree with this at first, but Jesus kept telling them (“We forgot bread” >> 8:17; “You’re making a mistake” >> 8:33).  In the same way, we don’t usually agree with Him on this at first, but He keeps telling us this – not only in general, but in specific situations (EXAMPLE).  This is the first step, just as the first step to a heart-transplant is admitting that your diseased heart is your biggest physical problem.  Have you told the Lord that you agree with Him on this, and that you want Him to do whatever He needs to do to cure you?  Andrew Murray recommends simply praying along these lines every day for 30 days.  Sound cheesy?  Try it anyway!  Our reticence to do this may be because we sense that it will lead to the second step . . .

“Take up your cross” does not mean that we should seek to be executed (not that many of us are tempted to do this!).  “Cross” here is a symbol of death imposed by another.  This is an ongoing decision (Lk. 9:23 – “daily”) to let God put our hardened hearts to death.  “Allow Me to use your sufferings to break your self-life.”  2 Cor. 4:8-11 teaches this same truth.  For example, Peter was full of self-confidence (“I will never leave you!”) – but God broke his self-confidence through his failure (3 denials).  This was painful (like all surgeries), but it was effective.  You and I need several such surgeries to break our self-confidence, self-promotion, self-protection, self-sufficiency, etc.  There will be disappointments, failures, misunderstanding and mistreatment by people, unexpected difficulties.  Will you allow Jesus to operate on you, or will you resist Him and delay your own cure?

Our part is not solely negative.  Jesus ends with a tremendous positive: “Follow Me.”  The present tense emphasizes this as an ongoing decision to simply: “Stay close to Me as I take you through this process.”  Jesus teaches this same truth in Jn. 15:2-4.  The disciples were eventually freed from their hardened hearts, not because they were so holy, but simply because they kept following Jesus even though they were knuckleheads.  They kept listening to His Word, they kept talking honestly with Him, and they kept doing this together.  They didn’t even do this perfectly, but when they blew it they came back – and He always took them back.  That’s how we follow Jesus – day by day letting Him speak to us through His Word, relating honestly with Him in prayer, and doing all this with other brothers and sisters.  We do this, not only when things are going well, but also (and especially) when we are bearing the cross (vs. withdrawing from Jesus and others).   This is where we find His encouragement, and this is how we will see Him gradually cure our hardened hearts.

Is it worth it to let Jesus cure your hardened heart?  Here’s Jesus’ answer (read 8:35).  Preserving your hardened heart will only result in loss, but allowing Jesus to cure your hardened heart will result in true life!  I am not fully cured, but I can say that it has been worth it for me!

[1] Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring (Word, 1999), p. 32.

[2] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p. 18.