|He Needed a Second Touch (Mark 8:22-26)
January 9, 2000 / Mark 8:22-26
Todayís text is initially mystifying to practically everyone who comes upon it. It is a story without parallel in the other Gospels. What are we to make of it?
They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the manís eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?"
He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around."
Once more Jesus put his hands on the manís eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, "Donít go into the village" (Mark 8:22-26).
My conviction is that nothing is in Scripture by accident. Nothing is superfluous. Not a single commandment, narrative, or event is extraneous or irrelevant. So my task as an interpreter is not simply to shake my head and move on but to try to make some sense of a baffling story. My duty is to hover around this story, to pray over it, to seek a meaning that is not apparent on its surface.
An "Unusual" Miracle
There is a most unusual feature to this miracle of healing a blind man at Bethsaida. Of course, the word "unusual" describes every miracle ó by definition. What we call scientific laws are simply descriptions of Godís ordinary way of doing things in the cosmos he created. The normal, customary regularities we observe in nature allow us to understand and have a degree of mastery over our environment. When God chooses to intervene in nature and do something in an out-of-the-ordinary manner, that is, by definition, miraculous. These interventions are Godís unconventional acts. They are signs of his activity within the human sphere. To say the least, they are all "unusual."
But this miracle is unusually unusual! It is the only miracle recorded in the canonical Gospels performed gradually or by stages. We speculate on the reason for a two-stage healing only to admit we simply donít know what to make of it. There certainly seems to be no good reason to think it was ever necessary for Jesus to heal incrementally ó ten percent today, ten percent tomorrow, and so on. If he could raise people from the dead instantaneously, he could certainly give perfect sight to once-blind eyes all at once.
Markís Use of the Event
What does seem reasonably clear and obvious is Markís use of this event in the structure of his Gospel. The verses immediately prior to this story have Jesus asking questions like these of his disciples: "Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And donít you remember?" (8:17b-18).
Jesusí disciples had "seen the light" about him, but not much was terribly clear for them yet. They had heard him teach and had watched him perform miracles. They believed he was the Christ, but they didnít visualize his role clearly. They were still expecting him to be a conquering hero to liberate their land from Roman occupiers. A Messiah rejected by Israel was unfathomable. The idea of his suffering and death was not only unthinkable but would be rebuked when he soon spelled it out for them (cf. 8:31ff).
Peter would need a second touch to recover from his spiritual blindness that would lead to his three denials when the showdown finally came. All the surviving apostles would need a second touch to renew them after Judasí defection, Jesusí entombment, and their humiliating failure of nerve. Just as the man at Bethsaida would receive his vision in stages, so would the apostles have their spiritual blindness lifted by degrees.
If you remember, I suggested at the start of this sermon that my duty as a student of this admittedly difficult text is not to pass it by because of its challenge but to hover around it. Read it again and again. Reflect deeply. Pray. Come at it from another angle. If my assumption is that all Scripture is God-breathed and this text is preserved for a reason, then any problem I have understanding it must be with me as a student rather than with the text. And my duty with the text is not unlike that of the apostles before the resurrection and its eye-opening possibilities. Yes, Jesus is the Christ. But the meaning of that was still fuzzy in their minds. They needed to stay close, pray for more insight, and seek the meaning of Jesusí person and work at a level deeper than the superficial.
The same can be said of us. I have certainly needed a second touch of his grace in my spiritual pilgrimage. Havenít you? Iím not talking about mystical private experiences of God. Iím talking instead about "seeing" ó understanding, grasping, getting a clearer view of ó the kingdom of God in my life.
I was saved when I was a boy of twelve. I was baptized in Middleton, Tennessee. I began preaching at thirteen and was preaching every Sunday at fourteen. I attended a Christian college. I graduated and was ready to go out and take the world for Jesus. While all of that was done out of a sense of divine calling on my life and with a sincere desire to please God, I realize now that I had no clear concept of the gospel of Christ. With my inherited religious culture and personal penchant for legalism blinding me, I had to see Jesus clearly by stages. And he has been faithful and patient with me. Many of you could give the same witness to his goodness.
Candidates for a Second Touch
There are some people here this morning who are good candidates for a second touch from Jesus in your lives. Maybe you are stumbling along the journey I have described as my own. You are saved. You accepted Jesus years ago, confessed him publicly, and were baptized. You were, to use the language of Paul, brought out of darkness into light (cf. Eph. 5:8ff). Somebody taught you enough about Jesus to let you know that Godís love for you was real, and that love drew you to the cross. You laid down your sins there. You accepted forgiveness and vowed to follow Jesus all your life.
But you may have learned the gospel in the context of legalism. Soon after your salvation, you began to doubt your security in Christ. After all, you couldnít measure up to the demands someone was making on you ó demands that were represented as Godís. You werenít learning enough or praying enough. You hadnít brought the rest of your family to Christ ó or your roommates or the people in your office. Why, you hadnít even brought them to church yet! And you still had a temper that could get out of control or would get into trouble with your tongue. You sometimes wondered if you were really even saved.
So your joy turned into fear, and your early light steps became heavy, leaden steps. Were you doing enough? Were you going to lose your salvation? Was it even worth continuing to try ó with failure such a constant part of your spiritual experience?
Listen to someone who knows your fears and understands your torment: No, you havenít done enough in your Christian life to justify God in saving you. You never will. So forget it. You are saved on the basis of his grace, not your performance. You are redeemed by the blood shed on Skull Hill, not your ability to stop sinning. You are going to heaven on Jesusí ticket, not yours.
Do you need to know more Bible and pray more? Do you need to help people know Jesus? Should be you farther along in dealing with your bad temper than you are? Yes, yes, and yes! But you will make more progress in all these things by learning to be grateful for grace than by fearing you arenít doing enough. You will grow more in the security of your Fatherís love than in the neurotic frenzy to avoid his punishment. You will be a far more effective witness of the gospelís power by living in joy, gentleness, and grace toward others than by being combative, angry, and cantankerous.
No, your task is not to prove that you are right or that youíve joined the right church. Your task is to love God, imitate Jesus, and show compassion to others. You donít need to swat the theological gnats on your neighborís forehead with a spiritual sword but simply model love for the truth by being open to transformation in your own spiritual life.
Now Jesus is giving you a second touch. You are seeing some things clearly for the first time. God looks more like a Father than a warden. Jesus has a smile on his face for you rather than a scowl. You realize that youíre actually realizing the fulfillment of your old desires now that youíre in a grace-filled environment. You love worship. Youíve found a place where you can be real. You can confess your sins and be healed rather than ostracized. Prayer comes naturally, and you yearn for the Word of God.
What has happened to you? You have experienced a second touch from the hand of Jesus. He has given you clearer vision than you had at the beginning. You are not only light-sensitive, with a dim view of the kingdom of God. You are actually glimpsing and living the experience of the kingdom ó and yearning for more.
Somebody here this morning who is an alcoholic or drug abuser needs a second touch from Jesus. You may even be a Christian already. But you donít know that it is safe for you to reach out for help, to let somebody know how desperate you are. Youíre about to lose everything because of your addiction. Or maybe itís already too late to keep from losing it! But you see enough of Jesus and a life he could make possible for you that you want it. You just canít focus yet. You canít see clearly enough to find your way there. There are some people here who have already walked the path ahead of you, can testify to you about the power of that second touch, and can be your spiritual mentors on the path to sanity and spiritual health.
Somebody listening to me right now has a marriage that is foundering and about to die. Enough of the light of God gets through to you that you know it should be different. But you donít have much hope. You donít want your family to fall apart, but you donít know where to turn. It may be too late, and your marriage may end up in the divorce courts. You donít have to be married to that man or woman to go to heaven, but you do have to stay united to Christ! And some of us just might be able to help you. There are resources for you here. And there will always be a place for you here ó and in the heart of God.
Somebody here today is where Peter and the other apostles were at this juncture in the Gospel of Mark. Faith in Christ hasnít been what you had been conditioned to expect it to be, and the health-and-wealth promises somebody fed you have been as empty as the promises of Solomon-like splendor for Israel and the banishment of Roman occupiers from the Jewish homeland. Faith in Jesus never has been a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. It is the certain promise that nothing bad that ever happens to you can take away your spiritual security, that you will never be alone ó not even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
The bad news is that not everything comes clear for you when you meet Christ. Not everything gets fixed when you accept his salvation. Not every wound from your past is healed immediately. Not all the theology youíve been handed from youth or in the process of your conversion is confirmed as true. Not all your family issues, personal addictions, and financial problems disappear.
The good news is that the healing, stabilizing, sustaining touch of Jesus continues to come to us throughout a lifetime of struggle and growth ó until we see first one thing and then another more clearly and, finally, see the face of Jesus!
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