SEEING MORE CLEARLY
“I see people; they look like trees walking around.” (Mark 8:23-24)
Did you ever hear about the miracle of Jesus that didn’t quite get the job done on the first try? Jesus did a lot of miraculous healings. He made paralyzed people walk, deaf people hear, blind people see, and dead people live. All of Jesus’ miracles produced instant and total success—except one. It was perhaps the strangest of all Jesus’ miracles, one that didn’t seem to work quite right the first time around. Only on the second try was it a complete success. In Mark 8 the Bible says,
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 man’s 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 man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village” (Mark 8:22-25).
This was an odd miracle, don’t you agree? There are a number of striking things about it. One is the way Jesus led the man outside the village before he healed him and then told him not to go back into the village to tell others. Jesus could have gotten more publicity by doing it in front of everybody or by urging the man to hurry back to the village and tell everybody. But apparently Jesus was more interested in making personal contact with this man and dealing with him as an individual than in using the miracle to stir up publicity.
Another striking thing is that Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and laid his hands on him. Was there some sort of magic in Jesus’ spit or in his touch? No, Jesus did many miracles simply by speaking without touching, and sometimes he healed people who were miles away. Jesus obviously didn’t have to touch people or spit on them to heal them. And yet Jesus did so with this man and with some others as well.
Why? There may be a number of reasons, but let me suggest just one. If you read the Bible’s record of Jesus’ many different miracles, you find that he often used spitting or touching to establish direct, physical, personal contact with people who had suffered from long-time disability or chronic illness. These people were often beggars and outcasts, seldom touched by others, left out of social life or fellowship. Jesus not only healed their physical illness, but he brought emotional and relational healing by getting close to them and touching them and even applying his own saliva to these people whom others had avoided for so long. In some settings it might be an insult for someone to spit on you, but for the Son of God to lovingly touch you and dab a bit of his own saliva on you was a huge honor and comfort.
Having looked at these aspects of the miracle, though, we still need to deal with the most unusual part, the part that seems embarrassing at first glance: the fact that this miracle wasn’t an immediate, 100 percent success. The first time Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, the man had some sense of light and could make out some shapes, but he was still a long way from seeing clearly. When he looked at the people around him, he couldn’t eyes and noses and hair and fingers. He could only see long blobs that looked like trees walking around. That was better than seeing nothing, but it was a long way from ideal eyesight. Nothing like this happened in any other miracle of Jesus. There were other miracles where he tried to keep publicity to a minimum and other miracles of spitting and touching, but this was Jesus’ only miracle that was a halfway success, where the healing wasn’t complete right away.
Still, why such a strange, two-stage miracle? I’m sure that if you could ask the healed man his opinion of all this, he wouldn’t complain. He’d been totally blind before he met Jesus, so even if he had only received partial vision, it still would have been a great improvement. And, of course, the healing didn’t stop there. The man wasn’t left in a blur but was restored to full vision. So if this miracle sounds a bit embarrassing, that’s only because we tend to measure it by the standard of Jesus’ other miracles, not by the value of the miracle itself. I’m sure the man was so thrilled to have his vision back that he didn’t care how Jesus had done it.
But that still doesn’t explain why the miracle happened in two stages. Was it because Jesus ran into a case in which he couldn’t quite get it right the first time and needed more than one try? It may seem that way at first. But it’s clear from the Bible that even the worst case of blindness would be no match for Jesus’ power. Jesus brought dead bodies back to life! Compared to that, fixing a pair of eyes was minor surgery.
So it couldn’t be that Jesus was unable to heal those eyes instantly. He must have deliberately chosen to do it in two stages. Why? Because Jesus wanted to dramatize something that was happening at a spiritual level.
This miracle happened at point in Jesus’ ministry when many people who had been blind to God were starting to catch glimpses of something they had never seen before. They heard Jesus speak with great authority. They watched him drive out demons. They saw him do amazing miracles. They sensed that there was something unusual and special about Jesus. They knew it had something to do with God; but they still didn’t see clearly that Jesus was himself God in human flesh or that they could have eternal life only through him. They were starting to see, but they needed to see better.
Maybe you’re like that. Maybe there was a time when you had no interest in God. Spiritual things bored you and made no sense to you. You were totally blind to the things of God. But now something has changed in you. You’ve become more curious about Jesus. You may even feel he has touched you in some way. You’ve been finding out more about Jesus, and you’re even starting to see something. You’re starting to see a something very special about Jesus, and you’re starting to see the importance of pleasing God and of living forever.
You see more than you once did–you’ve come to that point–but you’re still not able to get it in clear focus. Like the man Jesus touched, you’re not totally blind anymore, but you don’t quite see, either. You’ve improved from blindness to blurriness but don’t yet have clear vision. You know there’s something special about Jesus, but you can’t say for sure who he is, or who you are. You can’t say for sure that you’re not a Christian, but you can’t say for sure that you are a Christian, either. You feel touched by the Lord and you can see more than you did, but it all looks blurry and hard to define. If that’s where you are, then you’re exactly the person Jesus had in mind when he chose to do this miracle the way he did, and you’re exactly the sort of person God is talking to when he tells this story in the Bible.
Jesus touched a blind man, and the man started to see, but only in a blur. Then Jesus touched him again, and the man could see clearly. Jesus had a reason for doing it this way: he wanted to dramatize the condition of people who are starting to see some spiritual realities but are still unclear and confused.
Who Is This?
This miracle comes at the halfway point of Mark’s account of Jesus’ life. If you don’t know much about Jesus and are curious to know more, the Bible book of Mark is a great introduction. God inspired Mark to write in a way that puts you right in the shoes of people meeting Jesus for the first time and lets you ask questions right along with them. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed story of how Jesus burst on the scene, saying and doing all sorts of amazing things. As you watch these events unfold, you find people asking many of the same questions you want to ask.
For example, right away in Mark chapter 1, we see Jesus as a brilliant teacher who spoke with great authority about the kingdom of God. He drove out demons and healed many illnesses. “The people were all so amazed,” writes Mark, “that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching–and with authority!'” (Mark 1:27).
Mark 4:37-41 tells how Jesus was with his disciples in a boat on a stormy lake. They were scared out of their wits, but Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still.” It became completely calm. Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?” (Mark 4:37-41)
That’s how people reacted to Jesus. “What is this? Who is this?” People saw something in him, but they weren’t quite sure what to make of it. According to Mark 6, people began coming up with theories about Jesus. Many were starting to think that Jesus was a prophet, like the great prophets of long ago (Mark 6:15).
Jesus kept right on teaching and doing great things, and people went right on asking their questions. Jesus used a small boy’s lunch to feed a crowd of five thousand men and their families. Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute so that he could hear well and speak plainly. And what was the reaction? “People were overwhelmed with amazement,” writes Mark. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’ (Mark 7:37). Then Jesus fed another huge crowd, this time four thousand men and their families.
Even after all this, nobody–not even his closest friends–could see clearly who Jesus was or why he had come. Just before the two-stage healing of the blind man, Jesus had a discussion with his disciples, and they still didn’t get it. Jesus finally ended the discussion with an exasperated question: “Do you still not understand?”
Shortly after that discussion, the blind man came up to Jesus. Jesus wanted to heal him, but he also wanted to dramatize the spiritual condition of the people around him. So Jesus touched the man and then asked him what he saw. The man said he could see some shapes but they were blurred. He was honest. He didn’t try to pretend he saw clearly. Then Jesus touched him again, and everything came into focus.
Seeing Jesus Clearly
It’s right after this miracle, right at the center of Mark’s book, that we find out what it means to go from blurred vision to clear sight in a spiritual sense.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:27-29).
At last! Finally somebody saw Jesus clearly! Not just some foggy idea that Jesus was doing impressive things or that he was some great prophet. Peter saw that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah and Savior, the one and only Son of the living God. The miracle of a two-stage healing from blindness has just been occurred at a spiritual level. Already earlier, Peter and the other disciples were starting to see something, but now they saw Jesus clearly.
Peter didn’t gain this insight on his own, any more than the blind man gained his sight on his own. Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you… for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
Only God can give the ability to see Jesus for who he is. We need something as miraculous as opening the eyes of the blind before we can see Jesus this way. We need something as miraculous as opening the ears of the deaf before we can hear Jesus’ speaking to us, something as miraculous as opening the mouth of the mute before we can declare with our mouths that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
God makes this happen. When people are blind to him, God may give sudden, almost instantaneous insight and faith. With others, though, the Lord may do it more gradually and in more than one stage. He takes people who are spiritually blind to him and starts by giving them a glimpse of who he is. Eventually he takes them beyond blurred vision to see him clearly and to trust him.
My friend Serguei Sossedkine grew up in Moscow as the son of Russian atheists. As a teenager Serguei started listening to Christian radio broadcasts, including the Back to God Hour’s Russian radio program. This was in the mid-1980’s, and the broadcasts were beamed into Russia from outside the country, because at that time the communist government opposed to Christianity. After several more years, Serguei says, “my mind was filled with anti-communist and God-seeking thoughts. I realized I was struggling with deep spiritual questions.” Serguei was starting to see, but still not as clearly as he needed to.
Then one day, when Serguei was 18 years old, he went to another city to visit a friend. There his friend gave him a precious parcel, a New Testament. On the three-hour train ride back to Moscow, Serguei read the account of Jesus’ life in the gospel according to Luke. He says, “I was very impressed with Luke’s presentation of the personality of Jesus Christ. Back home, late that evening, I prayed to invite the Lord Jesus into my heart and to devote my life to Him.”
Since that time, Serguei has grown in his faith, and he wants to help others see Jesus clearly. In fact, the reason I know Serguei’s story is that he’s is now the speaker for the Back to God Hour’s Russian broadcast.
I mention Serguei because I know that some of you are like him. Your family and country may be different, but like Serguei, you’ve lived without God. Now you want something better and you’re starting to see certain spiritual realities. What you see may seem blurry and confusing, but you know it’s real, and you want to see more clearly. If that’s where you find yourself, be encouraged! Jesus gives clearer sight to those who seek it. God may be touching you and helping you see more clearly even now.
Like Serguei and like Peter, you and I need to see that, yes, Jesus is an extraordinary person and a great prophet, just as people thought he was—but Jesus is also infinitely more. He is the Christ, the Savior of sinners, the divine Son of God in human flesh. Peter saw clearly who Jesus was, and later he came to see clearly why Jesus had come: not only to do miracles or to teach but to die on a cross to pay the penalty for human sin. When Jesus first said he would have to die, Peter protested; but Jesus rebuked Peter and insisted on the necessity of his own death. Eventually, when it was all over and Jesus had risen from the dead, he helped Peter and the other disciples to see that his death had bought forgiveness for all who trust him.
So if you’re starting to see the Lord in your life but can’t see as well as you’d like, don’t give up. At the same time, don’t pretend everything is fine. Be grateful that you’re not as blind as you once were—but don’t stop there. Be honest about your condition. When Jesus asked the blind man, “Do you see anything?” the man answered that he could see some shapes, but he couldn’t yet see the way he wanted to see. Likewise, if you don’t have a clear understanding of Jesus and of your relationship to him, don’t settle for that. Admit that you need more.
You may get the impression sometimes that it’s really not possible to be sure about who Jesus is. You know he’s not just another man, but who is he? You may think it’s good to have a vague hope that you might go to heaven and yet think it’s impossible to know for sure. You may think the Bible is a good book but think it’s not possible to see clearly what it says.
You may even be tempted to prefer it that way. As long as things are vague, as long there are no clear ideas or definite doctrines, you can wander along without having to make any clear, definite response. These days many people seem to like a vague something that they call spirituality, but they feel threatened the moment anybody says anything definite about God, or anything clear about the way of salvation, or anything precise about how the Lord expects his people to behave.
Even some of us preachers can make it sound like vagueness is a virtue. But it’s not. Granted, we don’t know everything, but we can know some things very clearly, and we need to know them. We need to ask Jesus to take us beyond muddled, unclear vision to see him clearly and to trust him completely.
A Muslim Meets Jesus
Lamin Sanneh grew up in a devout Islamic family in the African country of Gambia and later became a university professor. Growing up among Muslims, he learned the existence of one great God and the importance of living a moral, disciplined life, things for which he is still grateful. But though he learned some good things in Islam, Lamin Sanneh began to ask hard questions about his relationship to God, and his mind kept going back to Jesus. The Koran speaks of Jesus as a prophet of God but not as the crucified one. Most Muslims believe that it was not Jesus, but someone else, who died on the cross.
Lamin Sanneh kept thinking about Jesus and about whether it might have been Jesus who died on that cross, after all. This line of thinking terrified him, for he felt that Christ might draw him away from Islam. He even tried to stop thinking so much about Jesus. But, he says, “As hard as I tried, I could not run away from the questions: Who died on the cross? If we don’t know his name, how can we know the God who put him there? But suppose Jesus did die on the cross, and suppose God intended it to be so; how would that change our knowledge of God?”
Lamin Sanneh was starting to see, and after a time of questions and blurred vision, he saw clearly. If Jesus was really the one crucified, he writes,
It would follow that God actually did demonstrate his solidarity with humanity by visibly entering our world and defeating death itself, allowing us to understand life in a wholly new way, with redemptive love able to overcome human wickedness and reveal the true face of God. Seen in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ,” he says, “all of human nature, indeed all of history, appears to gather at one sharp, poignant place. It all began to make sense to me. The need for the cross seemed so compelling and true to the way life is.
As it all became clear and made sense, Lamin Sanneh put his faith in Jesus, crucified and risen.
My friend, I pray that you also will reach the point where you say, “It all began to make sense to me.” Don’t settle for a vague spirituality. Jesus brings it all into focus. He gives you a definite picture of who God is, for Jesus is himself God. Jesus also helps you to see clearly who you are. Apart from his grace, you are spiritually blind and deaf and dead, but you can be born again when you trust him and he comes to live in you. Jesus helps you see that your sin is nailed to the cross along with him, that you are raised to eternal life along with his resurrection body, and that the moment you trust him, you can be sure that he is your Savior and that you will live forever.
What do you see? Do you see Jesus clearly as your God and Savior? Do see yourself clearly as his follower and friend forever? If so, I rejoice with you. But if it still seems blurry to you, if your vision still vague, go ahead and admit it. Tell Jesus what you see so far, and pray for the faith to see better.
Then pick up a Bible and read the book of Mark or one of the other biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, by Luke or John or Matthew. Discover more about Jesus. If you still have questions, go to someone you know who is a clear-minded Christian, and talk with that person about your questions. Go to a church that clearly presents Jesus and the way of salvation in him. If you need help finding a church like that, or if you need someone with whom you can discuss your questions, then, please, contact us here at The Back to God Hour. We’d love to help. In just a moment, we’ll tell you how to get in touch.
If your heart’s desire is to see Jesus clearly and to know him, you may be sure that the Lord will make it happen. Let’s pray for that right now.
Father in heaven, thank you for sending your Son Jesus into this world. Thank you for bringing many people to a clear faith in him, and thank you also for what you are doing in the lives of people who are starting to see at least some glimpses of your truth. Lord, take away any remaining vagueness and confusion, that they may see Jesus clearly as your Son, the only Savior, the one who came to earth bring us your light, who died to cancel our sins, and who rose again that we might live forever. In his name we pray, Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.