1. Application

Christ Alone Can Open Blind Eyes and Soften Hard Hearts

Mark 8:11–33 (ESV)

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.

The focus of this pericope is on the disciples’ confession that Jesus is the Christ. How did they come to make this confession given their hard hearts? Jesus must have opened their blind eyes so that they could see him for who he. Mark records the healing of the blind in between the scene on the boat and Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ. He has arranged material in this way in order to help us understand how hard-hearted disciples can come to realize who God is, so that also we can come to understand who Jesus is.

How do we come to understand who Jesus is? Naturally we cannot.

  • Just as a blind man cannot see light by himself, in the same way we are spiritually blind and unable to come to faith in Jesus by ourselves. That’s why we’ve seen so many people in the Gospel of Mark who don’t understand Jesus. Pharisees see sign after sign and still they are not satisfied. The disciples spend more than a year with Jesus and they also don’t get it.

  • Their example is not an anomaly. It is testimony to the natural state of the human race. We’re all blinded by sin. By nature we want to keep God at arms' length; we want to live in God’s world in a way that suits our preferences and desires. And the result is that even if we, like the disciples, come to a place where we want to start engaging with God, we find it very difficult, impossible even. The apostle Paul teaches this same truth in Ephesians 2:1–10 , where he compares us to dead people. By nature we are like dead bodies, unable to see God for who he is because we are so captivated by our sinful desires.

  • This truth has implications for us today. If faith in Jesus Christ is not naturally within our power, if we are dead and blinded by our sin, then we need God to make us alive. We need God to open our eyes. We need God’s help if we are to believe in him. That’s one of the many reasons why we always pray before we read from the Bible. Even as Christians, we realize that God needs to help us understand his Word correctly. He needs to work a miracle in us, just like he worked a miracle for the blind man.

How do we come to understand who Jesus is? Jesus can help.

  • The good news we must hear in this passage is that Jesus can help us. He wants to help us. The blind man comes to Jesus and he helps him. When it comes to our spiritual blindness and our hard hearts, we can likewise know that Jesus can and wants to help us. If you’ve ever struggled to believe something you read in the Bible or to live in the light of God’s truth, don’t despair. Jesus can and wants to help you.

  • We’re not told in this passage how Jesus works to cure spiritual blindness. From the rest of Mark’s Gospel we learn that it involves God’s Word. In Mark 4:1–34 Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of God and how that kingdom grows silently, quietly, and steadily as God’s Word is heard. God’s Word might not look or sound very impressive, but it has power. The power of God’s Word is also emphasized by the apostle Paul when he describes it as the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17; see also Hebrews 4:12). In a similar way, the prophet Jeremiah compares God’s Word to fire and a hammer that breaks hard rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23:29).

  • The message we can learn from this is that if our hearts are naturally as hard as rocks as a result of our sinful nature (Ezekiel 36:26) unwilling to bend before God, then we must not despair. God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit can get through to our inmost being and enable us to see Jesus for who he really is. Through God’s Word the Holy Spirit can work true faith in our hearts. God’s Word has the power to change our lives.

  • The power of God’s Word to change lives is something which we have already seen in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus calmed a storm with his word (Mark 4:35–41), drove out demons with his word (Mark 5:1–20), raised a little girl from the dead (Mark 5:35–43) and healed a paralytic (Mark 2:1–12). Jesus’ Word has great power. We should therefore be encouraged: life-changing transformation happens when God’s Word is read, taught, meditated upon, and prayed. When we’re busy with the Bible, Jesus can lay his hands on our hearts and work true and joyful faith within us.

How do we come to understand who Jesus is? We must be patient.

  • A final observation from the healing of the blind man is that we should be patient with God and with one another. Many people think the Christian life is one where God must work miraculous experiences and big changes in every moment of our lives all the time. We must constantly be on some kind of religious high. Almost as if Paul’s Damascus road experience (Acts 9:1–19) is what we should normally expect as Christians. As a result, many Christians think there is something wrong when they experience depression or when we they through a time of ordinary obedience.

  • With the blind man and the example of the disciples, we see that actually, that is not the way in which God normally works. Growth in faith and even conversion is often a slow and gradual process. The blind man first sees partially before his sight is fully restored.

  • The disciples spent a long time learning from Jesus, reflecting on what he said and did before the Spirit brought them to realize he is the Messiah. And even then, their understanding was partial. Peter makes a big announcement You are the Christ, but then immediately afterwards, when he hears Jesus talk about suffering and death, he rebukes Jesus. He tries to stop Jesus from doing his work. It is almost as if he saw men as trees walking, he saw something of who Jesus is but he did not yet have a complete understanding.

  • These examples encourage us to be patient in our Christian life. It takes time for us to learn the truths of God’s Word. It requires discipline, meditation, and godly habits of listening to the Bible so that the Holy Spirit can draw God’s truth into our hearts. Sometimes there can be big and sudden changes in our lives where we grow especially close to God. Normally those are times of suffering and sadness. At other times, we might feel that God is far away and we’re not experiencing the emotions that we hoped for. In both circumstances, remember God is working to change us through his Word and Spirit. Don’t be impatient, looking for quick fixes and emotional highs. Don’t give up on the means of grace by which God has promised to produce and strengthen faith.

From the confession of the disciples and the healing of the blind man, we learn that Jesus is the Christ who can open blind eyes. In response to this truth, we should be eager to pray to God (since we need God’s help to understand his Word). We should be eager to listen to God’s Word (since God the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to change us). And we should be patient, not giving up on the means of grace (the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) nor seeking experiences.