Walking Trees (Mark 8:22-26)

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Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling Sunday, September 19, 2021

Walking Trees

Introduction:

The Miracle Worker (1962): In the movie, which is based on true events, Helen Keller is both blind and deaf because of a fever she had as an infant. She can’t communicate. Nor can people communicate with her. Her family hires Anne Sullivan as her teacher to try to teach her how to communicate—to learn letters and words through sign language in the palm of her hand. Helen resists all attempts at being taught. Sullivan teaches her letters, but for Helen they have not meaning; it’s just a hand signal game. But once when they were retrieving water from a fountain outside the house, Anne sticks Hellen’s hand under the spout while she simultaneously gives the sign for water on her hand. Helen Keller describes the incident in her autobiography, The Story of My Life:

As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me.

This strange new sight came to Helen Keller though the living word that awakened her soul in combination with the physical touch of her teacher’s hand in her hand.

This must be something like how the blind man in this story from Mark felt. After his encounter with Jesus—when Jesus touched his hand—his whole world quivered with life.

But it’s also a picture of how God’s grace comes to each of us. In light of that, it’s worth walking through this story verse-by-verse:

v.22

22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.

This verse marks a major shift in the book of Mark. Jesus now begins his journey from Bethsaida (a small fishing village on the north shore of Galilee) down south to the city of Jerusalem where he will die on the cross.

What’s interesting is that this journey—which takes place from chapter 8-10—begins and ends with Jesus healing a blind man. Just as Jesus now departs for the cross, he heals a blind man. A right before he arrives in Jerusalem, he heals a blind man.

Why is this the case?

One reason is that this entire section is characterized by Jesus telling his disciples what he’s come to do. On three different occasions Jesus explicitly tells them, “I’m going to be handed over, mocked, spit on, and killed. Three days later I will rise.” But the disciples are blinded by their expectations.

They are the ones who need new eyes because they can’t see or understand how God will reveal his grace and glory in their lives.

Are we so different from the disciples? We have our own blind spots. It’s easy to lie to ourselves about who we really are; excuse our faults, minimize our sins.

Paul Tripp writes: “My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror.”

It’s also easy to be pessimistic and miss the ways God’s is revealing his glory and grace in our lives.

This is one of the reasons we emphasize Growth Groups at Trinity Church. We need other people in our lives who know us, listen to us, pray for us. People who are willing to point out things that are perhaps hard to hear, but that we need to hear.

We need people in our lives who, like the people in this blind man’s life, are willing to bring us to Jesus so that our eyes can be opened to what God is doing in us and around us.

v.23

23 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?”

In my previous sermon, Jesus uses spit to heal a deaf and mute man. I pointed out that while this may seem unusual to our modern sensibilities, in the ancient world, people believed that saliva had medicinal value. It was used as an agent of healing.

With that said, the way Jesus goes about healing this man stands out in two ways.

1. Jesus takes him by the hand.

Like a father walking down the sidewalk, hand in hand with his son, Jesus walks with this man. It’s a gesture of kindness and intimacy. It’s also a picture of faith.

There’s a hymn we sing called “Father I Know.” In one of the verses, the lyrics say,

I would not have the restless will that hurries to and fro,

Seeking for some great thing to do or secret thing to know;

I would be treated as a child, and guided where I go

We want our lives to go a certain way, but faith in Jesus is saying, God, here is my hand, take it and lead me like a child. Lead me and I will follow. You know what’s best for me.

In Isaiah 41:13 it says: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you”

Through this simple act of intimacy, Jesus is saying, I’m your God. I’m here to help you.

2. Throughout this encounter, Jesus uses his body as an instrument of grace

But instead, he engages this man with his body. He leads him by the hand. He uses saliva. He puts his hands on him. And then as we’ll see, he lays hands on him again.

Surely Jesus who can raise the dead and calm the storm through the word of his power could just say “Receive your sight. Be healed.: But instead, Jesus used his body for this man’s healing.

One commentator writes: God is not embarrassed about the earthiness of the human body, and even delights to use it as a vehicle of his grace.

  • • How many parents have stood face to face with a defiant and angry child—only to finally embrace him and say, “I love you.”? In that moment, suddenly all the emotion pours out and he weeps.
  • • Have you ever felt like someone doesn’t like you, you always have your guard up; but then when she’s talking to you, she gently puts her hand on your shoulder? Not in a flirtatious way, but a reassuring way that says, “Hey, I care.” Your guard goes down.
  • • Perhaps you’ve struggles with an illness and the elders of the church have come to pray for you for healing. The Bible in James 5 says that the elders are to place their hands on you. There is something humbling, overwhelming and powerful when all the hands are placed on you. Or perhaps you’ve had someone grab you around the shoulder and pray for you.

It’s no wonder Paul in several of his letters encouraged Christians to greet one another with a holy kiss as part of the church liturgy. Grace comes through the body.

In the book, Handle with Care, the author goes through all the Gospels and points out how often Jesus touched people. She writes: For fear of sinful sexual touch, we limit all or most touch. Yet our bodies are literally aching to be touched.

Our bodies are not just shells that were created to house what’s really important—our souls. Our bodies are holy and powerful. They are used by God to deliver grace.

Jesus used his body in life, in his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the grave—to bring grace to the world.

And that’s what he does for this blind man. He uses his body to bless and to give grace.

After making physical contact with this man, Jesus then asks, “Do you see anything?” The man’s answer is both strange and encouraging.

v.24-26

24 [The man] looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” 25 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. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

As I was studying for this passage, I thought of Lord of the Rings fans who can’t help but think of Tolkien mythical walking tree characters called Ents!

It’s fairly easy to grasp what’s happening here, but it’s more challenging to understand why this has happened.

What’s happened is that Jesus lays his hands on this man to heal him, but the result is that he is not completely cured. He sees people shuffling around in the distance, but they are just blurry stick figures walking about.

We get that. But what’s confusing is: Wait! Isn’t Jesus God? He’s not like Eleven in Stranger Things who uses her powers to move things and her nose starts bleeding and then she’s exhausted.

Jesus can say the Word and it happens. It’s nothing to him. Why doesn’t he heal this man in one fell swoop?

Two reasons:

1. This story is a picture of the disciples.

In fact, it’s an illustration of the next story in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark 8:27-33. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They answer: “People say your John the Baptist, or Elijah, or a prophet.” Jesus asks, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ—the Messiah.” They get it! They see what other people don’t see!

But then, right after that, Jesus teaches them that he must suffer and die and rise three days later. Peter responds by taking Jesus aside and rebuking him.

Do you see the parallel?

They see who Jesus is—he’s the Messiah! But they can’t yet see him clearly. No better than this man can see the people who look like trees walking around.

They need more contact with Jesus first. Only when they encounter that actual death and resurrection of Jesus will they see him clearly.

2. This story is a picture of us.

It’s a picture of us because becoming a disciple of Jesus is a gradual process. Your growth in holiness doesn’t happen instantly with your first encounter with Jesus. His grace visibly unfolds in your life slowly. Sometimes even painfully.

Last weekend, Annmarie and drove up to Hyalite together to go for a trail run on Lake Shore trail around the reservoir. (I have her permission to share this.) I drove my truck and as we were getting out, Annmarie said, “Jeff, don’t worry about taking your keys with you. I have an extra set with me. Just keep your keys here, inside the truck.” Usually, I just hide my keys on the outside of the truck so it’s not a big deal. But I said, “Ok.” We got out, stretched, and started running. We went about ½ mile when Annmarie said, “I have some bad news. I accidentally locked my keys in the truck. I feel so bad. I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did that!” She really felt horrible.

One of the things you should know about me is if you sin against me or treat me harshly—I can forgive you and get past it quickly. No big deal. But if you somehow inconvenience me—now you’ve crossed a line! And then I tend to walk through what happened—repeatedly—so it never happens again. It’s one of my besetting sins.

And this situation was inconvenient! Two of our kids had a cross-country meet later that day, my parents were coming to town, we were 20 miles from town with no cell service.

When Annmarie told me what happened, I knew what I should do; tell her, “Don’t worry about it. This is something I would have done. In fact I’ve done it a million times.” But instead, there was something building in me that had to come up. I just had to say, Now why is it that you insisted that I lock my keys in the truck. Why was that so important to you? When I lock my door, I always use my key to lock it so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.”

We hitched a ride back to town. Found a locksmith to help us. It all worked out. Later, I apologized to Annmarie for not being more gracious. Her response, Jeff, I thought you response was fairly measured. You didn’t repeat yourself over and over again.

In other words, Annmarie knows that I still see trees walking around. I don’t always see God’s grace and how he’s working and so I try to control thing for myself. And yet, I’m not blind. I do see it. It’s just that I’m a work in progress.

And so are you. And so are the people in your life.

We need the touch of Jesus as it were more than once.

It’s a good thing to have to keep coming back to him again and again.

It keeps us humble and dependent. And that’s a good place to be.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; [but then, in the future] we will see face to face.”

That is the hope of the gospel.

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