“Enlightenment Through Christ”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

Because it is still 2021, our theme for the year continues to be “Be the Light”.  Clay and I don’t have another light-based sermon series scheduled for a little while yet, but I thought it was appropriate to revisit the theme in a one-off sermon anyway. 

In particular, I thought all of us could stand to be reminded that even though we’re supposed to be the light, we aren’t supposed to be the source of the light.  Instead, that source is Jesus.  If we want to know what light is, we should look to Him.

However, this doesn’t merely mean looking at what Jesus said and saying the same thing.  Rather, we need to consider the whole pattern of His life and teaching.  2000 years ago, many people rejected Jesus, and they continue to do so today for the same reasons.  Even the people who believed in and listened to Him ran into problems with that, and if we think we are above those problems, we are sadly mistaken!  This morning, then, let’s look at a context from Mark 8 to see what it can teach us about enlightenment through Christ.

The first of the three stories in the chapter that we’re going to be considering concerns THE PHARISEES.  Here, consider Mark 8:11-13.  As always when we study Mark, it’s important to remember that the gospel is only loosely chronological, but it is tightly thematic.  When Mark puts two stories next to each other, it’s not necessarily because they happened sequentially in time.  Instead, it’s because the stories have something to do with each other and offer commentary on each other.

Here, the Pharisees have come to Jesus asking for a sign.  On its face, this request sounds reasonable.  However, the opposite is true.  Jesus has just worked the mighty miracle of the feeding of the 4000, but that’s still not enough for these guys.  They want another sign!  Jesus declines to jump through their hoops, but based on their previous performance, if He had obliged them instead, they only would have looked for an excuse to ask for yet another sign.  Their problem is not absence of proof.  It is the absence of a good heart.

In the same way, we must consider whether we are coming to Jesus with a good heart.  This has to do first of all with His divinity.  We have plenty of evidence that He is indeed the Son of God.  The question, though, is whether we are looking for reasons to believe or excuses to disbelieve.  If the latter, no apologetic argument ever will be enough to convince us.

The same holds true of the authority of Jesus.  There are two hearts with which we can come to the word.  We can come to it wanting most of all to carry out our own desires, or we can come to it with the desire only to please Jesus. 

Here too, we must be honest.  Do I study the Scriptures looking for the tiniest clue about what Jesus wants, so I can do that?  Or, instead, do I reject any but the most overwhelming evidence, insisting that my obtuseness leaves me with the right to do whatever I want?  If the latter, we have company among the people of 2000 years ago, but it’s not the company we want!

Next, let’s consider how the enlightenment of Jesus affects THE DISCIPLES.  Let’s continue with our reading in Mark 8:14-21.  In this story, we see a clear difference of priorities between Jesus and even His closest followers.  Jesus is concerned with the evil hearts of the Pharisees and of Herod, who also is a problem.  Using metaphor, He warns His disciples to watch out for the leaven of their influence. 

That’s not where the disciples are.  Apparently somebody goofed, and they neglected to lay in provisions for the boat ride ahead.  They’re out of bread!  As a result, when Jesus starts talking about leaven, their minds go to the yeast in the wheat products they eat. 

From our perspective, this might seem like a reasonable mistake to make, but Jesus doesn’t take it that way.  Instead, He uses the language of Old Testament prophecy to condemn them.  These were men who had seen Jesus make meals for 5000 and 4000 people out of a tiny amount of food.  If they had thought about that, they would have realized that it didn’t matter whether they had bread, as long as they had Jesus.

Brethren, this is one to which all of us need to pay attention.  As with the disciples, our preferred state is to have both bread and Jesus.  We want our relationship with God, but we want all of our earthly comforts and blessings too.  When we lose those things, where is our focus?  Do we seek Jesus, believing that He is enough, or do we start worrying because we don’t have any bread?  As we see, the latter can be a problem even for good-hearted disciples, but if it’s a problem we have, it highlights our need for growth in understanding.

Finally, let’s consider the miracle of healing THE BLIND MAN in Mark 8:22-26.  This is surely one of the most difficult miracles in the whole ministry of Jesus to understand.  The blind man is brought to Jesus, Jesus lays hands on him, but his vision is not fully restored.  Rather than seeing clearly, in his own words, he sees men like trees walking around.  Only after Jesus lays hands on him again does he begin to see clearly.

When we consider this miracle in isolation, we find ourselves asking, “How in the world does this make sense?”  If Jesus had enough power to heal the guy at all, why did it take two tries to get it right?  Did He have to get a power-up from the Holy Spirit before He could try again?

The mistake here, of course, is considering the miracle in isolation.  When we’re talking about the One who did all things well, the only reasonable conclusion is that He healed the man in this way because He meant to.  In the context of stories about people who refuse to understand or who understand only incompletely, His purpose in doing so is clear.

Here, then, is what is going on.  Just like Jesus healed the paralytic to show that He had authority on earth to forgive sins, He healed the blind man in stages to show that our spiritual enlightenment comes in the same way—in stages.  Nobody is presented with a perfect understanding of Jesus and His will the moment they’re baptized.  Instead, we have to seek Him and learn from Him in order to conform our understanding to His.

This certainly happened with the apostles.  In the next chapter, Peter is about to have a big leap in spiritual understanding when he confesses that Jesus is the Christ.  However, even then Peter wasn’t done.  On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, his violent response shows how much more he has to learn.

So too with us.  None of us have it all figured out, nor will we.  However, the more diligently we seek the Lord, and continue to seek Him, the more enlightenment we will find.