"Do You See Anything?"#88-25
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 21, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Mark 8-9
They called him the "Beast," Pastor Ron. He's got a jaw like a slab of granite. A booming voice and a powerful presence that fills a room. I saw a picture of him when he was a younger man. It was hanging in the hallway of the gymnasium of the seminary where, decades earlier, he had been a student and a star basketball player. They called him the Beast because no one could contend with him for a rebound, crashing the boards, down low in the paint. But the nickname, the Beast, it stuck for reasons other than basketball.
When he was a student at the seminary, he volunteered for a year-long internship in Panama, and he drove there. He drove to Panama through Mexico and Central America in his 1967 Dodge Dart. And then after a year in Panama, he volunteered to go be a missionary to the Anga people in the remote highlands of Papua, New Guinea. This time he flew. And he spent eight years there in the highlands, hacking his way through the jungle with a machete, sleeping on the ground, killing snakes, organizing projects, and preaching the Gospel.
And years later when I was a student at the seminary where he had attended, and I heard people talk about Pastor Ron, they still called him the Beast. I've gotten to know Pastor Ron over the past ten years. I served with him as an assistant pastor in the church he led as senior pastor. As I've come to know him, I still see him as the Beast, but there's more to see—seeing where his heart is as a pastor—watching him with children, with the elderly, with developmentally disabled adults; it's given me a clearer picture of who he is. My initial picture of him as the power forward, the globe-trotting, highland-trekking, snake- crushing agent of God's kingdom, the Beast with the booming voice, whose powerful presence fills a room, that impression, that picture wasn't false. It was just blurry.
When I was in third grade, the optometrist said I suffered from myopia. But for two years, I refused to wear the eyeglasses prescribed for me, preferring instead to settle for the blurry picture of the world around me. The reality that I saw wasn't false; it was just distorted, and sometimes misleading.
Over the last few weeks on this program, we've been listening to the first half of a dramatic biography of Jesus of Nazareth. The biography known as the Gospel, the Good News, according to Mark. As my teacher, Dr. James Voelz, says, "Mark's Gospel is about seeing. It's about seeing Jesus more clearly."
Mark's account of Jesus shows us that seeing Jesus usually happens in stages. There's a first picture of Jesus, a blurry picture. And then there's a second picture that's clearer. Now, the blurriness isn't due to any problem with Jesus. The problem, the myopic vision, is with us. The Bible calls this myopia "sin." Now, in some ways, sin isn't just near-sightedness; it's blindness. The Bible says that the god of this world, lowercase "g," god of this world, has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the Good News of the glory of the Messiah of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 4:4). The sin of unbelief is like blindness because it keeps people from seeing Jesus. Now, if you suffer from this, from this unbelief, and you just stumbled across this program, then just hold on for a bit. Keep listening and see.
Or maybe you're a believer and you follow Jesus. You're devoted to Him, but sometimes you're like the man who brought his son to Jesus, his demon-possessed son. In a conversation recorded in the Gospel of Mark 9, the man says to Jesus, "If You can do anything, have compassion and help us." Jesus says, "If you can? All things are possible for the one who believes." And straightway the father of the child cries out and says, "I do believe. Help my unbelief." In other words, "Jesus, help me see You more clearly."
The way you and I see Jesus, and with Him ourselves isn't necessarily false, but it's blurry. For example, we tend to see Jesus and ourselves through the distorted lens of power. Think about what you consider to be your most pressing problems in this life. What do they all have in common? I'm willing to bet that it has something to do with power, or lack of it. You need more willpower for your diet. You need more buying power for your purchases. You need more medicinal power for your health. You need more predictive power for your investments. You need more data power for your decisions. You need more political power for your values, and you need more measures to ensure that you don't lose the power that you've got. And if you perceive that Jesus has no power to help you in your situation, then you won't be attracted to Him. And if you think that He can help you, then you will be attracted to Him.
And the first followers of Jesus saw things similarly. They were raised in a culture attuned to power differential, and they were keenly aware that in the balance of power of their current situation, that they had gotten the short end of the stick. But they had the promise of the Messiah, God's chosen King who would come in power and shift the balance in their favor. And so far in the first half of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been playing the part. He's been crashing the boards like a beast, hacking His way through demonic strongholds, trekking around Galilee, performing powerful signs and wonders. Power is literally radiating from Him. And then Jesus takes three of His disciples up a mountain, and when they get there the gloves come off, and the curtain's pulled back, and they see Him for who He is, shining like the sun, God's Son, the Source of all power.
And this initial picture, Mark paints for us of a powerful Jesus, it's not false, but it's blurry. In the first half of his account, Mark paints picture of a powerful Jesus, but he wants us to see more. And to prepare us for this second stage of sight, Mark has strategically enlisted an important account—an account that none of the other Gospel writers share. Mark puts it right in the center of his Gospel, like a hinge to hold the two halves of the Gospel together. It's a strange story about seeing, in stages.
Now on the one hand, Mark is reporting facts, a unique historical event that actually happened. But on the other hand, Mark is telling this story and Jesus is enacting this story because they want you and I to see ourselves in it. Listen and see. It starts in Mark 8:22. It's when Jesus and His disciples are traveling around northern Israel, and they go into a town called Bethsaida, and they bring to Jesus, a blind man. They plead with Him that He touch him. He takes the blind man by the hand and leads him outside of the village. After He spit in his eyes and placed His hands on him, He says to him, "Do you see anything?" And upon looking up, the man started saying, "I see people, walking around like trees." And Jesus placed His hands on his eyes again. And the man stared with eyes wide open. He was restored. And he started seeing all things clearly. He sent him to his home saying, "Don't even go into the village."
From there, Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He began to ask them, "Who do people say that I am?" And they told Him. "Some say, 'John, the Baptist,' and others say, 'Elijah,' and others, 'one of the prophets.'" He went on to ask them, "What about you? Who do you say that I am?" Peter in response answers, "You are the Messiah, the Christ." And Jesus warned them to tell no one about Him.
And then He began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be killed. And after three days to rise. He was saying this boldly, but Peter, taking Jesus aside, began to rebuke Him, to correct Him. Jesus turning and seeing His disciples, rebuked Peter. He actually says to him, "Get behind Me, Satan, because you are not thinking the things of God, but the things of men."
And calling the crowd to Him, along with His disciples, He told them, "Whoever truly desires to follow Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Because the one who wants to save his life, will lose it. But the one who loses his life for My sake and for the sake of the Good News, will save it. For what does it help a person to gain the whole world only to suffer the loss of his life? And what will a person give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with His holy angels."
And He went on saying to them, "I'm telling you the truth. There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the rule and reign of God has already come in power." And six days later, three of them did get to see it. Peter, James, and John, Jesus leads them up a high mountain and shows them His glory, His unfiltered power, that is the Source of all power. They hear a voice come from the cloud saying, "This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him." And as they were going back down the mountain, Jesus warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man rises from the dead. That's recorded in the Gospel of Mark 8-9.
Now let's back up a moment to the man who was blind. By restoring this man in this strange way, Jesus has let him become an example for us. A living parable for us, because we, who look at Jesus through the eyes of faith, we also see in stages. When I listen to the first half of Mark's Gospel, I am drawn to Jesus and His power. And it's probably because that so often I view much of my life through the lens of power, or lack of it, and maybe that's how you see things. But Mark shows us that this is an incomplete picture and, ultimately, a misleading one. Because Jesus used His power most profoundly in suffering, in being rejected and humiliated and killed. He did it because this is what you and I needed.
See, in the picture that Mark is painting with his Gospel you and I aren't innocent bystanders. We are the power-hungry dictators. We are the self-preserving cowards who run away. We are the myopic monsters who would let an innocent Man be crucified, who would let the Son of God be crucified, and do nothing to stop it. But Jesus chose the way of the cross to suffer the consequences of our sin so that we would be spared from the awful power of God's just judgment against sin. It's not in His awesome miracles; it's in His patient, loving, self-giving sacrifice to save sinners. That's where we see Jesus most powerfully. It's also where we see Him most powerfully at work in us.
I got a clearer picture of Pastor Ron, not from the photos of him crashing the boards in front of a cheering crowd, but behind the scenes, bearing the cross in the dim light of a forgotten room in a low-income nursing home with Riva, a woman in her nineties, suffering from the onset of dementia.
I was new to the church, so Pastor Ron took me to visit some of our elderly members in the nursing homes. Pastor Ron greeted Riva. He said, "Riva, this is Pastor Zeigler. He's going to be visiting with you." Riva didn't even acknowledge me, but I heard her grumble something about the "terrible people that work in this place." And we visited for a little while, and then Pastor Ron led us in a common prayer, a prayer that we say to confess our sins, to prepare to share the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord's Supper.
Pastor Ron says, "Okay, Riva, I'm going to say the prayer, and you repeat after me." Pastor Ron proceeded. "I, a poor miserable sinner," and Riva repeated.
"Confess unto thee, all my sins and iniquities," and Riva repeated.
"With which I have ever offended Thee and justly deserved Thy present and eternal punishment," and Riva repeated.
And then we come to the next part. "But I am heartily, sorry for them and sincerely repent of them."
And Riva says, "I'm not sorry."
Pastor Ron says, "What do you mean, Riva?"
She says, "I'm not sorry. These people say that I can't leave, but I want to leave. And so I left, and they got mad and I'm not sorry."
Pastor Ron says, "I understand, Riva, but that's not what we're talking about right now. We're confessing our sins to God."
And Riva says, "I'm not sorry."
And afterwards in the car, Pastor Ron and I are debriefing this moment, and I ask him, "How do you handle situations like that?"
And he says to me, "I don't know." In 30 years of ministry, this is the first time it's ever happened."
So Riva, she says, "I'm not sorry." Pastor Ron, he took her hand, and holding her hand he just looks at her with the patient love of a father for a daughter, and he waits and waits. As the three of us sat there in silence, each of us completely powerless in our own way, I saw Jesus bearing the cross for us.
And if you're willing, I want you to pray with me. Lord Jesus, I once was blind, but now I see that You died for sinners. You died for me, and so help me bear the cross for others. Amen.
Reflections for February 21, 2021
Title: Do You See Anything?
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Now Dr. Zeigler visits with Dr. James Voelz, long-time seminary professor and author of a two-volume commentary on the Gospel of Mark, available from Concordia Publishing House.
Mike Zeigler: Today's the first Sunday in the church season of Lent. It's a 40-day period during which followers of Jesus around the world reflect on our Lord's way to the cross, and His call for each of us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. Mark's Gospel, which we've been listening to on this program, recounts Jesus' own death on a Roman cross. Dr. Voelz, to what does that word refer—"cross"?
Jim Voelz: These crosses were very large objects and heavy. So there was the crossbar and there was the vertical bar that was in the ground. The vertical bar was called the "stipes" and the crossbar was called the "patibulum." And you could disconnect the crossbar from the vertical bar. This crossbar was five to six feet in length and 75 to 125 pounds. That's what Jesus would have carried. So, in other words, not like the pictures you see where it looks like Jesus is dragging a complete cross.
The cross was set up in such a way. It's called a tau cross, a T. But just like we would think of a capital T, not a small t. The people were either lashed to the cross or nailed to the cross. And I'd like the listeners to realize just what a horrible death this amounted to. Essentially, the person suffocated to death. People lasted literally for days on the cross. Sometimes their relatives came and brought them food. It was just the most horrible way to go. So everyone should realize that for our sins, our Savior suffered absolutely horrible and excruciating pain at that time on the cross.
Mike Zeigler: The way Mark narrates the death of Jesus—he wants us to see something much more than just a horrific death going on.
Jim Voelz: Oh, well, absolutely. Absolutely.
Mike Zeigler: Now, when he describes Jesus' death in Mark 15:37, as you mentioned, it sounds like it's just He breathed his last. I think that's how the English Standard Version puts it.
Jim Voelz: The ESV put it that way.
Mike Zeigler: And the King James puts it a little bit more dramatically. "He gave up the ghost." What is Mark saying there?
Jim Voelz: It is literally He ex-spired, ex-pired, breathed out the Spirit. The phraseology there is not common. This phraseology is never used anywhere in Greek literature except for the death of Jesus. So here, what is this ex-spiring? Jesus releases the Spirit. And we'll remember that in chapter one, the Spirit entered into Him at His Baptism. So here Jesus is now giving out the Spirit, not just dying, giving out the Spirit—and really giving it out to the world.
Then two things happen after that. The curtain of the temple split in two, from top to bottom. And the centurion who was "standing directly opposite Him," says the Greek, upon seeing in what way He had expired, said, "Truly, this Man was the Son of God." And your listeners should know, this is the first place, anywhere in the Gospel of Mark, that a human being confesses Jesus as the Son of God.
Mike Zeigler: Prior to the centurion's statement, there was this splitting of the temple curtain. What should we picture there?
Jim Voelz: On that curtain was marvelously worked all of the heavenly stars, all of the heavenly spectacle, except for the Zodiac. So the stars of the heavens were all over that. Now, what does this mean? This means that when the temple curtain splits, figuratively speaking, the heavens split; the heavens are rent. And I believe it is not possible to ignore the parallel in Isaiah 64:1, in our English translations: "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down." And we've got three items now, Michael. We have the rending of the heavens, figuratively. We have Jesus giving out the Spirit, ex-spiring, and we have the confession of our Lord as the Son of God. And your listeners should know that these three form a perfect bookend in Mark with the Baptism of Jesus in chapter one, where we have the rending of the heavens, the voice of the Father saying, "This is My beloved Son." Actually, if we're in Mark, it's "You are My beloved Son," and then you have the Spirit descending into Him. We actually get Mark's theology kind of in full bloom. In full bloom. The profundity of this is actually quite amazing.
And I go back to that rending of the veil of the temple. That was God doing His saving work. That's where it is. You don't have to look for any other place. See, we're not waiting for some other event to occur. This is where God reconciles humanity to Himself. There is nothing left to do. This is why you are baptized into Christ. You put on Christ. You have the benefits of this horrific death, which we could never do, could never endure something like that.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining us, Dr. Voelz. And God bless you as you meditate this Lenten season on this earth-shattering event that has changed everything.
Jim Voelz: Thank you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" arr. J.S. Bach