“Sight, Vision, or Understanding?”
April 10, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: John 21:1-14 Acts 9:1-20
Have you ever sent your kids, or your spouse, to get something for you, or gone to look for your car keys and even though everyone might have looked, more than once, they didn’t see it. Somehow, after looking three or four times, in exactly the same place, you find it. Being able to see doesn’t always mean that you can perceive and understand what is there. At the same time, sometimes what we see is deceptive and even though we thought we saw something, what we saw isn’t what we thought that we saw. Are you confused yet?
Here’s an example: During World War Two, during the preparations for the invasion at Normandy, the Allied forces did their very best to convince the German military that they intended to land at Calais and not at Normandy. Toward that end, soldiers were allowed to be captured, so that fake invasion plans could accidently, on purpose, fall into enemy hands. In addition, in the south of England, directly across the English Channel from Calais, a gigantic invasion force was assembled so that planes from the German Luftwaffe flying overhead would report on their numbers and activity. The problem was, almost none of it was real. The Allied armies had constructed hundred of tanks, trucks and other vehicles out of lumber and others that were inflatable rubber balloons. Only a handful of real vehicles were in that place, with just a dozen or so troops who drove the real vehicles, and towed the fake ones from place to place so that it appeared as if there were massive troop movements. The German pilots that flew overhead gave consistent, firsthand, eyewitness testimony that they had seen an active invasion force, but what they had seen, was not really what they saw.
Now, let’s add another layer to your confusion and that involves vision. Sometimes we see things that aren’t there, but what we see is very real. Sometimes this is a vision sent by God, but more often it is a gift that comes from the skills, abilities, and intelligence that God gives to us. And once again, I can explain this best with an example. I once read of a real estate agent that made a lot of money selling vacant land for development when other realtors were having difficulty selling parcels in the same area. Later, in an interview, he was asked how he had done it and the solution was both brilliant and simple. In all of the developments where he was selling land, the parcels were brand new. Although the land had been cleared, streets paved, utilities installed and grass planted, there was nothing else there. When people came to see the land, all they saw was a vacant lot. But once he got a listing, this particular realtor would go out, plant a few trees and a little shrubbery, and then, when he was showing the land he would point to them and say, “Can’t you see it? Here by this shrubbery is the front deck, and here by these others is the garage and the back door, and over here, in a few years when they grow, you can put the kids’ swing set under these trees for shade.” For a hundred dollars in shrubbery and a couple scrawny saplings, he pulled in thousands of dollars in commission. The key to his sales was that he stopped selling people what they could see, and started selling a vision for the future.
And finally, one more word must consider this morning is “understanding.” Just because we see something, doesn’t mean that we understand what we see. And a great example for this comes from our space program. How many of you remember watching the very first Space Shuttle, the Enterprise, fly atop NASA’s 747 carrier and then be released in the first glide test? After the successful completion of the glide test and a few other important tests that were conducted on the Enterprise, she was retired and the production of the fleet of Shuttles that would launch into space was begun. But many people, including me, wondered why the Enterprise never flew. Especially after the Challenger disaster, when a replacement orbiter had to be constructed, we wondered again why the Enterprise wasn’t pressed into service. After all, we had all seen the Enterprise. She looked like all the other shuttles, so why didn’t they just use it? But the reality is that sometimes there are huge differences between seeing and understanding. In this case, the Enterprise was so incredibly different from the other orbiters, both inside and out, that it was cheaper and faster to build a new Space Shuttle from scratch than to try to refit the Enterprise and make it flightworthy. The difference between what we all thought we saw and the truth is knowledge and understanding.
In our scripture lessons this morning we see all three of these elements, and what we see, and how we see it, as well as how we understand it, make all the difference. We begin with John 21:1-14, where Jesus appears to the disciples.
21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
And so, Jesus appears to his disciples, they see him but they have no understanding. I would bet that when, after fishing all night long and catching nothing, they were more than reluctant to do something silly and obvious like fishing from the other side of the boat. But I would also bet that, when they suddenly found their nets filled to bursting with fish that something within them began to wonder who the man on shore might have been. And then, after they dragged their catch to shore, they find that a fire is already prepared and a fish dinner already cooked. It was then that seeing began to drift toward understanding.
In Acts 9:1-20, we hear a different, yet similar, story.
9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
As Paul travels to Damascus on a mission to find, arrest, and imprison the followers of Jesus Christ, he is blinded on the road by a light from heaven and hears a voice asking “Why do you persecute me?” In this story Paul sees the light, but no one else does even though they can hear the voice. And then Ananias hears God in a vision. I admit, that sounds a little strange because we usually think of visions being something that you see and not something that you hear, but we don’t know if Ananias saw anything or just heard it. Either way, Ananias met God and knew what God wanted him to do, because of the vision that God gave to him.
And Paul, even though he was blinded, was also given two types of vision. First, he was given his sight but now Paul also understands that Jesus is the Son of God. Paul not only sees the truth, he begins to understand what it means.
These are all gifts from God.
The first gift is seeing what is there. This is the gift of seeing people instead of numbers and hearts instead of money, politics or clothing.
Second is the gift of seeing what your eyes cannot. This is the gift of seeing not only what is, but what might be, seeing what the future holds, and seeing what God wants us to do, and who God wants us to become.
And third, is the gift of understanding which is the gift of knowing, not just what the Bible says but what it means and how God intends to change us. Understanding is the gift of not only knowing that Jesus was a real person, but that Jesus really rose from the dead, that he is, the creator of all that is, the Lamb of God, and the savior and rescuer of all humanity.
My prayer is that God would bless every one of us with all three of these: sight, vision and understanding.
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