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Mark 8

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Mark 8:1-9… In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to eat. Jesus called his disciples and said, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days and they have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4 His disciples answered him, “Where can someone get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” 5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven.” 6 Then he directed the crowd to sit down. After he took the seven loaves and gave thanks, he broke them and began giving them to the disciples, and they served the crowd. 7 They also had a few small fish. After giving thanks for these, he told them to serve these as well. 8 Everyone ate and was satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 There were about four thousand who ate.

Commentary

            At the end of chapter seven Jesus had just healed a deaf and mute man in the area of Decapolis (“ten cities”). Mark 8:1 begins in Decapolis, for during the time Jesus came there, as usual, a large crowd gathered together to hear him preach and be healed of their afflictions. The crowd had been with Jesus for three days, and the rest Jesus had once sought still alluded he and his disciples. This, however, didn’t deter him from spending a full three days teaching the masses. At the end of this three-day teaching ministry when it was time to send the crowds home, Jesus had in mind to feed the masses through another miraculous act of mercy. His words to his disciples in v. 2 were, “I have compassion on the crowd.” Jesus’ compassion for people usually involved teaching them truth, but since he had already been doing that for three days, his compassion translated, on this occasion, to feeding the physical needs of the people. After all, they had forfeited food to be spiritually nourished, and this sacrifice would be rewarded. To send the crowds away without feeding them would have caused many of them to faint along the way because some had come from distant lands. Walking from place to place was the norm, so traveling ten miles back home could have taken a full day or more to arrive at one’s destination.

            Before Jesus fed this large crowd, which v. 9 reveals was 4,000, he turned to the disciples who had only a short time earlier seen him feed over 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish (6:33-44). After feeding that crowd they picked up 12 baskets of scraps! Since that time period they had not only witnessed a great miraculous feeding but also Jesus walking on water (6:45-52), healing the sick, exorcising a demon (7:24-30), and healing a deaf and mute man (7:31-37). So one would think that when Jesus called them together to discuss feeding this crowd of 4,000 that they would respond with more faith than they did. Instead, they answered him like they had no idea where enough food could come from to feed the crowd (v. 4)! Jesus must have been frustrated over this response, but instead of rebuking them, he performed another miracle in their presence. He told the crowd to sit down, he took the seven loaves of bread they had with them and a couple of fish, gave thanks for them, and it multiplied so that over 4,000 people were able to eat. Afterwards, the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of scraps.

Food for Thought

            Hardened hearts, like those of the skeptics of Christianity today, are not softened by miracles. Those who want hard-core proof of God’s existence will not be converted by seeing a miracle. Too many of us have witnessed God’s power only to later forget about it when He’s got us in a position where we must trust Him. What is your dire situation today? Remember the past and how God always took care of you. And if you can’t remember that, look at the Scriptures. They’ll remind you that God is always at work. It’s us who go to sleep and forget all He’s done.

Mark 8:11-13… Then the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven to test him. 12 Sighing deeply in his spirit he said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side.

Commentary

            When Jesus fed the 5,000 (6:33-44) the Pharisees and scribes came down from Jerusalem to show how unimpressed they were with Jesus’ miracle. They were blinded by the tradition of the elders which taught that one had to wash their hands before eating bread. Jesus rebuked them for putting tradition over the clear teaching of Scripture and being blind guides to others. In Mark 8:11-13 the same pattern can be seen. Jesus just fed 4,000 people, and as soon as he left the region the Pharisees came again to him to show once again how unimpressed they were with his works. The absurdity of their question is almost unfathomable. Jesus had just performed another miracle (miracles by nature are unexplainable), and they arrive on the scene to ask Jesus for a sign from heaven! Their skepticism blinded them to Jesus’ miracles, and they went unnoticed and ignored. How pathetic that they would ask Jesus for a sign when everything he had been doing all over Palestine pointed to the fact that he was God in the flesh – the Messiah.

            In v. 11 the Pharisees began to argue with Jesus – an argument that culminated in their demand that he show them a sign as an authentication of his trustworthiness. It probably sounded something like, “Oh yea, then prove to us with a sign that you are the Messiah!” In the OT signs were vouchers which guaranteed he truthfulness of a word spoken by a prophet. If a prophet made a statement about the future that couldn’t be verified immediately then a sign would accompany the prophecy to show its legitimacy. Signs were primarily given as evidence of the trustworthiness of the prophet, not his power. To be fair, the Pharisees weren’t asking for another miracle from Jesus, but they did want an indication that he was who they thought he might be, namely, the Messiah. They wanted his actions confirmed by a sign. After all, they had already concluded earlier in his ministry that his power was derived from Satan (3:22-30), and they wanted a sign that it came from God. In sum, they wanted a “sign from heaven” that would validate Jesus’ ministry as coming from God Himself and that God was in fact with him. They were using Deut. 18:15-22 (instruction concerning the future Prophet) to test Jesus to see if he was the Prophet. This is why the qualifying phrase “to test him” is important to note in v. 11.

            In v. 12 Jesus’ exasperation and/or indignation can be detected as he simply sighed deeply and pointedly asked, “Why does this generation seek for a sign?” Jesus was clearly aware of the fact that his works had been relegated to black magic (cf. 3:22) by the Pharisees, so he knew that even if he were to offer a sign it wouldn’t make any difference in their hardened hearts. They had already committed the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, so Jesus gave them no sign, got into his boat, and went to the other side of the lake (v. 13).

Food for Thought

            Just as it was in Jesus’ day, the demand for a sign that Jesus is the Messiah is a clear expression of unbelief. Those who want God proved to them need look no further than the creation itself, their own physical bodies, and the fact that God has not snuffed out their sinful lives in spite of their sins. Trying to put Jesus in a box, as it were, and demanding that he give us a sign to back up all that he and his apostles and prophets have spoke in the Bible is to deny the need for radical faith – a facet of salvation that is absolutely necessary for eternal life with Jesus. No, we don’t need to prove God’s existence. Jesus proved it, and we receive him by faith alone.

Mark 8:14-21… Now they had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 And Jesus gave them orders, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod!” 16 So they began to discuss with each other about having no bread. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? 18 Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They said, “Twelve.” 20 “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They said, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Commentary

            Of all four of the Gospel writers Mark paints the worst picture of the disciples, and since his information is traditionally based upon Peter’s account of Christ’s life, it’s evident that Peter was being quite forthcoming about the hardness of the disciples’ hearts.

            In v. 14, after Jesus and the disciples left the bewildered Pharisees, they all got into their boat and headed for the other side of the lake. Jesus began to teach them, and he used an illustration about leaven to make a point. He spoke of the “leaven” of the Pharisees and of Herod. But the disciples missed the reference to Herod and the Pharisees. They only heard “leaven” which caused them to argue with one another about who had forgotten to bring bread (cf. v. 14). Jesus’ reference to leaven made them think he was rebuking them for forgetting to bring food, but Jesus was simply pointing out the dangers of those who seek for signs (cf. 8:11-12). For just as a small amount of leaven (a metaphor for corruption) would sour a huge lump of dough, so too would the influence and teachings of these leaders corrupt an entire nation.

Jesus’ reference to Herod in relation to the Pharisees is logical because they were in Dalmanutha (8:10) which was in the vicinity of Tiberias – Herod’s capital. It was noted back in 6:14-16 that Herod feared Jesus – and even thought he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. And Luke 23:8 reveals that Herod had wanted to see Jesus perform signs for him. Therefore Jesus’ use of “leaven” in this context describes those who will only believe if they see “signs.”

As the disciples discussed what Jesus was referring to, Jesus realized that they were miles from cluing in. They thought he was angry that they were low on bread! But Jesus’ exasperation is once again noted (cf. 8:12) in the series of questions he asked them in vv. 17-18: “Do you still not see or understand… and though you have ears, can’t you hear?” In light of the fact that he follows these questions with the recollection of the two miraculous feedings, it is clear that Jesus did such for the benefit of the disciples. They later remembered that they had picked up more scraps after feeding thousands than they began with. Jesus was saying, “Men, I’m not worried about bread! I can make enough bread to feed thousands. What I’m saying is that some folks demand signs even after they’ve witnessed miracles. So beware of those like them. Their unbelief in the face of the miraculous is a type of leaven that will spread to many by a few – the same way a miniscule amount of leaven sours an entire lump of dough.”

Food for Thought

Remember the Karate Kid? His training seemed ludicrous to him because he, like the disciples, misunderstood his teacher’s plan. But when his teacher rebuked him he recalled the techniques his teacher gave him, and he was transformed into a fighter. Likewise, our life’s trials are God’s molding of us like a potter with clay. Our misunderstandings are the result of hardened hearts and dull minds. Read and remember what God has said, and your eyes too will be opened.

Observations:

  • The Twelve appear to have been no better than the crowds who profit from Jesus’ miracles w/o reflection and who seek his teaching w/o applying it to themselves. We as Christians benefit from being on the “inside” yet our understanding and application of God’s Word is often as lame as the outside world.
    • Our language
    • Our sensitivity
    • Our worries
    • Our arguments over silly things
    • Our covetousness and materialistic pursuits
    • Our griping and complaining
    • Some may know the Bible just as the Twelve witnessed the miracles. But without proper understanding they argue over bread and miss the truth of the application of God’s Word. This is why the preacher’s applications can sometimes hurt so badly and cause some be offended. They’re usually the ones who simply say, “Just preach the Word!” The teaching of it doesn’t offend as much as the application does.
  • The disciples remembered the facts exactly when pressed, but they had no idea the significance of what they meant.
  • The secret Jesus is trying to reveal is that Jesus is the Messiah and Lord. Just as Moses called down bread from heaven in the wilderness, Jesus was (and is) the provider of that bread.
  • The book of Revelation reveals who Christ is. But why the need for Revelation in light of the fact that the Gospels reveal him for who he is? The Gospels reveal Jesus in his humanity and give very obvious hints as to his deity. They reveal his purpose on the earth. The epistles reveal how the church should behave in the interim period between his first and second comings. Revelation reveals Christ fully in all his glory in relation to his second coming. The former was to reveal his humanity (and hint at his deity); the latter is to reveal his deity (Alpha/Omega) in light of his humanity.
  • Jesus was the one true loaf of bread in the boat, and he wanted the disciples to see that by recalling his miracles and acts.
  • Unfortunately, our thoughts typically turn to our lack of instead of God’s provisions.
  • Because our minds are set on earthly matters, we can miss what God is saying
  • When believers live on the level of spiritual trust and provision, God cares for them physically (“see first the kingdom…”)
  • Beware of leaven… the Pharisees were hypocrites; the Sadducees were liberal; Herod
  • (1) don’t seek after signs, but live by faith in His Word; (2) trust Jesus to meet needs; (3) avoid the leaven of false doctrine; (4) let Jesus work as He wills, and expect variety

1.      Jesus’ unrivaled divine power

2.      Teaching Jesus’ truth actually holds the attention of 4,000+ for three days

3.      The necessity of relying on divine resources

4.      God’s resources never diminish

5.      The usefulness of the servant (disciples distributing the bread)

6.      God gives liberally, in good measure, and running over

7.      Spiritual investment – giving to others produced seven baskets of bread left over.

8.      The limitless compassion of Jesus for people

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