Man of Action, Part 4

Stained glass window at the United Methodist Church in Albany , New York

Stained glass window at the United Methodist Church in Albany , New York

Having a good meal was important to Jesus. Have you noticed that? Even after He rose from the dead, our Lord always made sure He had a good meal and those around Him had a good meal. In Mark 8, we have a story of how Jesus fed 4,000 people. Some Bible scholars wonder if this story in Mark 8 is really just another account of the time Jesus fed 5,000 people, recorded a couple of chapter back. But, if we read both accounts carefully, it becomes obvious that these are two separate miracles. In all, Jesus miraculously fed some 9,000 people. That’s a lot of people getting a free meal! These miracles not only served to feed hungry people, but they served another very important purpose: to open the blind eyes of Jesus’ disciples. This is a major theme in the first half of Mark’s Gospel.

An eye-opening miracle, Mark 8:1 – 9

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” (Mark 8:1 – 3 TNIV)

Jesus and His disciples were still in the land of the Decapolis. A great crowd had been following Jesus around for three days, and provisions were scarce. This area, by the way, was the same area – the Gerasenes – where Jesus cast some thousands of demons out of man. You’ll recall this exchange took place after his deliverance:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:18 – 20 TNIV)

Apparently this man talked a lot about what Jesus had done for Him, and these people who had begged Jesus to leave their region, were now following Him around. Never discount the importance of telling others what Jesus has done for you! One man, testifying about how Jesus had changed his life, caused many other lives to change at the touch of Jesus.

Jesus was always trying to teach His disciples something. Here, He noticed the large group that was following Him around, and told His disciples about the compassion He had for them; that He noticed these people didn’t have any food or provisions. And He made sure His disciples noticed, not only the 4,000 people, but also the compassion Jesus Himself had. The disciples needed to have the same compassion as Jesus had.

And yet, we read this:

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (Mark 8:4 TNIV)

It seems almost unbelievable that these men apparently had already forgotten that Jesus had just miraculously fed 5,000 people not that long ago! How do you forget something like that? No wonder Jesus just kept at these guys, trying to get them to connect the dots! In their defense, they were hardly mature believers. But how many of us – mature believers, Christians who have been saved and in the church for decades – still harbor doubts even after great experiences with God?

The disciples made an inventory and, of course, supplies were scant. Some bread and some fish. The point of the story was not how much they had, but what they lacked. There was no way to feed these people without a miracle. The text indicates that Jesus just kept breaking the bread and passing it on to the disciples to give to the people. At the end of the meal, there was a lot of food left over. When God meets a need, He meets it completely. God never almost meets a need, He meets it and exceeds it. God didn’t give these hungry people a snack. He fed them until they were full. Of this wonderful miracle, Dr McGee made this interesting observation:

If we add one woman and one child for each of the men, we probably would be nearer to the actual number of people who were fed – about twelve thousand.

That’s interesting, but really the point of the story is that our God sees our needs, and meets our needs completely. J.I. Packer wrote:

You will never need more than He can supply, and what He supplies, both materially and spiritually, will always be enough for the present.

Jesus had cast demons out of people and healed people and fed people in this area. He had definitely made His presence known in the region of Gerasenes.

Hard hearts, blind eyes, Mark 8:10 – 21

Here is what a hard heart looks like:

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8:11 – 12 TNIV)

If feeding over 4,000 people wasn’t a sign from Heaven, what in the world were these people looking for? These Pharisees were wanting something stunning; something phenomenal, like a bolt of lightening or something. It’s odd that casting out demons from people and healing people and miraculously feeding hungry people were not what they were looking for. By the way, people who demand signs aren’t really interested in the Kingdom of Heaven; they aren’t seriously interested in seeing anything because their minds are closed.

Jesus had already refused to perform on command. He knew better. A performance doesn’t produce personal faith. The Word of God does that. John MacArthur wrote:

Demanding sensational proof is not evidence of faith but of doubt. To long for the visible sign, the big miracle, the dramatic proof is nothing but masked unbelief. It is the farthest thing from faith.

John MacArthur may not be right about everything, but he is spot on about that! True faith struggles among those who need proof – who need a sign.

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… (1 Corinthians 1:22 – 23 TNIV)

The preaching of the Gospel, that’s what get the job done. The fact is, our Lord did promise one sign: the sign of Jonah, which is Christ Himself, crucified and risen. One scholar wisely noted:

A holy life and the manifestation of perfect love are far surer signs that one has been filled with the Spirit of God than any physical evidence.

Just so. A changed life is the best sign of God at work.

What follows is an interesting exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Reading this, we can see just how patient our Lord was with His friends:

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” (Mark 8:14 – 16 TNIV)

It’s funny, isn’t it? Human nature remains constant. The disciples had just eaten huge meal courtesy of their Lord. They had one loaf of bread between them. Obviously they had intended to bring the baskets of leftovers with them but apparently each one thought the other one had taken care of that. Jesus just had a run-in with the Pharisees and proceeded to give His men an important warning, and what were they worried about? They had a loaf of bread on their minds and thought, incorrectly, that Jesus was ragging on them because they didn’t bring the leftovers.

How many of us do that? We’re totally engulfed and preoccupied with the things going on in our lives, and we often think “it’s all about us.” It isn’t. It’s never “just about us” or “all about our problems.” Jesus, when He was trying to teach His disciples something very important, wasn’t thinking about food at all, but the disciples framed His teaching around their primary concern: their stomachs, or their shortcoming in not bringing food. They should have stayed focused on Jesus and listened to His words, connecting them to what was He was doing. This is something believers need to be doing, as well. We need to pay closer attention to the Word of God and learn to let the Holy Spirit apply its teachings to all of our lives, not just the things on our minds at the time. In other words, we need to be preoccupied with Jesus, not our lives.

So what was Jesus trying to teach His friends? Jesus’ mind was still on His encounter with the Pharisees and their demand for a sign. It obviously troubled Him and He was concerned with how His disciples would handle them. Jesus was all about the law of God, but they were obsessed with their traditions. Over in the Matthew, we have some details Mark excludes:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matthew 16:1 TNIV)

If we take both accounts, Jesus was approached by the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the Herodians, who were Jews that were very supportive of Herod. The Saducess were closely related to the Herodians because their continued existence depended on the favor of Rome – Herod. Not only that, the Saducess deviated from the pure Jewish faith because they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body or the immorality of the soul. Their faith was closer to that of Roman Hellenism than to that of the Pharisees.

But for Jesus, the ideas of the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the Herodians were potentially dangerous to His disciples. The “yeast” of these groups included:

• The Pharisees were all about traditionalism;
• The Herodians were secularists;
• The Saducess were the skeptics.

Jesus’ advice to His friends: Watch out for those things! Don’t get caught up in all that yeast but stay focused on the pure teachings of the Word of God. The disciple’s obsession with the food demonstrated how easily it was for them to get distracted.

“Yeast” in the Scriptures always represents something bad, never anything good, in spite of what you might have heard about this verse:

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33 TNIV)

Some preachers like to say that the yeast here is the Gospel working its way through the world of dough. They’re wrong. That’s not what Jesus is teaching. What Jesus is teaching in Matthew 13 is the same thing He taught in Mark 8 – yeast is evil; it represents false or wrong teaching. When that kind of bad teaching is introduced into the “kingdom of heaven,” or the church, the visible Body of Christ, it tends to take over because it looks and sounds and tastes so much like the Gospel and the average believer is unable to discern between true and false teachings. Yeast is always evil. And in America today, the church of Jesus Christ is full of false teaching. We have churches that think their traditions are more important than the Word of God. We have clergy who don’t believe in the literal nature of the Bible. And we have whole denominations that have become essentially secular, believing in everything; tolerating every kind of sin; while standing for nothing.

Jesus spoke this to His disciples, but He could have said to many of us:

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? (Mark 8:18 TNIV)

The disciples missed the point and we often do. There are many people in our churches who are born again and full of the Holy Spirit and grasp great spiritual truths, yet miss other things God wants to teach them. We’re all guilty of being distracted by the “yeast of the Pharisees.” Let’s learn to keep our spiritual eyes open and focused on Jesus and the Word.


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