This morning we are in Mark 8. Last week we saw the 2nd recorded miracle involving the multiplication of bread and fish to feed massive crowds. In chapter 8, that event is tied together with two conversations that follow.
As I consider the passage as a whole, I see multiple layers of lessons that rise to the surface. Here are a few of those lessons:
- Nothing is impossible with Jesus.
- When you follow Jesus, you will always have what you need & more.
- The power of Jesus makes the weakest human effort more than sufficient.
- Jesus is full of compassion and can be trusted fully
- Jesus is the bread of life who is more than satisfying.
- Jesus came to give bread not just to Gentiles but to the whole world.
- A little bit of pride and self-righteousness will ruin a whole batch.
The multiplication of the bread demonstrates the reality of the first 6 lessons. The conversation in verses 11-13, with the Pharisees who demand a sign from Jesus, provided an opportunity for the last lesson on this list.
That lesson comes in verses 14-15.
You’ll notice, however, that that lesson never really hits home for the disciples.
In verses 16-21, it becomes clear that they are still stuck at numbers 1 & 2.
This is a basic principle of education. A proper education requires foundational lessons.
If you don’t learn addition and subtraction, how are you going to learn Algebra?
The same principle applies in our spiritual lives.
If you don’t learn to center your life in Jesus how are you going to go on to learn the deeper things of God?
The disciples’ lack of understanding teaches us that if you don’t learn to put Jesus first and trust him with your life, you will stall out in your faith.
To put it more positively, you can say that if you learn to trust Jesus and put him first in your life, everything else will follow.
Let’s talk for a minute about the Pharisees’ request for a sign. It’s obvious that Jesus did not appreciate their request. He sighed deeply in his spirit – that word in the Greek has a connotation of deep sorrow. It troubled Jesus.
He told them they would have no sign and left them.
What was the problem? Is it wrong to look for signs from God?
The problem is not that they were looking for a sign.
Seeking to confirm a messenger from God with signs was God’s idea.
a distinguishing mark, that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and known,
an unusual occurrence, transcending the common course of nature;
of miracles and wonders by which God authenticates the men sent by him, or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God’ -Thayers
When God sent Moses to his people, Moses responded – why would they believe me? (Exodus 4:1-5) God responded by giving Moses three miraculous signs to confirm his divine commission.
These kinds of signs continue throughout the Old Testament. You see them in Daniel, Gideon, Elijah and more . . .
That theme continues into the New Testament, highlighted especially in the book of John.
The Jewish people naturally ask Jesus for signs. (John 2:19)
John tells us that the first miracle of Jesus was intended as a sign and resulted in belief. (John 2:11)
Many believed Jesus because of the signs. (John 2:23)
Even some of the Pharisees believed Jesus because of the signs. (John 3:2)
When the disciples began to preach the gospel after the resurrection, the miraculous ministry of Jesus was used as an argument for belief. (Acts 2:22)
This is all positive. But not everyone accepted the signs.
Not everybody believed the signs. (John 12:37)
Some, like Herod, saw signs not as evidence for belief, but as an opportunity for entertainment (Luke 23:8).
The Pharisees were not wrong for seeking a sign. Their problem was a problem of intent.
Their problem was a problem of intent.
By this point the Pharisees had ample evidence of Jesus’ signs. Multitude of healings, casting out demons, physical miracles.
Mark tells us that the Pharisees were seeking to test Jesus. (verse 11)
The word test in the Greek is peirazo. It means to put to the test or to tempt. It comes up repeatedly with the Jewish leaders.
In John 8:5-6 the leaders sought to test Jesus by bringing to him a woman caught in adultery. In that instance, the word test has the connotation of trap.
It’s the same in Mark 10. The leaders bring Jesus a question about divorce, seeking to trap him with a no-win question scenario.
In these situations, the Pharisees had evil intent in their testing.
In Matthew 12 the Pharisees asked for a sign after Jesus had just miraculously healed a person. They already had their sign. They couldn’t see it for what it was.
In his writings on miracles, C.S. Lewis refers to the one person he knew who had seen a ghost. The irony was that the woman did not believe she had seen a ghost. She was a committed naturalist and did not believe in ghosts. The point of that story is that seeing is not always believing.
It’s like a person who wears glasses with a lens that filters out the color blue. That persons demands proof that the color blue exists. The lens through which they see the world guarantees that they will never see it.
The Pharisees in Mark 8 were unable to see Jesus for who he was.
They were looking for a sign because they were looking for control.
They sought to trap him.
The Jewish people were right to look for signs, God had graciously provided fingerprints all over his work and his workers to guide the faithful.
The problem is that they weren’t looking for a sign that Jesus was the Messiah, the King the one they should serve. They were looking for a sign that Jesus was the king that would serve them. They wanted a servant of their interests.
The problem with us – we have countless times we can look back in our lives and see evidences that God is there. The reason we haven’t trusted completely is because were still looking for signs that God is there and he will serve our interests.
After dismissing the Pharisees and their evil request, Jesus turns to the disciples with a warning. Watch out for the leaven or the influence of the Pharisees. Just a little will spread and ruin everything.
This was going to be a massive challenge for the early church. We’re going to talk more about it next week.
It was a hugely important lesson. But the disciples couldn’t process it.
They thought he was talking about the one loaf of bread they had to share among themselves. They were still worried about how they were going to eat.
It’s amazing isn’t it? It’s amazing that they confused Jesus’ words for a conversation about what they were going to eat that night. It’s amazing that after twice experiencing the miraculous provision of Jesus they still worried about where the next meal would come from.
They couldn’t grasp lesson 7 because they were stuck at lesson 1.
How about you and I?
Have we learned lesson 1?
Here’s that lesson in its fullness in Matthew 6:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Are you anxious? Are you anxious about finances? About the upcoming election? About your singleness? About your health? About your family problems?
Jesus is compassionate and capable. He invites you to put him first and enter into a state of being in which you’ll never have to worry again.
How does that sound to you?
The same lesson is taught in contrast in the parable of the sower. There is a seed that falls into soil where it has competition. That seed grows but is choked out by the weeds around it. Those weeds include the cares of the world, or the worries of life. Those worries choke out the word and it proves unfruitful.
18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
When the disciples are slow to grasp the parable, Jesus replies to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (verse 13).
If you don’t trust Jesus and put him first in your life you will be plagued by anxiety and spiritual dullness.
If you don’t learn to trust Jesus with your basic needs and desires, you’ll stall out in your knowledge and experience.
But if you will trust him, it you will surrender the center chair of your life to Jesus and give your wants and needs to him, your faith will go into overdrive.
Your faith will be enflamed.
For the disciples, that wouldn’t happen until they received the essential help required to grasp the truth – the Holy Spirit.
And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
When the Spirit descended upon the disciples, the truth was illuminated. Their faith caught fire and engulfed the world.
Friend, are you ready to move beyond lesson 1? Are you ready to give up your anxiety and your inner conflict and surrender everything to Jesus? Are you ready to trust him with your life and open yourself to the fulness of the Holy Spirit?
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown