Open your copies of God’s word to Mark 8. As we return to the Gospel of Mark we see another common scene in Jesus’ life. Great crowds continue to come to Jesus everywhere he goes. This crowd has not recently shown up. Mark 8:2 we learn that this crowd has been with Jesus for three days and they have nothing to eat. Listen to what Jesus tells his disciples in verses 2-3.
“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” (Mark 8:2–3 ESV)
Jesus Satisfies (8:1-10)
Please notice that we are presented with the compassion of Jesus again. Jesus is the God of compassion and he has compassion for those who seek him. Jesus does not send the spiritually hungry away empty. Jesus says that some of them have come from far away. The term “far away” is often used to refer to Gentile lands. If you remember that in Mark 7:31 we left Jesus in Gentile territory. So at minimum it appears that we have a mixture of Jews and Gentiles among this great crowd that has been with Jesus for three days. Jesus has compassion on this crowd and cannot send them away hungry because they will faint along the way.
Does this even seem familiar? Remember that in Mark 6:34 Jesus has compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The disciples at that time tell Jesus to send the crowd away because they were in the wilderness. But Jesus tells the disciples to feed them instead. The disciples balk at this idea, stating that it would be impossible to feed the 5000 men that are there. Jesus then performs a miracle, feeding thousands with only five loaves and two fish. So as we approach this moment where Jesus says that we need to feed this crowd because they are hungry and he has compassion on them, we would like expect a different reaction. But listen to what the disciples say in verse 4.
And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4 ESV)
It is fascinating that the disciples have the same reaction this time as they did the first time when there were thousands and there was not enough to feed everyone. In fact, please remember what we read in Mark 6:52 that the disciples hearts were hard so that they could not understand the miracle of the loaves. The spiritual dullness of the disciples has been displayed a few times in Mark’s gospel and please consider that this is exactly what is being displayed again. Spiritual dullness is on display. In fact, please think about how much this parallels the life of Israel in the wilderness. When we read the people complaining about the lack of food in the wilderness and God then gives them manna that they would never complain about food again. We would think they would learn that God will provide in the wilderness. But the people of Israel do not and we read about them complaining about food frequently in the book of Numbers. What we are reading now is just like the wilderness then. Here Jesus and his disciples are in the wilderness again just like when the first feeding of thousands occurred. But rather than understanding and learning from the first time Jesus feed thousands in the wilderness and knowing what Jesus is going to do this time, we see the disciples act just like Israel. Just like in the wilderness, Jesus had already provided food the first time (Mark 6:31) and yet there is no belief that Jesus would provide food in the wilderness again.
Verses 5-7 record this second miracle of feeding thousands unfolding in the same way as the first time. They sit down on the ground, Jesus gives thanks, and with seven loaves and a few small fish Jesus feeds about 4000 people. Please notice that yet again the people are satisfied by the food Jesus gives. The manna in the wilderness is not only for the Israel but also for the Gentiles. Even Gentiles can come and be satisfied by Jesus. This miracle is a fulfillment of what Isaiah prophesied about the arrival of the Christ.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6–8 ESV)
Isaiah said that a feast would be prepared for all people, swallowing up death forever and wiping tears away from all faces. Jesus is breaking through the darkness to not only Israel but also the Gentiles. This is a natural literary flow for this gospel because Mark 7 ended with Jesus among the Gentiles healing and restoring them.
Seeking A Sign (8:11-13)
Now we cannot stop reading just because the miracle is complete. The message of the miracle is recorded in the following paragraphs. The gospel first draws our attention to the Pharisees. The Pharisees come to Jesus seeking a sign from heaven to test him. Now it is important to remember that Jesus has done miracles in front of the Pharisees that they could not deny (cf. Mark 3:22). So they are not legitimately asking for a miracle. They are truly testing Jesus. They are asking for something different from Jesus. They want a sign from heaven. They want Jesus to do something for them on their terms to truly prove who he is. But Jesus sighs deeply and asks, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Jesus is not a circus act. Jesus is not doing miracles for the wow factor or trying to dazzle people. It is interesting that the apostle Paul declared that the Jews always demanded a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22). They just want more and more evidence, not because they are truly seeing or seeking, but because they do not want to believe. They are unable to see what Jesus is doing because they do not want to see.
Friends, this is consumer Jesus. We use Jesus for what we get out of him. This is what the Pharisees are doing. They want Jesus to perform for them. They want Jesus to keep doing something for them on their terms. Do what I want and show yourself to me. You see that what they are doing is telling Jesus to submit to them. They do not see Jesus as the Lord to whom they must submit. They are arguing with Jesus and pressing Jesus to conform to them. This is consumer Jesus. We come to Jesus for what we will get out of him. Think about how often we can look at God in this light. We want to know what God is doing for me. I am doing fine so what is God going to do for me. It is a selfish pursuit pressing that God submit to us. We can do this in the way we evaluate worship. Sometimes people will say, “I just don’t get anything out of it.” This is that same consumer thinking. We do not evaluate what we are giving to the Lord or giving to each other. We simply evaluate worship as a consumer. What did Jesus do for me? What did worship do for me? Was this worthy of my time? Was this worth my effort? Jesus is not going to be your spiritual mascot or your good luck charm. Jesus does not have to prove himself to you! But how often we sit on our thrones evaluating Jesus in our lives. Jesus will have none of it. Jesus is not going to do for you whatever you want. Jesus is not your personal idol.
The Warning (8:14-21)
Jesus turns this into a teaching moment. Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod? Remember that Herod demanded a sign just like the Pharisees are (cf. Luke 23:8). Watch against making Jesus your personal idol. Now watch what happens next. Look at verse 16.
And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. (Mark 8:16 ESV)
In verse 14 we learn that the disciples had forgotten to bring bread today while they are going around teaching. Jesus said to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod which causes the disciples to start talking about how they have no bread. Listen to what Jesus says in verse 17.
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:17–21 ESV)
Jesus is giving important spiritual teaching and the disciples completely miss it. They start talking about how they forgot to bring bread because Jesus said leaven. The disciples repeated exposure to Jesus’ teachings and miracles had not led them to reflect on the meaning of what Jesus was doing but led to dullness. The disciples have eyes but do not see and have ears but do not hear. It is sad how often people miss the whole point of a spiritual discussion by getting stuck on some little word or phrase. Notice what Jesus asks his disciples to consider. Do you not remember? How do you not understand? Are you not seeing what you are supposed to see about Jesus?
The problem is that we get so stuck in our world and cares that we are deaf and blind to God. The disciples are anxious about a lack of bread but Jesus is concerned about their lack of faith. They are not thinking spiritually. They are thinking physically. They are thinking about the right here and right now. Jesus is thinking on a spiritual level. He is always thinking about souls. He is always thinking about the big picture. But we get so stuck looking at the physical and get so stuck on the flesh that we fail to see our spiritual needs and fail to see what Jesus is trying to do in our lives. This leads us to the final picture in this lesson which is found in Mark 8:22-26.
Look Again (8:22-26)
Jesus and his disciples come to Bethsaida. Some of the people bring a blind man to Jesus, begging for Jesus to touch him. So Jesus leads the blind man out of the village, spits on his eyes, and lays his hands on him. Then Jesus asks a really important question: “Do you see anything?” Think about the question. Do you see anything? What do you see? The blind man says that he seems people but they look like trees. Then Jesus lays his hands on his eyes again. Look at what Mark says next in verse 25. “He opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
Now let’s think about what is happening. First, did Jesus fail in his miraculous abilities? Too often people think that this is a two-stage miracle as if Jesus’ power was not able to heal the first time. This is not the point at all. Jesus intends to heal partially with a purpose. We have noted over and over again that the miracles of Jesus are teaching spiritual realities and spiritual truths. The miracles of Jesus reveal what Jesus has come to do. Jesus performs the miracle in this way because it is befitting the situations that we have just read about.
Jesus is reflecting the three conditions that exist: blind, can’t see clearly, and can see clearly. The Pharisees are blind. They do not see anything that Jesus is doing. They are all about consumer Jesus. They just want God for what he can do for them. Are you in this condition? Can you see that this could be you? Is the reason you are here today is not for what you are wanting to give to God but for what you can get from God? Are you here for the benefit that you personally receive? Maybe you think I am entertaining or you think that you have to be here so that God does not barbecue you. Maybe you are just here out of habit or obligation. What Jesus is declaring is that making Jesus come to you on your terms is spiritual blindness. You are missing everything. You are completely blind spiritually because Jesus is not pursuing you so you get what you want. Jesus is never going to do for you what you want. Jesus is not going to be your puppet or be your prayer piñata. Jesus is not going to be your idol. Jesus is not going to be your problem solver. Jesus is not going to do something to break into your life to make you be a true believer. Jesus will let you go your own way, further and further away from him in your darkened thinking (cf. Romans 1:24; Ephesians 4:17-19).
But there is a second condition. This is the condition of the disciples. You can see somewhat but you cannot see clearly. The disciples of Jesus are disciples of Jesus. Mark does not tell us that they are false disciples. They are following Jesus but they are spiritually dull. They still lack understanding. They are seeing what Jesus is doing but they are failing to see what this means. This is the gradual process of faith in the life of disciples. Though these disciples have begun the journey by choosing to follow Jesus, they have much to learn. There is a long road of learning ahead. Here is the good news: you are not expected to have perfect spiritual clarity from the moment you decide to follow Jesus. But here is the rest of the news: you cannot be satisfied with seeing with partial sight. Can you imagine going to the eye doctor and as he does his tests he tells you to be content with seeing the letters blurry and not clear? Yet how often do we do this with Jesus? We get stuck in our own world and cares so that we do not see Jesus clearly. We are anxious about all the wrong things and fail to be pressing toward Jesus with our all.
The miracle shows the journey that we are on in our faith. First, you are blind. Next, you are able to see but not clearly. Finally, you are able to see Jesus clearly. We must not be satisfied with seeing Jesus in a blurry way. Jesus did not come so that you can kind of see. Jesus came so that you would have spiritual sight and spiritual understanding. How clearly do you see Jesus? How clearly do you see eternity? How clearly do you see your spiritual life? How clearly do you see your condition before God? Spiritual sight is a process. Do not stop short on the journey to seeing Jesus clearly. This is what Jesus has come to do: open eyes, restore sight, and give clarity for your life.