2015 02 01am Mark 8:1-30 Bread, Blindness, and (Un)Belief

Five episodes that are linked and that build up to the climax of the first half of Mark’s Gospel – Who is Jesus?

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
There are five episodes in the passage that we have just read together – The feeding of the 4000, Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, Jesus’ interaction with His disciples, the healing of the blind man, and then the conversation about Who Jesus is?
And it would be well worth our while to look at the detail of each one of these in a separate sermon. There are great truths about who Jesus is and wonderful lessons for us to learn in each episode. But today we consider these 5 episodes together. And we do this for one reason in particular, which is that we are meant to; the Holy Spirit through Mark would have us see that these are not five independent episodes from the life of Christ, but a carefully woven together narrative that brings the question of Who Jesus is to a grand climax. And it does so through repetition, linking words and themes, patterns, and a type of parable.
So let’s see that this is so and how this is so as we consider THE CONCLUSION TO THE FIRST HALF OF MARK’S GOSPEL. And we do this as we simply move through each of these five episodes noting how they are linked together.

So firstly then, the feeding of the 4000 men.

1. And if you have been with us through this sermon series and you are thinking to yourself, HAVEN’T WE ALREADY DONE THE MIRACULOUS FEEDING OF A LARGE CROWD?, well, you are partly right! In the middle of ch. 6, Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 men. And there are many similarities in these two episodes, but also some significant differences.
a. In the first place, as we have seen with the last two episodes of ch. 7, Jesus is in GENTILE LAND at the moment. And the fact that this is a crowd of Gentiles is explicitly clear from the parallel account in Matthew. But the crowd of 5000 was a crowd of Jewish people.
b. But also, and vv19-20 help us see this, there are DIFFERENCES IN THE NUMBER of loaves Jesus used, how much was leftover, and, as we have already noted, how many people were fed. You boys and girls will remember that with the crowd of 5000 men, Jesus used 5 loaves and two fish, while here with the 4000 He uses 7 loaves and “a few small fish.” And with the 5000, there were 12 baskets leftover and now with the 4000 there are 7 baskets leftover.
i. And perhaps you remember what we said about the symbolism of the 12 baskets? It was a Jewish crowd, right? So 12 baskets reminded us of the? 12 tribes of Israel.
ii. But now, with the 4000 Gentiles, there are 7 baskets leftover. And the number 7 in the Bible is associated with? completeness or fullness or perfection. So there is more than just a hint here that the completeness or the fullness or the perfection of the work of Jesus will include both Jew and Gentile.
iii. You may also remember from our consideration of the first miraculous feeding that we looked back into the OT and the story of the MANNA from heaven. The people of Israel had been delivered from Egypt and they needed daily food. And the Lord provided miraculous bread for them. And so, as Jesus provides miraculous bread first the Jews and now for the Gentiles, and with there being 7 baskets leftover, we are being asked to consider at least two things about Jesus:
1) And just in case you think this link is a step too far, listen to what Jesus says about Himself in JOHN 6:48, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
a) So we are to see here that true deliverance for Jew and Gentile comes through Jesus.
2) And the fact that there were 7 baskets leftover tells us that Jesus is the PERFECT bread that COMPLETELY satisfies! The manna from heaven meant a full stomach and another day of life on earth, but believing in Jesus means eternal life!
iv. And so, as this Gentile crowd eats this miraculous bread, we are being told that Jesus is the One who delivers His people by giving Himself as the bread of eternal life.

Well, as we come then to the second episode, it is linked to the first as we see some PHARISEES meet Jesus and question Him about “a miraculous sign” in vv11-13.

1. Matthew tells us that they were joined in their questions by the Sadducees. And if you look down at v15, you see Jesus warn the disciples about Herod. And the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herod are all about POLITICS AND RELIGION. Basically, in NZ, this would be the political equivalent of the Greens, the Conservatives and the Libertarians forming a coalition! And religiously, you have here the traditionalists, the sceptics, and the secularists. OK? These are sworn enemies who hold diametrically opposed views coming together, united by their opposition to Jesus.

2. And they ask Him for A SIGN FROM HEAVEN as a test.
a. Now, their request could be understood in relation to the recent feeding, as in, Well Jesus, we admit that that was something, but you still started with earthly bread. We want to see bread come down from heaven – like the manna. Then we will be convinced. But we cannot even be sure that the Pharisees knew about the feeding that had just taken place, because Jesus has changed locations between these two episodes. What we do know is that there have been many miracles that Jesus has performed, which the Pharisees have either seen themselves or know about from the people. And so, it is better to understand the nature of their request in the light of how Jesus responds to it.
i. This is not a ‘Try and convince us, Jesus,’ this is a request like that of Satan who tried to tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread, for example. Do you remember how Satan prefaced his temptations? “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “turn this stone into bread.” And Satan wasn’t unsure about Jesus and looking to be convinced. Oh no. He wanted to Jesus to step outside the Father’s will.
ii. These Pharisees, then, are not looking to be convinced. They hate Jesus and have completely rejected Him. They want to kill Him, we were told way back in ch. 3. They hope that Jesus will try something and fail and be publicly discredited. And just as previously they have written off Jesus’ miracles as the work of Beelzebub, if He were to do something miraculous now, they would just explain it away, one way or another, or ignore it. People of God, this is hatred and unbelief at work.

3. Now, you may remember that when Jesus healed the deaf man at the end of ch. 7, we took note of the fact that as He was about to heal the man, “He looked up to heaven and with a DEEP SIGH…” And we described that sigh as a sigh of personal empathy with the suffering of this man, as well as a sigh of sorrow at the consequences of sin and the agonies sin would bring to Jesus on the cross. Well, from v12, we see that Jesus “sighed deeply” here as well. But there is in this sigh the RIGHTEOUS FURY of Jesus at the sin of unbelief.
a. In the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke, Jesus refuses them a sign describing them as part of “an evil and adulterous generation.”
b. And before we move on to the next episode, we simply must take note of the warning in these words that we have also heard earlier in the service:
i. PSALM 78 spoke of the people of Israel as those who “forgot [God’s] deeds” and “did not believe in God or trust in His deliverance.” And though the Lord was very patient, eventually the time of grace ran out and they were sent into exile.
ii. And now, these PHARISEES have the lesson of the exile and they have seen Jesus at work in miraculous ways, again and again. But now the Lord’s great patience toward them is about to run out and they will see His wrath.
iii. And the warning of HEBREWS 12 to us, who have Psalm 78 and the Pharisees here plus Jesus dying on the cross and rising again, is “see to it that no one misses the grace of God … See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven?”
iv. My dear friend, you are hearing the truth about Jesus. He is the Son of God. He is calling you to bow your knee before Him in worship. But if you continue to refuse Him, there will come a time when His grace will run out and all that will be left is His righteous fury.
v. VERSE 13 tells us that Jesus left the Pharisees. It is a terrible thing to have Christ turn His back on you. So please, don’t ignore Him today, for tomorrow may be too late.

Well, thirdly then, we witness THE INTERACTION BETWEEN JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES in vv14-21. And the link to the first two episodes is the mention of bread and the leaven of the Pharisees and Jesus’ questions about their lack of belief in Him.

1. And basically, congregation, this conversation between Jesus and His disciples boils down to this – Jesus and His disciples are in the same boat, but in reality they are a universe apart! With His statement about ‘the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod,” Jesus wants to teach the disciples a GREAT SPIRITUAL TRUTH.
a. He knows, you see, that in spite of the time they have spent with Him and all that they have heard Him say and do, they have not yet grasped the deeper significance of Who He is. Feeding 5000 and then 4000? Wow! They think. That’s amazing! But they have not seen Jesus as the omnipotent one; the Creator One; the One who delivers His people. And if they don’t see this, then it doesn’t matter how clearly Jesus spells it out, as He will soon do in v31, they will not understand His death.
i. And Jesus was right to warn them, wasn’t He. For when He died, they thought it was all over. They had drunk enough from the Pharisees’ well to think that His death was the end rather than His victory and the way of salvation!
ii. So here, as Jesus issues this spiritual warning, they interpret it as though He was telling them off for only bringing one loaf of bread!
iii. You know, some people need a little extra help to get the point  The commentator, R. Kent Hughes tells the story of a man who went into a bank to get some money (This was in the days before ATMs!). So the teller asked him to write out a cheque. But he refused to. So the teller said, “If you don’t write out a cheque, I can’t give you any money.” So the man stormed off to the bank across the road where he made the same request of a teller there. But the teller there said the same thing, he had to sign a cheque. But still he refused. So the teller grabbed him by the hair and banged his head on the counter saying, “You – have – to – sign – a – cheque!” So the man signed a cheque and got his money. Then he went back to the first bank and told the teller there that he had gotten his money at the other bank. And the teller was surprised and asked how it happened? “Well,” said the man, “They explained it to me better then you did.”
iv. And that is, in effect, what Jesus does here with His disciples. Having called on them to “be careful … watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod,” He now explains His words with a series of questions which metaphorically speaking amount to a head-banging!
A. “Why are you talking about having no bread?” “Do you still not see or understand?” Bang! “Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? Don’t you remember?” Bang! “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied.” Bang! “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” Bang! “He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”” Bang!

And this brings us, congregation, to EPISODE 4 – the healing of the blind man. For he serves as a kind of parable of the disciples. What happens to him physically is what is happening spiritually with the disciples as we move from episode 3 to episode 5.

1. You see, unlike the Pharisees, the disciples are not hardened in unbelief, they are what we could call DULL. They don’t understand Jesus, fully. They don’t yet see Jesus, fully. Remember what Jesus asked them? He said, “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” And so, now Mark records an encounter between Jesus and a blind man.
a. And if you were here last week as we considered the healing of the deaf man, you will recall some SIMILARITIES in the way that Jesus goes about healing both of these men. Jesus goes through a very particular process to bring about healing.
b. And I want us to quickly move on to see how this story bridges the episode before and the one that comes next. But first, we have to NOTE again the tender and individual love of Jesus for this man. Jesus heals a man of blindness! It is a miracle! This is creation power at work! This is sovereignty at work! This is a snapshot of the greater restoration that shall come about in the new heavens when all of the consequences of sin, both physical and spiritual, will be completely done away with!
c. But notice that there are TWO STAGES to the healing of this blind man. At first, he receives what we might call blurry vision. He can see shapes but not definition. So he describes people as “like trees walking around.” So Jesus then touches Him again, and then he sees “everything clearly.”

And this is how the man serves as a parable of the disciples, because up until now they have seen Jesus but have failed to see Jesus. But that is now about to change significantly as we come to the LAST EPISODE of this passage – vv27-30, and Jesus’ conversation with the disciples about Who He is.

1. And congregation, please note the very deliberate parallels between Mark’s account of the healing of the blind man and Jesus’ conversation with the disciples:
a. Both begin with a description of the village/s that Jesus was in.
b. Then we read about the partial sight of the blind man and what we could call the ‘partial sight’ of those who see something special enough about Jesus to think of Him in terms of John the Baptist, Elijah, or a prophet. But they are not seeing Him clearly, are they!
c. And then, the blind man sees clearly and Peter sees clearly as He says to Jesus, “You are the Christ.”
i. The scales of dull belief have been removed from Peter’s eyes, such that he now sees who Jesus is: Jesus is the Christ – the Anointed One of God that the prophets promised would come!
d. And finally, just as Jesus warns the blind man to go home and not to the village, which is another warning not to speak about this miracle, so Jesus now warns the disciples “not to tell anyone about Him.”
i. Jesus is the Christ. This is the truth about Jesus but without His crucifixion and resurrection, it lacks its full context, if you like, and will just be misunderstood.

Congregation, do you remember HOW MARK’S GOSPEL BEGAN? Mark 1:1 – “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ.” Well now, for the first time since then, Jesus is recognized as Christ!
– And look how the Holy Spirit has guided Mark to set this grand climax to the first half of the Gospel before us – And really, it is not just these 5 episodes that have brought us to this moment is it, we could include the healing of the deaf man in ch. 7, because just as Jesus asked the disciples about having eyes but failing to see, so He asked them about having ears but failing to hear. But I trust you have seen how every episode in the first half of the Gospel adds up to what Peter says here – Who is Jesus? He is the Christ.
– But as we conclude, we have already made mention of what happens when Jesus is crucified. These disciples flee when He is arrested. When He dies, they are shattered thinking that all hope is lost. And Peter? The one who acknowledges Jesus as the Christ here? What of him? Well, you boys and girls will surely remember what Peter did as Jesus was being tried by Pilate? He denied Jesus, three times, didn’t he, with curses, even!
o But think back now to what the blind man described when he received partial sight. He saw people looking like trees walking around. Well, do you know what it will take for the disciples to see Jesus fully fully? They will need to see Jesus on a tree, and then lifted off the tree and walking around again!
o What it takes for people to believe in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord is to know Him as their crucified and risen Saviour. When they become conscious of their sin and guilt, and see that their only hope is what He did on the cross of Calvary, then they see Jesus as He really is – Saviour and Lord. Is this how you see Jesus?
o And I see many nodding heads. Praise God that His Spirit has removed our blindness that we may see Jesus clearly!
o But like Peter, though we see Him and though we know Him, each time we tell a lie or be selfish or lust or be lazy or lose our temper or gossip, we also, in effect, deny Him. But as there was for Peter, so also for us there is the forgiveness of sins in Jesus.
o And there are these words of comfort from 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Let us pray: