I want to emphasize something about Mark’s gospel as we continue in our verse by verse study of it this morning. And that is that Mark is not writing a biography of Jesus, he is not writing a history of Jesus Christ nor His ministry. But Mark is writing the gospel. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. The good news is God’s plan of salvation for His people, brought about and manifested through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Now I emphasize that point because understanding that helps us to discern why some things are stated in the gospels and some things may have been left out. So that we might understand that some things that might seem merely biographical on the surface may be intended to be used to teach certain principles of the gospel. We have to be careful not to over-spiritualize every thing that happened, and yet we do need to recognize some things that have spiritual significance and not just read it in a superficial way.
And Jesus Himself emphasizes the necessity of that, of having eyes that see spiritually, and not just see the physical implications of an event. In fact, He rebukes the disciples for their lack of spiritual insight in vs17 saying, “Why do you discuss [the fact] that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? “HAVING EYES, DO YOU NOT SEE? AND HAVING EARS, DO YOU NOT HEAR?”
Now that’s pertinent especially because of the fact that Jesus has reached a transition point in His ministry. From this point on, He is not so much focused on preaching the gospel to the multitudes as He is focused on teaching the disciples. He will be crucified within a year’s time, and He must prepare the disciples to carry on His work once He is gone from them. And so we will consider this passage in light of this transition in HIs ministry, and that Jesus is using these events to teach the disciples especially. To prepare them for ministry when He is taken away from them.
So then, the chapter opens with yet another feeding of the multitudes. You will remember we looked a few weeks ago at the feeding of the 5000 in chapter 6. This is a few weeks or so later, we’re not sure exactly. It’s in another location, which may have been in the Decapolis region, a largely Gentile region.
Look at vs 1, “In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples and said to them, I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance.”
Though Jesus is now focusing on teaching the disciples, that doesn’t mean that He has abandoned the multitudes. Mark says He has compassion on them. But perhaps Jesus also wants to pass on that compassion to His disciples. He wants to teach them what it means to have compassion. And so He does that by example. That really is the best method of teaching a lot of the time, isn’t it? Not just to preach doctrine, but to show by your actions the life changing doctrines of our faith. For out of a changed heart come a change in actions and behavior.
Jesus had taught that principle previously as recorded in Luke 6: 44-45 “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil [man] out of the evil [treasure] brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
So how better to teach compassion than to once again feed the hungry multitudes who have no possibility of feeding themselves. And even more to the point, to engage the disciples in that process.
But the disciples are slow to learn. Vs. 4 And His disciples answered Him, “Where will anyone be able [to find enough] bread here in [this] desolate place to satisfy these people?” They have already forgotten what happened a few weeks earlier when they were in another desolate place, and there were 5000 people there who had not eaten. But let’s not criticize too severely the disciples when we are often guilty of the same thing. Isn’t it amazing how quickly we forget the provision and blessing of God in the past when faced with a new trial in our lives? We are so caught up in the moment of crisis that we forget how often God has delivered us or provided for us in previous trials.
But let’s continue the story in vs 5 And He was asking them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people. They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be served as well. And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces.”
Now when Jesus fed the 5000 there were 5 loaves and two fish. In this feeding of the 4000 there are seven bread cakes, which were like flat bread, and some fish. I don’t think there is anything significant about the amount of food available. But what is significant is that Jesus asks the disciples how much bread that they had. Again, the emphasis of Christ’s teaching is to instill compassion for the multitudes in the hearts of the disciples, and to consider what they had as the means of supplying the need of the multitude.
Spiritually speaking, this miracle illustrates that Jesus is the bread of life that comes down out of heaven, which God gives to men who are desperate for the spiritual food which gives life. And the disciples take the bread of life from Christ and serve it to the multitudes, and God is able to make it sufficient for everyone that will receive it.
So the disciples serve the people and after everyone has eaten, they pick up 7 bushel baskets full of the leftovers. There is more than enough for the multitudes and for themselves. These baskets are quite a bit larger than the 12 baskets they picked up after feeding the 5000. In the previous case, the baskets were more like the size of a personal lunch basket. There were 12 disciples and 12 baskets left over for them to be able to eat. In this feeding, Mark uses a word that is also later used to describe the basket that the apostle Paul was let down from the wall in. That’s a pretty big basket, to be big enough to hold a man. It reminds us of the promise that in regards to ministry, that God will provide all your needs according to His riches in glory. Perhaps it also speaks to the abundant, super sufficiency of the gospel.
It illustrates the principle Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, [and] running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
Immediately after this event, they get back in the boat and leave this region to go to the region of Dalmanutha. And it is after leaving the predominately Gentile region, and going back to an area more populated by the Jews, that they run into the Pharisees again. Vs11 “The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’”
I’ve said before that the Pharisees were like the game, “whack a mole”. They were always popping out from behind a tree or something, hoping to catch Jesus or His disciples in some error. In this case, they come asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus has been doing hundreds if not thousands of miraculous works. But they want something more. They want to tempt Jesus to do something prideful or self validating. And if He should do what they ask, then they would use that against Him as well. Because they have already decided not to believe in Him. I think they recognized that there was already more than enough evidence to prove that He was the Messiah. But they have rejected Him because they do not want this man to rule over them. They have attributed His miraculous powers to Satan. And so in a similar fashion as Satan did in the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, they want to tempt Him to sin in some way in order to publicly discredit Him. For instance, to sin like when Moses struck the rock in anger so that water came out. They hope to discredit Jesus in a similar way.
Matthew adds in his account in chapter 16 vs 4, that Jesus said “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.” That miraculous sign that Jesus speaks of was likened to the sign of Jonah, where Jesus was three days in the belly of the earth and would rise again from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus was the sign from God that Jesus was indeed the Holy One of God and that God had considered Him righteous and His atonement had been considered sufficient for the sins of the world.
But when Jesus says this generation will not be given a sign, He is speaking of the Jewish people living in His day. Particularly, He is speaking of the Pharisees and other religious leaders that have rejected the truth of the gospel. When Jesus appeared after His resurrection, He doesn’t appear to the Pharisees, or temple priests. He only appears to those who had believed in Him, His disciples.
But isn’t it also true that our evil generation seeks for a sign? Isn’t it true that people today say that if God is real, then why doesn’t He show Himself? Why doesn’t God prove Himself to me? But one day God will reveal Himself in all His glory, with flaming angels of fire, and yet that display of His glory will not be for their salvation, but for their damnation. God has established that it is by faith and not by sight, that we are saved.
Let’s look next at vs 13 “Leaving them (that is the Pharisees), He (Jesus) again embarked and went away to the other side. And they had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They [began] to discuss with one another [the fact] that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss [the fact] that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? “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 you picked up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “When [I broke] the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Once again, we see the emphasis here is on Jesus teaching the disciples, and He uses the incident with the Pharisees. Jesus is trying to teach spiritual discernment to the disciples. Discernment is not something that is easy to teach. Yet it’s something vital for a spiritual teacher or leader to have.
But when Jesus is warning them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, the disciples think that He is upset because they forgot to bring enough bread for lunch. I”m not sure how they made that correlation, except it seems that they are always thinking about their stomachs. I suppose we are guilty of the same thing a lot of times. The Lord may be teaching us a spiritual principle in the Word, and we interpret it as a physical thing. I was trying to explain to someone the other day about that principle in regards to what we consider blessings. We tend to see blessings only in the realm of the physical. In fact, we most often consider God’s blessings as being financial. But actually, God’s blessings are much more than simply financial. In fact, you might argue that financial “blessings” are more often than not really a curse.
So Jesus was warning them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Herodians were the party of Herod who were conniving with the Pharisees how to discredit Jesus and ultimately how to kill Him. Leaven in scripture is always a picture of sin. That’s why they ate unleavened bread at Passover. So in this case, Jesus means that the teaching of the Pharisees and Herodians is evil, in that it has the corrupting influence of sin in what appears to be spiritual food. The gospel is spiritual food, the bread of heaven, given to the multitude. But the spiritual food that the Pharisees fed the people was in fact corrupted by sin. It was corrupted by unbelief and hatred and the desire to murder of the Son of God.
And it would seem that Jesus is a little exasperated that the disciples cannot see that, but instead interpret His warning as saying something about not having enough bread for their lunch. So Jesus reminds them that He had supplied enough bread to feed 5000 people and 4000 people and still have plenty left over. Don’t they understand that He could easily feed 12 disciples from one loaf of bread? Don’t be focused on physical things when you need to be focused on spiritual things. If you comprehend the spiritual, then God will take care of the physical.
There’s one final illustration of this principle of the necessity of spiritual discernment. And that’s found in the healing of the blind man. Vs 22 “And they came to Bethsaida. (This is the same place where Jesus fed the 5000) And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see [them] like trees, walking around.” Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and [began] to see everything clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
Taken at face value, this is one of the most confusing and difficult to understand miracles that Jesus performs. Jesus who has by now healed probably hundreds of blind persons, who has healed countless others from every sort of disease, who has even raised dead people to life, heals this blind man in two stages. And no one seems to know why. Some commentators just say that God has His purposes and we are not privy to them. And that may be true to some extent.
But when you consider the context of this whole passage, we might get some insight into why Jesus heals this way. One thing is for sure, it’s not because this man doesn’t have enough faith to be healed, as the charismatic faith healers like to say. It’s not because Jesus doesn’t have enough power to heal in one sitting this particular brand of blindness in this man. As I just said, Jesus has healed thousands of people, even dead people. You can’t find less faith than in a dead person, nor a more difficult illness than death. So you can disregard those possible reasons.
I think we must use a bit of spiritual discernment ourselves in considering all that Mark has related that happened so far in this chapter, which gives us the only possible reason that Jesus heals this way. And that is to illustrate that spiritual discernment, or spiritual maturity comes by sanctification, which is progressive in nature. See, salvation comes to us in three stages. The first stage is justification, whereby by faith we are judged in Christ, where He takes our sin upon Himself and we receive His righteousness. At this point we are born again, made alive in Christ Jesus by faith in who He is and what He has done. We are given a new heart.
Then the second stage of our salvation begins at that moment. And that is the process of sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. It is the process of living out the righteousness that has been imputed to us. It is learning to be obedient. It is learning about the Lord. It is contemplating on His word and applying it to your life. It is the fruit of righteousness produced in our life from having been given a new heart. As Jesus said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good.”
I read recently about a man who was saved out of a pagan culture. And as he grew in his faith he decided he wanted to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “I had a really difficult time memorizing the Sermon on the Mount until I committed to live out those principles in my daily practice.” Sanctification is living out our salvation, bearing the fruit of righteousness in our life.
The third phase of our salvation is glorification. When we shall see the Lord face to face, and we will be made like Him, given a new body in the new heaven and the new earth. But the second stage is the one we live in now. It’s a stage of spiritual progression. And that stage is the one in which you grow in spiritual discernment and maturity. And I think that’s what Jesus was illustrating by His two stage healing of the blind man.
Remember, He has given two illustrations of feeding the multitudes from His hands to the disciples hands to the hands of the multitudes. Then He rebuked the Pharisees for not seeing Him for who He was despite having seen the miracles and signs that He had done. Then He rebuked the disciples for not having eyes to see, for being spiritually dull and only thinking of the physical, when they should have been focused on the spiritual. And now He heals the blind man in the first stage, so that he sees, but not clearly. And then laying His hands on Him again, the man begins to see clearly.
I think there is a correlation indicated there in the progressive nature of our sanctification. Whereby as we follow Christ, as we do as He instructs us, as we follow in His footsteps, as we listen to His word, our eyes are made more clear, so that we understand more distinctly the truth of the gospel, so that we might be more closely conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
That is the goal of our salvation. We will not be made perfect here in this life, but as Paul said in Phil. 3:12-14 “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s speaking of the process of sanctification, of becoming more like Christ, and then he goes on to speak of our glorification. 17 “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end [is] destruction, whose god [is their] belly, and [whose] glory [is] in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”
Let us strive to follow in Christ’s footsteps, that we “may be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:9)