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TEXT: Mark 8:1-26

SUBJECT: Mark #14: Blind Hearts, Blind Eyes Opened

The first half of Mark 8 sounds very much like the second half of Mark 6. Both begin with Jesus feeding thousands of men in the wilderness. From there, they cut to the Sea of Galilee where the disciples are worried and the Lord is frustrated. They're fretting because they don't know who He is and He's irked because He wonders why not. Both stories end with healing miracles on the other side of the lake.

Because they sound so much alike, many scholars have taken them for 'doublets', that is, for the same story told in two different ways. 'Doublets' can be found in the Bible, of course, but not here.

Mark is not repeating himself; he's adding to his Gospel, and what he adds is of the highest importance both for our theology and our everyday life. What is the message? We'll get to that shortly, but first, the story.

THE SETTING

Mark begins by telling us when and where it all took place. When is in those days, that is, not long after Jesus had fed five thousand in the wilderness, walked on the water, and stilled the storm. The wonders were still fresh in the disciples' minds, they had had time to think about them, and had their faith been stronger than what it was, they would have understood what the miracles said about Jesus.

The Twelve are very dear to Jesus and He wants them to know who He is. Hoping to reach them with the Good News, He gathers another multitude in the wilderness of Decapolis.

Decapolis is on the southwest side of the Sea of Galilee. At one time, it belonged to Israel because God gave it to them in His Providence, and told them it was theirs in His Word. But that was a long time ago. Now, the Romans had it and most of the people who lived there were Gentiles.

This grieved the patriotic Jews, but it didn't bother our Lord in the least. What they saw as an insult, He took as an opportunity. Four thousand come to Jesus, and for three days-sunrise to sundown-He teaches them the Word of God. Just what He taught them Mark doesn't say, but I believe it was what He was always teaching in one way or another-

The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.

What a marvelous teacher He was, holding four thousand people spellbound for three days, and with little or no food. Our bellies start rumbling if the preacher goes past noon-but not theirs. We do not know what lasting effect His teaching had on them, if any, but in the short-run, it made them like Job, who-

Esteemed the words of His mouth

More than my necessary food.

THE PROBLEM

When the sermon was finally over, the Lord looked out over the people and felt compassion for them. They were a long ways from the nearest town, and some of them wouldn't make it without something to eat. He tells the disciples how worried He is about the people and they ask Him the obvious question-

How can one satisfy these people with bread with bread here in the wilderness?

It seems like a reasonable question, until you recall who the first people were to ask it-

Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?

The words are found in Psalm 78:19, and summed up Israel's murmuring in the wilderness. Was it an innocent question at the time? It was not! It was a guilty question-

They sinned even more against Him

By rebelling against the Most High

In the wilderness.

And they tested God in their heart

By asking for food of their fancy.

Yes, the spoke against God:

They said, 'Can God prepare a table

In the wilderness?'

Therefore, the Lord heard this

And was furious;

So a fire was kindled against Jacob,

And anger also came up against Israel,

Because they did not believe in God,

And did not trust in His salvation.

We want to cut the disciples some slack; we put ourselves in their place and say, 'We'd ask the same question'. Right-and that's the problem! Unbelief is not innocent; it is rebellion.

Had the words come from the men of Decapolis, we'd say, 'What would you expect? They're mostly Gentiles, and the Jews who live there are infected Gentile ways'.

But it wasn't the multitude who doubted Christ in the wilderness, but His own disciples, the people who knew Him better than anyone else and who said they loved Him more.

Hunger was a big problem that day, but not nearly the size of the bigger problem: unbelief.

Jesus lets this go-for now-and feels for the hungry people who have followed Him into the wilderness. Instead of sending them off with good wishes, He enters into their plight, and you know why He does: Because He had felt the pangs of hunger Himself. For forty days He lived in the wilderness, all by Himself, and with no food. At the end of that span, He was so faint with hunger, He would have died, if God hadn't saved Him. But He did save Him, Mark says, by sending angels to-

Minister to Him.

If God had not let Him down in the wilderness, He wouldn't let the others down either. His faith was well-placed and so was theirs-

He who believes in Him will not be confounded.

Seven biscuits are found and a few sardines. The Lord takes them, and like every devout Jew, He blessed God for them, handed them to the disciples with the command-

Set them before the multitude.

They did; the people ate all they wanted; and seven baskets were left over. Supper complete, Jesus and the disciples hopped in a boat and sailed off for the opposite shore.

THE MEANING

Why did Jesus feed the four thousand? In part, He did it because they were hungry. As the Maker and the Savior of our bodies, God cares for our physical well-being, and if He cares, Jesus cares, for-

I am my Father are one.

This cannot be overlooked in the story; if our Savior has compassion for people in need, we should too. And not only in 'spiritual need' because-

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof;

The world and they who dwell in it.

Important as this is, it does not explain the miracle. In feeding five thousand Jews in the wilderness, Jesus was presenting Himself as the New Moses, the Man God sent to rescue them from their enemies, give them His Law, lead them through the wilderness of life and bring them to the place God promised to give them. This was the big idea in the first miraculous feeding.

The second feeding took place in pagan territory. Yet the very thing Jesus gave His people, He also gave to the people who were not His people. This makes Him greater than Moses; it makes Him the True Israel who becomes-

A Light to the Gentiles.

'Seven baskets' were taken up that day and the number is not incidental to the story or its theology. If you read Deuteronomy 7:1, you'll find Israel displacing seven nations-driving them out of the Promised Land and exterminating them. This was only a temporary measure, for God is the God of all the earth and intends to be the Savior of the world. The seven baskets left over symbolize the gathering of God's People from all over the world.

'Seven' is also connected to the Table of Nations in Genesis 11. Seventy nations are named; and seven is a tenth of seventy. This brings tithing to mind. God demanded ten percent from His people-not because ten percent of their income was His, but because it all was, and a tithe reminded them, all they had is His. Feeding four thousand men was no mean feat-but we ain't seen nothing yet. Jesus is going to feed the world with God's grace and sate us with His salvation.

Naturally, the people of Decapolis didn't see all this in the miracle, and that's fine because-they were not meant to. The miracle wasn't for them-it was for the disciples! If they're going to believe in Christ and preach Him, they've got to know who He is-and this miracle made it plain to them.if only they had the eyes to see it.

THE DEMAND

When the boat came ashore on the other side of the lake, the Pharisees are there, and they've come with a demand: 'Show us a sign from heaven'. In a way, they grasped more of what Jesus was saying than the disciples did. They knew He was saying something like, 'I'm the Messiah', and now they want Him to prove it.

Which He flatly refuses to do, because they have shut their eyes to the signs He has been doing from Day One. Theirs is not an honest request; it is temptation, like the testing God was put through in the wilderness.

The Lord can only sigh at their words and reply-

No sign will be given to this generation.

If the Pharisees had had ears to hear, they would have heard the church bells tolling their funeral. The generation they represented was so blind to God, so deaf to His entreaties, they would not see or hear Him till-

The Son of Man comes in the clouds of heaven

To judge them. Which is what happened, just as Jesus said it would, in that generation. Inside of forty years, Jerusalem fell to the Romans in the worst bloodbath the world has ever seen.

Still, it is not the Pharisees' unbelief that grieves the Lord most, but the disciples'.

THE LEAVEN

Tired of the Pharisees' hounding, Jesus and the Twelve board ship and sail off. In route, He warns them-

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.

The disciples had no idea what He was talking about. To their way of thinking, the Pharisees and Herod were as different as they could be. The Herodians wanted Herod to be king of Israel, not in name only, but in truth. The Pharisees wanted no part of Herod and his house, but they wanted the Law to be king, by which they meant, their interpretation of the Law. Both wanted kingdoms to come, but neither wanted God's Kingdom.

The disciples should have understood this. Didn't they know both parties wanted Jesus dead, and since He is the King, doesn't it mean they want no part of God's Kingdom? Of course it does, but they didn't get it because.they still didn't know Jesus is the King!

The leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod means their idea of the Kingdom, which like leaven at Passover, spoils everything. Since this is plainly what He means, why are they talking about not having enough food?

Time is running out; the disciples have got to get it through their thick heads that Jesus is the King and He is bringing in God's Kingdom God's way. To snap them out of their stupor, He quotes Jeremiah 5:21-

Having eyes do you not see?

And having ears do you not hear?

In Jeremiah's day, the kingdom of Judah was about to fall. The patriots said it wouldn't, that the Temple of the Lord guaranteed its safety and permanence. But Jeremiah knew better; the Temple had become a den of thieves, and the Babylonians were going to cleanse it, by burning it to the ground, and casting the survivors to the four winds.

The judgment that fell in Jeremiah's time was going to fall again, only worse. The disciples' only hope was to get away from the Pharisees' version of the kingdom and Herod's too, and swear allegiance to the True King, Jesus Christ.

This is what the miraculous feedings meant: Jesus is the Messiah, and, having taken part in both of them, the Lord can only wonder-

How is it you do not understand?

The crossing ends with the disciples, stupid as ever, and the Lord deeply worried about their blindness. Will they ever 'get it'? Will they ever know who He is and what He has come to do?

THE PROMISE

If the story ended here, we would have to wonder. What more can He do? What further proof do they need? This would be a downbeat ending if it were the ending. But it isn't.

The disciples are as blind as the Pharisees, and neither one shows any hope of improvement. And that would be awful if Jesus were limited by our potential.

A blind man is brought to Him in Bethsaida; the Lord takes him off by himself, spits on his eyes, touches them with His hand, tells him to 'look up' and-

He was restored and saw everyone clearly.

Then he was warned to tell no one what happened. Why? Because the world could wait; what matters now is the disciples get it! Which they're going to-not because they wise up in time-but because the One who opens blind eyes will also open blind hearts.

THE HOPE

This gives me hope. I'm stumbling through life like a blind man on a ship in a rough sea. I'd depressed; I'm confused; I don't know how to help myself, and I'm cursing the people I ought to be blessing. What's worse is I've nearly given up hope. I'm like the disciples-I just don't get it.

I'm responsible for not getting it, but the Lord loves people who don't get it-people like Peter and James and John and me and you. One day, the hands that opened the eyes of the blind man and the blind disciples will open my eyes. Till then, I live in hope.

The hope isn't just for me, but also for people I've given up on, or nearly. I preach to them, I counsel them, I pray for them, I turn them over to people who know more than I do, and, instead of getting better, they only get worse. The fire of hope I once had has flicked and nearly out. Until I remember that Jesus can open their eyes too. Till He does, I live in hope.

Let us, therefore, praise God for the incredible patience He shows us in the face of Jesus Christ; let us never try His patience, and when we do, let us remember we have not worn Him out.

And Jesus, having loved His own who

Were in the world,

Loved them to the end.

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