Every evening, we tell our kids to go up and brush their teeth. And most every evening, we have to tell them not to goof off during this time, and to stay in the bathroom until they are done. And every evening we find them bugging each other or roaming the house rather than brushing. And of course, we always handle this gracefully and patiently. Or maybe not.
We get frustrated most every night by their behavior. Because we expect them to do what they are told. Even though they have proven over and over that they don’t get it, we still expect that they listen and obey. We know they are capable, even if they don’t do it today or tomorrow, eventually our consistent parenting will pay off and they will mature, and this battle will be a memory rather than reality. Or at least that’s the plan.
Parenting is hard work because this is the way it goes with nearly everything. We have to repeat the same lessons over and over, wondering if it will ever make any difference. But faithful, consistent parenting is necessary if we seek to disciple our kids into God-loving, God-honoring people. And ultimately, we have to trust God with the results.
So maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus was faced with the same task. We’d like to think that adults are much more wise and mature, but, like our children, sometimes it takes learning a lesson over and over before we finally get it. This morning we see Jesus patiently and compassionately repeating a lesson for the disciples. Even so, they still don’t get it. But – spoiler alert – they will…eventually.
In our passage this morning, here’s where we’re going:
Though Jesus shows (again) his abundant provision, the disciples don’t get it because sometimes seeing is a two-step process.
(Mark 8:1-10) Jesus shows (again) his abundant provision.
We get a bit of a case of déjà vu this week! Once again, Jesus has been teaching a great crowd. Once again, they are hungry. And once again he miraculously feeds them. These people (who are Gentiles!) have been with him for three days. By this time, everyone’s supplies are gone. And yet, still they stay and listen to Jesus. For three days! Sitting and listening to Jesus was more important to them than making sure they had their next meal. What a beautiful example of a proper response to Jesus.
Do you and I value Jesus’ teaching this way? Do we make it a priority? Are we willing to set aside our other needs and wants to listen and learn?
Jesus knows the physical needs of the people, and he has compassion on them. Just as we saw when he fed the 5000, Jesus cares deeply for his people. And so, this time it is he who initiates the feeding. The disciples respond “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Seriously? They have just experienced this same situation and seen Jesus multiply bread to feed 5000. Why don’t they suggest he do it again? It certainly seems that is what he is hinting at. Why are they always missing the boat?
To be fair to them, we should keep in mind that Jesus regularly taught crowds but he didn’t regularly feed them miraculously, according to what we know from Scripture. So maybe it would have seemed presumptuous to suggest he multiply bread and fish again. But look at the many examples of presumptuousness in the book of Mark! Jesus loved to honor the bold requests of those who came to him in faith. I think we are meant to read this account and see that the disciples missed it here. If they had understood truly who Jesus was, they would have asked in faith for Jesus to feed the people like he had done before.
Yet here again we see Jesus’ compassion. He simply asks the same question he asked last time “How many loaves do you have?” And he took the seven loaves and the few small fish and somehow fed everyone. The language that Mark uses here so closely repeats the language of the feeding of the 5000. It is clear that Jesus is repeating this miracle for the disciples. They didn’t get it last time. Remember? Right after miraculously feeding the masses, Jesus walks on water and calms the storm and what is their response? “They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (6:51-52)
Speaking of Jesus’ compassion! He patiently repeats this huge miracle so that they might understand who he is. That he is the Lord of life, the Creator, the Great Provision, God himself.
Jesus is the same today. He patiently teaches us the same things over and over, in his compassion and love. He certainly does for me!
You may know that I write somewhat regularly for the Verity Fellowship blog. Recently I was asked to write about living joyfully. Which felt ironic, because frankly joy is hard for me, and I had been in a season where I was particularly struggling with it. So, as often is the case, writing the article was me first wrestling with applying what I was studying. And as I was doing so, the whole thing felt very familiar. I realized that was because it was. I had previously written about finding joy when it’s hard. I had been through this lesson before. I’m not so unlike the disciples. All too easily I forget what Jesus has done. I forget who he is.
What about you? Are there truths that Jesus is trying to teach you right now? Are you listening and believing, taking to heart what he is showing you? We can take comfort and encouragement in the fact that Jesus personally, patiently and compassionately was willing to do the same miracle twice for the disciples. He is willing to patiently teach us, too.
But here is the crazy thing. Jesus’ disciples still don’t get it!
(Mark 8:11-21) The disciples don’t get it.
We don’t see this right away. We read on in the chapter, and the account turns to the Pharisees. Jesus makes a quick stop in Dalmanutha, apparently just to be insulted by the Pharisees. They ask for sign, which makes me wonder what they think Jesus has been doing this whole time! The problem isn’t lack of a sign on Jesus’ part. The problem is persistent unbelief on their part. And so, he gets back on the boat and warns his disciples to “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Jesus is warning them against unbelief, against self-reliance. Both the Pharisees and Herod were convinced they could make it just fine on their own. They had it all figured out, and they had no need of a Messiah.
But what do the disciples think he’s talking about? Bread. They are concerned they may run out of food. You have to be kidding, right? Jesus has just fed 4000 people, after feeding 5000 people. He has just demonstrated that he is well aware of the physical needs of his followers, and perfectly capable of meeting them. And now here they are, out on a boat, afraid of going hungry?
Jesus response? “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 read this, I tend to hear Jesus chewing them out – much like I sometimes chew my kids out when they are doing everything BUT brushing their teeth. “Come on guys, you know better than this. Do I have to tell you the same thing every day?” But I don’t think that was probably Jesus’ tone. He goes on to teach them, patiently still “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?’”
Neither the Pharisees or the disciples understood who Jesus was, or believed that he was who he said he was. But there was a fundamental difference between the two groups. The Pharisees dismissed Jesus and challenged him at every turn. Their hearts were completely hardened to the truth. They had no idea of their need for him. The disciples, on the other hand, stayed with Jesus day by day. They didn’t get it, but they wanted to. They knew they needed to be with Jesus. They were maddeningly slow to understand, but they were called by Jesus to believe. And he never gave up on them.
Isn’t this so encouraging to us? I am often maddeningly slow to get things. Maybe you are too. But if we are called by Jesus to believe, he won’t give up on us. He’ll keep teaching us, keep explaining, keep revealing himself. He doesn’t expect us to get it perfectly the first time. He just wants our hearts to be soft. He wants us to know our need of him. He wants us to stay by his side, trying to learn. How are we doing with that? Are we staying by his side, longing to be with him, longing to know him? Or are we allowing seeds of unbelief to settle and sprout in our lives?
The disciples believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but they don’t yet understand what that means, or who he most truly is. They kind of see, but their vision is all blurry. Which brings us to the last section of our passage this week…
(Mark 8:22-26) Seeing is a two-step process.
This is the same Jesus who healed the deaf man at the end of chapter seven. Remember the people’s response to this healing? “He has done all things well. He makes even the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (7:37) So, what’s up with this blind man? Was his condition more severe? Did Jesus somehow flub up the healing so that it didn’t take the first time?
I think it’s safe to say that was not the case. By now, we know that Jesus is quite capable of doing everything. And by now we know, if we believe, that he is fully God. This man’s blindness was not more difficult to heal, and Jesus didn’t mess it up. He healed this man in two stages for a reason. The only question is, what was the reason?
First, we should observe that Jesus took this man out of town to privately heal him. This definitely breaks the pattern in Mark. Most all of Jesus’ miracles are done publicly. Mark doesn’t give us an explanation as to why Jesus did this, and there are several reasonable assumptions that we can make. But I think one safe assumption is that this miracle is meant to teach the disciples privately. Jesus had a lesson just for them.
Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and laid his hands on him. Now, I know this is Jesus and maybe he has special spit, but it’s still spit. And I actually don’t think Jesus had special spit – just the ordinary, human kind. So I always have to take a moment to say “eww!”
But moving on, Jesus touches the man but the man isn’t fully healed. He sees people who look like trees – in other words, they are totally blurry. So Jesus lays hands on him again and the man’s sight is restored, and he can see clearly.
Now, any of us who’ve had bad eyesight and then gotten glasses or contacts can relate, right? I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade. I remember the drive home, exclaiming to my mom that license plates had letters and numbers! Before, I could make out the shape of the plates, but couldn’t see the detail. It was a whole new world when I could once again see the crispness and clarity of the world.
That was this man’s experience, too. He obviously had not been blind his whole life. When he regained even partial sight, he knew that the shapes before him had to be people, even though he couldn’t make them out clearly. And then when Jesus touched him a second time, everything became crisp and clear and beautiful.
There was a profound lesson for the disciples here. They saw Jesus. They spent every day with him. They believed that he was something special, a man to leave everything for. But they were still seeing him all blurry. When he did these crazy, miraculous things it didn’t fit their understanding of him. They didn’t know what it all meant. So sometimes it resulted in them being astounded or astonished. Other times it resulted in them being frustrated or hardened.
But the day was coming where they would see him clearly. Suddenly, their eyes would be opened and they would grasp the full beauty of who Jesus was. They would see clearly that he is the Suffering Servant, the Messiah who would die in their place. They would finally realize their deep need of him to reconcile them to God, through paying the penalty for their sins. They would realize that their friend was their Savior, God himself. And they would never be the same.
The same is true for all of us. Coming to Jesus is not a one and done process. He opens our eyes over and over to the truth of who he is and what he’s done. First, we see him as our Savior and we give our lives to him, repenting and believing. And then throughout the rest of our lives as believers, he reveals more and more of himself to us. We grow in knowledge and godliness.
And the day is coming when we will see him crystal clear, like the numbers and letters on license plates. We will see him in his heavenly home, seated on the throne, ruling over all of creation. We will finally see him face to face in all of his glory.
Praise God that he doesn’t give up on us. What an amazing and wonderful Savior we have, who will teach us the same lesson over and over. Who will open up our eyes bit by bit so that we continue to see him anew. And who will give us glorious hope of a future spent with him, seeing him clearly forever.