The stories about feeding a multitude of people are similar but only Matthew and Mark record both the feeding of 5,000 and 4,000. In this account of feeding the 4,000 Jesus’ compassion is on full display. The crowd is large, they have been with Him for 3 days, and they do not have food. They had come a long way to see Jesus and needed to eat before they returned home. The disciples lack of compassion is also on full display. How were they supposed to find food for all these people in this wilderness. Yes, they knew about the manna and God providing. They were there for the feeding of the 5,000. But they still didn’t fully understand. Even so, Jesus worked through them to bring both spiritual and physical food to the crowd. What they could not do by themselves, the mighty Son of God would do through them. This time there are seven loaves of bread and a few fish. As before Jesus took these things, blessed them, and broke them before giving them to the people to eat; once again foreshadowing the Last Supper. The people ate as much as they wanted. This shows the super abundance of the goodness of God and His willingness to bless the people. And as before, Jesus got into a boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee. The location of Dalmanutha is unknown.
Again the Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus. Their lack of faith is clear here because they had just witnessed Jesus feeding the multitude but they needed a sign that He was who He claimed to be. The Pharisees were persistent in their antagonizing Jesus. This sought after sign was not a healing, an exorcism, a raising from the dead, or a nature miracle. There had already been many of these and Jesus’ ability to do these things was well noted, even to the Pharisees. The sign they wanted was a miraculous sign from heaven, that is directly from God, that would demonstrate once and for all that Jesus was the Christ. The reality was that no sign could convince these folks that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Those who had open hearts already believed and those whose hearts were hard might not ever believe. Jesus made it known that He would give them no sign. His oath here meant “may God’s judgement fall on me if I give this generation any such sign.” This is unbending. From this point Jesus warned the disciples of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying and they believed He warned them because they had not brought any food except one loaf of bread.
This yeast is the false teaching. It could also refer to their unbelief and hardness of heart. In other words, do not be like these people. The reference to Herod could refer to his unwillingness to accept what he knew to be true. The disciples completely missed the point of Jesus’ warning and forgot that because Jesus was with them, their supply of bread was irrelevant. Jesus asked eight questions of the disciples. They of all people should have been aware of the miraculous power of the Son of God. They may have remembered the miracles but didn’t connect them to their immediate situation. All these questions refer to the feeding miracles. And Jesus asked, don’t you understand yet? This isn’t all bad however because the “yet” implies that there will be a time when they do understand. Jesus resurrection would give the disciples an understanding of Jesus’ identity and power. The disciples and Jesus had earlier tried to head to Bethsaida but were delayed. When they finally arrived they encountered a blind man who asked to be healed. Jesus took the man aside and spit on the his eyes. He could see but everything was fuzzy. Healing was not instantaneous and Jesus placed His fingers on the man’s eyes and then he saw everything clearly. We can ask who is this man who quiets and calms the seas and heals the blind? Peter answers in the next conversation.
Chapter 8:28-38 makes a turn in this gospel. We find Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus’ prediction of His death. It is also a new stage in Jesus’ life. Jesus took the disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi on the slopes of Mount Hermon, some 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. He asked them who people thought He was. The answers ranged from Elijah to John the Baptist to one of the prophets. Then Jesus asked who they thought Jesus was. Peter called Jesus the Messiah here, and Jesus asked that they keep that to themselves. Chapter 8 ends with Jesus predicting his death. He would suffer and be killed in Jerusalem and three days later rise from the dead. In response Peter objected, so Jesus taught him and the other disciples the nature of His mission, and what it really means to follow Him. It was a divine necessity that Jesus must suffer. The immediate cause for that was the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of the religious law. But, the ultimate cause was the will of God. Jesus’ death would not be the end because He would rise up three days later. Peter seemed to understand but didn’t accept it. Peter was sure that Jesus was supposed to be a victorious national ruler so he thought Jesus’ talk of suffering and death was nonsense. Jesus looked first at His disciples and then turned to Peter. He rebuked Peter, wanting all of them to understand Peter was wrong. Telling Peter to get away from me satan didn’t mean Peter was demon possessed. It was just that Peter spoke from a very human point of view, not from God’s. That means he was unwittingly speaking for the evil one, the god of the world, and he was repeating the evil ones temptation.
Jesus called the crowd to join the disciples and Jesus taught them the cost of being His follower. To give up your own way involves letting Jesus determine your goals and purposes in life. To take up your cross is metaphorical. This indicates that faithfulness to Jesus must extend, if required, to the point of death. To follow Jesus’ teaching and example is a continual commitment. If you try to hang onto your life by keeping it from Jesus you will lose it in the next world. But if you lose your life to Jesus and His cause, the spreading of the Good News, you will save your life forever. Jesus’ questions are rhetorical. And His point is that we can possess the entire world but that has no value if we give up eternal life. We need our souls to enjoy the benefits of the world to come. When you forfeit your life or soul, there is nothing we can give to purchase it back. And, when Jesus returns, He will be ashamed of those who were ashamed to be identified with Him and His message.
Jesus begins chapter 9 with a promise to tell His disciples the truth. There is debate as to what this means. It may mean the disciples will witness Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It might mean they will experience the coming of the Holy Spirit on the church. Some may live to see the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It could also mean some would witness Jesus’ transfiguration as a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom. Because this occurs right before Marks account of Jesus’ transfiguration he may well have meant that. Jesus’ transfiguration deeply affected Peter and John. Both of them mention this in their writings. Some see Jesus’ Pre-incarnate glory here while others see an advance glimpse of the Son of Man’s future glory. In any case it was overwhelming to the three disciples. Peter wanting to build three shelters, one each for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses places these men on the same footing. But Jesus is nowhere near to being the same as Moses and Elijah. He is much greater. After Peter’s suggestion a bright cloud descended and God the Father spoke. This is my Son. Listen to Him. And then Moses and Elijah were gone and Jesus told the three disciples to keep this occurrence a secret until the resurrection. After that, nothing would need to be kept secret. It was after the fact that the three disciples understood what Jesus meant by “rising from the dead.” But they also wanted to understand the prediction that Elijah had to return before the Messiah comes. And how did this fit with Jesus’ prediction of His own death, resurrection, and return. This question is based on the words of Malachi 4:5-6. As for the suffering, scripture said the Son of Man must suffer greatly. See a psalm 22 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The teachers of the law were in error because Elijah had already come. This was the person of John the Baptist. But because they didn’t recognize Elijah they failed to recognize that the kingdom of God had already come. And that the Messiah’s suffering and death that were predicted in scripture were already taking place.
We find the fourth and last exorcism here in chapter 9. The disciples were unable to perform this one so Jesus did. The father complained about the disciples inability to exorcise the demon and then told Jesus that if He could do anything, he would appreciate it. Jesus was perhaps taken aback and responded if I can do anything? Anything is possible if you believe, to which the father of the boy responded I do believe. Help my unbelief. The crowd was in awe of Jesus. Perhaps He was still showing the glory of God. Jesus saw that the crowds were growing so He quickly performed the exorcism saying I command you to come out of this child and never bother him again. This dramatizes Jesus power here. The demon gave the boy one last good convulsion and left him with a shriek. When the crowds had left, the disciples asked why they had not been successful in casting out this demon. He told them prayer and fasting were sometimes required to be able to prevail in some difficult cases. Fasting would focus all ones energies on the resources of our Great God.
Jesus continued to seek privacy for teaching the disciples about His coming suffering, but they were still unable to accept Jesus teaching concerning His death. And they couldn’t recognize how it fit into God’s plan. Because they didn’t understand they could not not see its implications for their own lives. They traveled to Capernaum, and on the way argued who was the greatest among them. Jesus taught them that true greatness in the kingdom involves being the servant of everyone else, not the master, as Jesus would make clear by His own example. In Jesus’ day children were not seen as innocent and pure. Instead they were seen as weak and inferior. Yet children were to be received on Jesus’ behalf. Welcoming a child is an example of humbly taking the last place and serving everyone else. The disciples were concerned that another, not related to them was casting out demons in Jesus name but Jesus told them this was OK since while this person was doing that they could not act against Him. The consequences of causing sin ties these verses together. They were not meant to be interpreted literally. What Jesus is saying is that no sin is worth going to hell for. It is better to repent than to suffer that sort of punishment. The externality of hell is emphasized by the terms never die and never goes out. We see the terror of the everlasting fire and the decay and corruption where maggots eternally eat everything away. This is a powerful imagery to repent in order to escape the punishment of hell. Jesus spoke of being salted by fire. Some point to this as everyone being challenged by trials and judgements in their lives. These will purify our faith, and for unbelievers they will be salted with the eternal fire of God’s judgement. The fire of testing has a purifying effect, like salt. Salt also refers to Christian character. Genuine Christian character will have a genuinely purifying influence. Their salt came from the Dead Sea and contained impurities. So it looked like good salt but it was useless. It’s didn’t taste salty and it became a disposal problem.
The Pharisees question about divorce was much debated in Judaism, but here it had a hostile purpose as they tried to trap Jesus. John the Baptist was beheaded over his teaching that Herod Antipas’s divorce and remarriage was unlawful. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, John was martyred close to Jesus’ current location east of the Jordan River at Herod’s fortress at Macherus. If Jesus answered in Agreement with John The Baptist the Pharisees could indict Him before Herod. But if Jesus said that divorce was lawful, he would be contradicting a prophet. So Jesus answered the Pharisees trick question with a counter question. The Pharisees quoted what Moses permitted. God permitted divorce as a concession to the hard hearts of the people. Jesus showed that God delights in marriage and no one should rebel against God’s will by seeking to split apart what God has United. Jesus explained to the disciples later, which was His custom with them. The parallel of this text in Luke agrees with Mark but Matthew and Paul both offer one exemption for divorce; infidelity or an unbelieving partner who deserts the marriage. Mark focused on God hates divorce, marriage is meant to be for life, and divorce betrays the divine purpose of marriage.
Jesus love and concern for children has already been seen before in Mark and in Matthew but Jesus uses this to teach that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. It means having a trusting child like faith. The attributes include humility and the ability to accept things simply. The story of the rich man continues the themes of discipleship begun in 9:33, and the requirements for entering the kingdom of God. The attitude of the rich man sharply contrasts with the childlike faith needed for entering the kingdom of God. This rich man was a young ruler who showed respect to Jesus by kneeling down and calling Him good teacher. In Mark’s gospel Jesus is frequently called teacher, but the addition of good is unique. Jesus’ reply has troubled interpreters for centuries. He was most likely objecting to the man’s loose application of the term good to any human being, since ultimate goodness and perfection belong to God alone. Without in any way denying His own goodness, Jesus wanted to focus the rich man’s attention on God. The rich man wanted to enter the kingdom of God, and Jesus was contrasting God’s goodness with the man’s own human sinfulness. In naming five of the Ten Commandments Jesus wasn’t implying that the man could earn eternal life by keeping them. Jesus was telling him what the standards are and allowing the man to evaluate his own performance. To truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourself requires trusting in God’s Grace, accepting Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf and keeping his commandments. The man’s response was naïve but not arrogant. The man lacked one thing; he loved riches more than he loved God. This broke the first commandment. Entering the kingdom of God requires repentance and Jesus helped this man to understand exactly what repentance entailed for him. This man needed to deny himself and love God first and foremost by giving away his money. The man’s tragic response showed that he really did love money and things the most. And he went away sorrowful because he had much. Interesting that the things he thought he needed to have actually brought him sorrow here.
Jesus continued turning things upside down. It was common thought that riches meant blessings by the Lord. Now Jesus is saying that it will be nearly impossible for a rich person to enter into heaven. Riches are an obstacle to entering the kingdom of God. Not that having riches is bad. It is what we do with the riches. So, the camel was the largest animal in Palestine and the eye of a needle was the smallest hole. Once again we see Jesus using hyperbole. Again we see the disciples astounded and amazed at what Jesus was saying. Verse 27 can be interpreted in a couple of ways. Salvation by ourselves is impossible but with God anything is possible. And it is possible that God might give unusual grace that would enable rich people to overcome their sinful love of riches. Mark does not explain his understanding. Now the disciples were concerned. They had given up everything to follow Him and Jesus assured them they would receive whatever they had given up many times over, including a new family in Christ and Christian hospitality. You see, what is gained in following Jesus far outweighs any loss we might have. The account ends with a proverb, contrasting the way God understands life and how people generally understand it. For those who have eyes that see and ears that hear, the kingdom of God has already come.
The disciples awe and the people’s fear cast a dark shadow over what lay ahead, given the hostility of the Jerusalem leaders against Jesus. So, once again Jesus took the disciples aside and explained to them what was going to happen in great detail. Jesus knew what was ahead but it was neither tragedy or fate. It was the will of God. The leading priests and teachers of religious law were the human agents who fulfilled God’s purpose through their hatred of Jesus. But the Jewish authorities did not have the right of capital punishment so they had to hand Jesus over to the Romans to carry out the actual execution. As in Matthew we see the disciples James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands, thinking they are well equipped to drink the same cup Jesus will drink. This is followed by Jesus teaching all the disciples what greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God means. It revolves around servant hood, doing for others with no regard for ourselves. The two brothers didn’t know what they were asking. Drinking from the cup here is the cup of God’s wrath. Nobody wants to drink from that cup. The baptism of suffering recalls Jesus’ total commitment to God’s calling at His baptism. Eventually James and John did drink a bitter cup of suffering for Jesus. James died a martyr and John was severely punished before he died at a ripe old age. But, their death was nothing like Jesus’. No believer can die for the sins of the whole world or experience divine wrath as Jesus did. The unbelieving world thinks that leadership means lording it over others. But just as Jesus’ role as Messiah and Son of God meant suffering and death, being His follower involves serving others, not ruling over them. Jesus explained what all this means. His death is a ransom, a payment made to free a slave or captive. Jesus died as a substitute for all.
The healing of blind Bartimaeus is the last healing miracle in Mark. Bartimaeus’ confession, Jesus son of David, serves to prepare the reader for the confession of the people upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Jesus and His traveling party reached Jericho, the last major city before Jerusalem. There was a large crowd following them but it could have been fellow Passover pilgrims going in the same direction. However, they showed Jesus’ great popularity and charisma. Bartimaeus was parked alongside this road near Jericho. It was a good spot to receive alms from religious pilgrims. When he found out Jesus was coming his way, Bartimaeus began calling for Jesus to come to where he was. He believed that Jesus was concerned with bringing God’s kingdom to the poor, maimed, lame, and blind, and he requested mercy and healing. When it was clear that Jesus wanted to see Bartimaeus he jumped up and threw off his coat in joy and anticipation. He was casting off his old life in preparation for the new. His request for sight revealed his faith in Jesus and his faith was rewarded and he was healed. His healing was performed without touch in contrast to the other healing of a blind man. Tomorrow we prepare to enter Jerusalem.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W