Monday, January 26, 2009

Feast on Christ

“Repetition is the mother of learning.” That old and accurate adage is illustrated in Mark’s Gospel; particularly in chapters 6-8 where the miraculous feeding of a multitude is followed by a trip on the Sea of Galilee, confrontation with the Pharisees, a conversation that has something to do with bread, a unique healing, and all of it climaxed with a confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ. Some Bible commentators have used the repetition, particularly the stories of the miraculous feedings, to be highly critical of either Mark’s Gospel in general or the disciples in specific. Their argument is largely based on the disciples’ remark from 8:4: “From whence can a man satisfy these [men] with bread here in the wilderness?” Mark must be telling the same stories twice; otherwise the disciples’ comment doesn’t make any sense, or so they say. If the disciples had indeed already witnessed Jesus create a meal for thousands out of virtually nothing, why would they say what they said?

The miracles are distinct. All of the details practically scream that Mark 8:1-9 is most certainly a second miraculous feeding; not a retelling of Mark 6:35-44. The 4,000 had been with Jesus for three days whereas the 5,000 had been with Him only for one day. In the first feeding Christ had the people sit down on the “green grass”, but with this miracle there is no green grass on which to sit because of change in seasons; as many as six to eight months have passed in between miracles. The raw material Christ used were also different. Five loaves and two fish in the first one, against seven loaves and a few small fishes in the second. The first time Jesus offered but one blessing, and the second time he gave thanks before distributing both the loaves and the fishes. In Mark 6 there were 12 baskets full of leftovers; in Mark 8 there were seven, and the baskets were different. Two different words are translated “basket” in Mark 6 and 8; the former being a smaller basket typically used by the Jews, and the latter was a larger, hamper like basket (like the basket used to lower Paul down from the city gate in Damascus – Acts 9:25). The greatest evidence that the two were separate miracles is Jesus’ own testimony from verses 19-20.

My favorite piece of evidence; however, is that Jesus is in Gentile country. The first miracle was done in Galilee for the Jews, and the second miracle was done near Decapolis for the Gentiles. This was another indication that the Kingdom of Christ was open, not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. The Lord Jesus Christ alone is able to bring near those who are afar off. When Peter preached on Pentecost to a mostly Jewish crowd he called them to repent and be baptized. Then he said, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39) Praise God for that!

I want to briefly return to the disciples. What is the point of their question? It’s been proven that the two incidents were distinct, so were these guys just dense? Were they just unbelieving? No, that’s not it at all. Give these guys some credit. They had not forgotten what had happened just a few months ago on the Galilean shore. The emphasis here is not their unbelief but their recognition that they lack the resources to feed this multitude. They're simply saying, “Here we go again, Lord. If these people are going to be satisfied out here in the wilderness only you can do it.” The first time through they were skeptical. “Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?” This time they were asserting that only Jesus could meet the people’s need and meet it abundantly. The word translated “satisfy” is chortazō and it means “to feed, to fill, to satisfy with food, to fatten”. These men were coming to learn that Christ was their only resource.

We learn by repetition. Rare is the person who is able to learn something, and retain it, in just one sitting. Repetition is the mother of learning, and the father of action. The first 21 verses of Mark chapter 8 reveals at least three things about Christ and the people around Him.

Christ Revealed as the Bread of Life – Mark 8:1-9

Jesus Christ is literally the manna sent down from heaven on which we may feast and be satisfied. He is the only source that will fulfill or satisfy us. He made that clear to the Jewish crowd on the morning following the miracle He performed for them. He said (John 6:47-51):
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. He was born in Bethlehem, which literally means “house of bread,” and on His last night He instituted the Lord’s Supper by taking bread, braking it, and saying, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24)

Praise God that the Bread of Life isn’t just for the Jews! Jesus said, “I have compassion on the multitude.” What a blessed statement to read, and what a wonderful truth on which to meditate. Christ has compassion on Jewish multitudes and Gentile multitudes. Those who come to Him will not be sent away hungry, and the only way that people – Jewish and Gentile alike – may be satisfied is by eating of the Bread of Life.

Even those who are His enemies He loves. They may not care for Him or His atoning work on the cross, but He would then and He will now graciously receive and freely pardon them if they would only repent and believe on Him. This is what it means to “eat of this bread.” The primary focus here is spiritual need; not material need. The material is not adequate to satisfy. After 40 days of fasting Christ was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy His hunger. How did Jesus respond? “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Still, Christ’s supply will always meet and exceed the demand; not only spiritually but materially. After feeding the 5,000 there were twelve baskets full leftover. After feeding the 4,000 there were seven baskets full leftover, baskets big enough to hide a grown man inside! Jesus provided, and He provides according to the need. He didn’t just dump a pile a food in front of them; He kept breaking and handing out what was needed bit by bit. Just as God provided enough manna for the day, Christ will provide what is necessary. We need to constantly bring our needs to Jesus, and He will always provide us with what we need.

Often times our problem is that we are strictly focused on the material and not the spiritual. When we speak about Christ meeting our needs, we’re normally thinking about the mortgage, the groceries, or clothing and we often confuse needs with wants. God knows what we need. He will provide (Luke 12:22-32). The people in Mark 8 were famished. It seems that no one had eaten, or at least not eaten much, in three days. Christ sent them away filled and satisfied. Kent Hughes writes:
Whatever the Lord has given us, there is still far more for Him to give us. Our souls, so to speak, are elastic. The more we eat, the more they expand. The more they expand, the more we are able to eat. None of us have ever eaten as much as He wants to give us. We are meant to hunger, and to eat and eat and eat.
We are meant to feast on the Bread of Life! His supply is freely offered and bottomless! He is our only resource, but He is the only resource that we will ever need.

The Bread of Life Refused by the Pharisees – Mark 8:10-13

When Jesus sailed back to Jewish territory He was met by a familiar group of people. This group didn’t follow Him into Gentile lands, but as soon as He returned to Galilee we read, “And the Pharisees came forth.” Obviously, this was not the “Welcome home, Jesus” committee. This was the fault-finders delegation, who were always frustrated in their efforts to find fault with Jesus.

Sadly, the Pharisees refused to believe the mountains of evidence which proved that Jesus was indeed the Bread of Life. They argumentatively approached Jesus as they were “seeking of him a sign from heaven.” His entire life had been a sign! From His birth, to His baptism, and to all of His marvelous words and miraculous works; all of it indicated for anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised and long-awaited Messiah; everything that He had done and everything that He had said was one huge, neon sign that brilliantly declared “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

How could these men, who were trained in the scriptures, not understand the signs? They didn’t because they refused to see themselves as they really were: helpless, desperate men in need of, not only a political Messiah, but the Messiah who would save them from their sin, if they would humble themselves, repent and believe.
This they refused to do, therefore regardless of the signs which they had witnessed they missed the message. Their inquiry was insincere. Mark says they asked Jesus for a “sign from heaven, tempting him.” As a result, we read for the second time in consecutive chapters that Jesus sighed. “He sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.”

This sigh is a combination of frustration and anguish. The Lord was angry with these blind shepherds who led the people astray; angry with the hypocrisy of these men who wanted to appear righteous but not be righteous; who claimed to love the word of God but only ignored both the Living Word and the written word. We learn from Matthew’s account that Jesus told these men that no sign would be given to them except the sign of Jonah – the Resurrection. Like the others, they even ignored it and even paid the Romans guards to lie about what had happened that first Resurrection morning.

This was also an anguished sigh from the Lord. JC Ryle wrote that this sigh...
Came from a heart which mourned over the ruin that these wicked men were bringing on their own souls. Enemies as they were, Jesus could not behold them hardening themselves in unbelief without sorrow.
Verse 13 is a sobering sentence. “And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.” Nothing could be more terrible than Jesus turning His back on you and sailing away, but that is what happens to those who continually refuse His revelation.

Jesus and the Twelve got back on their boat and headed for the other side of the Lake. Mark lets us know that the Twelve had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus is still ruminating over His conversation with the Pharisees and Sadducees when He says to His disciples, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and [of] the leaven of Herod.” How do the disciples respond to this warning from their Lord? “They reasoned among themselves, saying, [It is] because we have no bread.”

Feast on the Bread of Life! – Mark 8:14-21

Did I say that the disciples weren’t dense? Well then, they were undeniably obtuse. Here Jesus was warning them about the hypocritical, self-righteousness of the Pharisees and the skeptical, worldliness of the Herodians and they are worried about the pantry. A tiny amount of yeast affects the whole lump of dough into which it is mixed. A “little” hypocrisy, worldliness, and unbelief won’t stay little for long; it will permeate everything.

His warning was a timely one, and that is to be expected from the One whose timing is always perfect. Just when their hearts should have been lifted up with the joy of being with Christ, they were discontented!

Some people just need a little extra help, like the man Kent Hughes writes about in his commentary on this passage who went into a bank to cash his check. The teller asked him to endorse the check in order to receive his funds, but the man wouldn’t do it. Again the teller told the man, “If you don’t endorse the check I cannot release the funds.” The man spun on his heel, walked out of the bank and across the street to another bank where the same conversation took place. This time, however, the teller reached across the counter, took the man by the ears, and banged his head three times on the counter. The man then calmly signed his check and received his cash.

He returned to the first bank and said, “They gave me my money across the street.”

“How did that happen?” The teller asked.

“They explained it to me, of course!”

Jesus did some explaining by banging the dense disciples’ domes with a torrent of questions.
  • "Why reason ye, because ye have no bread?"BANG!
  • "Perceive ye not yet, neither understand?"BANG!
  • "Have ye your heart yet hardened?"BANG!
  • "Having eyes, see ye not, and having ears, hear ye not, and do ye not remember?"BANG! BANG! BANG!
Jesus asked, “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”

The disciples answered, “Twelve.”

Jesus asked, “And the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”

The disciples answered, “Seven.”

“And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?”

That piercing series of questions revealed the disciples’ dullness of heart, and it teaches us an important lesson. When we fail to reflect and act upon what God has revealed to us in His word then we will become progressively insensitive and dull towards the things of God. We either use it or lose it.

Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life for the entire world – Jews and Gentiles. There is no life apart from Him. Only Jesus can fulfill and satisfy, and His supply is limitless. The more we feast on Christ the more there is on which to feast. Is He your Bread?

1 comment:

Karabeth said...

I just finished reading the Gospel of Mark for my devotions. There were many times where the disciples obviously "didn't get it." How like me.

I am eternally grateful that the Lord saw fit to do miracles before the Jews and then demonstrate them again for the Gentiles. This incident seems to just preface the events of the book of Acts.

Enjoyed reading it, Travis.

The Pastor's wife in OH