Sermons

May 5/6, 2018

Bread in the Boat

Jason Meyer | Mark 8:1-21

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “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 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?”—Mark 8:1–21

Introduction

It is time to tie together some parts of the Gospel of Mark that perhaps feel scattered to you. The introduction opens with four testimonies that Jesus is the Son of God: Mark (1:1), the prophets (1:2–3), John the Baptist (1:4–8), and God the Father (1:9–11). In the final scene of the introduction, Jesus met the adversary of our souls (Satan) in the wilderness. We witnessed the Trinitarian triumph as the Son submitted to the plan of the Father in the power of the Spirit (vv. 12–13).

Then we came to the body of the narrative. Most everyone divides Mark into two sections, with Peter’s confession in chapter 8 as the watershed moment. The first half establishes that Jesus is the powerful Son of God with divine authority over everything. The second half establishes that he is the suffering Servant come to give us life by giving his life as a payment or ransom for sin.

We are nearing the end of the first half of this Gospel. Mark ties this together in a masterful way. Think of some of the mighty miracles Jesus performed as signs showing that he is the supernatural Son of God. In particular, remember the boat miracle of 4:35–41 where Jesus stilled the storm. Then recall the bread miracle of 6:31–44 where Jesus fed the 5,000 in the wilderness. Then we witnessed another boat miracle in 6:45–51 where Jesus walked on the water. Boat, bread, boat, and now this text will complete the picture by giving us another bread miracle (the feeding of the 4,000), and then this section will end by tying together all the threads of the narrative, as there will be bread in the boat (8:14–21). But Mark does not introduce the final scene of bread in the boat until he connects the whole narrative with the leaven or unbelief of the Pharisees. 

  1. The Bread Miracle (vv. 1–10)
  2. The Leaven of the Pharisees (vv. 11–13)
  3. Bread in the Boat (vv. 14–21)

1) The Bread Miracle (vv. 1–10)

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

This story stresses the same point about Jesus that the first bread miracle highlighted. Consider several points of connection. 

1) The Same Heart on Display: The Compassion Theme

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.—Mark 6:34

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.”—Mark 8:2 

You may remember from the sermon on the first bread miracle that this word for compassion is a wonderful and picturesque Greek word: splanchnizomai. That word will not mean anything to you unless perhaps you have a medical background and can hear that this word is where we get our English word: splanchtology (the study of the gut). Do you see what this says about Jesus?

Jesus did not have some superficial pity for the people. He had compassion for them—deep down in the very depths of his being. Have you ever heard the expression “a gut feeling”? It means that you feel something way down deep. You can actually give yourself a stomachache by caring about something so much that you make yourself sick worrying about something. Jesus felt compassion from the depths of his being for these people.

2) The Disciples Respond the Same Way: How?

How will the disciples respond? In the first bread miracle, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Jesus to send the crowds away so that they could go to the surrounding villages and buy something to eat (6:35–36). This time, Jesus does a preemptive strike and prevents that response: And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away” (Mark 8:3).

I confess at this point a sad shock in these disciples. They have been here before. Memory should kick in at this point. Oh, we have been here before. I know, I know … we will find out if anyone has any bread or fish and we will bring them to you and then you bless them and the multitude will get fed and then we will pick up all the leftovers.

That was not what happened. His disciples disappointingly respond the same way as the last time: “And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’” (Mark …).

3) The Feeding Followed the Same Pattern

Then Jesus did the same thing he did in the first bread miracle:

And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.—Mark 8:6–7 

He acted like a host and seated the people (Mark 8:6). Then it says he (1) took the loaves and the fish, (2) gave thanks, (3) broke the food, and (4) gave them to the disciples to set before the people (Mark 8:6–7; cf. Mark 6:41). 

4) The Same Result

Both stories also feature the same result. In both stories, all the people eat and are satisfied. 

All the people ate and were satisfied.—Mark 6:42

And they ate and were satisfied.—Mark 8:8

The disciples also pick up the leftovers in both stories:

And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.—Mark 6:43–44

And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people.”—Mark 8:8–9

Once again we have one of the supreme signs that Jesus is the Son of God. Which is why it is so jarring to immediately overhear the argument with the Pharisees as they seek a sign from heaven to test Jesus. 

2) The Leaven of the Pharisees (vv. 11–13)

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

Now the Pharisees come and argue with him. They seek a sign from heaven—but it is not from a genuine heart that is truly seeking God. They are seeking to test him. 

Jesus sighs deeply, but it is not like he did with the deaf and mute man. He sighed in identification with that man’s pain. Here he sighs deeply—not grieving with them, but grieved against them and their unbelief.

Jesus refuses to play their game. His compassion is willing to meet the needs of the crowd so he gives them a sign, but he refuses to give the Pharisees a sign because it does not come from a true place of need. Jesus gives a judgment—no more sign is needed. This is no circus show. Jesus is not in the dock and under judgment; they are.

Now watch the masterful way that Mark brings this first half of his gospel to a climax.

Boat miracle (4:35–41), bread miracle (6:30–44), boat miracle (6:45–51), bread miracle (8:1–10), and now bread in the boat (vv. 14–21).

3) Bread in the Boat (8:14–21)

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “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 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?” 

Jesus now warns the disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod (v. 15). The disciples do not understand—they think he is commenting on their lack of physical bread. What is the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod? It is their responses of unbelief. 

There are a couple of clues that this is the right answer. First, the preceding story is about the Pharisees and their unbelief. They have seen many signs and yet they do not believe. They demand more, not because they are on the fence, but because they are on the attack trying to trap him. They are putting the Lord their God to the test and they do not even see it. 

What about the leaven of Herod? Herod shows up before the first bread miracle as someone who believes that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead. He has heard of all the signs of what Jesus was doing, but he did not come to the right conclusion (faith in Jesus). He came to the wrong conclusion: Jesus is a resurrected John the Baptist (like a ghost come back to haunt him).

Another clue is the text we will look at next week. Jesus asks the disciples about his identity. He first asks what others say. 

And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”—Mark 8:27–28

Herod’s response looked better than that of the Pharisees at first glance. Herod believed that the miracles were real—from God. The Pharisees thought they came from demons. Herod even believed in a kind of resurrection (John the Baptist raised from the dead). The Pharisees rejected it all as a sham. But in the end, both responses were responses of unbelief. Neither was saving. Both responses were rejecting the true identity of Jesus as the divine Son of God.

Now Jesus drops the hammer with a devastating question that contains some haunting quotations.

And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “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 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?”—Mark 8:17–21 

Jesus is asking them if they are insiders or outsiders. He is repeating the point of Mark 4 and the quotation of Isaiah 6:10–12

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
     and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ” 

Those on the outside have physical eyes but do not see spiritual reality. Those on the outside have physical ears, but they don’t hear spiritual reality. Those on the outside have physical hearts, but their spiritual hearts are hardened.

We have assumed all the way through this first half of the narrative that the disciples are insiders—those who are following Jesus because they have eyes to see. Now Jesus’ confrontation puts a gigantic question mark over that assumption. Jesus asks them how they can still be so blind and deaf and hard after this stirring string of signs he has done (the two bread miracles).

We already had a hint of this at the end of the second boat miracle after the first bread miracle (Mark 6:50–52):

But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. 

The issue was not their lack of bread, but their lack of faith. This text is masterful in that the question that Jesus has for the disciples is the question that the text has for us. They have seen the signs. Do they see yet? But we have seen the signs. Do we see yet? 

Main Point

We have seen the signs. Do we have eyes to see yet?

Application

We are going to see the answer for the disciples next week, but this week the same question confronts us. You have seen these signs. You have seen Jesus as Creator do all things well—the lame leap, the mute speak, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, women who are sick and unclean and ostracized are called “Daughter,” dead little girls are raised up, demons are cast out, the wind and the waves cease, 5,000 people fed with five loaves and two fish, Jesus walk on water like you walk on the sidewalk. Do you have eyes to see? Do you have ears to hear? Are your hearts hardened? Do you understand? Do you believe yet that Jesus is the Son of God?

And if you say, “Yes, I believe that he is the Son of God,” then I have a follow-up question for you. Isn’t it easy to look at the disciples and feel a little smug? I look at this story and I want to say, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you remember what he just did?”

Oh how that question has come back at me many times this week! I have seen the Lord heal little children with a diseased liver, I have seen the Lord cast out demons and save people here at Bethlehem, I have seen him break the hardest heart, I have seen the Lord provide money for an adoption in ways that made us drop our keys and start bawling. I have seen him provide a house that I thought was a lost cause, I have seen him restore relationships that I thought were beyond repair … and on and on and on. And what happens when the next hard thing comes, when the next trial comes my way? “What are we going to do? How could this ever work out? How could I possibly do anything about this?” My impulse is to doubt, not trust, panic, not praise, throw up my hands instead of get down on my knees. 

It is easy to say, “What is wrong with the disciples?” but I see myself in this story. This is how we respond. How easily we forget. How quickly we doubt. What is wrong with us? 

This text also warns us about the danger of a little bit of unbelief. It is a great and terrible metaphor for the insidious spread of unbelief. Do not let things start to slide. Do not let things begin to slip, asking, “Does it really matter—is every word that the Bible says really true?” That’s like leaven that will work its way through the whole lump of dough. Or in springtime we can use another metaphor here in Minnesota: Unbelief is like the Creeping Charlie weed that works its way through the whole lawn unless you intervene.

It can be especially difficult to be spiritually honest at Bethlehem. We can feel a certain level of pressure here to be spiritually fake. Oh me? Yeah, I have no doubts or struggles or fears. I am at Bethlehem. We are a place of theological precision. We can articulate a doctrine of God’s sovereignty but still be overtaken with worry and anxiety. We can articulate a doctrine of the limitless, almighty power of God, but we doubt his power to do anything about our trial. We can quickly see Jesus’ compassion in the text and say we believe it, but then doubt it when we come to the next trial. We can sing, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” on the weekend and forget his faithfulness when the trial of faith comes on Monday.

This is called unbelief. Be up front and honest with your doubts and struggles. They will sometimes start small—maybe not outright denial, but it maybe an attitude first. An attitude about Scripture or about God’s faithfulness or cynicism begins to build. Oftentimes a slide into unconfessed, unrepentant sin will calcify and harden the heart.

Conclusion: Look to Jesus

Can you be honest with your doubts and struggles and fears and discouragement? What is keeping you from bringing that to God? He already knows. He is not fooled. Indeed, he cannot be fooled. One of the most encouraging things in the Gospels is to see how the Lord responds. When Thomas doubts, Jesus shows him his hands and side. When Peter denies, Jesus restores him. When Mary wonders about the gardener, Jesus calls her by name. How do you deal with doubt? The same way you deal with unbelief. Look to Jesus. Faith comes by hearing—hearing the word about Christ. Salvation comes by looking to him and truly seeing.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1–2

Think of the story of C.H. Spurgeon’s conversion.

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Church. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved ....

The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was—“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH” (Isaiah 45:22).

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.

The preacher began thus: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It aint liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” he said in broad Essex,“many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”

When he had …. managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.

Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable. Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued,“And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!”

I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought .... I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word,“Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.” Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say—

“E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die. . .”

That happy day when I found the Saviour, and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me .... I listened to the Word of God and that precious text led me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of that hour. Many days of Christian experience have passed since then, but there has never been one which has had the full exhilaration, the sparkling delight which that first day had.

I thought I could have sprung from the seat in which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren ...“I am forgiven! I am forgiven! A monument of grace! A sinner saved by blood!”

(Taken from The Early Years Iain Murray, ed.London: Banner of Truth, 1962, pp. 87–90).

Communion is an opportunity to rehearse the gospel together. We remember that death came because of unbelief. Satan twisted the truth about God—he portrayed God as being narrow and restrictive and confining and not fully loving, but withholding. Therefore, Adam and Eve fell prey to the temptation to eat by believing that lie. Death came through Satan’s offer to “take and eat.”

But in the midst of judgment, a radiant promise came shining out of the darkness. The God of bounteous mercy promised that a Savior would come (a child of the woman) who would crush the head of the serpent, even though the serpent would bruise his heel. Jesus came into this world. He was bruised for our iniquities. He crushed the head of the Serpent and defeated death and the grave. The first Adam tried to take what was not his to take; the Second Adam gave himself to pay a debt he didn’t make. 

Just as we remember death coming through the tragedy in paradise of “take and eat,” we remember the promise of life in Jesus’ words to “Take, eat; this is my body.” There was only one way to die in the midst of God’s provision and now there is only one way to live because of God’s salvation. “There is no other name given among men under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The name of Jesus. One way. God sent his one and only Son. He died. He rose. He ever lives to make intercession. He is the only way.

When we go through trials and fear the future and wonder how we will make it, he gives us a tangible reminder (bread and cup) that we hold in our hands, see with our eyes, taste with our mouths. When he was talking spiritual leaven, they thought he was talking physical bread. Now he takes physical bread and shows us spiritual life and salvation and victory. A physical symbol of a physical reality (he really bled; his body was really broken) that accomplished spiritual healing and cleansing and saving. Our sins are gone. Our chains are broken. Death is defeated. Heaven is opened.

Sermon Discussion Questions 

Outline

  1. The Bread Miracle (Mark 8:1–10)
  2. The Leaven of the Pharisees (Mark 8:11–13)
  3. Bread in the Boat (Mark 8:14–21)

Main Point: We have seen the signs. Do we have eyes to see yet?

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the similarities between the two bread miracles in Mark’s Gospel? (See Mark 6:30–44 and 8:1–10.)
  • Why did Jesus react so strongly to the Pharisees asking for another sign?
  • In Mark 8:14–21, why is the concluding scene of “Part 1” of this Gospel so fitting? How does it function as a summary and conclusion?

Application Questions

  • Are there areas in your life where you find yourself doubting the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Lord Jesus? Where does the text hit home for you when it calls us to beware of the leaven of unbelief?
  • Where have you seen Jesus at work in your life in the past? What have been the signs of his power and care and love? What current situation are you facing in which is he asking you to trust him again?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to believe in the compassionate power of Jesus to save and sustain us in every fresh trial and challenge.

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