Blog

Our suffering as testing

This morning I want to lay out for you a framework for thinking about and processing emotionally and spiritually what’s going on when we suffer; when we experience distress and pain in our lives. This framework is the scriptural teaching on testing and how it works.

I’m using the word “testing,” but this word (πειρασμός/peirasmos) can also be translated as “trials” or “temptation.” And I’m also working with the idea of God’s “discipline” of his children.

Two things up front. Testing usually involves difficult situations of suffering, although we can also be tested by good times and abundance (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). But we’re focused on suffering.

And second, tests are not just about God disciplining us for our failures, although this does happen (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). But God also disciplines and tests us when we’ve done nothing wrong. Job was tested, but not because of his sin (Job 1:1). Jesus was tested, but was sinless (Matthew 4:1-11; the cross). As I said before, just because we’re suffering doesn’t mean that we’ve done something wrong.

Alright, let’s look at –

The parties involved in testing

1. God allows us to be tested. This is made clear in the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus taught us to pray, “lead us not into testing” (Luke 11:4). If God didn’t lead us into testing, there would be no need to ask him not to do this.

And, of course, there are numerous examples of God testing people in Scripture, as we have seen:

  • God tested Job (Job 1-2
  • God tested Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice Isaac, the child of promise (Genesis 22)
  • And God tested the Israelites in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2)

With regard to Christians in the New Testament:

  • Jesus teaches that each day has “its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34)
  • He said, “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33)
  • We will experience “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2)

Even though God allows us to be tested, it’s important to remember that God allows it for our own good. As Hebrews 12:10 says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” God wants us to grow and become more and more like Christ. God is training us in righteousness, just like an elite athlete is always being pushed by her coaches to get better through working out.

It may be hard for us to understand, but despite God’s great love and compassion for us – and he doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer – God is more concerned about our growth than our comfort, security or even our success in life and ministry. God is giving us his tough love. As Hebrews 12:6 says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves.”

Now, we think we know what’s good for us, and in our view what’s good equals no suffering. But God knows what’s truly good for us and sometimes it does involve undergoing suffering.

Although God allows us to be tested, 2. It’s actually Satan who tests us through his agents.

One of his names in Scripture is “the tester” (Mark 1:13). This is a part of his function in the order of God, to test and then to punish those who sin (Hebrews 2:14). He seeks permission from God to test us. We see this in Job 1-2 and Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him and the other disciples like wheat in Luke 22:31. His goal is to cause us to stumble and sin so that he can accuse and punish us (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10).

So, God wants us to grow, but Satan wants us to be destroyed.

And finally 3. Christians are the ones who undergo testing.

In terms of our humanity two things need to be pointed out. First, there is “the flesh.” This refers to our human weakness. As Jesus said in Gethsemane – “the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Now, this is not something alien in us; another nature. The flesh is simply who we are apart from God. It refers to our own human desires, longings and fears.

And when we are put under pressure, the flesh makes us vulnerable to give in and take another way than God’s way. (And this is the real source of our test, not God or Satan. Without our weakness we would never be tempted to sin. This is the point of James 1:13-14).

Second, there is our heart. This is the seat of our choice or will. We are not simply our fears and desires. There is more to us than that. And in a test we choose which way we will go.

And also God doesn’t leave us alone. As Christians the Spirit dwells within us and helps us in times of testing. As Jesus said in his greatest time of trial, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit indeed is willing” (Mark 14:38). The Spirit pushes us forward and gives us strength in our times of weakness.

How testing works

 We are put into difficult situations, most of which involve suffering. Here are some examples:

  • When you don’t have enough to eat, will you still trust and obey God? (Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:2)
  • When tragedy strikes, will you curse God? (Job)
  • When an opportunity for sexual immorality occurs, will you take it? (Numbers 25; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 10:8)
  • When God asks you to do something that’s very hard, will you sacrifice for him? (Genesis 22)
  • When you face the loss of comfort, reputation or even your life is threatened because of your commitment to Jesus, will you deny him or compromise to avoid this? (Luke 8:13; 1 Peter 4:12)

These difficult situations provoke an inner struggle within us. The trial we are going through puts pressure on us. Our flesh wants us to take the easy way out when God is calling us to take the hard way of righteousness, self-control and self-sacrifice.

Our flesh doesn’t like difficulty and suffering and Satan appeals to this weakness. But the Spirit helps us. The Spirit leads us to do what’s right. So our flesh pulls one way and the Spirit pulls another. As Paul says in Galatians 5:17 – “what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other . . ..”

Which leads us to the point of testing, we have to choose. God wants to know what’s in our heart (Deuteronomy 8:2). And this becomes evident in our actions (Matthew 7:20). Will we trust and obey God when it’s really hard or will we take the easy way out? Will we stay true to God or will we be unfaithful?

Finally –

Some things to remember in times of testing

Our testing and suffering is part of a bigger cosmic struggle; a spiritual battle that is going on in the world. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

So our faithfulness in times of testing and suffering matters not just for ourselves, but for God’s larger purpose in the redemption of his creation. We want God’s kingdom to advance.

Also, we can have joy even in testing and suffering. I will mention this several times as we talk about suffering, because we need to hear it.

First, we can have joy because God is working in us. As James 1:2, 4 says, “count it all joy.” God is working in us that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” And second, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

We can affirm this, by faith, even when we can see no possible way that what we are going through could bring about any good in our lives or in the lives of others. We will not understand or be able to explain all of our suffering. That all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28) is in God’s hands and that may well be beyond what we will ever see or experience in this life. Our joy is based on our faith that God is nevertheless working and his promises are true.

Finally, although we are told that we will be tested in various ways we can pray to be spared testing. Just as Satan comes before God to seek permission to test us, we can come before God and ask, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). Jesus is encouraging us to seek to be spared. Why aren’t we praying this all the time!

Our reasoning can be articulated in the terms of the first two petitions of the Lord’s prayer. “God we are weak. Have mercy. If we fail you, we will bring dishonor to your name and your kingdom will be thwarted.” So please spare us.

But ultimately these same two petitions trump the last petition to be spared. Jesus prayed to be spared testing in Gethsemane when he prayed, “remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36).

  • But he also prayed, “Father, glorify your name” in John 12:28, that is the first petition, “hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).
  • And he prayed “not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36) that is the second petition, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

And like with Jesus, when God does not spare us, we need to move forward focusing on bringing honor to God’s name and doing God’s will in our time of testing and suffering.

Sin and human suffering

I shared a few months back on the topic of God and our suffering and I want to pick up on this theme again this morning – this time with a focus on the role of sin in our human suffering.

There are different understandings of where suffering comes from:

  • For instance, some say it’s only in our minds and if we can just get our minds to think straight that will solve the problem (Christian Science).
  • Others say that we suffer because of karma. That is, you get what you deserve in this life, in part, based on what you did in your former life (Hinduism).
  • Others say that the forces of good and evil are equal and locked in a never ending fight which causes us to suffer (Dualism).

But as Christians we confess that –

1. Human suffering and death are rooted in sin

We learn from Scripture that the sin of Adam and Eve brought suffering and death (Genesis 3). Paul tells us that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12).

Scripture also teaches that we all sin, so we are all a part of the problem (Romans 3:23). And we are also taught that all who sin die, so we all experience the suffering that sin brings (Romans 6:23; James 1:15).

But not only this sin has opened the door for powerful forces of evil to rule this world, so that Satan is now called “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19). And even the non-human creation is disordered and broken due to sin as we read in Romans 8:20-22.

So suffering and death are symptoms of sin’s work and presence in the creation and in our lives.

2. But how sin and suffering are connected in our individual lives is complicated

How many times have you asked, “Why am I going through this suffering?” “What did I do?” We often think, “If I do good I shouldn’t suffer. It’s only when I do bad that I should suffer.” We think life in this world should be fair. But this isn’t how the fallen world works.

It can be true that when you sin, you will suffer immediate and specific consequences for itProverbs 10:4 tells us that “a slack hand causes poverty . . ..” If you don’t work, you will suffer lack. As a general rule, there are consequences. In Acts 5:1-11 God immediately judged Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. And in 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 those who abused the Lord’s supper experienced sickness and death as a specific judgment from God for what they did. (See also John 5:14)

But not always!!! Yes, you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7) but you may not experience the consequences or full consequences of your sin until the final judgment.

So there’s no automatic one-to-one correlation between your sin and your specific suffering in this life. There might be at times, but more often than not, I think, there isn’t.

Scripture talks about this when it asks, “Why do the wicked prosper?” (i.e. Psalm 73:3; Jeremiah 12:1). And we all know of people who are notoriously evil who live the good life and those who are relatively innocent who suffer greatly.

Here are some examples of the latter from Scripture:

  • Joseph suffered due to the sin of his brothers, who sold him into slavery and also due to Potiphar’s wife who falsely accused him of sexual assault, which got him thrown into prison (Genesis 37-40)
  • Job’s suffering was terrible, but God specifically said it was not due to his sin. God described him as “a blameless and upright man” in Job 1:8
  • Jesus said of the man born blind, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
  • And of course, Jesus, the sinless one, was murdered on the cross.

Luke 13:1-5 says, “There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Jesus does not accept that much sin brings much suffering. There’s no one-to-one correlation between our sin and our suffering in this life.

As Ecclesiastes 9:11 teaches us, life isn’t fair. “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”

Rather, we are all caught in a complex web of sin where our actions affect each other, sometimes in unpredictable ways. So even though our sin might not cause us specific suffering, it can cause others to suffer. For instance the drunk driver who walks away unharmed from an accident, but in the other car several people are killed. And in just the same way the sins of others can cause us to suffer

Think about it we’re all affected by Adam and Eve’s sin. We are born into a world full of sin and suffering. As I said before, Potiphar’s wife sinned, but it was Joseph who went to jail (Genesis 39). And if someone commits adultery, many people’s lives are wounded, not just those guilty of the sin. We have to acknowledge that we have all have sinned in ways that have damaged others and in turn we have suffered because of the sins of others.

3. But there’s hope!

Suffering is real. It’s not an illusion. But it isn’t linked to an endless cycle of karma and reincarnation. Nor is it woven into the fabric of the way things are. And because this is true, God can bring an end to suffering. God is able to overcome it.

In the present, God can use suffering to accomplish his purposes. As Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline (or times of difficulty and suffering) seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

God can transform suffering to bring about his will. For instance, God used Joseph’s suffering. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:4-5). His brothers did evil, but God brought good out of it. In like manner, God used Jesus’ suffering to bring us salvation.

And the salvation that God brings about through Jesus will bring an end to suffering. It’s hard to even know what life would be like without sin and suffering, but we have a portrait painted for us in Isaiah 25:6-8. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces . . ..”

On that day, we will say, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, referring back to Isaiah 23, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Suffering is not the final word. Sin, suffering and death will be no more.

4. Victory in the midst of our current suffering

Suffering will end, but until then we will still suffer in various ways. We live in the time of the “already and not yet.” The kingdom of God has come, but it’s not yet all the way here; redemption has come, but it’s not yet all the way here. We have the reality of salvation – the forgiveness of our sins and new life by the Spirit of God. But not the fullness of it. This comes when Jesus returns, when evil is defeated and when all things are made new, including our bodies.

Until then Christians suffer the same kinds of things everyone else does. Paul says in 1 Corinthian 10:13 that “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone” (NRSV). And Christians will also suffer in ways that are not “common” to all people – persecution for our faith.

We must beware of teachings that diminish the ‘already’ of salvation, for instance that we don’t have God’s power working in and through us now. And we must beware of teachings that exaggerate the ‘already’ of salvation, for instance that we need not suffer now because we are saved. One version of this is the so-called health and wealth gospel. Such things await the fullness of the kingdom.

Even though suffering will continue for now, Christians can experience victory in our suffering. Paul says in Romans 8:35-37, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Since we know that God can use our suffering for good and we have hope for a future without suffering, we can have joy by the power of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our suffering (James 1:2-4, Matthew 5:11-12, Romans 5:3-5).

Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Mark 7:24-31

The literary structure of Mark 7:24-32

We’re back in the gospel of Mark, looking at the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in chapter 7:24-31.

Last week Jesus discussed with the Pharisees and his disciples the topic of what truly defiles someone – not extra Scriptural rules of ritual impurity, but the moral impurity of our hearts. In this story Jesus is in a land that’s unclean, dealing with a woman who was considered unclean and he casts out an unclean spirit from her daughter.

Let’s first look at –

The story

24And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus leaves where he has been in Galilee and goes north into new territory, somewhere around the cities of Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman A

This would have been the southern part of the Roman province of Syria or what we call today Lebanon (ancient Syrophoenicia).

And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know . . .

It looks like Jesus is once again looking for some solitude and rest. He’s been involved in heavy ministry for a time now – healing, teaching and having to argue with opponents. So perhaps he thought that in this Gentile area he could take a break. He wouldn’t be known here. There wouldn’t be mobs of people clamoring after him.

. . . yet he could not be hidden.25But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.

Jesus was found out!

Some from this area had traveled to Galilee to receive ministry from Jesus, as we saw in chapter 3 (v. 8), including casting out demons (v. 11). Perhaps they spread the word when they went home and now it has gotten out that Jesus is in their area.

In any case, this unnamed woman finds Jesus and falls down at his feet. Her daughter is demon possessed. We aren’t given any more details about how this manifested itself, physically or mentally. The focus of the story isn’t really the daughter, it’s on the mother and Jesus.

26Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth.

According to the way things were at this time, she had three strikes against her:

  1. She was a woman and social contact with a man who was not a part of her family could be seen as scandalous
  2. She was a Gentile, not a Jew; not a part of God’s people
  3. She was a Syrophoenician, from a people who were bitter enemies of the Jews.

But none of these obstacles stopped her.

And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

“She begged” can also be translated as “she kept begging.”

And according to Matthew’s version of this story it was so persistent and thus annoying that the disciples ended up begging Jesus to send her away (Matthew 15:23). This is quite the scene with everybody begging Jesus. Not very restful!

Jesus responds to the woman with a parable.

27And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus is drawing on common sense experience. Everyone knows that the children are fed first, and then the dogs are fed. The application is that Jesus is focused on the Jews, God’s chosen ones who have waited for God’s promises to be fulfilled. This is what his ministry is about (Matthew 15:24). Focused ministry to the Gentiles will come later.

Now, this parable has been taken in the wrong way and it has upset some people. But Jesus is not saying that Gentiles are dogs. There’s little or no evidence that this was a common way that Jews spoke of Gentiles (Mark Nanos – Paul’s Reversal, 2008). And besides, Jesus uses the word for “dog” that means pets or puppies (and this is how the woman takes it, house pets – v. 28).

The point is not a difference in kind – Jews are children and Gentiles are dogs. The point is a difference in timing, first the Jews, then others. This is made clear by the word “first,” a chronological marker. This is what Paul meant, when he said in Romans 1:16 that he preaches the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

[Jesus has ministered to Gentiles already. But this is the only recorded story of Jesus helping someone outside the boundaries of traditional Israel. Perhaps this is why he raises this issue. There are some parallels with Elijah’s healing of a Gentile woman’s son (1 Kings 17:8-24)]

28But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

First, notice that she addresses him as “Lord.” This is the only time someone does this in Mark’s gospel and it shows her understanding of who Jesus is.

And then she shows her intelligence and wit. She gets his parable, which the disciples usually do not. And then she goes on to make her own point. Even though the dogs eat later, sometimes the children drop crumbs and thus the dogs eat at the same time as the children. So based on Jesus’ own parable – it should be alright for her not to have to wait, but to receive some bread even now.

This woman reframed the discussion is such a way that allowed Jesus’ concerns to be acknowledged, but also allowed her to receive her request.

  • She isn’t asking for Jesus to neglect Israel, or to take anything away from them.
  • She’s just saying, “Since you’re already here in Gentile territory, why not a crumb?”

29And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”

Jesus, the one who always bests his opponents in argument, is here bested by her.

Her statement shows her humility. She accepted her place as not-yet one of the elect; and not-yet the focus of Jesus’ ministry. And her statement demonstrates her bold and persistent faith. She did not allow Jesus’ “no” to stop her. But continued to make the case for her daughter.

In response to this humility and faith, Jesus readily healed her daughter, and that from a distance. (Perhaps having to do with concern about purity with entering a Gentile home).

v. 30 confirms the miracle –

30And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

 Our story ends with v. 31 –

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

What do we learn from this story?

What about us?

1 . Be open to opportunities to minister to others. It wasn’t Jesus’ timing to minister to her. He was trying to get away from people and crowds, so he could rest. What does he do when he’s found out? He allowed his privacy to be invaded; he gave up some of his time of rest.

And we need to be open to this as well. You have one thing scheduled, and it’s a good thing. But someone comes along who needs help. Be open to this.

Also, it wasn’t Jesus’ focus to help her. God sent him to minister to the people of Israel (Matthew 15:24). She’s not a part of Israel. What does Jesus do? He raised the issue with her, but then he responded when he saw her humility and faith.

Things don’t always work according to our plans. In my church in Portland we worked at setting up a weekly meal for neighbors so that we could get to know them. We wanted all kinds of people to come. But it turned out that only the homeless came. We had not really planned on this; it wasn’t our focus. And I had no skills in this (although one of our workers did). But it opened up a season of ministry to this population in our area.

The same happened with immigrant Congolese Africans. We never sat down and said, “Hey, let’s begin this ministry.” It wasn’t our focus. But God gave it to us.

We need to be open to the opportunities that God brings across our path even if it’s not our focus or timing.

2. Approach God like this woman did.When you pray, learn from her. She was successful. What did she do?

She approached Jesus with humility:

  • she fell down at his feet
  • she accepted that she’s not-yet part of the elect and has no claim on him
  • she calls him “Lord,” an expression of submission.

Also, she approached Jesus with bold, persistent faith

  • she searched Jesus out while he was in hiding
  • she kept begging
  • she called him “Lord,” also an expression of faith
  • after Jesus said no, she responded boldly
  • and she knew that for him, casting out a demon was only a crumb – a small thing for him to do.

In your prayers, approach God with humility and faith.

3. Know that Jesus is able to help. As we saw in the story, he wasn’t able to stay hidden, but he was able to help.

He’s the Messiah and Savior. And he can take care of us. He can come through for us.

He overcame the power of the evil one in this mom’s daughter – as if it were nothing! From a distance. Without even saying a word. And he’s more than able to deliver us from all the powers of evil and sin that confront us.

The real problem: An impure heart. Mark 7:14-23

The literary structure of Mark 7:1-23

Last week we began looking at Mark 7:1-23. In vs. 1-13 Jesus pointed out the problem of following mere human religious rules or the tradition of the elders. This week we’ll focus on the other point of dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees –

The issue of impurity

Now, this isn’t the most exciting topic, but it’s important for understanding this passage. So here we go. In Scripture an object or a person becomes ritually impure in a number of ways, for instance by contact with a corpse, through various bodily discharges (which I will spare you listing them), or by touching someone who has these.

This creates a problem because God is holy and completely pure. So, if you are impure, you can’t come near to God. You can’t come near the temple, you can’t offer sacrifice (a real concern for priests) and also in some cases you had to stay away from other people. But you could be made ritually pure again by undergoing the proper ritual, which often involved water.

Well, the Pharisees (and their scribes) especially emphasized ritual purity. And in their traditions the rules for purity multiplied greatly beyond what Scripture says and they were applied broadly to everyone. The Pharisees’ goal seems to have been for regular people to maintain the highest possible state of ritual purity.

The Pharisees and those who were influenced by them, thought that this is what the people of God need; this is the agenda for moving forward for renewal and for once again receiving God’s blessing. And this is, no doubt, why they have condemned Jesus and his disciples in our story.

This bring us to –

Jesus’ parable on impurity

 14And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand.”

He has a message for the crowd. And he begins by saying hear and understand. He’s saying, this is important. But also he’s saying this is going to be difficult to understand! It’s called “a parable” in v. 17, and it’s meant to be a cryptic statement.

So you have to put some effort into understanding it. v. 16 isn’t in the earliest manuscripts, but it emphasizes this point as well, “if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Here’s the parable –

15There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

 Notice that there are two parallel halves to this. And each half contains a series of contrasts with the other. There is:

  • a contrast between the outside, and the inside of a person
  • a contrast between things that go in from the outside, and things that come out from the inside
  • a contrast between what cannot defile – what goes in, and what does defile – what comes out

So this much is clear. But what else in the world is Jesus talking about?? Thankfully we have –

Jesus’ explanation

17And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding?”

Like in other places in the gospels, Jesus explains his teaching in private to his disciples. First, he deals with the first half of the parable.

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and goes out into the toilet – cleansing all foods?”

We’re reminded of the bigger context here. Jesus has been talking about eating food with defiled hands. But then something happens. When he tells us why the food doesn’t defile, he talks about how “it enters not his heart.” This is odd until you realize that Jesus has shifted the conversation from one on ritual purity, to one exclusively about moral purity – with a focus on the human heart. This is the key to understanding the parable. He’s not saying whether food does or does not defile someone. He just doesn’t address this. Rather, he’s saying no food can make someone morally impure. Hold on to this. We’ll come back to it.

A digression: At the end of v. 19 we have a dangling participial phrase that’s difficult to make sense of, and it shows up differently in different Bibles. In the earliest manuscripts it says literally, “cleansing all foods,” which can be construed in different ways.

The phrase, “thus he declared . . .” is not in the Greek text. It’s simply one way to make sense of this. Just briefly, my view is that using the phrase “thus he declared” is not the best solution. Rather, it’s best to see “cleansing all foods” as the conclusion of Jesus’ point here. He’s saying, the digestive process cleanses all foods, keeping the good and expelling the bad. Neither Jesus nor Mark is saying the biblical food laws or purity laws for Jews are nullified.

[Grammatically “cleansing” doesn’t have a close antecedent. So you can 1) go back to the beginning of v. 18 and find it in “he said to them” (or forward to v. 20) and come up with “Jesus, cleansing all foods” or as I said above, “Thus he declared all foods clean” or 2) you can take it as a grammatical oddity which sometime happens – an anacoluthon. And then the phrase works as I have interpreted it above. The KJV and NKJV are based on later manuscripts which also connect the phrase to the digestive process, but by means of a change to the word “cleansing.”

The second option is preferable for a number of reasons: 1) Jesus has just strongly rebuked the Pharisees for letting their traditions nullify the word of God. It is not reasonable to think that Jesus would then immediately turn around and nullify actual Scriptural commands to Jews. Jesus would be a law breaker and a sinner. And why is there no trace of him being rebuked by the Pharisees for this? And why would any Jew listen to him? He would be classified as a false prophet. 2) Jesus explicitly teaches that he does not nullify the Law – Matthew 5:17-19. 3) If the first option is accepted, Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples in v. 18 would overly harsh. How could they be expected to anticipate that Jesus would be nullifying Scriptural commands? 4) Jesus’ saying in v. 15 is a “parable” (v. 17). It’s not a halakic statement defining right observance of the Law. And we are told to be careful to listen to what he’s saying. 5) Jesus’ point in all this is that moral impurity is the key. He’s not trying to make a statement on Scriptural teaching on ritual impurity or clean and unclean foods. 6) Matthew 15:20 provides the right interpretation. At the end of this version of the story, Jesus says, “but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” That is he’s criticizing human traditions, not nullifying Scriptural commands. 7) If the first option is right, why did this saying not show up in the discussions of the early church on Gentiles and the Law of Moses in Acts 15? It’s because this passage was not interpreted as Jesus nullifying Scriptural commands by other Jews or his disciples. 8) The question of Gentiles and the Law was settled by the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Jewish Christians continue to observe the Law (as Jesus interprets it), not for salvation, but as Jews. Gentiles do not need to keep the Law of Moses, except for the three things mentioned in the Apostolic decree from Leviticus 17-18. Other than that they simply follow Jesus.]

Next, Jesus explains the second half of the parable.

20And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.”

  • Also notice v. 21 – “for from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts . . ..”
  • And as well v. 23 – “ . . . evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

So food can’t make someone morally impure, but the evil that comes out from the heart does defile.

Again, Jesus isn’t talking about ritual purity. He has shifted to a conversation about moral purity. Why? Because the real issue for Jesus is not ritual impurity but heart impurity.

Having heard his explanation, here’s a paraphrase of his parable: There is no food that you take in that can make you morally impure. But the evil things that come out of your heart do make you morally impure. 

Next, Jesus goes on to talk about –

The evil of the human heart

21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

In v. 21 he speaks of “evil thoughts” and in v. 23 of “evil things.” And in-between these there are 12 things that Jesus mentions.

[The first six are all in the plural, and most are from the 10 commandments. The second six are all in the singular.]

Jesus certainly agreed with the words of Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”

Notice that “murder” and “slander” or it can also be translated as “blasphemy” are on the list Jesus gives. These are the things that the Pharisees are directing toward him. In chapter 3 we learn that they are seeking to “destroy” him (v. 6), and also we see them slandering or blaspheming him and the Holy Spirit (vs. 28-29). While Jesus and his disciples may be guilty of not keeping mere human rules of ritual impurity, the Pharisees are guilty of true impurity; moral impurity of the heart.

Let’s step back now and look at the bigger picture and –

Jesus’ central point

The Pharisees’ agenda for renewal is about outward rules of purity. They focus on ever more detailed rules for how to stay ritually pure. And they say that this is how God’s people will be renewed; this is how Israel will find God’s favor.

But yet as Jesus said in Mark 7:6, even with all this “their heart is far from God.” And that’s because the real problem is an impure heart and there’s no way a focus on more and more ritual impurity can solve this.

In contrast, Jesus’ agenda for renewal is the giving of a new heart. This is what was promised in the prophets. For instance in Ezekiel 36:25-27. The Lord says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

This is what God’s people need!! A new, clean heart, given by the Spirit; a heart that has right desires.

Now, he doesn’t talk about the positive part of this here, just what the real problem is. But this is Jesus’ whole mission in coming to us:

  • He died so that our sins might be forgiven; our moral defilement cleansed.
  • And he was raised so that we might receive the Spirit and a new heart that obeys the Lord.

Well, again, it’s easy to pick on the Pharisees, but –

What about us?

We don’t have ritual purity rules like in Jesus’ day. We have rules for purity, but they’re more about hygiene than blocking one’s access to God.

But sometimes we try to cover over our moral impurity by cleaning up the outside of our lives, often using human rules as opposed to what God is focused on. Things like how we dress, using the right words, attending extra church services or volunteering in the community. The outside, our lips, may honor God, but our hearts are far from God. Our hearts are still defiled and filthy. We are hypocrites.

Jesus is teaching us to deal with the real issue – our impure, evil heart. And we have to start within (Matthew 23:25-26)! Let Jesus cleanse away the defilement of your heart. Let Jesus give you a new heart by the Spirit. And let him do these things day by day as there is need.

And then as you’re renewed within, the outward can follow. Out of the abundance of your new heart will come right words (Matthew 12:33-37) and right actions (Matthew 7:15-20).

Jesus takes on mere human traditions. Mark 7:1-13

The literary structure of Mark 7 1-13

We’re launching into an important passage today, Mark 7:1-23. There are actually two significant issues that are talked about in these verses – human religious traditions and how to be pure before God.  The plan is to deal with the first one today, in vs. 1-13. And we’ll look at the second, purity, next week.

Our Scripture begins with Jesus involved in, surprise, surprise –

A conflict

1Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.

So some Pharisees are present and also some experts of the Law from Jerusalem – the theologians of that day. They’re checking Jesus out. They want to see what he’s up to.

The last time we saw some scribes they accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan (3:22), so not a friendly audience. Well, they and the Pharisees take issue again when they see some of Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before they eat.

Now, this isn’t about good hygiene. As v. 2 indicates, it has to do with ritual uncleanness or defilement; that is to say, eating this way makes you ceremonially unclean before God.

Mark goes on to explain –

3For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

[“All the Jews” is a bit of a generalization. Certainly the Pharisees, who were influential, held to the need for washing hands, as did the Essences, another prominent group of Jews. 

One word in not translated. It comes at the end of the phrase in v. 3, “they wash their hands . . ..” It says literally “with a fist.” No one knows for sure what this means. It might mean “carefully” or it might refer to how the hands are ritually washed. 

The very last phrase of v. 4, literally “and beds” or “and dining couches” is not in all the manuscripts. So if your Bible doesn’t have it, that’s why.]

Mark here is helping his non-Jewish readers (us) understand the situation. 1) Washing things was a big deal for many Jews, especially the Pharisees. And 2) The command to wash hands comes from “the tradition of the elders” not from Scripture itself.

This body of tradition was followed by the Pharisees. It’s sometimes called the oral law. The idea was that Moses wrote down the Law in the Bible, but other instructions were passed on generation to generation by word of mouth. (This tradition was later written out in the Mishna, and other writings.) So, the Pharisees believed there are two sources of commandments, the written Law in Scripture and the oral law or tradition of the elders.

5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

This is really an attack on Jesus. The charge is that his disciples aren’t faithful to God, which means that, since he’s their teacher, he’s not faithful. (Jesus also didn’t follow this practice – Luke 11:38).

Their charge involves both the issue of 1) keeping the traditions, and 2) what purity means. But as I said, we’ll focus on the first for today.

Jesus on human traditions

Jesus’ first response comes in vs. 6-8, where he calls them out as hypocrites.

6And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

A hypocrite looks one way – good, but is actually another – not so good.

Jesus quotes from the prophets, specifically Isaiah 29:3, a passage that deals with honoring God. And he sees this verse, on one level, as pointing to the Pharisees and the scribes – and their error here. (The quote is closer to the LXX, although the same basic point in made in the MT).

The word “worship” should be taken in its broad sense of  a life of service and obedience to God, not just how they participate in a worship service.

They look like they’re honoring God with their lives. But this is only external, with their lips. Their heart remains far away. Why is their heart far away? Why is their worship “vain” or useless? Because they are only about teaching and following human rules.

He’s saying Isaiah hit it right on the head about you guys –

8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Notice the contrast here between a life that is based on God and God’s commandments, and a life that is based on tradition and human commandments, which is useless.

Jesus’ second response comes in vs. 9-13, where he illustrates their hypocrisy. He begins with the same point he just made in v. 8 –

 9And he said to them, “Well have you set aside the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!’”

He’s saying again, you prefer your tradition to God’s commands. You leave or set aside what God says, to keep what you say.

Jesus then quotes from the Law on honoring parents –

10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’”

 He’s quoting Exodus 20:12, the fifth of the ten commandments and Exodus 21:17. It was understood by all that honoring parents, for adult children, includes caring for them financially when the’re older. The second reference shows how serious this issue is. Those who don’t honor their parents, but revile or curse them, deserve the death penalty.

Then Jesus lays out their hypocrisy –

11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother . . .”

Notice the strong contrast between what God has said through Moses, and what they say based on their tradition, which is not God’s word.

The word “corban” is a technical term for a vow to give your resources to God (that is, the Temple), but apparently the person here could still have access to them and use them until a later time. (This view was most likely held by many Pharisees and scribes at this time. It was rejected in later Judaism m. Ned. 9:1).

So based on their tradition the Pharisees and scribes said that you must keep your vow, and not the commandment to honor your parents. That is, you can withhold giving your resources to support your parents.

“. . . 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

They allow people to nullify what God commands, in order to keep a vow that is unrighteous in the first place. Indeed, they allow not only the breaking of the fifth commandment, but an action that is on a par with reviling one’s parents, which deserves the death penalty!

Summing up: Their charge was, ‘Jesus, you’re not faithful to God because you don’t keep the traditions of the elders.’ His response was, ‘Pharisees, you’re not faithful to God because you keep the traditions of the elders.’

They neither honor God (Isaiah 29) nor people, that is, their parents (Exodus 20 and 21). This is why they’re hypocrites. And he makes his point, not based on the traditions of the elders, mere human teaching, but based on the Law and the Prophets, that is, based on God’s word.

Well, it’s easy to criticize others, like the Pharisees, but –

What about us?

We all have human traditions. We all have opinions and convictions about how Christians should do things – that are not explicitly taught in Scripture.

  • What style of music should we sing in worship?
  • Should the sermon be about evangelism each week, with an altar call, or not?
  • What kind of clothes should we wear to church? Should we dress up or it doesn’t matter as long as they are modest?

Maybe you would see “the tradition of the elders” as equaling doing things the way we’ve always done things. But maybe our religious rule is that we have to be on the cutting edge and always do something new. It can work either way.

Now, for sure, we have to make choices on things to be able to function as a community. It isn’t wrong to have some traditions. But they can be taken too far.

What about us? Learn to differentiate between your traditions and God’s word. Eight times, in one way or another, our passage talks about human religious traditions. And throughout these are contrasted with “God’s word” or what is written in Scripture. These things are not the same. And so do not put them on the same level as the Pharisees did.

Yes, sometimes we have different views on things based on different interpretations of Scripture. But in the examples I have given you there is no explicit Scriptural teaching to settle the issue. They are matters of personal conviction, or a whole church’s conviction. And faithful Christians can differ.

What about us? Make sure your obedience to God is based on God’s word, and not mere human traditions. If your Christian life is just about making sure you practice your  traditions – I dressed right for church, I only sang the right kind of songs – then your obedience to God is useless, just like the Pharisees. Congratulations, you are a hypocrite! You look religious, but you haven’t built your life on following what God is actually interested in; what God teaches us.

Finally, what about us? Don’t judge others as unfaithful because of your traditions. This is what the Pharisees did to Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was faithful in every way, but was rejected as unfaithful because he didn’t conform to their merely human traditions.

And we do this too. Look, they aren’t faithful to God because they don’t dress right or sing the right kind of songs. When we do this we place our traditions over God’s commands. We do just what Jesus says about the Pharisees in v. 8 – we “leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

So let’s learn to identify and relegate our traditions to what they actually are – just our own convictions, not God’s commands. And let’s be generous and flexible with each other in the practice of our common Christian faith.

Jesus heals many people. Mark 6:54-56

Our passage this morning is quite short – only 3 verses! But I want us to look at it because its important and it leads us into a focus on Jesus as the anointed one, which I’ll get to later.

Let me say two things about these verses first: 1) They are the end of a large section of material in the Gospel of Mark from chapter 4:35-6:56. You can see how this section of Mark is put together in this handout – The literary structure of Mark 4:35 – 6:56. 2) These verses parallel another section of material just before the feeding of the 5,000, in 6:33-34. See this handout – The literary structure Mark 6:54-56. Notice that each set of verses has three parts – they recognized Jesus, they ran through all the towns/the whole region, Jesus taught/healed. These sets of verses frame the two stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water letting us know that Mark wants us to think of them together.

Alright, let’s look at our verses –

Mark 6:54-56

54And when they got out of the boat . . .

Remember with me, Jesus has just walked on water and calmed the wind, and he and the 12 have now landed at Gennesaret.

. . . the people immediately recognized him 55and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was.

Once again, we see here Jesus as the celebrity of the day. He was truly famous and sought out by the common person. Not always for the best reasons, we could say – to believe in him, to be his disciple – but to have their needs met. Nevertheless Jesus does care about them and by and large he accommodates their requests for help.

56And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces . . .

These would usually be the largest open area of a given village or town. And so these people, not the sick themselves and not the disciples, are running ahead of Jesus to bring the sick to these marketplaces wherever he went.

. . . and (they) implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment.

The fringe of his garment refers to the four blue tassels that all Jewish men were to wear according to the Law of Moses (Numbers 15:38-39; Deuteronomy 22:12). This shows us again that Jesus was an observant and devout Jew (see also Mark 1:44.)

And as many as touched it were made well.

What an amazing display of God’s power. God’s Spirit was so upon Jesus that such a simple act of faith, touching the fringe of his garment, brought healing.

Notice the expansive language in these verses – people ran through the “whole region” to bring the sick to “wherever” Jesus was going. Mark is emphasizing the extent of Jesus’ healing ministry in this region. And then notice what little they had to do, just touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as did this were healed. All of this is to remind us of who Jesus is and his great healing power. Which brings me to my point today –

Jesus really is the anointed one

Remember “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. No. It’s a title. It’s the same word as “Messiah.” Christ comes into English from Greek and Messiah from Hebrew, but they’re the same word. Christ or Messiah is a title that describes who Jesus is – it literally means “the anointed one.”

What does it mean to be “the anointed one”? In the Old Testament people were anointed to carry out specific tasks for God: kings (2 Samuel 5:3), priests (Exodus 29:7) and prophets (1 Kings 19:16). Oil was used representing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

To say that Jesus is “the anointed one” is to say that he’s the one, promised in the Old Testament, who brings God’s salvation.

When did his anointing happen? At his baptism. Mark 1:10 says, “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

How do we know for sure that Jesus was anointed? Mark narrates it for us. These are the works of Spirit power that Jesus has done so far in our story: (Red is an exorcism, green a healing and purple a miracle.)

1. Cast out a demon (chapter 1)

2. Healed Peter’s mother in law (1)

3. Healed many and cast out many demons in Capernaum (1)

4. Healed a leper (1)

5. Healed a paralyzed man (2)

6. Healed a man with a withered hand (3)

7. Healed many and cast out many demons from a crowd from all Israel and beyond (3)

8. Calmed the storm (4)

9. Cast out a legion of demons (5)

10. Healed a woman (5)

11. Raised a girl from the dead (5)

12. Healed some in Nazareth (6)

13. Fed 5,000 people (6)

14. Walked on water and calmed the wind (6)

15. Healed many from Gennesaret (6) which is our passage.

Here are the works of Spirit power that we haven’t looked at yet:

16. Cast out a demon from a girl (7)

17. Healed a deaf man who also couldn’t talk – (7)

18. Fed 4,000 people (8)

19. Healed a blind man (8)

20. Cast out a demon from a boy (9)

21. Healed a blind man (10)

22. Killed a fig tree with his words to make a point (11)

And the other gospels record many more works of power by Jesus. And so I highlight all this for you to make the simple point that – No one has ever done such things! Jesus is indeed the anointed one; the one promised now come.

How should we respond?

  • We should believe that he’s the one, as Jesus calls us to in Mark 1:15, “believe the good news” that he’s bringing God’s kingdom salvation.
  • And we should turn away from our sins, as he calls us to in the same verse, “repent.” We are to become his disciples and put into practice his teaching and example.
  • And we should receive the salvation he gives to us, through his death and resurrection – forgiveness and new life by the Spirit.
  • And as his people we should trust and know that we can rely on him, the anointed one, to take care of any need we have.

Jesus walks on water. Mark 6:46-53

The literary structure of Mark 6:46-53

We have now covered Jesus feeding the 5,000, both the miracle of it, and also how it functioned as a sign which points to who Jesus is. Well, right after this we have our story for today – Jesus walking on water.

This story is somewhat similar to what happens in chapter 4 when Jesus calms the storm. And, as we’ll see, the question the disciples ask at the end of that story, “Who then is this that even wind and sea obey him?,” is answered even more clearly in our passage.

[In fact, this story in chapter 4 begins this section in Mark and our story today ends it in chapter 6, which we talk about next time.]

[Notice the parallels between these two stories: 1) Both are a water crossing – west to east; east to west. 2) Both begin with the same time frame – “when evening came.” 3) Jesus is not available – he is asleep; he is on land. 4) There is wind and struggle – the boat was taking on water; they can’t make headway. 5) The disciples are afraid – going to die; a ghost. 6) Both have the same phrase – “the wind ceased.” 7) Jesus demonstrates his power over the waters – calm sea; walks on the water and calm. 8) Jesus challenges the disciples’ fear – “Why are you so afraid?” “Do not be afraid.” 9) The disciples respond in similar ways – “filled with great awe” “utterly astounded”]

Here is a map of where this happens –

Galilee Jesus feeds 5000 2

There are two key things I would like to highlight from this story, a word of encouragement for us, and what we will look at first as we go through the passage –

Who Jesus is: Mark 6:46-53

46And after he had taken leave of them (the crowd), he went up on the mountain to pray.

Finally, Jesus gets some time away from the crowds, even if just for a few hours. And he spends it in prayer. (See also – 1:35, 14:35-39).

Jesus has just revealed himself, his identity as the Messiah and Son of God in the feeding of the 5,000, at least to those who had eyes to see it. And he’s about to reveal himself again to the 12.

47And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.

So the disciples are in the boat and he’s still on land.

48And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.

Jesus, still on the mountain, saw the 12 struggling, just after it got dark. The disciples were several miles away. Was it a clear night so that Jesus could see them in the moonlight or is this supernatural? Not sure.

Unlike in chapter 4 and the calming of the storm, the 12 are not in mortal danger. But they are struggling mightily against a strong headwind and not getting anywhere.

And about the fourth watch of the night . . .

 This would be from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM in the morning. Now Jesus saw them struggling earlier in the evening, but doesn’t do anything about it until the fourth watch, several hours later.

What does he do?

. . . he came to them, walking on the sea.

This is the miracle of our story. He’s not on another boat. He’s not walking in shallow water – there’s no illusion going on. He’s literally walking on top of the waves and the water!

Here we need to remember that in Hebrew thought the deep waters are connected to ideas of chaos, turmoil and evil. Indeed they are associated with Satan and judgment (e.g. Psalm 74:13-14, Revelation 12:9). And Yahweh is the one who has power and dominion over the waters (e.g. Psalm 93).

This was clearly demonstrated when God divided the Red Sea and allowed his people to escape Egypt. And when this happened, God is described as making a path through the sea. Psalm 77:19 says, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters.” (See also Isaiah 43:16 and Job 9:8).

That Jesus walks on water, that is, he makes his path through the sea, shows that he too has complete dominion over the waters. Jesus is doing what only God can do, which demonstrates that Jesus is God’s Son, for like Father like son.

The story goes on –

He meant to pass before them . . .

It doesn’t seem likely that Jesus intended to leave the 12 behind while he went to the other side. No. The word for “pass before” is used in some key places in the Old Testament (LXX) for when God reveals himself. And this is in the background here. Let’s look at the most important example. Remember in Exodus 33 and 34 when Moses was on Mt Sinai? God, it says, “passed before him” – Exodus 34:6 (Also 33:19, 22). And when he does this he reveals himself to Moses. He can’t see God’s face because that would kill him, but he sees God’s back. So ‘passing before’ has to do with God’s self-revelation to people. (See also 1 Kings 19:11-12).

Well, here, like God his Father, Jesus is seeking to reveal himself to them; his identity as God’s Son in walking on the water.

49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified.

So Jesus is trying to reveal himself, but the disciples don’t get it, but are rather terrified thinking that they’re seeing a ghost or sea demon on the water. We get our word “phantom” from the word used here for ghost.

But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

So Jesus comforts them by telling them that it’s him and encouraging them not to be afraid. But there’s more going on here. The phrase “It is I” (ego eimi) is the way that God’s name “Yahweh” is translated into Greek – Exodus 3:14. And when God passed before Moses on the mountain, a key part of God’s revealing of himself was saying his name – Exodus 33:19. So Jesus here is saying the divine name in relation to himself,  or more specifically – I am Yahweh’s Son. He is God’s Son in human form. This is who Jesus is.

51And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.

This is what happened when Jesus calmed the storm in chapter 4. Both have the phrase “the wind ceased.” Jesus delivers the 12 from the storm.

And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

They couldn’t believe what just happened. As we saw before, if they had gotten what Jesus was trying to communicate in the feeding of the 5,000 – they would’ve known that Jesus is God’s Son. And as such he’s perfectly capable of walking on the waters.

Our story ends with v. 53 –

53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore.

They made it safely to the other side and back onto land.

Now let’s talk big picture for a moment. As we have gone through this perhaps you’ve noticed that our story today, and the story of the feeding of the 5,000 go together. The feeding of the 5,000 which we saw is reminiscent of the feeding of Israel in the wilderness is paired with this water crossing which has parallels to the crossing of the Red Sea.

[Parallels between this and the Red Sea crossing include:

  • God came from his mountain – Habakkuk 3:3. Jesus came from a mountain to the 12.
  • The Israelites crossed the sea at night, early morning – Exodus 14:21, 24, 27. This story takes place at night and early morning.
  • There was a storm involved – Exodus 14:24-25; Psalm 77:17-18. There was a storm involving strong wind.
  • God is described as making a path through the sea – Psalm 77:19-20; Isaiah 43:16. Jesus walks on the water to his disciples.
  • God came for the salvation of his people – Habakkuk 3:13. Jesus came to deliver his disciples.]

So in these two events Jesus is symbolically reenacting the story of Israel’s salvation, although in reverse order; God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt and his caring for them in the wilderness. (It’s not in reverse order if this is seen as the crossing of the Jordan into the land of Israel, which itself was a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing).

In this light, Jesus can be seen as showing forth his identity as the  Savior of God’s people. Just as God delivered Israel and cared for them, so Jesus as God’s Son is the one who is bringing about God’s kingdom salvation for the remnant of God’s people. This is who Jesus is.

Let me end with –

A word of encouragement for us

 This story can teach us a few things about going through trials ourselves.

  • Just as with the disciples, we will go through deep waters and experience strong headwinds in life, both as individuals  and as a congregation.
  • Just as with the disciples, Jesus sees us and knows our struggles. Even though he seems far away or absent, he always knows what’s going on in our lives.
  • Just as with the disciples,  he lets us go through trials. Jesus saw the disciples struggling but waited several hours before he came. We have to remember that trials are meant for our good. God is working in us to cause us to grow in our character and relationship with him. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
  • Just as with the disciples, Jesus comes to be with us and tells us to take heart, don’t fear. He gets into the boat with us in the midst of our struggle. As Isaiah 43:1-3 says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . .. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
  • Just as with the disciples, Jesus reveals himself as Son of God and Savior. At the right time he delivers us from the wind and storm; from the clutches of the deep waters. Peter gives these comforting words in 1 Peter 5:10 – “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Jesus is our one teacher. Matthew 23:10

I want to share with you today on how Jesus is our one teacher, and we’re beginning in Matthew 23. In the midst of a blistering critique of the Scribes and the Pharisees in this passage, Jesus says something that is everywhere else assumed throughout the whole New Testament. And I want to highlight this for you this morning and talk about what it means for us.

It’s found in v. 10 where Jesus says to his disciples,

“you have one teacher, the Messiah”

So Jesus is saying that he is our one teacher. Well –

What does this mean?

For one thing it means that Jesus teaches us how to interpret the Bible. And he’s clear that it’s about him.

First he tells us that his life, death and resurrection fulfill the Old Testament story-line. After his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 24:44, “. . . everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Jesus is telling us that the Old Testament has the character of promise to it and his coming is the fulfillment of all its promises.

One simple example of this is the prophecy of Micah 5:2. It says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. And Jesus is, in fact, born in that city.

Second, Jesus tells us that his teaching on God’s will fulfills or perfects Old Testament teaching on this. As he says in Matthew 5:17, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” Jesus is telling us that Old Testament teaching about God’s will for our lives is preparation for his teaching, which fulfills it.

After our verse, Jesus goes on in Matthew 5 to give several examples where he says, “you have heard that it was said to those of old (that is, by Moses), but I say to you . . ..” And the teaching that follows fulfills or perfects what Moses taught. One example of this is the topic of loving enemies. The Old Testament allows you to hate your enemies, at least your nation’s enemies. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies and he gives no exceptions. It includes our nation’s enemies. Jesus raises the standard. So we really do need to check to see what Jesus has to say about any topic that we are studying in the Bible.

Also let’s note that the rest of the New Testament points back to Jesus. That is, it points back to what is revealed about him in the Gospels. After all, Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach the good news of his coming and to teach new disciples “all that I have commanded you” – Matthew 28:20. And this is what the New Testament writers do. They point people back to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and his teaching about God’s will.

So Jesus really is the center of the whole Bible. It all leads to him and focuses on him. The Old Testament points forward to him and the New Testament points back to him. And we can understand it by seeing how it all connects up with and fits together with him. Jesus really does teach us the right framework for how to interpret the Bible.

Well, to have Jesus as our one teacher also means that no one has the right to set aside what Jesus teachesAs we just saw, Jesus said that we are to teach people “to obey all that I have commanded you”- Matthew 28:20. Not part, not some, not most – but all! Every bit of it.

No one can override Jesus. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. If someone says, but Moses said this, or our government says this, or this doesn’t apply anymore – and it goes against what Jesus says – then we stay with Jesus. We cannot take away from what Jesus and his apostles teach us.

And finally, to say that Jesus is our one teacher means that no one has the right to add to what Jesus teaches. There are two ways that this typically happens.

First, we add on our own human opinions and rules and make them binding on others. We’re all really good at this, we have lots of opinions and convictions, which is fine – the problem comes when we require everyone to follow our views, that go beyond Scripture, to be accepted as a good Christian.

Jesus condemns this in talking to the Pharisees, who were really good at this, and he calls it “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”- Mark 7:7, as opposed to teaching as doctrines the commandments of God.

This has happened a lot in church history. Perhaps its Catholics saying that everyone has to submit to the Pope. Or maybe its Anabaptists arguing over whether buttons or hooks and eyes are required to be faithful to God.

Second, some try to add a supposed new revelation that supersedes Jesus and what he has said, in part or in whole. We know that there are various groups and cults that have been formed that make this claim, leading people astray. Mormonism would be an example here.

But Jesus teaches us to “be on guard” against false messiahs and prophets. And he tells us that we are not to believe them – Mark 13:21-23. No one has the right to add to Jesus’ teaching.

Now, if we ask –

Why is Jesus our one teacher?

The scriptural answer is clear: As God’s Son, Jesus gives us the fullest and final revelation of God.

John 1:17-18 says, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus the Messiah. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Notice the contrast with the Old Testament in John’s reference to the Law. Moses gave a true and trustworthy revelation of God and he is considered the greatest of prophets. But John is teaching us that the Word made flesh gives us the complete and perfect revelation of God. For Jesus is not just a prophet, he is God’s Son.

Remember Philip’s question to Jesus, “Show us the Father?” Jesus responded, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” – John 14:9. Jesus gives us the fullest and final revelation of God.

A final question –

What does this mean for us?

We are to believe that Jesus is the promised one, just as he taught us. He is indeed the Messiah. As Jesus implores in Mark 1:15 – “believe in the good news” What good news? That the time of fulfillment has come – that he is here, the Messiah and Son of God. His life, death and resurrection fulfill the promises.

Also we are to follow Jesus’ teaching on God’s will for our lives. He is the perfect revelation of God’s will to us and this is how we are to live.

  • Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” – Luke 6:46. Can you hear the confusion in this? If I’m your Lord, why don’t you listen to me?? Something is wrong here. These things don’t add up. If you call Jesus your Lord then you must obey him.
  • Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” – John 14:15. If you’re not obeying Jesus you don’t love him. No matter what your feelings about Jesus might be. If you claim to love Jesus then you must do what he says.

And, of course, if we are to believe and obey his teaching, we need to learn what Jesus teaches us. Biblical illiteracy is a plague today. And I’m not just talking about among unbelievers in the world where this is expected. Right? What do they care? I’m talking about in the church. Even in churches that value and seek to follow God’s word. And more specifically, I believe we are functionally illiterate when it comes to understanding Jesus’ teaching.

  • Where is our love for his teaching? He became human to show us God’s way. Yet we put so little effort into understanding what he says.
  • Where is our love for Scripture? Where is our hunger and thirst to understand it? Are we curious? Do we ask questions?
  • Or are we apathetic. It doesn’t matter, I know the basics. Or I’ll leave it to my pastor or to my favorite celebrity preacher.

No. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11. After Paul taught them it says, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scripture daily to see if these things were so.” Notice their eagerness. Notice their examination of Scripture and that they did this daily.

I want to encourage you this morning, in the words of Jesus in Mark 4:24, “Pay close attention to what you hear.” (NLT) Or as we would say it today since this is all written down “Pay close attention to what you read.” Pay close attention to all the Scriptures – learn them, examine them, meditate on them – and especially pay close attention to what Jesus teaches.

Jesus feeds 5,000 people (2). Mark 6:33-45

We’re back in Mark 6 today taking another look at the feeding of the 5,000. We went through this passage last week, but to refresh our memory let’s read it again.

33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

Last time we saw how Jesus, without anyone asking, multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people. All ate and were satisfied and there were 12 baskets full left over. Today we look at how this feeding is more than just a miracle – it’s a sign. That is, it points to something about Jesus; about who Jesus is and the salvation he brings

That this is so comes out in the very next story, in Mark 6:51-52. After Jesus walked on the water and the winds ceased these verses say –

51And they (the disciples) were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Mark is saying, if the disciples had understood what the feeding of the 5,000 was about, they would not have been surprised that Jesus could walk on water. They understood that Jesus did a great miracle, but they missed something important. So what is it that they didn’t understand? This is our topic today.

And first we note that there are –

Parallels between the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of Israel in the wilderness

There are connections between the two. Not everything is the same for sure, but there’s enough commonality to make a link. Let’s look at this –

1. Location. The Israelites were in the wilderness. The 5,000 are in a desolate place. And Mark emphasizes this by saying it three times (vs. 31, 32, 35).

2. Organization. The Israelites were organized into groups of 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:15). Jesus organizes the 5,000 into groups of 100’s and 50’s reminiscent of this – v. 39-40.

3. A miracle. There was a feeding miracle of bread (manna) and meat (quail) – Exodus 16. There is a feeding miracle of bread and meat(in this case fish).

4. Much food. There was an abundance of food – Exodus 16:12. Psalm 78:25 says of this, “he sent them food in abundance.” All 5,000 eat and are satisfied with much left over; 12 baskets full.

So there are broad parallels between these stories. Let’s see now what this tells us about –

Who Jesus is

  • Moses was the leader or shepherd of Israel during this feeding.
  • And Jesus is the shepherd in our passage, who teaches and feeds the multitude.

This connection between Moses and Jesus is highlighted in that Jesus alludes to Numbers 27 in v. 34 when he says that the crowd of 5,000 are “like sheep without a shepherd.” That’s because Numbers 27:16-17 is a prayer of Moses that uses shepherd language and has this phrase in it:

16Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.

This is Moses praying for a successor, another shepherd for Israel. And historically this was Joshua. But interestingly the name “Jesus” is another form of the word for “Joshua.” So the reference to this passage in v. 34 indicates that Jesus is acting as the true successor of Moses come to shepherd God’s people.

(A similar connection to Moses is made in John’s telling of the story where some in the crowd want to make Jesus king because they think he is, “The prophet who is to come into the world” – referring to Deuteronomy 18:15-19, again talking about Moses’ successor.)

And there are other messianic predictions that use shepherd language (See – Micah 5:2-4, Zechariah 13:7, Jeremiah 23:1-6). Ezekiel 34 in particular connects with the phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” because it describes the scattering of the sheep due to Israel’s bad shepherds. And then God promises in –

v. 23 – And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

So this is a prophecy about the coming Messiah. And in Mark 6, Jesus is the Shepherd who feeds the 5,000.

All of this shepherd language and the allusions to Moses or Joshua or David as previews of the Messiah make the point that Jesus is the true Shepherd and Messiah of Israel. Who is Jesus? The feeding of the 5.000 portrays him as the Messiah.

But there’s more. Only a glance at our story shows that Jesus is much more than just a human Messiah. Who was it that fed Israel in the wilderness? It was God, not Moses. In Exodus 16:15 Moses said, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Also Psalm 78:23-24)

And who is it that feeds the 5,000? It is Jesus. Mark 6:41 says “Jesus broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.” Jesus takes up the role with the 5,000 that God held with Israel in the wilderness in creating food for God’s people. He is much greater than Moses, Joshua or David, or whoever.

That he takes up God’s role shows us that Jesus is the Son of God. He can do what only God can do. Like father, like son, Jesus is God’s son. This is who he is.

Next, we look at what this story tells us about –

The salvation Jesus brings

And first we note that the feeding of the 5,000 points back to Passover. This was the meal that remembered and celebrated Israel’s salvation from slavery. Because of the death of the Passover lamb, the firstborn of Israel were spared and everyone was freed from Egypt.

  • In our passage, in v. 39, the reference to “green grass” shows us that this happened in springtime, which is broadly when Passover occurs.
  • And we learn more specifically that this indeed happened at the time of Passover in John 6:4.

So the Passover meal is certainly in the background to help us understand this feeding miracle.

Second, the feeding of the 5,000 points forward to the Messianic banquet. This is that great meal of celebration at the end of the age that Isaiah 25:6-9 talks about –

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine . . .. 8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces . . .. 9It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.”

Jesus talks about this event in numerous places, for instance in Matthew 8:11 he says,

I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

  • In our passage, in v. 39 the word “sit” can also be translated as “recline.” It’s a word used for how you sit or lay down at an ancient banquet. It’s the same word that’s used in Matthew 8:11 – “recline at table.”
  • Also in v. 39 the word used for “group” (symposia) can mean dining groups at a banquet.

This banquet terminology shows that the feeding is being presented as a preview of the still to come messianic banquet on the last day.

And then finally the feeding of the 5,000 points to the Lord’s supper. Not everything is the same, for instance in the Lord’s supper you have bread and wine and the feeding has bread and fish. (Although throughout the emphasis is on the bread and not the fish.) But despite some differences, there’s a connection.

And in fact, as I have shown you before, the Lord’s supper itself is connected to both Passover and the Messianic banquet.

Here are some connections between the Lord’s supper and the feeding:

  • Both involve reclining, that is, they are pictured as banquets – 6:39; 14:18
  • In both Jesus is the host of the meal
  • And in both Jesus performs the same actions, in the same order: he takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread – 6:41; 14:22

That the feeding of the 5,000 is connected to the Lord’s supper shows us that the bread from the Lord’s supper (the Passover bread) which symbolizes Jesus broken body on the cross for our salvation -is also symbolized in the broken bread of the feeding miracle.

As we learn from John’s account of the feeding, Jesus is the true bread that comes down from heaven.

________________________

Who is Jesus? He is who Mark told us he was in chapter 1:1 – “the Messiah” and “the Son of God.”

And what does he do? He brings forth the salvation of the kingdom of God that Marks tells us Jesus preached in chapter 1:15. This salvation was pictured long ago in the Passover meal, predicted in prophecies of the Messianic banquet, symbolized in the Lord’s supper and also in the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus feeds 5,000 people (1). Mark 6:33-45

Jesus feed 5000 people: Literary structure

Today we’re in Mark 6:33-45 looking at the feeding of the 5,000. This is a really important story. In fact it’s the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Think about that, of all that Jesus did.

I want us to look at it in two parts – first today, what Jesus did, that is, the miracle itself, and then next time what this miracle tells us about who Jesus is and the salvation he brings.

Mark 6:33-45

And we begin with setting the scene: vs. 33-34. Last we heard, the 12 had just come back from being sent out by Jesus. And they were overwhelmed by the crowds, so much so that they couldn’t even eat. So Jesus said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” – Mark 6:31. Now a desolate place doesn’t mean here a desert, it means a place where there aren’t any people. But this plan get derailed –

33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When he went ashore he saw a great crowd . . .

So Jesus and the 12 are in the boat, but the crowd on land is especially eager and run by foot ahead of them. Jesus and the 12 must not have gone a great distance because the crowd greets them when they land.

Now where they land is disputed, that is, where Jesus feeds the 5,000. Here’s my understanding. Luke 9:10 tells us that they land near Bethsaida, which is just East of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee. And John tells us that they cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side, that is, to the eastern shore. So it seems best to say that they’re somewhere East of Bethsaida, where there are no villages or towns – the yellow circle on the map below.

Galilee feeding of the 5000

. . . and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

 Certainly there would’ve been the temptation for Jesus and the 12 to be angry that their attempt at rest has been thwarted. But instead of this our verse tells us that Jesus “had compassion on them.” It can also be translated as he had pity on them  or felt sympathy for them.

Why? “Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The shepherd image is a common one in the Old Testament for leaders among God’s people (Numbers 27:17). If sheep don’t have a shepherd, they don’t know where to go; they have no one to guide them to food or to protect them from dangers. So this is a serious critique of the current leaders of Israel. They have failed at their job.

Jesus’ response is simple –

And he began to teach them many things.

They don’t have proper guidance and so he gives this to them. He teaches them about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). [Pastors/elders are called shepherds (Acts 20:17-35; 1 Peter 5:1-4). And certainly in the New Testament shepherding is closely connected to teaching (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:7; Titus 1:9).]

We saw before that we need to have times of rest away from our work for the kingdom. But here we also see that sometimes, out of love, we must interrupt our times of rest from kingdom work to meet a real need.

There is also another lesson, we too should have compassion towards those who don’t know the way.  Not hatred towards unbelievers or even Christians we strongly disagree with. Not disgust. Not anger. We should have mercy and try to help them understand.

This brings us to the feeding of the crowd

 35And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

So the disciples are thinking very practically here. Let’s let them get back to civilization before dark – so they can get some food for themselves. It was probably late afternoon.

But Jesus has a different idea –

37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

Practical thinking is fine, except when it goes against what Jesus wants to do – which is a miracle here.

The first part of Jesus’ statement can be translated, “you yourselves give them something to eat.” The emphasis is on you the 12, not the crowd. They are being stretched here.

And this is a lesson for us. God will stretch us as well. As we go through our lives as followers of Jesus we too will experience times when we need to move beyond merely practical thinking; what seems sensible to do what God wants to do, which is often counter-intuitive and seems all upside down and out of whack. So with all our practical sense and wisdom we need to be careful to discern when God is asking us to set this aside to do something crazy for him.

And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”

They’re still thinking practically here and they raise two problems.

1. Shall we go? But this involves the same problem that the crowd would have – they’re in a desolate place, far away from anywhere to get food. And 2. the cost is prohibitive. 200 denarii is the equivalent of 200 hundred days wages for a common worker (Matthew 20:2). That’s about 8 month’s wages. And this is an amount they most certainly don’t have.

They don’t yet get what Jesus is up to. Jesus is their greatest resource and he is right there with them and he doesn’t charge any money. Since they are clueless, Jesus helps them.

38And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

Jesus gives his practical thinking disciples a practical task, “go and see” what we have. When he says “you” it means the crowd also. As we learn in John, what they find comes from a boy in the crowd (John 6). They report back that they have five loaves of bread and two fish, which were probably dried.

39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.

That there’s green grass tells us that it’s Spring time. And John tells us that it was during Passover, which would have been sometime during March/April.

Jesus gets the crowd organized to facilitate the distribution of food.

41And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.

After the blessing the miracle begins. Now, just how the multiplication actually happened is unclear. It says he “broke the loaves” and “divided the two fish.” Does this mean that he kept breaking the loaves and more appeared each time some was taken. Or does it mean that the loaves and fish themselves multiplied so that there was a pile of each Such details weren’t preserved. The fact is simply that the amount of food increased.

Notice how it was the disciples who gave the crowd food, just as Jesus said to them, “you yourselves give them something to eat.”

42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

We have three things in these verses that highlight the magnitude of this miracle.

1. All ate and were satisfied. To eat till you’re full was not something that could be taken for granted in the ancient world. This was a feast of bread and fish.

2. There was an abundance of leftovers. Twelve baskets full.

3. And the crowd was large, 5,000 men. And as Matthew tells us there were also some women and children there (14:21).

Just an observation – no one in the crowd is recorded as being amazed by this miracle. Did they know the full story of how the food was multiplied?

Also, notice the contrast with Herod’s feast a few verses back, where all the big wigs were together and John the Baptist was murdered. Notice the contrast between this and Jesus meeting the needs of common people.

Here’s a lesson for us from this story God takes what little we have and makes it more than enough. Any time God uses us we are inadequate. But he can take who we are and the gifts we have and multiply them to accomplish his purposes.

The story ends by noting that the disciples and the crowd leave.

45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

The word “made” can also be translated “compelled.” This may reflect what John says about how the crowd sought to make Jesus their king. He didn’t want them getting caught up in this. More likely it’s that the disciples would have been very reluctant to leave Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were always together and they were the ones who took care of his needs and also kept the crowds away from him at times.

The phrase “to the other side, to Bethsaida” is a little strange. Since we learn in v. 53 that they’re heading West to Gennesaret, he must mean they are to go West “towards” Bethsaida over to the other side.

Galilee Jesus feeds 5000 2

Earlier the disciples had wanted to dismiss the crowd so they could get food. Jesus here dismisses them having himself met their need.

Let me end by saying –

Jesus is amazing!

What a miracle! What power! What ability to do things that go beyond human understanding. No one even asked him to do this . It was pure grace. Jesus is amazing!