Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 8
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
Mk 8:1,2 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat
Now if we are right in our assumption in the previous meditation, that the gathering crowd is partly caused by ongoing testimony of healing and that this was against Jesus' wishes, it would not be surprising if we had read in the text the Jesus either sent them away as they started to gather or simply took his disciples off elsewhere. There can be a great tiredness in ongoing ministry and so the desire for the crowd not to grow would be a perfectly natural thing in Jesus. It may also be that he knew that, for many of the crowd at least, they were just there for a show or for totally self-centred reasons and that in the long term they would not become followers. All of that is probable, which is what makes Jesus' response even more wonderful.
Now in the account above there is no time gap between the first sentence and the second one, but it is probable that Jesus ministered to the crowd either by healing or by teaching, which is conformed when we get to the end of verse two when we find they had been with Jesus three days. So yes, there is a gap between healing the deaf man and what is now happening, but the link may still be there nevertheless.
So Jesus has ministered to this crowd for three days! Presumably it was the equivalent of a camp set up so that they slept at night and ate in the day of the provisions that they had brought with them. But now those provisions have run out. Jesus has given and given and given and the crowd has taken and taken and taken, all the while drawing on their meagre rations that they had brought with them. Now those run out. At this point, if I were Jesus, I suspect I might be exhausted from constant ministry. Yes, you draw on the Father, but you are still giving out and giving out and there is a physical drain.
So, when you put all these things together, all these things we have just been considering, we wouldn't be able to criticise Jesus if he just came to an end and sent them home – but he doesn't! Despite all this and despite whatever weariness he feels, he feels for the needs of the crowd. he has compassion on them. Compassion is a strong feeling of concern. In all this Jesus still feels strong concern for this crowd, concern that they have run out of rations, concern that they are needy and, of course, compassion is a motivating force to bring action.
Mk 8:3,4 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance." His disciples answered, "But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?"
So there they are in some undefined location in the region to the east of the Sea of Galilee where they have been for three days! And their resources have run out (we assume) and Jesus draws the plight of the crowd to the attention of the disciples, the fact that they have no food.
But then to forestall their response, “Well, why not just send them home, Master,” he explains why that is not a good idea; a number of them travelled a long way to get here and they are already hungry. If we send them home without any food, they will collapse on the way. Such simple logic (and I've never noticed that verse 3 before!). Jesus is shutting the door on any logical answers. The point is clearly made to the disciples.
So, figuratively speaking, they scratch their heads and look around the barren landscape. This is a remote place. Remote places don't tend to have shops or farms, or anything else for that matter. In old fashioned black and white Laurel and Hardy films, Oliver Hardy was often heard to say, what became a much quoted phrase, “This is a fine mess you've got us into Stanley .” I suspect that, at that moment, the disciples had similar thoughts!
Their response to Jesus essentially says, “This is crazy! Here we are with the great crowd and master is now going on about feeding them. Whatever is he on about?” Well no, that's not what the text says but if I was a betting person that's what I bet the disciples were thinking? Why? Because that's how we think! When Jesus gets us into a corner and life looks difficult, we groan and grumble. The best example of that in Scripture is probably Israel when they have been trapped between Pharaoh and the see with no apparent way out (Ex 14:10 -12) They were not happy!
And of course that how it is in life. We find ourselves in a corner and sometimes it looks like the corner is of the Lord's making – well couldn't He have foreseen this and stopped us getting into this corner???? It's all right, we're about to learn a lesson: “ nothing is impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37) but before we can learn it we have to be confronted by ‘impossible' circumstances, Oooops!
152. What have you got?
Mk 8:5-6 "How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven," they replied. He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so.
Sometimes the lessons of Scripture are so blatantly obvious that we miss them! So here we have this crisis situation where there is a large unfed and hungry crowd and Jesus wants to feed them but the disciples think it is impossible. Note first, that Jesus doesn't say, “It's OK guys, just leave it to me.” No, he wants to completely involve them in the working this thing through. Many of us would like Jesus to wave a magic wand over our difficult circumstances and leave it all up to him but he wants to completely involve us in it all!
Note the first thing Jesus says: what have YOU got? Now in this particular account, in Mark, the disciples don't say anything beyond telling Jesus how many loaves they have, because they have already indicated their feelings that this is an impossible situation. There's nothing more to be said. In the feeding of the five thousand there are issues about the magnitude of the problem and the smallness of their resources, but here they just acknowledge what they have – and it is obviously not enough! The account is simple: Jesus prays over the bread, hands it to the disciples and they hand it out and feed the crowd – all of them.
Now here's the simple lesson: what have YOU got? What is it that YOU have that Jesus wants to take and transform? It may not be a physical thing, it may be simply grace or wisdom and you face the situation before you and think, “I'm overwhelmed by the size of this.” But Jesus says, “What have you got?” You'll probably answer, “Not much.” Remember what Jesus taught: “ Consider carefully what you hear… With the measure you use, it will be measured to you--and even more. Whoever has will be given more.”
There is the principle: you may only have a little but if you give it to Jesus, he can take it and multiply it and use it. That applies to money, to possessions, to wisdom and to grace. it doesn't matter what it is but if it is yours, give it over to Jesus and he can then take it and make it sufficient for the task. The starting to point is to recognise and f ace what you DO have (and don't say nothing, for as a child of God we have lots). Recognise that and then take your hands of it and let Jesus take it and do what he will with it.
153. Abundant Provision
Mk 8:8,9 The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present.
There was a little incident in the life of Abraham which resulted in him naming a place after God: “ So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." (Gen 22:14) That was after the episode of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac and when it came to it, the Lord provided an alternative sacrifice. Of course the phrase or saying that followed was highly prophetic because Jerusalem was considered to be the mountain of the Lord, and there the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God, Jesus, was sacrificed so that we might become receivers of all of God's goodness, God's inheritance for us.
But right back then a signpost was being erected in history that declares, “God is a Giver.” Indeed everything we have today as Christians is because God has given it to us.
Now when we come to ponder these verses all this comes together. Jesus has just taken minimal resources and fed a large crowd with them. He didn't waft it out of thin air but he took what was available and enabled it to reproduce in ways that defy our understanding. It was a miracle, something that goes beyond the ordinary rules of nature – but then as God designed and created everything He knows exactly how it ‘works' and can change it as He wills and when He wills.
Note therefore that He did ‘will' it here. It was His desire to bless all these people and to feed them. But then note that he didn't provide just the bare essentials; all the people ate until they were satisfied. Suppose I gave you a small handful of bread and a tiny bit of fish; would you be ‘satisfied'? No, you might put up with it but your stomach would still grumble. No, when God provides He provides enough that we are ‘satisfied' and aren't ever feeling we have been short changed.
But note also there were a load of baskets of bread left over. If this is not God making a point, I don't know what is! Anybody else want some, we've got plenty left over? Silence. They are well satisfied! But just in case…. there is plenty left over. No question here of ‘just about getting by'. And to rub it in even more, there were four thousand men there, so including women and children, that was a big crowd and Jesus met the needs of ALL of them.
154. Moving On
Mk 8:9,10 And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.
The geography of the present verses is not clear. it is supposed that the feeding of the four thousand happened somewhere to the east of the Sea of Galilee . After that incident, the culmination of three days of teaching, Jesus sends the crowd home. There were no doubt mixed reactions, partly sorry that this great teaching had come to an end, but partly gladness to be going home.
Then Jesus gets the disciples and takes a boat and sails down to what is believed to be somewhere around the southern end of the Lake . But where did the boat come from? The writer simply refers to ‘the boat' as if that were perfectly normal but they have just come down from the north after a ministry trip on foot, and now they take a boat. Did they hire it, were they lent it, had some of the disciples been told to go back via Capernaum and then sail across to meet them there? We simply don't know.
We also don't know why Jesus went down to Dalmanutha. Was it just another of the places in the land that he sought to visit to ensure as many people as possible heard him, or was they some specific reason? As we've noted many times Jesus said he only did what he saw his Father doing (Jn 5:19) and so we must trust that he was following his Father's leading, but we aren't told.
And there we come back to this simple truth in the Christian life, that so often we simply aren't told what Jesus is going to do next. The Christian life is a call to follow Jesus, but it doesn't say that we will understand what is happening all the time or where Jesus is leading, for we are called to walk by faith and not by sight.
Yes, this is the truth about our lives. In terms of character, everything is quite clear. We have the word of God and it is quite specific about the nature of the people we are to be – holy, good, loving, caring, compassionate and so on. Indeed much of our lives mean we just get on with what is before us. We have our work or schooling or college, or whatever, that requires we just keep going and it is fairly obvious what we need to do today, but in the midst of that the Holy Spirit will be looking to lead and guide us in specific instances, to talk to people, to respond to people, to act or do specific things. This life of faith is also a life that is lead by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.
155. Legitimate Questions
Mk 8:11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.
We have lightly touched on this subject again but these verses challenge us to think about it again, and it is the subject of asking questions of God. We will see in the next meditation that Jesus refuses to give the required answer to the Pharisees, so the first point to note (which should be obvious, but isn't) is that God is not at our beck and call. He's not like a heavenly tutor that we can call on to give us all the answers.
And this is the heart of it: God does answer some questions but not all, so what indications are there in Scripture to help us? Well, if your question is, please will you give me wisdom to live out a Christ-like life, the answer is always, ‘Yes!'. (Jas 1:5). If you ask for grace and peace to enable you to live out the Christian life, the answer will always be, yes, because that is something all the letter writers indicate we are to have.
If we have worries and anxieties and we ask God about them, we will at least receive His peace, even if we don't get specific answers (see Phil 4:6,7). The key to asking questions of God, is the heart you have, the motivation n behind the question.
Questions that come with an open heart that simply desires to know how to move ahead in the will of God, will be accepted by God. It is clear that God accepted Mary's question of the Angel Gabriel because she had a heart committed to doing His will (see Lk 1:34,38), whereas Zechariah's questioning of the angel appears to have come out of doubting unbelief and therefore receives censure (see Lk 1:18,20). When Zechariah says, “How can I be sure?” these are clearly words of unbelief.
Now when we come to the modern crusading atheists, just like the Pharisees, when they ask questions, it is not to genuinely look for answers but to criticise and pull down.
You can sound as pious or as moralistic as you like, but if your heart is to pull down Jesus, understand that he will see right through you and you won't get an answer, except silence. Answers are given to genuine seekers and God seeks what is genuine and what is not, so if you are not getting answers, what does that say?
156. Blindness & Refusal
Mk 8:12,13 He sighed deeply and said, "Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it." Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.
We have commented already, in the previous meditation, how Jesus doesn't answer all prayers, all requests, all questions. Something we haven't picked up here though, is why trying to answer the Pharisees was such a futile task. They had just asked Jesus for a sign from heaven. Stop and think about this! If you were travelling with Jesus, or you came upon the crowd and watched what was happening you would have seen hundreds and hundreds of people being healed, some of them very spectacular healings. Where did this power come from that made people so happy? It certainly wasn't from Satan, so where else can it have come from but heaven, from God?
Thus what we are confronted with is a spiritual blindness, an inability to realise the wonder of what was happening infront of them. If they couldn't see this wonder, what hope was there of them being satisfied by anything Jesus did, however spectacular. One of these years he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but still they will not believe, still they will oppose him and seek to destroy him.
No, there is a deep-seated blindness in these men and so nothing is ever going to satisfy them. In their demand for a sign from heaven, there are echoes of Satan's demands of Jesus when he tempted him in the wilderness – do something to reveal the greatness of who you are.
And there is the failure of this demand for Jesus never brought glory to himself, he always only ever served his Father. He did what his Father led him to do, not what men wanted him to do. There was a time recorded in John's Gospel when his unbelieving brothers sought to egg Jesus to go to Jerusalem (Jn 7:3-10) but he refused, but once they had left he then went as well. Jesus isn't moved by unbelieving men; he only does the will of the Father as the Father prompts him.
In these verses we see Jesus give a big sigh, presumably of frustration or something similar, an expression of sorrow that these foolish me were so blind that they could not see that which was infront of them. He simply refuses them and turns away; he doesn't even berate them for their blindness, because it is so obvious to all. He doesn't stay around to debate the subject or give further explanations; there is no point in that. He simply leaves in the boat. End of episode.
157. Wind up!
Mk 8:5-6 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. "Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod."
They say using e-mails is difficult sometimes because you can't tell the tone of the writer and so sometimes you mistake the intent of what is being said. If we're honest we have to acknowledge the same is sometimes true of Scripture. For instance I am sure that Jesus has a great sense of humour, just because he is the perfect man and humour is a real part of being a human, but that doesn't come over in the Gospel accounts because they are writing years later and that aspect of him doesn't seem so important as the basic things he was doing.
Thus when we come to these verses today, my personal feeling is that Jesus says these things as a ‘wind-up', a means of stirring up the disciples in a light hearted manner – but I can't be sure.
The situation is that the disciples, in the confusion of all that was going on when they left in the boat, hadn't thought much about bringing food with them and so it seems it's almost by accident that they just have one loaf with them, and you can imagine the arguing over how it should be divided out – THAT, I suggest is what is behind what Jesus then goes on to say.
But Jesus uses any and every opportunity to teach and train the disciples. They have recently been part of the feeding of the five thousand, then the feeding of the four thousand and then they themselves run short of bread. You might say this was one learning situation after another. Now they are arguing over each getting some of this little supply. In the light of what has recently happened, it is hilarious. Talk about short memories! Or is it the inability to transfer what happened in one situation into the next?
I think Jesus saw the humour in this so he says something in his enigmatic way that leaves them scratching their heads even more. He could have said, “Guys, don't exhibit the same hardness of heart and unbelief that you find in characters like the Pharisees and Herod,” but instead he speaks about leaven or yeast which immediately links to the bread and this confuses them even more.
Jesus sees and understands – and they don't. Jesus nudges them to think about it some more – and he does the same with us.
158. Think about it!
Mk 8:16-19 They discussed this with one another and said, "It is because we have no bread." Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they replied.
We said it in a previous meditation but it needs repeating: Jesus is challenging us to think. The disciples have heard Jesus challenge about yeast and are whispering among themselves what he meant. Now Jesus challenges them again. It is like he has to keep nudging them along a pathway of thinking. He starts off: why are you focusing on having no bread? The implication is that if you just focus on what you don't have, you stay there in a position of ‘not having'. It's a negative, no-faith position. The further implication is, don't focus on what you don't have, focus on getting what your Father in heaven can bring you.
Then in four different ways, with four questions, he scolds them for not seeing what is obvious. His final question focuses them back on what has recently happened: “don't you remember?” He then takes them back over the feeding of the five thousand and in the verses that follow, the feeding of the four thousand.
Why is he doing this? He is saying, don't you remember that twice recently we ran out of supplies for the crowd and twice my Father provide for us and completely fed them – with lots left over! If that happened then, is it s big problem for my Father to feed this little group?
I want to be honest and say that this is, in my ongoing experience, one of the most difficult areas of faith. I have known a number of times in the past when the Lord has provided. I can remember a spectacular occasion when we were running out of drink at a large gathering and we prayed and the tap kept on pouring and pouring. I have driven a hundred miles on an empty petrol tank. I have known the Lord providing money for evangelistic and purely domestic situations. Please be clear, these were all clear examples of God's provision – no doubts! But I am aware that if I think of God specifically providing for me, I doubt and wonder. Perhaps it is just because we are part of the fallen human race that it is so difficult to believe, so don't be too hard on these disciples, struggling here to understand. We're in good company!
Mk 8:20,21 "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven." He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"
You can read the Gospel accounts again and again and fail to see the obvious. I had never noticed previously that in this case, Jesus never ended up explaining what he had meant by speaking of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod, or why he was referring the disciples back to the two instances of feeding the crowd. We have assumed a number of things as we have considered these verses, but they are not stated there in the accounts.
The truth is that Jesus leaves it open-ended and none of the disciples picks him up on it. It is almost by tacit agreement that they will be left to think about it and come to their own conclusions.
Now I find this is a real challenge in the face of our modern teaching, for so often we seek to bend over backwards to bring people to understanding. I think of one extremely good American communicator whose books use everyday illustrations and he unpacks the stories in very detailed ways so almost there is nothing left to doubt – but Jesus didn't do that!
No, Jesus seems to present sufficient for the spiritually hungry and thirsty for them to be satisfied, but he doesn't bend over backwards to bring understanding. For Jesus, understanding comes with an open and seeking heart and if people don't come with that sort of heart he will speak but they may not understand.
There is a further challenge that this brings: for some people believing is synonymous with understanding and if they don't understand something they give up. Now please don't hear me wrongly, for I do believe Jesus wants to bring us understanding but understanding follows surrender, not the other way round. When we came to Christ it was almost certainly with little understanding. The key issue was that we were in trouble and we were not in relationship with God and we had a need and were desperate and so we surrendered to Him. Understanding followed. But I believe the Lord often allows us to come to ‘impossible' situations where we cannot see a way through and we just have surrender to Him afresh to be our Saviour-Redeemer and then when we do, He opens the way up, and that may then include bringing us understanding. Amen?
160. A Blind man
Mk 8:22,23 They came to Bethsaida , and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village
Yet again, we find ourselves with verses that raise questions for the thinking seeker. I have commented before that sometimes these Gospels appear like notes in a student's notebook, bare bones of what was said and done. But isn't that almost exactly what they are; they are just the bare notes of what happened. They now move on and arrive at Bethsaida at the northern end of the Lake of Galilee .
As so often happened, the word obviously spread that Jesus was there and “some people” bring a blind man. We don't know who these people were, or how many there were, but at least a small group of people bring a man who is blind. Now we don't know why he is blind; we don't know if he is blind because he is now old and his sight has gone, or whether he is younger and some infection has rendered him blind. Now I believe all these questions are valid because we are talking about a human being who is significant and Jesus takes time over him. Each person is significant but I suspect often in the shear numbers that came to Jesus, there was little time for the personal touch, but this time, there very much is the personal touch. So let's be interested in this man; if we had lived then he might have been a member of our family!
Again, as we have seen before the people who bring the blind man, “beg” Jesus to heal him. The word “begged” occurs eight times in Mark's Gospel and this is the eighth time. This is unique to Mark. Is this because the now-sensitive Peter had been a witness and realised the urgency that these people felt? As we commented in a previous case, was this man a loved one of perhaps this family? In those days there were no eye specialists in white coats with fancy technology to help. If you were blind, you were blind! But then Jesus came, ushering in the kingdom of God and bringing hope to thousands. Suddenly hope had arrived in their town and they daren't let this opportunity pass by. They know it only needs a touch by Jesus.
But then starts a series of simple actions that are unique to this man. It starts with Jesus taking the man by the hand, establishing personal contact with him, and then leading him out of the village, presumably to somewhere out of the public gaze. For whatever reason, and we aren't told, Jesus wants to do this privately.
161. Strange Actions
Mk 8:23-25 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
I have to confess I have never heard of any healer following Jesus' example in these verses. Why might that be? Surely it is because we aren't very happy with the thought of spitting in the eyes of someone else. It is a bit strange to say the least. Was this an act in the absence of water to wash the man's eyes of grime that prevented him seeing clearly?
But this is an unusual passage for other reasons as well. Yes, Jesus laid hands on him and presumably prayed but that is fairly straight forward. But then he asks the man can he see. There are no other accounts of Jesus doing that so it rather indicates that when he prayed he had a sense that the healing that he expected to take place hadn't fully happened. Perhaps this makes us realise that we take for granted all the other times when Jesus healed people and they were healed completely and immediately.
For a reason that is not given, this incident is an exception, and Jesus is aware of it. The man looks and describes what he sees. It is clear that he only sees figures in outline and what he sees is not clear. So once again Jesus puts his hands on the man's eyes and prays (we assume). This time the man sees clearly.
Yet again we have a passage with question marks over it. We don't know why it happened like this, we don't know why Jesus had to ‘wash' his eyes first, and we don't know why there was initially only a partial healing.
Having said that we perhaps should take at least three simple lessons from what happened here. First, healings don't always happen completely at first try. If it happened with the Son of God, it will happen even more with us. Second, don't assume anything; check out the healing after you have prayed. Third, if the healing isn't complete first time, pray again, persist in prayer. I wonder how many of us pray and see a small measure of improvement but then give up? The lesson is press on.
Mk 8:27-28 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
The question of Jesus' identity comes up again and again in the Gospels. After Jesus stilled the storm on the lake, the disciples whispered among themselves, “ Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mk 4:41). After teaching in the synagogue in his own home town the hearers were first amazed and then asked, “Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" (Mk 6:3). When the word had spread to Herod there were speculations: “Some were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." Others said, "He is Elijah." And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago." But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!" (Mk 6:14-16)
Now we come to a time when Jesus is alone with the disciples and so he asks them the same question and gets the same answers. The thought that Jesus was John raised from the dead suggests their information was very sketchy because Jesus had started ministering while John was still around. Nevertheless the superstitious among them believed this.
Why was Elijah a contender? It was probably because Malachi, the last of the prophets in the Old Testament canon had declared. “I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” (Mal 4:5)/ Was Jesus Elijah in a new form? Not according to Jesus for he declared that that had been what John was (Mt 11:14 ).
No, what we have been considering is what men throughout the ages have had to consider and our answer will determine our eternal destiny; it is the question of who Jesus actually is. Some have said a good teacher, others have said a great healer, others say a great prophet but none of these answers are significant. The only significant answer is that he is the Son of God and when we can come to that point of belief, we see that everything he said or did confirms that. Also if that is who he is it, adds veracity to all he said and did. His death and resurrection now become critical for why should God's Son die if not for some eternal and divine purpose – to save us!
163. Identity (2)
Mk 8:29-30 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
This is it; we concluded the previous meditation by starting to consider the significance of who Jesus is, and how important it is to know what we believe about him. The question is not about what other people believe about Jesus, but what I believe about Jesus. That is why Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do YOU say I am?” As far as you and I are concerned, it doesn't matter as far as our eternal destiny is concerned whether someone down the road believes in Jesus; the crucial question is whether I do and have I responded to that belief? Moreover it doesn't matter what variety of opinions there have been about Jesus from different people in history; the crucial question as far as God is concerned is what do I believe today?
It took Peter to come out with an answer. Being the account given, we believe, by Peter to Mark, the account here is short and to the point. Matthew recorded it “ Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt 16:16) to which Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (v.17). This isn't just an impetuous answer from Peter, it is an inspired answer from heaven.
Thus Jesus confirms Peter's answer, yes he is the Christ or Messiah spoken about throughout the Old Testament and yes, he is the Son of God. If he was not and is not the Son of God, then his death on the Cross could not have eternal consequences. If his death was to fulfil and bring justice for every wrong thing ever done on earth, the one taking the punishment had to have an eternal dimension. A mere man could not do it. God paying the price Himself for every sin, does bring justice. Sin HAS been paid for, every sin HAS been punished.
But then we find something quite strange, Jesus tells them not to say this to anyone. Now eventually, after his death and resurrection, his instruction to them was to go and be witnesses to what they had seen and heard; then they would have a cast iron guaranteed message to bring, then they would KNOW that what they said was true. If they shared it now, they are sharing it on the limited (although wonderful) basis of all of the teaching and miracles that they had witnessed, but that still leaves room for doubt. No, it is Jesus' death and resurrection that completes the message.
164. The Future
Mk 8:31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
Perhaps, in retrospect, when we look at the Old Testament with such verses as Isa 52:14, 53:5,7-10, and having heard the message preached so many times, we find the thought of Jesus dying for us easy to take in, but it would not have been so for the disciples.
Try and put yourself in their shoes. They have been travelling with Jesus for over two years and have witnessed the most amazing scenes in all of history. As Jesus himself summarised it, “ The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5). They have even seen Jesus walk on water and calm storms as he has mastery even over nature. They have seen him feed massive crowds with virtually nothing. It has been a mind blowing experience, walking with the Son of God. Nothing is beyond him and the crowds adore him.
And then Jesus starts talking about his death. This is not a death in old age but this has an impending feel about it. They will go down to Jerusalem and there will be confrontation with the religious authorities and somehow he is going to be killed. But hold on! He doesn't stop there; he says that after he has been dead for three days he will rise again.
These years of walking with Jesus have challenged their beliefs in him again and again. Their faith levels have been forced up and up by the things they have seen. Time and again they have been challenged over what they will believe about him and now comes this final challenge: will they believe what he now says.
Ultimately it is a challenge to believe that Jesus is in total command of his circumstances, WHATEVER happens, however bad it seems. This is the challenge for each of us who walk with him. It is the same challenge that faces us whenever we read Rom 8:28 : “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” There it is, dare we believe that whatever happens to us, God will be there working in it all for our good – yes in everything because nothing is outside His control. He is the Lord!
Mk 8:32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
When you see the words in black and white you wonder, “Peter, how could you possibly have had the nerve to tell Jesus off?” This is Peter challenging the Son of God, the one who has healed thousands, taught even more, walked on water, stilled storms and fed thousands with virtually nothing. Peter, have you forgotten all this? How could you possibly think Jesus doesn't know what he is doing? How could you possibly tell him off? You deserve the rebuke that is coming.
When we think like that, we forget what we are like and we elevate ourselves to think we would never do such a thing. However, may I gently ask, have your thoughts about God and about the circumstances of your life always been gracious and humble? Or have there been times when you have questioned the wisdom of what God is doing, or not doing?
Indeed sometimes we even exhort people to be honest about their feelings and, as God's children, feel free to express them to Him. But what are we talking about then? We are talking about the feelings that we have in trying circumstances, feelings that are sometimes expressed as “God, why don't you turn up and change these circumstances? You have seen how I have prayed and prayed and prayed, and still you don't seem to answer.” Oh yes, life is filled with questions and it is never easy to walk that fine line between stoicism that just accepts everything, and seeking the will of God to know what He wants to change.
But for Peter, there may have even been another motivation. It may simply be that in his love for Jesus he just couldn't contemplate such an awful thing happening to the Master. Misguided compassion no doubt often creeps into our prayers: “Lord please intervene for my friend, for you see all she is suffering.” Yes, but she is bringing it upon herself by her attitude and her actions. I would love to help her but anything I might do would be contrary to all she is doing at the present.”
Oh no, it is not so clear cut as we might like to think at first sight. Don't write Peter off too quickly. Yes, he has got it wrong but we are so often very similar as we struggle with the circumstances of life that are not always easy to understand.
166. God Focused?
Mk 8:33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
In the previous meditation we sought to be gentle in our thinking about Peter and suggest that many of us do the very same thing when we pray, but explaining it doesn't make it right unfortunately. The one thing this verse does is leave us in no doubt about the rightness or wrongness of Peter's words. They are utterly wrong!
A second thing that this verse says is that we can be led astray by the enemy. Now whether Satan or his minions had actively spoken into Peter's mind or whether it was just Peter's way of thinking that was similar to Satan's is not clear – and it really doesn't matter.
A third thing that follows is that the only ‘right' way of thinking is a godly way of thinking, thinking that is focused on God, puts God at the centre and is inspired by God's revelation. Now Peter had that way of godly revelation when he declared that Jesus was the Son of God a few moments earlier. THAT was the truth and that was revelation.
To move on as we meditate we may have to be rather speculative, but I know how I work! Peter receives revelation and speaks it out and is commended by Jesus for it. Now Peter, like you and me is a very human figure who often puts his foot in it and exhibits grade ‘A' self-centredness! When he was commended by Jesus, I wonder did pride well up within him – “Wow, didn't I do well” and the moment pride raises its ugly head it makes us vulnerable to Satan because it is always an expression of ungodliness. The only problem in these situations is that we aren't very self-knowing and we don't recognise pride and don't realise how vulnerable we become and fail to realise the next voice we hear is the enemy's.
Now to return to the specific facts of the verse, there is something else to be noted: Jesus considers this to be of such importance that he speaks this out into Peter's face, so to speak, and before all the other disciples, and the nature of what he declares (which is true) is sufficiently sharp that Peter and the others would never forget it.
Mostly we would like Jesus to treat us gently as we stumble about in faith, but sometimes some things are of such importance we have to hear it full on – even if it is painful, for we must learn from it!
167. To be a Follower (1)
Mk 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
This is one of those times when Jesus paints a very graphic picture which takes a little while to think about but which then has dynamic conclusions. Note first of all that Jesus calls both the crowd and his disciples to him. This pronouncement that he is about to make, needs to be heard by all. It is so profound that it should be taken in by any and every person who would think of becoming a Christian, a follower of the Christ, the Son of God.
Right here it is: “If anyone would come after me.” Jesus had called the disciples to follow him, to come with him, learn of him. Now Jesus says to the whole crowd, you may come looking for healing or interesting teaching (implied) but if you actually want to come with me, to follow me, then there is something you need to realise. In saying this he is making the crowd differentiate between following him around the countryside for what they can get from him, and following him to become a disciple of his.
So, right, this is all about discipleship. If you want to be a disciple, how do you come? “He must deny himself.” The emphasis is on the word, “himself.” Up until now you have put your wishes first. Before meeting Jesus we will have been completely self-centred for we have no one else to focus upon. Now, says Jesus, if you want to follow me you must give up that self-centred life, that life of self-concern. Self would like to reign but you must deny ‘self's' demands.
Now comes the focus: “and take up his cross and follow me.” What is this? What cross does he mean? The only cross of any significance in those days was the cross for execution and the condemned man was required to carry his own cross to the place of execution. When you were carrying a cross you had no future; you were about to die!
So what is Jesus saying? If you want to follow me you must give up all rights to your future, you have no future, only what I and my Father decree. Here is the crux point of becoming a Christian: it is the belief that God knows best about how I can have a fulfilled life. This isn't about going off to be missionaries abroad, this is just about letting him be Lord of your life, the one to whom you refer all possibilities and say, “Lord, what do you see is best for me?”
168. To be a Follower (2)
Mk 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Survival is an instinct. It is natural to want to save your life, to hold on to it. But life is more than breathing, eating and drinking. Yes, those are the three things that keep us alive but they are not what Jesus is referring to here. ‘Life' here refers to that whole dimension of being alive and controlling our lives. It involves our will and our hopes and aspirations. For the average person it is all about being in control and determining ‘my' destiny, about doing things ‘my way', going for goals that I want for me which, for most people is expressed in terms of fulfilment and success.
But, says Jesus, the trouble is that if you try and hold on to your ‘life' and be the arbiter of all that happens and strive for success, you may have a form of it but actually you will have an empty life that is, in reality, no life. How many rich and famous people actually have empty lives? They have everything and yet nothing. How many great businessmen have to keep on working because they know if they stop, the emptiness of their life will become blazingly apparent? How many people when they retire suddenly find they have nothing?
I like the story of the old man questioning a young man at school. “What are you doing with your life?” “I'm studying for my exams.” “Then what?” “I'll go to university and qualify for a profession.” “Then what” “I'll get married, have children, a nice house and a nice car.” “Then what?” “I'll get promoted and have a big salary and a bigger house and car and a boat.” “Then what?” “I'll retire.” “Then what?” “I'll try and find something useful to do in my retirement.” “Then what?” Silence.
Life is not just about doing; it is also about meaning and outside of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, life is shallow and empty. Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes typified this. He had done everything but lost his relationship with the Lord and so near the end of his life his assessment of it was that it was all meaningless.
The Gospel is all about bringing us back into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ so that He can bless us and lead us to live lives that are in accord with His design for us. Only when we live in this relationship do we have a sense of genuine meaning and real fulfilment in what we do and who we are.
169. To be a Follower (3)
Mk 8:36,37 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Values and priorities in life are thing we often don't think about until we have had a life threatening experience or maybe negative experiences that challenge all we've believed in up until now. Yet the truth is that the ‘Big' questions about life are THE most important questions, not merely from an intellectual point of view but in the light of the fact that we live a very quick life here on this earth but then what? We have this concept of time and it stretches way back and way forward and it makes us wonder if there is something more than these ‘three score years and ten'.
But then Jesus challenges us in such a way that he suggests that you can't have immense riches AND a life. Well actually he doesn't say ‘life' does he? He speaks about our soul, which speaks of the inner part of us, the real part of us, the part of us that thinks deep thoughts and has deep feelings. When people talk about the soul, they seem to be talking about the inner me, the part of me that is of most value.
I was only reading earlier this morning an article in a well-known magazine where the writer was saying how meaningless mega-salaries are and how spending big money as we do, when we buy a car or a house or even a three piece suite, no longer seems significant. Our abundance of possessions means that the more and more we get, the less we value them. Economists speak about the Law of Diminishing Returns: the more you consume, the less you value the next thing.
Meanwhile, because we are putting all our efforts into acquiring material possessions, and have been neglecting the inner person, we find that inside us is a barren desert. We have laboured for much and ended up with little in the bank of the inner man, where it counts. And then, when we face death, we realise that there IS a Maker out there who we have to face, and suddenly we realise that, yet again, we had got our priorities wrong. We have laboured over the material world and neglected the spiritual world, so spiritually we were dead and yet we have to face The Spirit, God Himself. How could we have been so foolish to be so short sighted through all those years! What had we missed by being material-orientated all that time, having neglected the needs of our soul and having neglected the needs of our spirit, and now eternity stretches away infront of us, an eternity where these things count and material things don't.
170. To be a Follower (4)
Mk 8:38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels
At the heart of the Christian Gospel is Christ, not just knowing about him but knowing him. That is all about relationship. He is at the heart of our relationship with the Father, the means of it. Being a Christian means being called by God to follow Jesus. That's what the disciples did physically and it's what we do spiritually. But it's all about Jesus. We learn about him in the Bible, we learn to respond to the prompting of his Spirit on a daily basis and we seek to be obedient to him when we learn his teachings in the Bible and he prompts us in daily life.
But not everyone around us in the world today feels like that. Without doubt, in the Western world we are a minority. Most people are godless (they have no relationship with God) and so they are also unrighteous (they live their lives their way and not according to God's way.) Their beliefs come from all over the place. They may come from self, they may come from Satan (without being aware of it) and they may believe strange things about religion and have strange religious beliefs that have no foundation except strange experiences. These people have no spiritual experiences and multitudinous spiritual experiences – but they are not of God. That is why Jesus describes the people of the world as adulterous and sinful.
Now if we take these two strands of thought above, we can see how they come together in Jesus words in the verse above. If we genuinely have a living relationship with Jesus, then that will be obvious and be expressed in a variety of ways. If we are ashamed of him and deny we know him when asked, it is a sign of the absence of a real relationship with him.
Now one day Jesus will return to this earth and when he does he will gather to himself all those with whom he has a genuine relationship, but he will not gather to himself those who only pretend to be spiritual or pretend to be Christians. In the same way that people reject him now, so he will reject them then. That is what he means when he speaks of being ashamed. If we are ashamed of someone we reject them, we don't want to know them, because we feel bad about them. If you feel bad about Jesus today it is a sign of the absence of relationship with Him and what you do today has consequences for tomorrow.