Mark 8:11-21 The Pharisees Demand a Sign. The 12 Continue to Just Not Get it
The Pharisees appear out of nowhere, but we are fairly safe to assume that this incident occurs back over on the Western side of the Galilean sea. They are seeking a sign to legitimize Jesus’ words and/or actions. Bottom line: they are unbelievers when it comes to Jesus. Let’s remember that the Pharisees previously attributed Jesus’ power over demons to “the prince of demons” (3:22), not the power of God. Jesus’ deep sigh in reaction was an expression of indignation and grief. He is exasperated by the question. His refusal to give a sign is immediate and decisive. He refuses to play by the Pharisees rules. He and His ministry doesn’t fit within their limited theological boxes. His exit is abrupt. Further discussion with these hard hearted religious folks will surely not be fruitful, so he returns to the Eastern side of the sea.
Note To Disciples: There is a time and place where it is appropriate to give “a reason for the hope that lies within you” (1 Pt 3:15) and there is a time and place where wisdom dictates that further effort on your part would simply be bad stewardship of your time.
Now the focus turns back to the disciples. While the Pharisees are unbelievers, the disciples continue to lack understanding. This interchange appears to take place while they are crossing the sea. The disciples had forgotten to bring enough bread for the trip, but Jesus uses the opportunity to warn them against “the leaven of the Pharisees” (v. 15), while the previous event is still fresh in their minds. Jesus actually gives them quite a talking to:
Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? (v. 17-18)
Then He proceeds to remind them about the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand through questioning (v. 19-20). The disciples remember the facts of the events precisely but fail to perceive the significance thereof – “Do you not yet understand?” (v. 21).
But do not lose faith, my dear readers, in the “twelve knuckleheads” just yet (we’re almost there). The breakthrough is coming: just one more figurative significance filled miracle (the healing of a blind man, 8:22-26) and then the secret that Jesus is Messiah and Lord is finally revealed in Peter’s great confession of Christ (8:27-30).
How many time have I just flat out refused to obey when God had made it pretty darn clear what He wanted me to do? How often have we explained away as “coincidence” when God was leading us, speaking to us, pointing the way. How much I have refused to step out and act in faith (Vineyard catch phrase: “We spell faith R-I-S-K)! I don’t know about you but I’m counting myself as “the 13th knucklehead.”
And yet there is hope! I’ll be honest here – I have always kind of identified with Peter. Yep, he’s kind of a dunderhead, kind of bull-headed, stubborn, often embarrassing himself. And then there’s that whole, nasty, ‘denying Him there times’ episode. But in the end, the post-resurrection Peter is one of the most powerful world-changers in the history of Christianity! If we have genuinely encountered the risen Christ, it will surely lead to radical transformation of us as persons, and as servants of Christ and as witnesses to His resurrection power to likewise transform others.
Until next time my friends, follow the Messiah (even if today you feel like the 13th knucklehead)!