In Mark chapter eight, we’ll follow along with Jesus as He provides a meal for a multitude of people with limited resources once more. We’ll also watch as Jesus heals a blind man in a manner that is reminiscent of His healing of a deaf man as recorded in Mark chapter seven. And finally, Jesus will go on to clarify the cost and responsibilities associated with following Him…
“In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar'” (Mark 8:1-3).
These verses help demonstrate the pastoral attitude that Jesus held towards those who followed Him. The term “pastor” means “shepherd” and as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), Jesus was concerned for welfare of the people under His ministry: ”If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance” (NIV). Of course, the fact that Jesus would feel compassion for the people of this largely non-Jewish region was something that Mark’s original audience (an audience that was largely comprised of non-Jewish people) would be sure to find very reassuring.
But how had this multitude of people come to be with Jesus for so long that they no longer had anything left to eat? Well, the report of this event from Matthew’s gospel helps provides us with the answer…
“Large crowds came to him, including those who were paralyzed, blind, injured, and unable to speak, and many others. They laid them at his feet, and he healed them. So the crowd was amazed when they saw those who had been unable to speak talking, and the paralyzed cured, and the injured walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:30-31 CEB).
So Jesus’ ministry to the people in this remote area was so great that they had continued with Him until they had apparently run out of food. So with the crowds now left with nothing to eat, Jesus decided to address the situation- but the response of His disciples was not very encouraging. We’ll take a look at that response next.
“‘I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar'” (Mark 8:2-3).
It appears that Jesus’ ministry had become widely known throughout that area since a number of people within in the crowd that day had traveled a great distance to see and hear from Him. And while it is sometimes possible to become so focused on a task that we fail to recognize the needs around us, the fact that these multitudes had run out of food was not lost upon Jesus. After all, Jesus could certainly appreciate what it felt like to go hungry and His desire to address this situation arose from His compassion and willingness to meet the need that was before Him.
“Then His disciples answered Him, ‘How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?'” (Mark 8:4).
When presented with a similar situation in Mark chapter six, the disciples responded by saying, “‘…This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat'” (Mark 6:35-36 ESV). While it might be said that the disciples had made some progress by at least not suggesting that Jesus send the multitudes away again, it’s not difficult to imagine that Jesus had been hopeful of a different response from these men.
You see, the disciples might have responded to Jesus’ statement by asking for His direction on how to best meet the need that they had been presented with. Or they might have suggested that Jesus provide a meal for them to distribute just as He had done previously in meeting the needs of more than five thousand people who had gathered to meet with Him. Unfortunately, that experience had apparently been forgotten by the disciples. They also seem to have forgotten the historical example of God’s provision for needs of their ancestors so many generations earlier (see Exodus chapter sixteen).
The disciples might have recognized that Jesus’ past faithfulness in providing for the needs of the people was something that established a solid basis for trusting in Him to address the need that they were now confronted with. We’ll see how Jesus chose to respond to their statement next.
“Then His disciples answered Him, ‘How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ And they said, ‘Seven.’
So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them” (Mark 8:4-7).
There are a number of parallels between this passage and a similar passage in Mark chapter six where Jesus miraculously provided a meal for over five thousand people. However, there were a few important differences between these two events. For example, the location was different (the predominantly non-Jewish region of Decapolis [Mark 7:31]) and the proportions were different as well (seven loaves of bread and an unspecified portion of fish). There was also a sizable difference in the amount of leftovers that were collected…
“So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away” (Mark 8:8-9).
When Jesus miraculously fed over five thousand people in Mark chapter six, we were told that the leftovers were carried away in twelve baskets. The original language used to describe those baskets indicates that they were relatively small and suitable for carrying a meal for no more than just a few people.
However, the baskets described here in Mark chapter eight were significantly greater in size and were actually large enough to contain a person. Since we know that some of those in the crowd that day had traveled a great distance to see and hear from Jesus (Mark 8:3), this generous provision may have been used to help sustain those travelers and provide enough for them to eat on their long journey home.
Finally, the Gospel of Matthew adds the following detail regarding this event: “The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children” (Matthew 15:38 NIV). This means that the number of people that Jesus actually fed was significantly more than four thousand and could have easily been double or triple that number.
So while there were a number of similarities and differences between the miracles of Mark chapter six and Mark chapter eight, there is one thing that each had in common: Jesus provided more than enough to meet the need in both instances.
“…(Jesus) immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha. Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him” (Mark 8:10-11).
Although the precise location of Dalmanutha is no longer known, we can say that it was situated somewhere near the western portion of the Sea of Galilee. But while we don’t know the exact location where Jesus disembarked, we do know that the reception that He received from the religious leadership remained the same: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and started to argue with him. They wanted to trap him, so they asked him to perform a miracle to show that God approved of him” (GNB).
Unfortunately, these men were really not seeking to authenticate Jesus as God’s Son and His authoritative representative. On the contrary, they had already decided that Jesus’ power was satanic in origin (see Mark 3:22). Instead, these leaders wanted Jesus to validate His ministry on their terms with some sort of celestial sign. The problem was that these religious leaders had already received a sign from heaven some thirty years earlier at the time of Jesus’ birth- but the religious leadership of that time (some of whom were surely still alive) seemed uninterested in validating that sign once they were informed of it’s appearance…
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel’” (Matthew 2:1-6).
The priests and the teachers at the time of Jesus’ birth had the right information about the Messiah- they even quoted directly from the Old Testament prophecy concerning Him from Micah 5:2. But even though they had the right information, they had little apparent interest in validating the heavenly sign they had already been given and finding out about Jesus for themselves.
“Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation'” (Mark 8:11-12).
The Gospel of Matthew also reports on the confrontation between Jesus and these religious leaders in the passage quoted above. In that parallel account found in Matthew 12:39, Jesus added this additional statement: “Only an evil and faithless generation would ask for further proof…” (TLB). So in making these remarks to His opposition within the religious establishment, we might understand Jesus’ meaning to be something similar to this: “Have you not received enough to verify my claims? What would you expect the Messiah to do that I have not already done?
With this in mind, we might ask what Jesus offered as proof to substantiate His claim to be the long awaited Messiah. Well to this point, Jesus’ miracles within the Gospel of Mark have included…
- A number of exorcisms (Mark 1:32-33) including a man possessed by a legion of demonic entities (Mark 5:1-15)
- Numerous healings including fever (Mark 1:29-31), leprosy (Mark 1:40-42), paralysis (Mark 2:3-12), physical deformity (Mark 3:1-5), hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34), and deafness with a speech impediment (Mark 7:32-35)
- One resurrection from the dead (Mark 5:35-43)
- Over five thousand people fed with five loaves of bread and two fish (Mark 6:35-44)
- Over four thousand people fed with seven loaves of bread and a few fish (Mark 8:1-9)
- The ability to walk upon the surface of the water (Mark 6:48-51)
- Miraculous control over natural elements, including wind and water (Mark 4:35-41)
Unfortunately, the long list of miracles detailed above were not enough for those who now demanded to see some sort of celestial fireworks. You see, these men wanted to set their own terms and then challenge Jesus to meet them. But God had already told these men what to look for regarding the Messiah through the pen of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 35:5-6).
So Jesus’ response to these adversaries was expressed by His refusal to perform for their benefit. Jesus was unwilling to subject Himself to the performance appraisal of those who claimed to be spiritual but were really not. The miraculous evidence that He had already provided was sufficient to validate His ministry.
“Jesus sighed deeply and said, ‘Why do you people ask to see a miracle as a sign? I want you to know that no miracle will be done to prove anything to you'” (Mark 8:12 ERV).
In the parallel account to this passage found within the Gospel of Matthew, we find that Jesus made a few additional comments to these religious leaders…
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-40).
This additional information helps provide us with some insight regarding Jesus’ view of the Old Testament. You see, Jesus drew a comparison between His future death, burial, and resurrection with the experience of the prophet Jonah, the Biblical personality who once spent three days and nights inside a large fish. This comparison is important because many refuse to accept the story of Jonah as literal truth on the grounds that it is unreasonable to believe that a man could survive inside a big fish for 72 hours. Others claim that Jonah’s account is nothing more than an allegory or a story used to illustrate a spiritual truth.
But in the passage from Matthew quoted above, Jesus applied the account of Jonah to Himself and left little room to acknowledge it as an allegory or a legend: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (MKJV). In order to accurately apply the story of Jonah to his own burial and resurrection, Jesus must have regarded that account to be an actual, historical event. That’s because a myth or legend would fail to serve as an accurate representation of Jesus’ actual, historical death and resurrection.
In fact, Jesus seemed to make a regular practice of taking some of the most controversial Old Testament accounts (like the story of Jonah) and referencing them in a matter of fact manner as genuine historic events. We’ll look at a few of those examples next.
“In the same way that Jonah spent three days and nights in the big fish, so will the Son of Man spend three days and nights in the depths of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 GNB).
In reading through the Gospels it becomes clear that Jesus accepted a number of the most controversial Old Testament accounts as literal, historic truth. For example, Genesis chapter six provides us with the account of Noah, a man who constructed a huge, barge-like ark that carried his family along with representative examples of the world’s animal population in safety during a catastrophic flood. Many people believe the story of Noah and the flood to be a myth or a legend; something that couldn’t possibly be true.
But Jesus went on to make this comment in Matthew 24:38: “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark.” So it appears that Jesus accepted Noah as an actual person and the Flood as an actual event.
Then there is the example of Exodus chapter sixteen, a passage of Scripture that details how God provided thin white flakes called “manna” for the people of Israel to eat while they were traveling throughout the desert. While such a thing might sound ridiculous to some, John 6:49 quotes Jesus with these words:“Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert…” Jesus certainly seemed to accept the authentic nature of this Biblical account.
Finally we have the account of Adam and Eve as found in the book of Genesis. It would probably be fair to say that most people hold the story of Adam and Eve to be nothing more than a fantasy, myth, or legend. But in Matthew 19:4-6, we read this: “(Jesus) answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.'” In the context of this passage, Jesus was speaking of Adam and Eve and the historic nature of the events of Genesis chapter two.
These examples help demonstrate Jesus’ view regarding the authority, reliability, and trustworthiness of the Old Testament Scriptures- and we can accept the historical validity of these Biblical accounts on His authority as well.
“And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, ‘Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod'” (Mark 8:13-15).
As the disciples traveled back with Jesus across the Sea of Galilee, they discovered that they had forgotten to take enough food for everyone to eat. Jesus apparently took advantage of this oversight to impart some important information:“‘Take care,’ Jesus warned them, ‘and be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod'” (GNB). So what did Jesus He mean by “the leaven of Herod and the Pharisees”? Well to answer the question, it first helps to understand something about Biblical typology.
Typology refers to the study of a figure, representation, or symbol of something else. Typology involves the use of patterns or metaphors where one thing is used to represent another. To help illustrate this idea, let’s go back to the example of Jonah that Jesus referenced in Matthew 12:38-40. In that context, Jonah’s experience would be understood as a type (or symbol) of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
We also have Jesus’ use of the word yeast or leaven as quoted above. Today we can define yeast as a micro-organism that converts sugar into carbon dioxide. Commercially available yeast varieties utilize this process to help produce light, fluffy baked goods. But that definition hardly fits the context of this statement so it becomes necessary to examine the typology represented by leaven to unlock the meaning behind this message.
One way to understand this passage would be to view leaven as a metaphor for sin. In other words, leaven would be a “type” of sin. The idea behind this symbolism is relatively straightforward- just as a small amount of yeast will effectively raise a piece of dough, involvement with a small amount of sin, if left unchecked, will eventually go on to produce a significant (and damaging) effect.
Today we might adapt this concept to other important areas such as alcohol abuse, pornography, or gambling to name a few. Like a small amount of leaven, relatively small amounts of involvement in these things can eventually go on to permeate our lives and produce a significant (and damaging) effect.
We’ll look at the symbolism represented by Herod and the Pharisees next.
“Jesus warned them, ‘Be careful! Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!'” (Mark 8:15 GW).
Just as there are different varieties of yeast available to be purchased, so Herod and the Pharisees also offered different types of worldviews. Although the Pharisees (Mark 8:11) and Herod (Luke 23:8) were both united in their mutual desire to see Jesus perform something miraculous, the effect of each their individual worldviews was decidedly different.
For example, the “leaven of the Pharisees” represented false spirituality or religious hypocrisy. Jesus established this when He told His disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” in Luke 12:1 (NIV). You see, the spiritual leaders of Jesus’ day performed their acts of charity in order to be seen and praised by others. They coveted the places of honor when dining, they wanted the best seating arrangements when gathered for worship, and they loved to be addressed with the formality that an important person receives (see Matthew 23:5-7).
Because these leaders represented the cultural elite within the society of that time, their example effectively permeated down through the culture even though they were men who were really nothing more than phonies and hypocrites.
The leaven of the Pharisees also encompassed the false teaching of these men as well. In the parallel account of this passage found in Matthew 16:12 we’re told, “Then (the disciples) understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The Sadducees were comprised of many of the most prominent members of society during that time, including a number of priests, business leaders, and other members of the upper class.
As a group, the Sadducees denied the idea of a bodily resurrection, heaven, hell, and the entire spiritual realm. They held that these concepts were not related to human existence and were not part of God’s revelation through the Old Testament Scriptures. While the Sadducees were sharply divided with the Pharisees on many of these points, the two groups combined together to form the religious establishment of Jesus’ day.
Like the expansive effect that yeast exerts upon a piece of dough, the hypocritical desire to maintain an outward appearance permeated and influenced the actions and teachings of these religious elitists. It was difficult to escape these cultural influences and that led to Jesus’ warning to “Take care to be on the watch…” (BBE).
“Then He commanded them: ‘Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod'” (Mark 8:15 HCSB).
The “Herod” that Jesus referenced above was a man named Herod Antipas. Herod served as the Tetrarch (or governor) over the Galilee region from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39. Antipas was the very same person who had earlier arranged to have John the Baptist beheaded (see Matthew 14:1-12). His father, Herod the Great, was the man who had arranged to kill all the male children within the Bethlehem area in an earlier attempt to eliminate Jesus as a rival king (see Matthew 2:16-18).
Like the Pharisees, Herod enjoyed a position of privilege, power, and influence. He was surely accustomed to the deferential treatment that an important person receives and benefited from the advantages that accompanied his office. As a governmental leader, Herod was presumably skilled in the art of political calculation and possessed the ability to appease and accommodate different groups or individuals in order to maintain good relationships. Herod was also a secular leader, someone for whom “religion” was irrelevant in daily life.
Yet as we saw earlier when we examined the relationship between Herod and John the Baptist, we know that “…Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20). Unfortunately, Herod never allowed John’s message to influence his behavior. Because of this (and as a result of his own foolishness), Herod was eventually maneuvered into beheading this very same man at the request of his step-daughter under the instigation of his wife.
In some respects, Herod represents a first century example of a common occurrence in our 21st century world: Herod heard the Word of God but never permitted that message to impact his life. As we said earlier, Herod knew what was right but did what was wrong- and in the final analysis, Herod was more concerned with maintaining his social standing among “…his top officials, army officers, and the most important people of Galilee” (Mark 6:21 GW) than he was in protecting the life of a righteous man.
Jesus cautioned His followers to avoid allowing this same kind of attitude- the appeal of power, an attitude of compromise, and a secular mindset- to gain a foothold in their lives. Like the subtle, pervasive effect of yeast upon a piece of dough, these attitudes have the potential to quietly permeate in and through someone’s life to produce a detrimental effect over time.
“Then He charged them, saying, ‘Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have no bread'” (Mark 8:15-16).
It’s possible to come up with a perfectly reasonable response to a question, a problem, or a difficulty yet still be wrong. For instance, we may interpret Jesus’ teachings in a way that seems to be wise and appropriate yet still miss the point entirely. Like the disciples, it’s possible to listen to Jesus and respond in a manner that sounds reasonable but is actually far removed from His actual intent.
For instance, let’s consider the thought process of the disciples in Mark 8:13-15…
- The disciples realized that they had run out of bread
- Jesus cautioned them to “Guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (CEV).
- Bread is typically made with yeast
- Therefore, they concluded that Jesus’ statement must have had something to do with the fact that they had run out of bread
While it’s possible to attach this interpretation to the meaning of Jesus’ statement, we’ll soon find that the disciples had reasoned their way to an interpretation that was entirely wrong. So how does this happen today and how can we avoid making the same mistake?
Well, it’s been said that Jesus’ teachings (and the Word of God in general) can be compared to a radio station broadcasting a signal to a listening area. While anyone with a radio within this listening area may potentially receive programming from this station, not everyone will. For example, some people are located too far away from the broadcast tower to receive a quality signal. Others are always on the move, causing the signal to fade in and out. Some have radios that are subject to various forms of interference. Then there are those who play the station’s programming as “background” while busying themselves with other tasks. Others choose to tune to different frequencies so they can avoid the broadcast entirely.
Then there are those who live in close proximity to the broadcast tower and are personally acquainted with the Programming Director. These are the people who have invested in high quality receivers and listen closely to the various broadcasts. Such people will generally have the best opportunity to properly understand, interpret, and articulate this station’s programming.
Unfortunately for the disciples, radios had not yet been invented in the first century and we’ll look at Jesus’ response to their misinterpretation of His message next.
“But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, ‘Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?'” (Mark 8:17-18).
In athletics, a good coach or manager will often challenge his or her players to help spur their growth and development. In a similar manner, Jesus challenged His disciples with six penetrating questions that would help improve their ability to properly interpret the meaning behind His message to them. Like a good teacher, Jesus will not come right out and inform the disciples of the meaning behind His statement. Instead, He will pose a series of questions that will help them develop the ability to arrive at the answer on their own.
First He said, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?” (ESV). The idea behind this question seems to be that they had no reason to talk about Jesus’ statement and any relationship that it may have had to the fact that they had run out of bread. The right answer should have been obvious without the need for any further discussion. So this statement would help provide a benchmark that would prove useful in helping the disciples measure their spiritual development.
The next question was similar in tone: “Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you catch on?” (GW). This confrontational statement may seem surprising to those who are only familiar with the benign caricature of Jesus that we sometimes see represented in the arts and literature. However others may recognize such a statement as the mark of a good leader, one who challenges and stimulates others to achieve excellence and refuses to settle for less than the best from those whom he or she leads.
“Is your heart still hardened?” is a question that would help draw the disciple’s attention to the condition of their innermost being in a spiritual, emotional, or intellectual sense. This question indicates that Jesus’ followers had not made much progress in developing an internal ability to understand Jesus and His teachings. Just as a marble will bounce off the hardened surface of a brick wall, the meaning of Jesus’ statement apparently bounced right off the disciple’s ability to interpret His message. This question would help them see their developmental need in that area.
We’ll take a look at the remaining three questions from this passage next.
“And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?'” (Mark 8:17-18 ESV).
It’s possible to look at something but still not “see” it. It’s possible to view an object, a circumstance, or a situation and fail to comprehend the real significance of what we see. In this instance, the disciples “saw” Jesus’ use of the term leaven but failed to grasp the deeper significance behind His use of it. Like a person who looks but doesn’t “see,” the word-picture inspired by the question, “Having eyes do you not see…” would help the disciples understand their need for improvement in this regard.
Jesus next employed a similar (and perhaps easier to grasp) analogy when He asked, “Do you have ears and do not hear?” (MKJV). This is a concept that virtually everyone is familiar with. You see, there are “communicators” and “receivers” that exist in any spoken exchange between individuals. The communicator represents the person who sends or initiates a message and the receiver represents the person to whom that message is directed. Like a radio wave that carries music, sports, or news, this message content is carried in part by the context of the message.
The context of a message represents the specific set of circumstances or facts that surround it. Unfortunately for the disciples, they failed to apply the right context to Jesus’ message and as a result, they missed their opportunity to properly understand it. So why had the disciples failed to grasp the context of Jesus’ message? Well, that comes next: “Don’t you remember?” (GW). The events that the disciples previously experienced with Jesus should have provided them with the proper context for understanding what He was trying to say to them.
If the disciples had properly understood the meaning of Jesus’ use of the words “leaven,” “Pharisees,” and “Herod” in His message to them, then they would have had a fuller, richer, and more complete understanding concerning this danger than if Jesus had simply warned them not to be hypocritical traditionalists like the Pharisees or secular compromisers like Herod. So while the disciples had surely remembered the facts of their previous experiences with Jesus, they failed to understand them- and that helped lead them to misinterpret the meaning behind this warning.
“‘When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?’ They said to Him, ‘Twelve.’
‘Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?’ And they said, ‘Seven.’
So He said to them, ‘How is it you do not understand?'” (Mark 8:19-21).
In business, athletics, academics, or other walks of life, it’s easy to fall into mediocrity if we are not careful to concentrate on continued development. Mark 8:19-21 reminds us that this idea holds true spiritually as well- even for a group of insiders like the twelve disciples. You see, the disciples failed to “connect the dots” of Jesus’ statement regarding the Pharisees and Herod and as a result, they missed the point of His message. Since Jesus had demonstrated that He could provide for the needs of multitudes of hungry people, the fact that they had run out of bread should have been the least of their concerns. The real danger was found in the subtle, corrupting influences of people like Herod and the Pharisees.
We can help avoid this type of mistake by following a few simple principles that the Scriptures identify for us in Acts 2:42. In this verse, we find that the early church concentrated on four basic but important things…
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (NIV).
This passage indicates that the early believers attended to prayer, Bible study (the apostles’ teaching), communion (breaking of bread), and church attendance (the fellowship). The person who is consistently dedicated to excellence in these four areas has the best opportunity to maintain a clear, sharp spiritual focus and grasp the complete meaning of everything that Jesus desires to communicate to us through the Scriptures.
We should also notice that Jesus never actually clarified or explained this message to His disciples (at least in Mark’s Gospel). His concluding response was to simply say, “You remember these things I did, but you still don’t understand?” (ERV). This reminds us that Jesus may not always offer an explanation for our spiritual questions if we aren’t diligent to pay attention to the things that He has already said and done.
Finally, whenever you speak to someone who doesn’t seem to grasp the meaning of what you’re trying to say, just remember that you’re in good company. Jesus can certainly identify with you since He went through a similar experience with His disciples as well.
“Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything” (Mark 8:22-23).
This passage marks the approximate halfway point within the Gospel of Mark and records an event that is only found here within this Gospel. This action took place in Bethsaida near the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and like the account of the paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus in Mark chapter two, a group of others (presumably his friends) brought this blind man to Jesus to be healed.
In looking at this passage, it’s possible that some might be appalled (or at least feel uncomfortable) with the method that Jesus used in healing this man. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where someone might be tempted to say, “Wait a minute- Jesus is supposed to be God in the flesh and He spit on someone? Do you expect me to believe in someone who would actually do something like that? What kind of God spits on people’s eyes? That’s disgusting!”
While it’s possible to understand the reasoning behind such a comment, it seems that God has already anticipated that kind of response in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians…
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength… God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-28 NIV).
This means that even those things that may seem to represent the “foolishness of God” (like the method of healing described here in Mark chapter eight) are things that still reflect greater wisdom than anything that imperfect human beings may invent. We’ll eventually see this principle confirmed and verified in the life of this blind man as Jesus restores his eyesight.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to become preoccupied with the method that Jesus used in healing this man while losing track of some of the more important things involved in his healing. We’ll look at some of those things next.
“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?'” (Mark 8:22-23 ESV).
The unusual method that Jesus used in healing this man may serve to divert our attention away from some of the more important things involved in his recovery. But a closer look at this encounter reveals some important elements that may be easily overlooked. For example, Jesus often seemed to be interested in two specific things when responding to those who came to Him for assistance. Those two things were humility and faith (see Matthew 15:21-27 and Luke 7:1-10).
For his part, it seems that this man clearly believed that Jesus had the ability to heal him- otherwise he would never permitted Jesus to lead him out of the village. So in one sense, we can say that this man followed Jesus by faith. But then to allow Jesus to spit upon his eyes without any apparent objection indicates that this man was a person of humility as well. If this man had been too prideful to allow Jesus to spit upon his eyes then he would have lost his opportunity to regain his eyesight.
Next, this seemingly unusual method of healing demonstrates that we can never place Jesus in a “box” when asking for a specific response to our needs. In other words, it would be a mistake to expect Jesus to reflexively respond in an identical manner to each of our requests.
For instance, John 9:1-7 tells us that Jesus healed another blind man by spitting on the ground, making some mud with the saliva, putting it on the man’s eyes, and then instructing him to go and wash it off. In Mark 7:32-35, we saw how Jesus healed a man who couldn’t hear or speak clearly by placing His fingers in the man’s ears and then spitting and touching the man’s tongue with the saliva. In Mark 6:5 we read how Jesus healed a few people by simply placing His hands on them. And in Matthew 8:13 Jesus healed a man without any external action at all.
The point is that God is not obligated to follow a standard rule or specific procedure in the way that He responds to our requests. We can trust that He will always do what is in our best interests- even if it may seem unusual at the time.
“And he looked up and said, ‘I see men like trees, walking.’ Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, ‘Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town’” (Mark 8:24-26)
Like the man who suffered from deafness in Mark chapter seven, Jesus chose to lead this blind man away from the local population in order to minister to him. This remote location would help to eliminate any potential distractions and serve to divert attention away from those who might have only been interested in the miraculous aspects of Jesus’ ministry.
Besides the saliva utilized in this healing, Jesus also placed His hands upon this man as well. This act of physical contact would help communicate the fact that Jesus was in the process of healing a man who couldn’t see. When Jesus next asked this man to verify that he had regained his eyesight, he responded by saying, “Yes, I can see people, but they look like trees walking around” (GNB). This probably indicates that this man had once possessed the ability to see since he apparently knew what trees were was supposed to look like. The problem was that he could only differentiate human beings from trees by the fact that they were moving around.
Its also interesting to observe the progressive nature of this healing. This two-step process tells us that Jesus did not desire to leave this man in a “half-healed” condition but was determined to bring about a complete restoration of his sight. This brings to mind the words of Philippians 1:6 where we read, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (NET).
The fact that Jesus healed this man in stages also helps demonstrate the fact that we may not always receive immediate spiritual clarity as a result of Jesus’ initial work in our lives. But as Christ continues His work in us, our spiritual perception gradually improves, just as it did for this now-formerly blind man.
Following the restoration of his sight, Jesus forbid this man from telling others in the local village about what had happened or from even entering the town itself. Since Jesus had become all too familiar with the difficulties presented by those who had refused to follow His instructions, He may have forbid this man from entering the village to help eliminate the possibility that the news of this miracle would limit His ability to minister to others.
“Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, ‘Who do men say that I am?’ So they answered, ‘John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets'” (Mark 8:27-28).
This passage finds Jesus and His disciples in the area of Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles (40 km) north of the Sea of Galilee. Caesarea Philippi derived it’s name from the fact that it was developed in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. This was a predominantly non-Jewish area that was well-known for it’s idolatry, especially in regard to the worship of an ancient “diety” named Pan.
It was during this time that Jesus turned to His disciples and effectively said, “What’s the word on the street about me? What are people saying?” While that question prompted a variety of responses, the fact that Jesus actually received such unbiased answers from His disciples helps demonstrate what a truly great leader Jesus is.
To understand why, simply ask yourself this question: have you ever avoided giving a candid, straightforward answer to a question because you were concerned about what the questioner might do with your response? You see, we are often more inclined to provide a safe answer rather than an honest, unbiased response if we are concerned with what the questioner might do with the truth. However, it seems that Jesus’ followers were totally unafraid to provide Him with their honest opinions. This is one of the things that makes Jesus so great- we never have to be afraid to be completely honest with Him about anything.
It seems unlikely that Jesus asked this question in order to obtain some information that He didn’t already have. It’s more likely that Jesus asked this question for the benefit of His disciples. Like Jesus’ earlier statement regarding the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, the disciples’ response to this question would be useful in helping them gauge the amount of spiritual insight they actually possessed.
So in response to Jesus’ question, the disciples responded with some of the more common interpretations of His identity- John the Baptist (the position held by Herod as mentioned in Mark 6:16), Elijah, the prophet who was to proceed the Messiah (Luke 9:7-9), or a reincarnation of one of the earlier Old Testament prophets. But while there were a variety of popular opinions about Jesus, none of these opinions were correct. Just as is the case today, there was no shortage of opinions regarding Jesus, many of which were incorrect.
When Jesus asked His disciples to provide Him with a overview of the various opinions regarding His identity, they were ready to supply Him with some answers: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28 CEB).
If Jesus had simply been interested in gauging His name recognition among the general population then He could have stopped at that point. Instead, He chose to respond with a follow up question: “He said to them,’But who do you say that I am?…'” (Mark 8:29). You see, it was one thing for Jesus’ followers to know what others thought about Him but it was something entirely different for them to commit to an opinion of their own.
In a sense, Jesus still asks this same question today: “What about you?…Who do you say I am?” (GNB). Like the general population of the first century, people continue to hold many different opinions regarding Jesus today. But in the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter what friends, family members, co-workers, or others may believe about Jesus- what really matters is what we as individuals think about Jesus. Because of this, it’s critically important to examine the basis for our beliefs about Jesus to help ensure that those beliefs are accurate. One commentator illustrated that importance in this manner…
“I would very earnestly ask you to check your conception of Christ, the image of Him which (you) as a Christian… hold in your mind, with the actual revealed Person who can be seen and studied in action in the pages of the Gospels. It may be of some value to hold in our minds a bundle of assorted ideals to influence and control our conduct. But surely we need to be very careful before we give that “bundle” the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (1)
This same commentator also lamented the fact that,“What we are so often confronted with today is a ‘processed’ Jesus. Every element that we feel is not consonant with our “image” of him is removed, and the result is more insipid and unsatisfying than the worst of processed food.” (2)
Like the people of the first century, we may be presented with someone who is said to be Jesus but is actually far removed from the man He really is. If our image of Christ is not based on the Jesus found within the pages of the Scriptures, then we may not have the ability to accurately answer when asked,“who do you say that I am?
(1) J. B. Phillips (1906-1982), When God was Man, London: Lutterworth Press:, 1954, p. 8
(2) J. B. Phillips (1906-1982), Ring of Truth, London: Hodder & Stoughton; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967, p. 91-92
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘You are the Christ.’ Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him” (Mark 8:29-30).
After soliciting the various opinions regarding His identity, Jesus essentially asked His disciples, “How about you? What opinion do you hold regarding Me?” Peter (apparently speaking on behalf of the group), responded by saying, “You are the Christ…” This statement of recognition tells us that Peter acknowledged Jesus as more than just a teacher, a prophet, a miracle worker, a social reformer, or a great leader but as “the anointed one” or God’s appointed savior.
This “anointed one” was understood to be the Messiah (the Hebrew term from which the word “Christ” is derived) who was spoken of in passages such as Daniel 9:25-26 and Psalm 110:1. This term was originally used to identify anyone who was specifically chosen and empowered (or anointed) by God to fulfill a specific task or purpose. Over time, this description evolved to represent a specific individual, the Person who would serve as Israel’s redeemer.
Knowing this, it may be difficult to understand why Jesus would warn His disciples not to reveal this information. Part of the answer to that question might be found in the fact that some among the Jewish population of that time were expecting the Messiah to serve as a conquering leader who would immediately free the nation from the oppression of the Roman government.
This (along with the list of other misconceptions regarding His identity that the disciples had already provided) was among the many interpretations that people were free to associate with Jesus. If such people discovered that Jesus’ own disciples believed Him to be the Messiah, then the impact of those expectations (unrealistic or otherwise) might have made it more difficult for Jesus fulfill the other aspects of His ministry.
It’s also likely that the disciples had an incomplete idea of what “the Christ” really meant. Like the blind man healed by Jesus in the preceding verses of Mark chapter eight, the disciples did not yet possess a clear perception of Jesus’ mission. You see, it’s one thing to know the right answer to a question but it’s something entirely different to be able to explain that answer. While the disciples had the right answer to the question, “…who do you say that I am?” they did not yet have a complete explanation for that answer- and as we’ll soon discover, Jesus was wise to instruct the disciples to keep quiet about what they knew, at least for the time being.
“And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
Since Peter had expressed the view that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (a view that was apparently shared by the rest of the disciples), Jesus began to detail what that title actually meant.
He began by saying, “…the Son of Man must suffer many things…” The “Son of…” portion of that self-designation focused upon Jesus’ humanity while “Man” identified Jesus as the representative Man, the One who would accept the consequences associated with humanity’s rejection of it’s Creator. This designation helped associate Jesus with the One who was spoken of by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah…
“We despised him and rejected him– a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care. Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed– and we were healed!
We– every one of us– have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us! He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he stood silent before the ones condemning him. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people of that day realized it was their sins that he was dying for– that he was suffering their punishment? He was buried like a criminal, but in a rich man’s grave; but he had done no wrong and had never spoken an evil word. But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief.
However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for he shall bear all their sins” (Isaiah 53:3-10 TLB).
“And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (Mark 8:31-32).
Anyone who expected Jesus to be an all-conquering Savior who would deliver the people from the oppressive yoke of the Roman government was sure to be disillusioned by the fact that He would “…suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed…” Since the Messiah was generally understood to be a person of strength, leadership, and power, this new information was certain to lead to confusion and perplexity among those who had chosen to follow Him. It was at this point that Peter made the decision to take Jesus aside and rebuke (or sternly reprove) Him for these comments.
One of the most remarkable things about this scene is that Jesus actually permitted Peter to take Him aside in this manner. To understand why, let’s imagine that you were among a group of interns in a meeting with the chief executive officer (CEO) for a major corporation. Would it be reasonable to assume that a CEO would be willing to stop his or her meeting in order to have a private conversation with an intern? Would that CEO agree to have such a meeting in front of the other interns? Is it likely that this CEO would agree to the opportunity to be corrected by an intern in front of those other employees? While such a thing would be virtually unthinkable in today’s corporate world, this is not unlike what Jesus actually permitted Peter to do.
While we don’t know the specifics of Peter’s rebuke, it seems reasonable to infer that he must have believed that Jesus was somehow wrong or mistaken in making these statements. We might also conclude that Peter attempted to correct Jesus by advising him that He would not need to suffer, be rejected, or killed as He had said. If this was the case, then it would not represent the first time that Jesus had been advised in such a manner…
“Again, the devil took (Jesus) to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me'” (Matthew 4:8-9).
Perhaps not surprisingly, we’ll see that Jesus’ response was largely the same in both instances.
“He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men'” (Mark 8:32-33).
Its interesting to note that while Peter was in the act of rebuking Jesus (or shortly thereafter), Jesus turned to look at the rest of the disciples, a fact that is only recorded here in the Gospel of Mark. Since Peter apparently represented the other disciples when he acknowledged that “You are the Christ,” it seems that Jesus turned to look at the rest of His disciples as if to say,“Does Peter represent you in what he’s saying now as well?”
There is also something else for us to consider from this exchange between Peter and Jesus. You see, an athlete knows (or should know) that it is rarely a good idea to criticize a coach in front of the rest of the team. If there are things that need to be said to a leader in any position, it’s generally best to say those things privately, at least to start. In fact, Jesus endorsed this general concept when He addressed the proper way to handle disagreements within the church…
“‘If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV).
Unfortunately, it seems that Peter took Jesus aside but not out of sight- and not out of hearing distance of the other disciples. Since Peter rebuked Jesus openly, Jesus proceeded to correct Peter in a public manner as well. In saying to Peter, “Get behind me Satan” Jesus let Peter know that he had unwittingly acted as an agent of the enemy in making these comments. In this instance, Peter had not aligned himself with God’s agenda- and like the devil before him, Peter’s rebuke represented an attempt to persuade Jesus to follow a plan that served some other purpose.
“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it'” (Mark 8:34-35).
Small details can yield important insights when reading though the Scriptures- and the passage quoted above offers one such example. While Jesus interacted with His disciples (and Peter in particular) in the preceding verses, we should take note that “…Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples” (GW, emphasis added) to listen to what He had to say next. This seemingly minor detail reminds us that Jesus’ teachings weren’t (and aren’t) intended solely for the benefit of a chosen few- His message was (and is) open to anyone who is willing to come to Him and listen.
Jesus first began by issuing the equivalent of an open invitation to those who were interested in becoming disciples by saying, “If anyone wants to become my follower…” (NET). This tells us that no preconditions are necessary in order to become a disciple- this opportunity is available to anyone. However, this decision also carries a price:“Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me” (ERV).
“Denying yourself” and “taking up your cross” are two important -but difficult- characteristics that identify a true disciple of Jesus. First, the idea of “denying yourself” means that a true follower of Christ no longer has the option to exclusively pursue whatever he or she may personally want or desire. It means that the agenda of a disciple’s life can no longer be driven by the philosophy of “what’s best for me?” “Denying yourself” involves substituting our own personal list of priorities for Jesus’ priorities. It also means the abandonment of a self-centered lifestyle in favor of a God-centered life.
We should also note that “denying yourself” is not the same as self-denial. Self-denial involves an individual commitment to discipline one’s self in order to reach a personal goal or achievement. “Denying yourself” involves subjecting our individual wills to God’s will for our lives. Anyone with a sufficient amount of willpower can practice the discipline of self-denial but the ability to truly deny ourselves can only come from God.
“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:34-35 KJV).
One aspect of “taking up your cross” involves the rejection and intolerance that inevitably affects all true followers of Christ. For example, Jesus was once called “Beelzebub” (a term that roughly corresponds to our modern-day “Satan”) by some of those He encountered (Matthew 10:25) so those who choose to follow Him should certainly be prepared for nothing less.
But “taking up your cross” involves more than things like rejection or intolerance. While it’s often fashionable to find the symbol of the cross featured on necklaces, earrings, or other forms of jewelry, the reality is that the cross was a ruthless instrument of execution. Crucifixion was designed to produce a slow death with a maximum of pain and suffering. It represented one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of capital punishment and was
reserved primarily for serious lawbreakers like revolutionaries or other extreme criminals.
There were no ceremonial observances, ritual celebrations, or polite spiritual formalities involved in taking up one’s cross- the cross represented a death sentence for anyone who carried it. For those who are willing to accept such conditions, Jesus made the following assurance: “…if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it” (CEV).
It’s interesting to contrast that last statement with those today who speak of “bringing Jesus into my life” or with those who desire to “make Jesus a part of my life.” While the idea of “bringing Jesus into my life” often represents a good start for anyone who is new to Christianity, every true follower of Christ should eventually come to the realization that Jesus is not simply just a part of our life, but is our life.
As representatives of Christ and ambassadors of His message, every Christian possesses the duty and responsibility to advance Christ’s agenda even at the expense of our own priorities or plans. For the person who commits to this process of exchanging his or her personal agenda for Jesus’ agenda in the affairs of daily life, Jesus also promises to exchange this life for a new, better (and ultimately eternal) life now and in the future.
Unlike the salesperson who touts the benefits of a product or service while conveniently omitting it’s drawbacks or limitations, Jesus was sure to let everyone know about the true cost associated with a decision to follow Him in Mark 8:34. But for those who might be inclined to reconsider this invitation in light of the sacrifices involved, Jesus went on to provide an additional perspective to consider…
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37 ESV).
In the original language used to author this portion of Scripture, the word used for “soul” is the Greek word psuche. This word survives today as the root of such modern-day words as psychology or psychoanalysis. In this context, the soul refers to the human being as an individual personality. For instance, the word soul would serve to represent each person’s individual likes and dislikes. It communicates the idea of our emotions; those things we love, hate, or feel indifferent about. The soul also embodies our talents, skills, and abilities; those we were born with and those we have developed. Finally, this word encompasses the mind, will, intellect, and everything that distinguishes an individual human being from every other human who has ever lived or ever will live. In short, the soul represents the “you” inside your body.
In light of this,“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (KJV) represents one of the most common sense statements in all Scripture. What is the practical benefit of trading away all that we are in exchange for this limited, temporal, earthly existence- a life that passes as quickly as a vanishing mist (see James 4:14)?
There is also something else to consider. While the cross represented a cruel and horrific method of execution, it was a tool that was limited in serving as an instrument of physical death alone. Since every human being is also subject to spiritual (as well as physical) death, Jesus had a reminder for those who might wish to reject His invitation in order to avoid the sacrifices associated with following Him…
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5 NIV).
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
The message that Jesus delivered here in Mark 8:38 involves something that may take a number of different forms. For instance, it’s possible for someone to feel ashamed of Jesus and His message if he or she is concerned with appearing “too religious” among friends, family members, co-workers, or others. Then there are others for whom the most important thing in life is to be liked and accepted. These are the people who are straightforward about their relationship with Christ- unless they happen to be with a group of those they wish to impress. The idea is that peer pressure can often play a large role in determining whether someone is ashamed of Jesus and His message.
This passage also serves to remind us about the importance of the choices we make in everyday life. It’s important to remember that our daily choices lead to real consequences that have a real eternal impact. For instance, a person who is more concerned with fitting in, conforming to, or blending in with “…this adulterous and sinful generation” demonstrates that he or she has priorities that take precedent over Jesus and His teachings- and those decisions will have an impact on Jesus’ response to our lives when we pass from this temporary physical existence. Jesus expressed a similar idea in Matthew 10:32-33 when He said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown
In those instances where we may have been ashamed to be forthright with others about our relationship with Jesus, the right response would be to prayerfully approach God with honesty and sincerity in letting Him know where we’ve fallen short. The next step would be to ask for God’s help in putting Christ first in every situation.
While the idea of denying yourself and taking up your cross may not appear to carry much initial appeal, the act of giving up our lives for Christ infuses life with genuine meaning and purpose now along with the blessings of eternal life later. As the Apostle Paul will remind us later in the New Testament…
“…I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is God’s powerful method of bringing all who believe it to heaven…” (Romans 1:16 TLB).