Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Follow Me"...The Bread of Life

15 years. Although we may not have Roosevelt’s words attached to this date in history, the day we simply refer to as 9/11 is a day that will live in infamy. Five years ago this past Sunday, during my first year in Fairfax, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of that fateful day. We began a series that morning called Triumph Through Tragedy with a focus that morning on the triumph of a nation, and many who were present recounted where they were, what they were doing, how they responded, etc.

It has now been five years later and while the memories are still fresh, they are beginning to fade – little by little. Significant impressions like the burning towers, the pentagon, Congress uniting together to sing “God Bless America” from the capitol steps will be burned into the minds of many just like other days of infamy in our recent past. But exact details are not as crisp as they once were. And in the years to come this event, like all other historical events, will be just that – a bit of history to be studied, not remembered. In fact, very few freshmen entering high school this year were alive on that day. It is already “only” history to the next generation.

For us, the Bible is the same. We read about the events in the Bible as stories that took place long ago. Some people believe the stories to be true; others do not. I do believe them to be true and accurately recorded. However I, and we, need to realize that the stories are not only true, but they involved real people with real lives facing real issues similar to us. And two those issues from today’s story involve a lack of trust and a lot of prejudice. Surprisingly, as we might first suspect, it has less to do with the disciples’ memory.

3 Principles

Principle: Jesus will honor our devotion to Him.

Many scholars today believe the story that opens the 8th chapter of Mark to be a doublet. That is, they believe this to be a second telling of the story, with a few modified details, of the feeding of the 5000 recorded in Mark 6. And we must admit there are a great many similarities in the story. But significant differences exist as well. We should observe a difference in the numbers (people and food). We should also note a difference in Jesus actions, and more subtly, a difference in people. In fact, it is this last difference that makes this story both plausible and necessary.

As for the numbers, the difference is between 5000 men (Mark 6.44) and 4000 people (Mark 8.9). In the first instance, if we estimate that one woman and a couple of children might be present for each man (and it might be far more than that because many of the men would likely have been working), then the feeding in Mark 6 represents maybe 20000 people. In Mark 8 it is only 4000. Additionally, the numbers of loaves are different, as are the exact number of fish (and likely the type based upon the original language) were different.

As for Jesus, in Mark 6, the disciples initiate the discussion to send the people away. Jesus responds by telling them to feed the people. In Mark 8, Jesus compassion initiates the discussion. In Mark 6, it was the end of the day. In Mark 8, it was after 3 days. The people following in Mark 8 were dedicated to following Jesus…to hearing from Him – and thus, He had great compassion for them. Thus, Jesus initiates the process in this instance.

As for the people, this is where you have to read deeply into the text, but it is evident. First, notice Mark begins this story, with “In those days.” Those has a meaning…it relates to something that is already present. For instance, if I say, “I want those” I am referring to something to which someone else must also be aware. That is, they must realize the context of the word. So, in Mark’s understanding, “those” must relate to something apparent to the reader. And what has been expressed is Jesus ministry to the Gentiles. As we saw last week, Jesus traveled to Gentile territory near Tyre and Sidon and then back to the Decapolis region. So, in those days refers to a time with the Gentiles.

We see this in a couple of other places in this story as well. First, notice the difference when Jesus asks the people to sit.  Verse 6 says that Jesus directed them to sit on the ground. No big deal, right? Well, in Mark 6, Jesus instructs His disciples to have them sit in groupings – by hundreds and fifties. The difference is that the Jews would have recognized exactly what Jesus was doing by putting them in groups. This harkens back to Exodus 18, when Jethro told Moses to devise a leadership plan – a plan that was used for the military as well. In fact, this is why the Jews were ready to make Jesus king – He was the shepherd of the sheep, which had strong military overtones to it. In Mark 8, the Gentiles would not have understood this the same way, so Jesus merely had them sit. They were not interested in Jesus being a military leader to overthrow Rome, so they would not even have considered such an idea.

But the key place we should note a reference to a different kind of people is in verse 4. In fact, it is this verse that makes this story necessary. Now, just as Mark used “In those days” to represent something specific, here, the disciples use “these people” to do the same. At first glance, we might simply consider the statement to mean the people around them. That could certainly work. But what if “these people” are not merely representing the people nearby, but a certain type of people – or these people! It is hard to imagine that the disciples would have forgotten the feeding of the 5000 (though verse 18-19 suggest they may have). However, they might have well remembered that feeding, but that was for the Jews. How could they possibly feed these Gentiles? Jesus certainly wouldn’t do the same for them, would He? Could He? (Hold onto this thought as we will come back to it in a minute.)

But Jesus did. As we consider last week’s sermon, this periscope makes perfect sense. The woman who came to Jesus said that even the dogs eat the crumbs of the children. We might be careful to make too much of this, but the much smaller Gentile crowd ate the same as the earlier Jewish crowd, there was just less people and less food needed. Both ate and were satisfied and both had leftovers (crumbs) afterwards. Again, a striking parallel between these two stories.

In fact, when we look at this larger section of Scripture we see parallels between Mark’s writing in Mark 6 and 7 compared to 8. (This sequence is rather plan to observe, and is noted by many. Due to the word choices, I am citing the following commentary for the table below: Brooks, J. A. (1991). Mark (Vol. 23, p. 124). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Again, this first principle is that Jesus will honor our devotion. He had compassion on “these people” when others did not, because they sought to follow Him. If we seek to honor Jesus, He will honor us.

Principle: Opposition is always a part of ministry.

After this miracle, Jesus crosses back into Jewish territory and guess who awaits. The Pharisees. And they have one simple request – “Show us a sign from heaven.” In our study of Matthew 16 earlier this year, we began with the same statement. This is a remarkable request because of what Jesus has just done. In the past couple of chapters, Jesus has healed several people, raised a girl from the dead, driven our demons, fed 5000, then 4000, and walked on water. Yet, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign. Mark gives us an important detail that Matthew didn’t provide. Mark 8.11 says the intent of the request was to “test” Jesus.

The word “test” is the same word that was used of the testing before Satan that Jesus faced in Mark 1. The Pharisees want a sign from heaven because of what Jesus just did. The Pharisees could hardly deny the good Jesus did when feeding the 5000+ Jews. But to do the same type of miracle for the Gentiles – that was unthinkable! So, they were asking for a sign from heaven (code word for God) to show that what He did had God’s stamp of approval. Now, turning back to this encounter, Jesus says that no sign will be given to THIS GENERATION except for the sign of Jonah. This answer was double entendre. First, He was clearly stating that like Jonah, He would be put away for three days and then appear again. But to use Jonah – the prophet to a heathen nation – was intentional and offensive. Jonah went where no good Jew would go, and Jesus did what no good Jew would do. Both involved taking God’s mission to a people despised by the Jews. The Pharisees had hoped to trap Jesus by their statement. Even better would have been for Jesus to do something that might have failed had He tried. But Jesus was far too wise to play the game by their rules because He knew who the true rule-maker is.

The fact is that often times in ministry people will be opposed to how ministry is done. But that shouldn’t keep us from the work of ministry. One word of caution here. We must not use God as a bully. While in Kenya, one morning I woke up to the roosters about 2:30 and never went back to sleep. While lying there for hours, I did a lot of thinking and some notetaking. One of the thoughts I had was to ask a certain person to join me on my next trip. I truly believed it was God giving me that guidance, but for me to come back and tell that person, “God told me to have you come next time” would be putting that person in a no-win position. So, I came back and mentioned it to his wife one night. The next night we talked and almost before I could ask the question, he said he was ready to go.

My point is that if God is directing the process, He will make it known to all people who need to know. The Pharisees thought they knew God’s will better than Jesus so they wanted to trip Him up because of this great miracle to the Gentiles. What they didn’t know – because they were truly outsiders to God’s plan – was that because they were opposing Jesus, they were truly opposing God. As a church leader, I certainly do not have the same level of knowledge or wisdom as Jesus. Yet, those two qualities are high on my spiritual gift-set. That is why I want my congregation to be free to to ask me, “Why?” Being open to that question builds trust even if the answer is not always as good as it could be. However, the question can prevent major errors, although some may still use it as a simple form of opposition. As we live our lives and move forward in ministry, we must trust one another – as we learn to better trust God – to accomplish what He wants us to accomplish, overcoming whatever opposition might stand in our path.

Principle: Clear communication does not prevent all misunderstanding.

Have you ever been certain your directions were perfectly spelled out, but, in the end, someone messed up anyway? Or you provided a clear explanation of an issue and you were misunderstood? Well, that was Jesus – only it was x12. Having just been confronted by the Pharisees, Jesus seeks to teach the disciples a lesson about the evil intent of the Pharisees (and Herod). He likens their intent to leaven which spreads and is usually a metaphor for evil in the New Testament. However, the disciples are too focused on the literal problem of not having enough bread for their journey. Their discussion (verse 16) was about the lack of bread rather than on Jesus. Jesus rebukes them for missing His point as well as their lack of faith (and their lack of memory). He had just fed the masses (twice) with just a little bread and there was plenty for the disciples to take away. Could He not provide for them as well?

But the disciples did not understand. Their hearts were becoming hard. And this is the reason for Jesus warning. Their audience with Jesus should have made them insiders (Mark 4.11), but instead they were in danger of becoming like the Pharisees or Herod who did not have faith in Jesus – and thus, were outsiders. Like Mark 4.12 (which refers back to Isaiah 6.9-10), the disciples had seen and heard many things but did not understand the message that their eyes and ears had sent to their brain for processing. If they continued down this path, they would become just like the Pharisees – and would eventually oppose Jesus’ mission. The disciples were instructed to remember – to not forget – so that they would not rebel against God. You might remember the ancient Israelites were often rebellious and God would use a statement like: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who brought you out of Egypt.” In the Old Testament, that was God’s way of reminding His people to put aside their sinful and rebellious ways and follow Him. Jesus is doing the same thing for this new set of leaders. Again, His statements were clear. His message precise. But they had to choose their response.

It is important to communicate as clearly as we can, but if Jesus’ closest followers did not understand His straightforward statements, then people will misunderstand us as well. The disciples had a choice. They could continue in their misunderstanding and become the opposition or they could submit to truly learning from Jesus and become His faithful followers. Ladies and gentlemen, that is our choice today as well.


What the Pharisees and the disciples missed was something that we should know better than we do – because we have the rest of the story. From this passage, we should remember that Jesus is the Bread of Life. The story of the feedings both center on the idea of bread. In addition, last week’s story of the woman mentioned breadcrumbs. The Gentiles in Jesus’ day may have had to settle for crumbs, but we do not. However, the reality for us is that we often do settle for God’s crumbs when He wants to give us the whole loaf – or the whole bakery! As I have said before, when we only seek what God can give us, we miss God. When we seek God, we get all that He could have for us. (In fact, that is an important part of the Waypoint for this week – we need to seek God’s face, not just His hands).

Like the manna in the wilderness, Jesus, as our Bread, can provide our every need. But Jesus is not just the bread of Jews, the bread of Gentiles, the bread of Americans, the bread of a certain political party, nor any such foolish notion. He is the Bread of Life. That is, all life, but particularly human life. And we are the ones who have been charged with sharing Jesus, as the great Satisfier, with others. The choice is up to us…how will we respond?


The JOURNEY letter for today is: YYou.

This message is about Jesus. But the undercurrent is about how people respond to Jesus. Jesus is the same. He performed the miracle in today’s text whether anyone wanted Him to, whether they would have allowed it, and whether they understood it. And Jesus is at work today as well. But the reason for choosing the Y for YOU is that our response says a lot about our love for Jesus and our love for people.

Are we too busy calling others “these people” or arguing over whether certain people should receive God’s blessings? Are we too busy with our petty concerns (like the disciples’ bread) that we miss the greater purpose of Jesus in our lives and the lives of others?

Do you have eyes and not see or ears and not hear? I think we all do at times, but the question for today is this: How do you respond today? As Joshua charged the nation of Israel just before he died, “Choose THIS day whom you will serve!”

God gives us a choice, and we may not live our choice perfectly, but we should be moving closer to His purpose for our lives. So who or what do you choose?

OPPORTUNITY: God has put many people into our lives that He wants us to reach (no matter what others may think).


Principle: Jesus will honor our devotion to Him.
Principle: Opposition is always a part of ministry.
Principle: Clear communication does not prevent all misunderstanding.

Learn: I have provided a few principles from this text – and each one builds on the previous. Consider which one is most important for your focus. Meditate and dwell on it for a couple of days.

Live: After reflecting on the principles, consider how you might put that principle into action.

Love: How might that principle become part of your everyday life as you love God and love others?

Lead: How might you help others instill a strong mindset based upon the principle you chose?

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