November 17, 2004
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me, if you would, to the Gospel of Mark. We
are in Mark, chapter eight, and we’re going to read together in a moment from
Mark 8:1-21. This is the story of the feeding of the four thousand.
Just a while ago, at least in the Gospel of Mark it
was just a while ago, there is, of course, a very similar incident in Mark’s
gospel of the feeding of the five thousand. And there has been as a consequence
of that some debate and discussion as to why it is that the Gospel of Mark, and,
for that matter, the Gospel of Matthew, contains what seems to be a repetition
of a very similar miracle. And you wouldn’t need to be Einstein to discern that
those who have a bent to finding fault and error within the Scriptures have
found one here.
And there have been those who have conjectured
that what we have is just the repetition of the same miracle with some of the
details changed, but actually there weren’t two miracles, the one the feeding of
the five thousand and another the feeding of the four thousand, but actually
there was only one miracle. And because later in the first century and
beginning of the second century the importance of Jesus was raised in the hearts
and minds of His followers, so that the Christ of faith became different from
the Jesus of history, the gospel writers and perhaps later redactors went back
and sort of bolstered the story and added more and more miracles to make Jesus
into something that the church had made Him, but He wasn’t actually that in
terms of His ministry here in the world and in Palestine.
Well, if you go to college these days I suppose if
you study almost any liberal arts college and take a course in religion, this is
the kind of thing that you will encounter. Some of our children encounter this
in public schools: the so-called discrepancies that are to be found in the
Gospels, and so we need to pause perhaps for a minute or two (I don’t think it’s
worth more than a minute or two, but it is worth a minute or two) just to
examine this issue.
What do we make of it? Well, of course we
dismiss it all if we believe the Bible to be the infallible, inerrant word of
God. We must accept the Bible as it is given to us, and we have no choice here
but to say there were actually two miracles. One was the feeding of the five
thousand, and another was the feeding of the four thousand. But the details are
One, the feeding of the five thousand, actually it’s
five thousand men in the specifics, in actual fact there may have been
ten thousand if you count the women and the children, so there may have even
been twelve thousand. Here the term is a much more generic term, so it’s a much
smaller crowd of four thousand, so it’s four thousand as opposed to maybe ten or
twelve thousand people.
Then, in the feeding of the five thousand the
location is entirely different. The feeding of the five thousand took place on
the north, perhaps east side of the Sea of Galilee. Luke specifies the area as
being in the region of Bethsaida. This is in the region of Decapolis, and
Decapolis is right down in the south and probably down to the east–may be,
depending on whose geography you’re following, it may even be about twenty miles
or so from the coast. So it’s a significant distance away from the feeding of
the five thousand, and the details are different.
In the feeding of the five thousand there are five
loaves and two fishes, and here it is seven loaves and a “few fish.” And then
the number of baskets that were collected of left-overs is different in the two
stories. Then the population is different. The feeding of the five thousand is
primarily in a location of Jews; this one is in a location primarily of
And there are other issues. Mark has Jesus in the
incident that follows–we’re about to read the incident that follows…the Lord
Jesus and the disciples get into a boat, they make that journey all the way from
the south coast of the Sea of Galilee all the way up to the north, and there’s a
discussion that takes place between Jesus and the disciples based on this
feeding of the four thousand.
And not only that, but Jesus, according to Mark’s
Gospel, refers to both miracles. He refers to the feeding of
the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand in this discussion. Now
it’s one thing to say that the gospel writers make up a miracle; it’s another
thing for the gospel writers to make up words of Jesus; and if you can’t trust
the words of Jesus then we might as well all pack up and go home and forget all
about it, because if that is true, there is nothing in the Bible at all that you
can trust. And if you follow all of that Jesus Seminar and the Quest
for the Historical Jesus, there is precisely nothing at all that they can
find that they can rely upon.
Well, bless God that He’s opened our eyes to trust
in the living and abiding, and truthful and reliable words of God. Now let’s
give our attention to Mark 8:1-21. Let’s pray together for the blessing of
Our Father in heaven, we thank You for the Bible,
for the Scriptures that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the
Holy Spirit, and every jot and tittle of it is utterly reliable and trustworthy.
We pray now as we read this portion of Scripture together that You would come by
Your Spirit, illuminate these words; cause us, enable us to understand what it
is that they are saying, and write it upon our hearts, we pray for Jesus’ sake.
This is God’s holy and inerrant word:
“In those days again, when there was a great multitude and they had nothing to
eat, He called His disciples and said to them, ‘I feel compassion for the
multitude because they have remained with me now three days, and have nothing to
eat; and if I send them away hungry to their home, they will faint on the way;
and some of them have come from a distance.’ And His disciples answered Him,
‘Where will anyone be able to find enough to satisfy these men with bread here
in a desolate place?’ And He was asking them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ And
they said, ‘Seven.’ And He directed the multitude to sit down on the ground; and
taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them
to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the multitude. They
also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be
served as well. And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large
baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. And about four
thousand were there; and He sent them away. And immediately He entered the boat
with His disciples, and came to the district of Dalmanutha.
“And the Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign
from heaven, to test Him. And sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, ‘Why does
this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to
this generation.’ And leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the
“And they had forgotten to take bread; and did not have more than one loaf in
the boat with them. And He was giving orders to them, saying, ‘Watch out!
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they began
to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of
this, said to them, ‘Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you
not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you
not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember when I broke
the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces
you picked up?’ They said to Him, “Twelve.’
‘And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full
of broken pieces did you pick up?’
And they said to Him, ‘Seven.’
And He was saying to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’”
Now, as we look at this passage together this
evening…in the life and the ministry of Jesus it becomes evident that
invariably our focus is drawn again and again not only to Jesus, but to His
disciples, and to the way in the life of these disciples there seems to be a
recurring pattern–a recurring pattern of growth and failure, and that pattern
being evidenced not only individually in their lives, but corporately as a band
Now this incident that we are looking at
tonight…actually there are two incidents, and perhaps three incidents…but
they are all intimately related together, and what we have here is a
demonstration of how Jesus grows us as His disciples, and how He does that on
the occasion of what seems to be a fairly catastrophic failure on the part of
these disciples. Out of that failure Jesus grows His disciples.
After the miracle of the feeding of the four
thousand is over, they get into a boat, and they go to a certain location. The
Pharisees are there, and there’s a discussion between the Pharisees and Jesus
about signs. And then as they go further in this boat and they make their way
all the way north to Bethsaida, there breaks out between the disciples and Jesus
a discourse, a conversation. It’s more than a conversation. It’s one of those
teaching sessions in which Jesus, out of their failure, causes His disciples to
see something that is vitally important.
The disciples had forgotten to take bread with them.
Now, you have to see surely that Mark intends that, at least on one level, to be
somewhat amusing. Because they’ve just been feeding the four thousand, and
they’ve been distributing bread to this enormous crowd of people, and they get
into the boat, and lo and behold, they’ve got no bread! And because they’ve got
no bread an argument breaks out among these disciples, and in the midst of that
argument Jesus is teaching a lesson. And it’s a crucial lesson. It’s a lesson
that underlines that our growth in grace as disciples is rarely linear; and that
in our discipleship, yours and mine, there very often can be moments of
catastrophic failure followed by lessons that are learned from that failure,
and discipleship that is patterned after the teaching of our Lord.
Now my dear friends, the question that I want to
ask you tonight is a very simple one. Do you want to grow in
discipleship? Do you want to grow in grace? Is that your longing and
desire this evening? Then watch and learn from the Master as He instructs these
disciples of His in a boat. The disciples had failed to read the manual of
providence. They had failed to read the manual of providence, and as a
consequence they made a catastrophic failure.
Now let’s go back to the context. Thousands of
people, four thousand people have gathered in the region of Decapolis. And most
of these are Gentiles, and most of these have come from a considerable distance,
and Jesus feeds them. Now, some of the lessons to be learned from to he feeding
of the four thousand are precisely the same lessons as we learned from the
feeding of the five thousand, so I’m not going to address the passage in that
way. I want us to see that the way into the narrative of the feeding of the
four thousand is to see the lessons that Jesus instructs in the narratives that
follow in the boat with His disciples. And what we see is a morphology of
spiritual declension…a morphology of spiritual declension, and it follows
three particular lines of thought: Forgetfulness of mind; hardness of heart;
and, dullness of perception.
I. First of all, forgetfulness of
Look at verse 18. Look at the question that Jesus
puts to these disciples in the boat: “Having eyes, do you not see? And having
ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember…?” Don’t you
remember…? Now think about it! Just hours before, perhaps it was days
before–we don’t know how long it was that the incident with the Pharisees was,
but it’s not that long ago in their conscious memory that they were engaged as
instruments in an astonishing miracle in feeding the four thousand with seven
loaves and a few fish. And Jesus is saying to them now in the boat, when they
have forgotten to take bread and they’re quarrelling amongst themselves, and
Jesus is saying, ‘Look! Stop! Don’t you remember?’
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”
Doesn’t mean anything to you, but if you’re British, it’s Guy Fawkes–you know,
the man who tried to blow up the houses of Parliament. It’s one of those little
ditties, you know, that you learn in school: “Remember, remember, the fifth of
Two times in this story Mark is bringing to the
surface the fact that they’ve forgotten something. The first occasion is
back in verse four. It’s actually during the feeding of the four thousand
itself. You remember what it is that they ask? They say to Jesus…His
disciples come to Jesus and they say, ‘How can one feed these people with bread
here in this desolate place?’ Isn’t that an astonishing question to
ask?…because it’s as though they blanked out on the previous miracle How can
the disciples possibly be asking this question, when they had just months before
been involved in the feeding of the four thousand on the northern coast of the
Sea of Galilee.
Now in the feeding of the five thousand, the
question that they’d asked was about where shall we find enough money to buy
bread. Now the question is a little different. It’s not where can we find the
money–it may be that there is no money now. It may be that Judas has already
begun to siphon off the money. It’s not that we’ve actually got the money, but
where can we find somewhere to buy this bread; it’s we’re out in a desolate
place, and there is nowhere whatsoever, not a single place to buy this bread, to
purchase this bread.
They’ve forgotten. They have forgotten. They
have failed to read the manual of providence.
And then in verse 14, now they’re in the boat, and
they only have this one loaf, and Jesus is saying to them as they begin to
quarrel amongst themselves, and perhaps blames themselves and say one to the
other–and can you hear them say, “Well, you should have brought the bread” and
“I thought you were bringing the bread”–and Jesus is saying, “Don’t you
remember? What is it with you people? What is it with you children that you
fail to remember?”
I can’t help but think of the words of Moses in the
Book of Deuteronomy, on the plains of Moab as the people of God are about to
cross over into the land of Canaan, and they will move from that position where
they were provided for on a daily basis in terms of the manna of provision.
Moses says to the people as they confront now all of the splendor of the land of
Canaan that’s flowing with milk and honey…you remember? On the plains of Moab
he says to them, “Whatever else you do, do not forget….”
Deuteronomy, chapter eight: “Do not forget! Remember how the Lord your God led
you all the way in the desert these forty years.” Do you see the lesson that
Moses is teaching the people of God? That the people of God, that’s
you and me, have a propensity to forget the provision of Almighty God.
And because we forget the Lord, and we forget His past activity, and we
forget His providence in our lives, spiritual disaster follows in its wake.
Remember, remember what God has done in your life.
Are you here tonight all caught up with the problems of this world? All wrapped
up in the trials that have befallen you, and you have forgotten what it is that
God has done for you in the past, and that God is the same God, and that He
Remember when Joshua was passing over the River
Jordan, and he set those memorial stones in the river, and on the river bank of
the River Jordan? Why? So that the generations to come, in looking at those
memorial stones would remember the mighty acts of God. Only hours before, they
had witnessed the greatness of God, and they had forgotten already. They’ve
forgotten already. And a man and a woman with a heart for God will be someone
who is determined to remember the Lord. Remember Him! And remember what He has
done for you, and remember what He has promised to do for you. Forgetfulness of
mind is the first thing.
II. And hardness of heart is the
Reading between the lines in verse 17, they’re
having a fair old disagreement about this matter of bread–whose fault it was,
perhaps; how they are going to manage now to survive this long journey in the
boat across the sea, when their stomachs are rumbling. And Jesus says to them,
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and that of Herod.”
Now, that’s a strange sort of statement to make,
isn’t it? “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and that of Herod.”
Before they had set out, the Pharisees had come to
Jesus and they’d asked for a sign. And Jesus, according to Mark’s record here,
Jesus uttered this great sigh, and said to them, “No sign will be given to this
The sign-seekers…you may imagine tonight that you
would believe if a man or a woman were to be raised from the dead. A woman
comes into this building, and she has been lying in the mortuary, and she
walks–opens that back door, and she walks down this aisle. And you know what we
would be saying? We would be saying, “How terrible that they should ever have
pronounced her dead when she was obviously alive.” That’s what we would be
You want a real miracle? You want a real miracle?
You’ve got one right here! In your hands, before you: the Bible, the word of
God. Two million words, forty different authors, fifteen hundred years; Hebrew,
Aramaic, Greek; and every jot and tittle of it given by inspiration of God, that
“holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” that the
Bible has been preserved through the centuries by the singular care and
providence of Almighty God. You want a miracle? It’s right here in your
hands, supervised by God, telling me all that I need to know about Him; telling
me how my sins may be forgiven; telling me how I may come to know Him; telling
me how I may live my life as a Christian.
And these Pharisees weren’t interested in miracles.
They were simply interested in confirming their unbelief. And Jesus says to
these disciples of His–His disciples, mind you!–“Beware of the leaven of the
Pharisees, and that of Herod.”
And what is He talking about? Look at verse
17. He’s talking about hardness of heart. A hardness of heart: and what is
that? What is that hardness of heart? It’s a propensity of our
sinful hearts to the spiral of our gravitational pull to justify ourselves
rather than look to Jesus. It’s unbelief. It’s unbelief.
They should have been filled with joy. They should
have been enraptured by the sheer fact that sitting there in the boat was the
Son of God, the Lord of Glory, the One who had walked on the water, the One who
had said to the winds and the waves, “Be still!” The One who had healed the
daughter of that Syrophoenician woman; the One who had unstopped the deaf ears
of that man; the One who had fed the five thousand and the four thousand, and
He’s there, sitting right in the boat with them, but they cannot see Him! They
cannot see Him, and they’re wrapped up in themselves, and they’re wrapped up in
their problems, and they’re accusing each other, and they’re quarreling and
they’re discontent. And Jesus is saying to them, “Beware…beware of the leaven
of the Pharisees.”
Beware of that leaven of unbelief. Beware of that
leaven that constantly looks to yourself, that looks to yourself to get yourself
out of problems and difficulties. Look at the language He employs in verse 17:
“…having eyes, but you cannot see; having ears, but you cannot hear…” It’s
language that’s taken directly from the prophet Jeremiah. It’s taken from the
fifth chapter of the prophet Jeremiah, and it’s language that Jesus has used
before in the Gospel of Mark, in chapter four, and on that occasion He was
referring to unbelievers. He was referring to those who were outside of His
covenant, in chapter four of Mark. And now–and this is the scary thing–now,
He’s applying those very words to His own disciples. And do you see what He’s
Do you see what He’s saying? They’re behaving in
this boat as though they weren’t believers at all. They are so wrapped up in
themselves…they are so wrapped up in themselves that they’re behaving and
they’re talking as though they are not believers at all. When you quarrel this
way, and when you put Me out of the picture, and when you behave in this
fashion, Jesus seems to be saying, it’s as though you weren’t believers at all.
Beware! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.
III. Forgetfulness of mind, and
hardness of heart, and the morphology of spiritual declension takes a third
form, and that is dullness of perception.
Dullness of perception–look at the question
that He puts in verse 21 to the disciples: “Don’t you get it? Don’t you get it,
my friends? My dear, dear disciples, after all that you’ve seen, and after all
that you’ve heard, after all that you’ve witnessed, don’t you get it yet?”
These are words, you know…this miracle
story…Mark intends, I think, for us to pick up the language here of the
prophet Isaiah. You remember that wonderful passage in Isaiah 55:
“Ho!’ Everyone that thirsteth! Come ye to the waters and buy, come buy wine and
milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money on that which is
not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
And here is Jesus giving
them bread, and there are all kinds of Messianic overtones about what Jesus is
doing, and Jesus is saying to His disciples, you know, when Messiah comes, these
are the sort of things that He does. Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand
Who it is that I am? Don’t you understand the implication of what it is that I
am doing, and what it is that I am saying to you? Because if you understood who
I really am, you wouldn’t be behaving this way. You wouldn’t be quarreling this
way. You wouldn’t be accusing each other this way. You wouldn’t constantly be
putting Me out of the picture in this way. You wouldn’t be so constantly
discontent in the way that you are.
My friends, what difference does it make…what
difference does it make to us tonight that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, and
Prophet and Priest and King? Who is Jesus, this Jesus in whom we believe, this
Jesus to whom we’ve come in prayer this evening? Is He the Son of God, as Mark
says in his opening verse of his gospel? Because if He’s the Son of God, I tell
you, it will make all the difference in the world…it’ll make all the
difference in the world.
It’s not that if they had recognized Jesus He’d have
given them a Happy Meal™ there in the boat. It’s not that if they had
recognized who Jesus was that there would be no trials and no difficulties.
No! But through those trials and through those difficulties there eyes would be
locked on Jesus, persevering even to the end. Their faith, Calvin says, must
have been laid asleep. Their faith, if there was faith must have been laid
You know, if the theme of last week’s message
dealing with the man who was deaf…you remember?…if the theme of last week’s
message was “Can You Hear Me Now?” the theme of this week’s message is “Can You
See Me Now?” Can you see Me now? Do you see who I really am? Because if you
could see who I really am, you wouldn’t be concerned about the fact that you’ve
only got one loaf. That would be about the least significant thing in your
agenda just now.
Can you see Him now, my friend?
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look
full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will
grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and
Let’s pray together.
Our gracious God and ever blessed Father, we
thank You for your dear, dear Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. We fail Him again,
and again, and again. We feel ourselves to be so very much like these disciples,
who, having experienced wonderful blessings, immediately turn to self-accusation
and to spirals of despair, and to clouds of darkness that engulf us. Help us to
discern here the Master warning us of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod;
of the propensity within each one of us to forget You; of our inability to
perceive and to focus on Who Jesus really is. And grow us, we pray tonight;
refocus our minds and hearts, and wills and affections that we might see none
but Jesus only. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord’s benediction.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.