Having now broken down a barrier between ministering to Jews and Gentiles [7.19], and having healed a demon-possessed daughter of a Gentile woman [7.29-30], we will see Jesus’ counted ministry into the Gentile arena, and the lack of understanding from those who hold the most responsibility to understand. Mark places five scenes one after the other to develop the theme of seeing eyes and hearing ears.
7.31-37, Jesus Heals a Deaf Man
Jesus goes to the east (Gentile) side of the Sea of Galilee, where a deaf and mute man is brought to Him. The Greek word for mute (μογιλάλος mogilalos) is found only twice in the LXX, here and in Isaiah 35.6. Whereas Isaiah 35 addresses Israel’s end-time hopes, Mark shows them as being fulfilled in Jesus [2 Cor. 1.20]. Jesus takes the man away fro the crowds, put His fingers in his ears, spat and touched his tongue, looked up to heaven, sighed, and said, “Ephphatha” (“Be opened”), and the man could hear and speak. In the end the people are astonished and proclaim God’s glory [Isa. 35.5-7; 64.2]. As strange as this section is, it looks very similar to the final section in 8.22-26, though there will be some differences. What is important though is how it is Gentiles who proclaim the mighty works of Jesus.
“He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
8.1-10; Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
This scene is very similar to the scene in 6.30-44. Jesus has compassion on the multitude for they have been with Him for three days, they have not eaten, they may faint on the way (a motif picked up in the following chapters), and have come from afar (alluding to Gentiles [Josh. 9.6; Acts 2.39; Eph. 2.12-13, 17]?). God’s grace is also available for Gentiles. Yet still the disciples do not see how Jesus can feed all of these people in the wilderness [8.4]. Being fishermen [1.16], they ironically are ably to bring only a few fish to Jesus [8.7].
While Elisha fed 100 men with 20 loaves [2 Kings 4.42-44], Jesus will feed 4,000 with seven loaves and has fed 5000 with 5 loaves. Jesus is the greater Elisha. Jesus does what God can do, has compassion on His people [Is. 41.17] and feeds them in the wilderness [Ex 16].
Is there significance in the numbers of people, baskets, and fish in Mark’s two feedings? Perhaps there is, but can we really know? If so, there certainly isn’t the room for it now.
“…and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples…. And they ate and were satisfied.”
8.11-13; The Pharisees Demand a Sign
the Pharisees begin to argue [1.27; 9.10, 14, 16; 12.28] with Jesus. The disputing Pharisees have taken up a significant portion of Mark’s account (2.6-12, 16-17, 18-22, 23-28, 3.1-5, 7.1-23). Yet Mark’s previous miracle sequence makes the impending rejection by the Pharisees even harder to understand. Only people with closed eyes and hearts could fail to appreciate that Jesus was working by the power of God.
They want an irrefutable sign from heaven. Perhaps they wanted fire to fall down? Whatever the case be have been, they are testing Him [8.11]. This same word for test is used in Mark 1.13 when Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness. They wanted God to prove Jesus’ authenticity. But would it really be irrefutable? They accused Jesus of casting out demons under the power of Beelzebub in 3.22. Why wouldn’t they do it here too?
Jesus has just been the greater Moses and has provided manna to 4,000 (and 5,000 plus) people. Now Israel’s leaders are complaining and demanding a sign from the Bread of life just like the rebellious generation of Israelites in the wilderness [Ex. 17.1-7; Ps 78.41, 56].
Only the blind could fail 2 see what God was doing. Signs in mMark are viewed negatively by reflecting a lack of belief [8.11] or a readiness to be deceived [13.4, 22]. The Pharisees placed inappropriate demands on God’s work, dictating what it should look like by seeking a specific indicator. The demand for a sign was a sign in and of itself; one of unbelief. The seed Jesus has sown has fallen on hard ground and the Pharisees don’t want it.
A Herod’s Wrong Attitude to Miracles/Signs [6.14-29]
++B The Narration of the First Feeding Miracle [6.30-44]
++++C Accounts of Various Other Miracles [6.45-7.37]
++B’ The Narration of the Second Feeding Miracle [8.1-10]
A’ The Pharisees’ Wrong Attitude to Miracles/Signs [8.14-21]*
*Geddert, pg. 186, Mark [BCBC]
Unlike the Gentile woman [7.24-30], the Pharisees were blind to what Jesus was doing. She didn’t have to have the main course. The crumbs would be just as suitable. The Pharisees, on the other hand, despite being the children fed first, were like dogs biting the hand that fed them.
“Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
8.14-21; The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod
How much time has passed since the last feeding? Mark doesn’t say, but the disciples get on the boat with only one loaf. They’ve Jesus perform two large feeding miracles. He cautions them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. Leaven is often (but not always [Mt. 13.33]) as sign of sin and evil [Mk. 8.15; Lk. 12.1; 1 Cor. 5.8]. Because the disciples are so dense they don’t understand the connection.
Leaven of the…
Like John the Baptist, Jesus’ death will be due to pressure placed upon political leaders by others with power. Both Herod and Pilate acknowledge the innocence of their victims, but will chose to gain the favor of world in exchange for their souls. The concerns of the world choke out the Word they heard. Yeast works through whole batch, the whole person, and corrupts entirely.
Herod committed adultery, murder, and was guilty of political ambition. He didn’t demand a spectacular sign, but he did misinterpret the miracles of Jesus as an indication that John the Baptist had been raised. The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing, they saw the finger of God at work [Ex. 8.19], but they rejected the same finger that they claimed to follow for they followed their own ambitions and selfish gain.
Though the disciples understood Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom, they failed to manifest Kingdom values. They forgot Jesus’ warning about the blindness of the Pharisees [Mt. 15.13-14] and the two miraculous feedings. Why did He feed the multitudes? Was it to show a sign? No. It was because He had compassion. Jesus is the great King we serve, the great Shepherd who has compassion on His sheep.
“Are your hearts hard?”
But the disciples may suffer from being blind and deaf: “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? and do you not remember?” [8.18]. This is a reference back to Jeremiah 5.21-23 where Israel’s lack of understanding leads her into exile.
Israel professes loyalty to the Lord, but hardens their hearts against His correction. The beginning of wisdom is the fear the Lord, but Israel doesn’t fear YHWH, although it is YHWH who controls the unruly and roaring sea (which was viewed as an entity of chaos). Though Jesus controls and walks on water the disciples do not understand. Isreal’s rebellious hypocrisy would be their downfall [Mk 13].
But Jesus’ questions, are not statements. He is warning the twelve of the seriousness of rejecting Him.
They have seen many things and have not understood, but they have one thing in their favor: unlike those whose hearts are truly hardened, they keep following Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God [1.1] has just healed a deaf man, and will soon heal a blind man. If He can do that, surely He can and will heal His blind and deaf disciples.
The Gentile woman is happy with under-the-table puppy-crumbs. The disciples have had baskets of leftover bread, but they don’t understand. In fact, they won’t for a while. Yet despite His warning [8.15], the disciples will give Jesus leavened responses [8.32; 9.5-6, 18, 32, 34, 38; 10.28, 37, 39, 41]. But Jesus is patient in His discipleship.
“Do you not yet understand?”
8.22-26; Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida
In 7.31-37 Jesus healed a deaf man. Now, He will heal the blind. Yet also, it is the disciples who need eyes to see and ears to hear [8.18]. The two miracles combine to show what can and must happen to the disciples. In this miracle, with the first touch Jesus causes the man to see [8.24]. With the second touch, He causes the man to understand what he sees [8.25]. 7.37 ended in a doxology of sorts, praising God for His good work through Jesus’ healing. The current section just seems to end. Yet in the next section Jesus will ask two questions: “Who do people say that I am?” [8.27] and “Who do you say that I am?” [8.29].
The Gentiles have responded to Jesus’ miracles with amazing insight [7.37]. How will the disciples respond?
How will you respond?
“You are the Christ.”