Spiritual Amnesia – Mark 8:1-21
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be one under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Mark 8:1-21.
I’m just going to read our passage for us and then we will dive in. Mark 8, beginning in verse 1: “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’ 4 And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ 5 And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
“11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.
“14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 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? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ 20 ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ 21 And he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’”
There is some debate among scholars about whether we are looking here at a repetition of the same miracle that we looked at earlier, in Mark 6, with some of the details changed, or if we are looking at a second miracle, entirely.
And why this issue matters is because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God, which means that the Bible is without error and completely true in what it says in matters of faith and practice. But if it’s true that what we’re seeing here is a Gospel writer making up miracles about Jesus in an attempt to make Jesus out to be Someone He was not, which is the argument being presented here, then there is nothing we can really trust in the Bible, at all.
But as we look at the text, we find that the details of the two miracles are indeed different, and for good reason, because they are two different miracles. There is a difference in the number of people who were fed, there is a difference in the location of the miracle, there is a difference in the number of loaves that were used, and there is a difference in the amount of leftover food that was collected.
What we’re looking at is not an attempt from Mark to duplicate the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand but just changing some of the details so that Jesus looks even more impressive than He was, but rather, an entirely separate miracle of Jesus. And I say all of that so that we can be confident in the living and active Word of God, which continues to remain true and reliable, today.
And what we’re going to see, for our time together, this morning, is that we will be tempted to times of spiritual amnesia, where we will often forget what God has done in our lives in the past, but Jesus is again going to show us who He is and how we have the Scriptures to remind us of this.
And we begin where we left off, last week. Jesus has just entered into Gentile territory, and He has healed a couple of Gentiles, showing that He is the promised Messiah who has come to bring the kingdom of God to both Jew and Gentile, alike.
And in verse 1, a great crowd again gathers around Jesus with nothing to eat. And Jesus calls His disciples together and points out this problem to them—that He has compassion on the crowd and doesn’t want them going away hungry, lest they faint on the way back to their homes.
And in verse 4, the disciples ask Jesus, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Now, having recently looked at the feeding of the five thousand, back in Mark 6, we rightly think to ourselves, “Surely, having earlier witnessed the feeding of a similar crowd, the disciples could not possibly be so forgetful as to ask such a question.” And yet, here they are asking such a question. And what we’re seeing from the disciples is a kind of spiritual amnesia, where they have already forgotten about what Jesus had done in this previous miracle.
Later on, in verse 14, Mark records that they’re in the boat, and they had forgotten to bring bread. Well, they did have one loaf of bread in the boat with them, but they begin to argue with each other about the fact that they had no bread. They’re blaming each other for not being the one to supply the bread.
And Jesus says to them, in verse 17, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”
These are piercing questions from Jesus, and they should bring to our mind what Moses says to the Israelites, in Deuteronomy 8. Moses tells the people that they were to remember how God had led them through the wilderness for forty years, and how He was bringing them to a land flowing with milk and honey. And Moses says to them, in verse 11, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God.”
And what Moses is saying here is that the people of God, that’s you and me, have the tendency to forget the provision of God. He wouldn’t say, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God,” if he didn’t think we were prone to forget.
It’s why, after Joshua and the Israelites cross the Jordan River, in Joshua 4, God gets the people to set up a memorial with twelve stones from the river, as a way to remember the mighty act of God in bringing them across. Every time the children would see the stones and ask what they meant, their parents would have a tangible reminder of what God had done.
But then, three chapters later, Achan keeps some of the things from Jericho that were to be devoted to destruction. He coveted them, so he took them. He had spiritual amnesia, forgetting about what God had just done for the people.
It’s why the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, in recalling what He received from Jesus, concerning the Lord’s Supper, says that we eat the bread and drink the cup, in remembrance of Him.
It’s a tangible reminder for us. And that’s why we observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday morning in the Remembrance Service, because we need that reminder of what Jesus has done for us, every week, because we are prone to spiritual amnesia.
It’s why the last verse of the hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.”
The problem of the disciples is our problem, as well. We too easily forget. We too easily get caught up in the trials that we are presently facing, forgetting all of what God has done for us in the past. We freely tell someone else who is going through trials that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” but we forget that when it’s us who are experiencing the trials.
The disciples ask, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And what they are forgetting is that Jesus has not only satisfied a great crowd of people in a remote region with bread, before, but that He is the only One who can truly satisfy the heart of man.
You see, Jesus is performing the same kind of miracle for the Gentiles that He performed for the Jews. Jesus is giving bread to the Gentiles like He said He would, back in Mark 7.
If you remember, this Gentile woman came to Jesus with a request for Him to heal her daughter, who had an unclean spirit in her, and Jesus tells her that it’s not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs, but that the children were to be fed first, indicating that the Jews would get salvation first, and then the Gentiles. And this woman replies with such faith, saying, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.”
What we saw was that this woman was requesting a few crumbs of God’s mercy to overflow to her. And what Jesus is doing by feeding these four thousand Gentiles from seven loaves of bread and a few small fish is He’s giving the Gentiles more than just a few small crumbs; He’s giving them access to the table.
This is unprecedented. The Jews had no time for Gentiles. The Gentiles found themselves ostracized by the Jews, but not by God. Jesus comes to them, and He gives them the bread of life, and they eat and are satisfied.
In verse 9, it says that Jesus “sent them away.” The Greek word for “send away” in this context means “to set free” or “liberate.” What Jesus is doing by sending them away is He is setting them free from their bondage to sin. Jesus is showing the Gentiles, just like He did with the feeding of the 5,000+ Jews, back in Mark 6, that He is the One who satisfies the hungry outcasts and liberates them. He is the One who satisfies those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus is the One who alone satisfies the longing of the human heart.
Jesus is showing this to Gentiles, and they are receptive. It reminds me of the story of Jonah. If you don’t know the story of Jonah, Jonah is a prophet from God, and God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh, a very wicked city, to preach a message of coming judgment.
But Jonah, instead, gets in a boat and goes in the opposite direction. So, God causes a storm to come upon them, and Jonah acknowledges that the storm is his fault for running away from the Lord, and that they will be saved if they throw him overboard, which they do.
And God causes a great fish to swallow up Jonah and take him to Nineveh. And when Jonah is eventually vomited out upon dry land, he goes to Nineveh to preach his message of coming judgment, and, in a shocking twist, the people of Nineveh repent and turn to God.
But Jonah becomes angry with God, because God is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In other words, Jonah wanted the evil people of Nineveh, the Gentiles, to be destroyed, but God reminds Jonah that He will have mercy on whom He has mercy, and that He is in the business of drawing to Himself, people from every tongue, tribe and nation.
Jonah suffered from spiritual amnesia. He had forgotten that there is no one that is beyond the compassion of Jesus and so far gone that God cannot reach them, and that Jonah too was once separated from God, because of his sin, and thus deserving of eternal condemnation, but by the grace of God, he was saved from the judgment to come and restored to right relationship with God. We must remember this when we begin to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
Back in Mark 6:35-36, the disciples tell Jesus, “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.”
The solution of the disciples is to get rid of the people, but the solution of Jesus is to set them free and give them what their hungry souls are longing for, and that’s Jesus. And if our response is more in line with the disciples of Jesus rather than Jesus Himself, then it might be an indication that we too suffer from spiritual amnesia—that we forget who we are and from what we have been saved.
We see this in the next few verses. After feeding the four thousand, Jesus and the disciples enter into the district of Dalmanutha. And while they were there, verse 11 says that Jesus is approached by the Pharisees, asking Him for a sign.
Now, the Pharisees aren’t asking Jesus for a miracle, because Jesus has already been doing miracles throughout His earthly ministry. In fact, He just did a miracle by multiplying the bread and the fish, for a second time, to feed a large crowd of people. No, the Pharisees aren’t asking Jesus for a miracle; they’re asking Jesus to provide divine confirmation from God Himself that Jesus is the Son of God.
You see, the Pharisees don’t believe Jesus is who He claims to be, so they’re asking Jesus for a sign from heaven, in an attempt to discredit Jesus, so that they can justify themselves in their unbelief. They’re trying to show that they are right to not believe in Jesus, but what this really shows is their pride.
Here are the guys who have the Scriptures to show them what the Messiah was going to be and do, they have the Word of God in front of them just like you do, but their spiritual amnesia has made them spiritually blind.
The Pharisees should have recognized the Son of God. They should have been the first to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ. But they can’t see Him, because they are too wrapped up in themselves.
The Pharisees were expecting a military Messiah, One who was going to rescue God’s people and bring God’s judgment on their political enemies. And instead, Jesus is going to give His life on the cross, satisfying God’s judgment in Himself, and deal with humanity’s real enemies of sin and death.
But the Pharisees can’t see that. They’re spiritually blind. And so, they ignorantly ask Jesus for a sign. And what does Jesus do? Verse 12 says that He “sighed deeply in his spirit.” We’ve seen that sigh, before. In Mark 7, Jesus sighed over the brokenness in the world. Now, Jesus is sighing over the brokenness in the souls of these men. And Jesus tells them that they will not be given a sign, and He gets into the boat, and He leaves them. Tragic, really.
But this exasperation doesn’t end when Jesus gets into the boat with His disciples and begin to sail away. No, it follows Jesus into the boat. The disciples immediately begin to argue about who was supposed to bring lunch, and in verse 15, it says that Jesus cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
And it’s like the disciples don’t even hear Jesus speaking. They continue to argue about the fact that they don’t have any bread, which causes Jesus to quote from Jeremiah 5:21, which says, “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.”
What Jesus is getting His disciples to see is that He just fed four thousand people from seven loaves of bread and a few fish. They don’t need to worry about bread. What they need to worry about is the attitude of unbelief that is entering into their hearts. It’s the same opposition to Jesus as the Pharisees. The disciples can’t see Jesus any more clearly than the Pharisees, in this moment.
And Jesus is going, “Don’t you understand who I am? Don’t you understand the implications of what I’m saying and doing? Because if you understood who I really am, you wouldn’t be behaving in a manner of unbelief. You wouldn’t be quarrelling with each other. You wouldn’t be acting so inconsistently.”
And the sad reality is that we are often just like the disciples, aren’t we? We have Jesus with us, but we still doubt that He is going to take care of us. We don’t trust Him fully. We remain anxious and on edge about our money and our job and our health and our future. And in an effort to justify ourselves, we ask God for a sign, instead of searching the Scriptures for God’s will for our lives.
We’re spiritual amnesiacs. We forget about what God has done for us in the past, and we forget that God speaks to us in His Word. We are tempted to have the same attitude of unbelief, not trusting that God will continue to be faithful to take care of us. Jesus is saying the same thing to us, today: “Watch out; beware of the leaven.”
But here’s the thing: We are completely incapable of “watching out” apart from the grace of God in our lives. The only reason we have eyes to see and ears to hear who Jesus is, is because God has opened them up, not because we decided that we wanted to see and hear. We will always be prone to wander, because of sin’s influence in our lives, which is why we need God to take and seal our heart.
And that’s what makes Jesus’ series of questions here so important. The disciples can see, and yet, they fail to see. They can hear, and yet, they fail to hear. They are the ones who should understand, because they have had the eyes and ears of the hearts opened, and yet, they fail to understand.
Jesus asks His disciples, in verse 21, “Do you not yet understand?” Whatever Jesus is saying to the disciples is something that they should already have known. Jesus has already revealed this to them. But they don’t understand. The question Jesus is asking them, is: “Do you not yet understand who I am?” That’s what Jesus is getting at.
There's a reason why the only question about the two feedings that Jesus asks His disciples is how many baskets of food were left over. Jesus could have asked any number of questions regarding the details of the feedings, but He focuses on that one point. Why? Because Jesus is alluding to who He is.
Jesus asks them, “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They say, “Twelve.” And Jesus asks them, “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They say, “Seven.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that twelve is the number of baskets of food that were left over when Jesus fed the 5,000+ Jews, symbolizing that Jesus is the bread of heaven who has come for the twelve tribes of Israel. And that seven is the number of baskets of food that were left over when Jesus fed the four thousand Gentiles, seven being the number of completion in Scripture, showing that Jesus has come to bring the kingdom of God to all the peoples of the earth.
By Jesus feeding the four thousand Gentiles, He was bringing to the mind of His disciples what they would have grown up believing the Messiah would do.
In Luke 2, when Jesus is presented at the Temple, a man by the name of Simeon makes this stunning proclamation about Jesus. In verse 32, Simeon prays to God that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon is recalling what the prophet Isaiah writes, in Isaiah 49:6: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
The most obvious thing that Jesus could do to show His disciples that He was the Messiah was to be a light to the Gentiles—to go where the Gentiles were and to bring salvation to them. Maybe then, they would understand Him to be the Messiah—the Creator of all things who came to call His people back to Himself.
Church, this is who Jesus is. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand this about Him, and Jesus wants us to understand this about Him, as well. My desire for us, throughout this sermon series on Mark’s Gospel, is that we would know Jesus better. Not that we would know all of these cool facts about Jesus, but that we would actually know Jesus, and follow Jesus, and learn to obey Jesus as Saviour and King.
You see, God created the world and He created us in His image, and we were to reflect God’s image in Creation, but we rebelled against Him. In Adam, we all fall short of the glory of God, and we are quite content to live in rebellion against Him. And God would be well within His justice to give us up to our sinful desires and passions, headed for a lost eternity apart from Him in hell.
But God, who is rich in mercy continued to love us. And throughout the Old Testament, you see God always keeping for Himself a remnant, a people who were going to be a light to the nations.
In Genesis 12, God would make a covenant with Abraham, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. Later, God would make a covenant with the people of Israel, who were to be a light to the nations. And when God decided that the time was right, He came Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. And when He came, He called out His people, the Jews, but He also called out people from all the nations of the earth.
And He would eventually go to the cross to deal with the penalty of our sin, our rebellion against Him, and He would be raised from the dead in victory over sin, and He would return to heaven, and He would pour out His Spirit in us, so that we would also go and tell other people this message of who He is and our response of repentance.
The question for us, today, is: Do we understand who Jesus is? It’s the same question that Jesus asked His disciples. Do we understand what Jesus came to be and do? Do we understand that He is the promised Messiah, who came to bring salvation to all the peoples of the earth?
But then, do we understand where we fit in? Do we understand where we fit in to God’s story about what He is doing in the world? Do we understand that we have been entrusted with this gospel for the sake of bringing it to the nations?
By His grace, Jesus has given His people eyes to see and ears to hear. And we will be tempted to times of spiritual amnesia, forgetting what God has done and our daily need for Him. And it’s during these times that we need to be reminded of the truth, coming regularly to the Word of God.
I was reminded of this, this past week, when I was at the end of my rope, emotionally. We had been experiencing issues with our baby, and there were just a number of other things that were piling up on me. And I sat down with Helena, and I told her, “I feel hard pressed on every side,” quoting the apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 4:8.
But later, I thought I would read that verse in its entirety. And it says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.” And Helena helped me to realize that I might feel hard pressed on every side, but I am not crushed. And we were able to look back at what God had done and what God was doing.
But if it weren’t for the Word of God, I would have forgotten. And so, it makes a big difference that the Bible is true. It makes all the difference in the world, because if the Bible is true, then it has the power to speak life into whatever situation we are facing, when we are tempted to forget God. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we will be free from trials and difficulties, but if Jesus is who He said He was, and we believe in Him, then He will preserve us to the end.
“Oh that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face. Full arrayed in blood-washed linen, how I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace. Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, bring Thy promises to pass. For I know Thy pow’r will keep me, till I’m home with Thee at last.”
May we be a people who take care lest we forget the Lord our God. Let’s pray…