When we moved to Rosenort there were some things we worried about. Of course there were the concerns of wondering if we would fit in and be able to make a contribution, but there was another concern as well. We had just lived in a rented house where we had not unpacked all of our boxes for 7 months. We did not want to live in a temporary place again. We looked at a few houses which might eventually have been available and there was one that we liked because of its location and the features it had, but we weren’t sure if it was available. So we were concerned about these things. Did we trust God to look after us? Were we free of concern because we were confident that God would provide a place for us? Yes, we believed, but we still worried. Now it is over 10 years later and we have lived in the house we liked for all of that time. In hind sight, we can see that God provided a place for us that was better than we could have expected. We like our house, I particularly enjoy that it is on the river and we can look back and see that God provided abundantly.
At the time, however, we were not that confident and that seems to happen with every new thing that comes into our life. We wonder, “Where is God?” “How is He going to care for us this time?” “Will He care for us?” God has given us so much reason to trust Him and yet we struggle to live in confident faith.
Do you ever worry about the future? Do you ever fear circumstances? What are you afraid of right now? What do you think Jesus is doing about it? Do you think Jesus is doing anything? Why do you doubt that He is doing anything?
We have often heard young people tell stories of what happens to them at camp. They tell about how they have grown in faith when they were at camp. Because of the concentration and the prayer, amazing spiritual victories often take place at camp. God’s presence is so great and many commit themselves to living by faith and to being faithful. On the last day of camp they are filled with a powerful sense of how great God is and how they want to follow God when they get home. But after camp it doesn’t take long and life gets in the way and routine and temptations happen and pretty soon they aren’t so confident in God any more. Where is our faith? Why can’t we remember? Why does doubt come?
The disciples of Jesus had a similar experience. They had been in the presence of Jesus and saw Him do all kinds of amazing things and teach wonderful truths. It was like being at camp all the time, but there were still times when they weren’t all that confident about Jesus. There were times when they were not aware of His love or His power. There were times when they struggled with worry and fear.
This morning we will look at the stories in Mark 7:31-8:26 in order to think about these things and be encouraged that God is at work building us up in faith and helping us to see Him at work. I hope that these words encourage you in whatever is causing you to worry and doubt.
I. Spiritual Blindness
The key phrase in these verses is Mark 8:17, 18 where Jesus asks the disciples, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” Why did Jesus ask this question? How was it answered?
A. Feeding 4000 People
In these verses, Jesus did a lot of traveling. We read, in 7:31, that he was in Tyre and that he went up to Sidon and then down to the Sea of Galilee and crossed it several times. The story in Mark 7:31-37 took place in an area that was inhabited mostly by Gentiles, so the audience was likely mostly not Jewish. He had been with this crowd teaching and doing miracles for 3 days and realized that the people were likely running out of food and getting hungry. He perceived that their hunger was serious. It is interesting that they were so interested in Jesus that they were willing to stay in a remote place to listen to him and willing to undergo some hardship to hear Him.
The story reminds us of a similar miracle story in Mark 6:30-44 where Jesus fed 5000. Once again it is the compassion of Jesus which prompts him to recognize their need and desire to feed them. Once again the disciples do not possess the resources needed to feed such a crowd. Once again the disciples witnessed an amazing miracle of Jesus’ compassion.
The stories look similar, and some have suggested that they refer to the same event, but there are enough differences between the two stories to help us realize that they are two different stories which happened on two different occasions. In the first story there were 5 loaves of bread available and in the second 7. In the first story there were 2 fish and in the second, a few fish are mentioned. In the first story 5000 people were fed and in the second, 4000. In the first story 12 baskets remained and in the second 7. The most significant difference is that the first story happened in a Jewish area and the second in a Gentile area and it seems that the purpose of including both stories is to show that God provides for both Jews and Gentiles. Geddert comments, “As early as Augustine of Hippo, interpreters of Mark’s Gospel have seen the two feedings in Mark as for Jews and Gentiles…The first shows how God fulfills Israel’s hopes; the second shows how God also intends to give grace to the Gentiles.”
The text says in Mark 8:8 that “they ate and were filled.” Through this experience the disciples once again saw God at work and realized the power and provision of God through Jesus and also the compassion of Jesus.
Following the feeding, Jesus left in a boat to go to the other side of the lake.
B. Conflict with the Pharisees
As He came to the other side, he met some Pharisees. They had one purpose. They did not want to know Him or listen to Him, they wanted to test Him. Their attitude was one of challenge. Jesus was deeply moved by their obstinate unbelief. They had seen so much, but remained blind to the truth about Jesus. Because of their attitude, Jesus refused to respond to them and left and crossed the Sea of Galilee again.
The problem with their attitude was that they wanted proof. Jesus doesn’t work that way. He demonstrates God’s power and teaches, but offers truth to those who have faith and insight, not to those who demand a sign.
C. Can You Hear? Can You See?
When they got back into the boat, we have a rather interesting interchange between Jesus and the disciples. It is a puzzling conversation, but in the end it reveals hearts and invites us to examine our hearts.
We are told at the beginning of the story that the disciples had forgotten to stow provisions aboard the boat and that all they had along was one loaf of bread.
While this was a matter of concern weighing on the minds of the disciples, Jesus was talking about something else. He began to talk about the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod. The disciples responded to each other referring to that which had been on their minds. They were concerned that they didn’t have enough bread. It seems as if their worries were so great that they didn’t have the capacity to think about anything else or to hear what Jesus was talking about.
What was Jesus talking about when he mentioned the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod? Yeast is something that influences. When it is put in dough, it permeates the entire lump of dough. In Mark 6:14 we read that, Herod had heard about the miracles of Jesus and speculated that John the Baptist had been raised. He did not realize the divine source of Jesus power or position nor inquire more about who Jesus was. The Pharisees had seen the power of Jesus and should have recognized its origin, but refused to do so. Both of them were unbelieving. They did not accept Jesus and they did not respond in faith. Such unbelief, if permitted to enter into one’s heart permeates and has an influence which destroys faith. Jesus was warning the disciples that they should not be unbelieving, like the Pharisees and Herod.
But they didn’t get it. They were confused about what Jesus was talking about. They were worried and in their worry they expressed unbelief. It was not the same kind of unbelief as the Pharisees, but it was unbelief nevertheless and that is why Jesus was warning them. It is in this context that Jesus raised the question we find in Mark 8:17, 18 when He asked, “Are you blind? Do you have eyes, but don’t see? Are you deaf? Do you have ears, but don’t hear?” Of course He was not talking about physical blindness or deafness. He was talking about spiritual blindness and the spiritual inability to hear God. This is imagery which occurs in other places in the Bible as well. In Isaiah 6:9 we read, "He said, ‘Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ ‘Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’"
In both passages, the inability to see what God has done and to understand His work are attributed to hard hearts. Their hearts were so hard that they did not remember what Jesus had done in the past. Jesus refers to both feeding miracles and questions them about what was left over. They had not understood the compassion or the power of Jesus.
As we listen in on the conversation which Jesus has with the disciples, we should not get too comfortable because the question is also asked of us. Are our hearts hard? Do we fail to see what God is doing? Do we fail to remember what God has done? Do we have eyes, but fail to see and ears but fail to hear?
But there is an encouraging word in this section. It comes out better in some translations than others. Where NIV says in Mark 8:21, “Do you still not understand?” we read in NASB wording that is a more faithful translation of the Greek, “Do you not yet understand?”" The implication of “not yet” is that one day they will. It functions as a word of hope and a promise that one day they will get it and they will understand.
But how will they see? How will we ever hear and understand? How will we ever believe? How will we ever walk with confidence? This story is so real to us because we understand so well the struggle of the disciples. We have all been there. We have all wrestled with unbelief. We have all seen God at work in the past, but often experience doubt in the present. It may not have been bread, but in some way we have seen God provide and change lives and do great things. Paul reminds us “He who did not spare His own son, how will he not also along with Him graciously give us all things.” But we don’t remember that God did not spare His own Son. So we live with unbelief. We worry. We fret. We doubt. Our hearts are hard. Not hard in the rebellious way of the Pharisees, but hard in the sense that God’s grace and truth do not penetrate deeply. We are insensitive to the work of God all around us and so we too have eyes, but do not see and ears but do not hear.
II. Jesus Makes the Deaf Hear
Seeing and hearing are an important connecting point in the stories in this section. We have seen how the disciples failed to see and hear. But there are two stories surrounding this story that also have to do with seeing and hearing. If you look carefully at Mark 7:31-8:26, you will see how many times seeing and hearing are mentioned. In Mark 7 deafness and ears are mentioned in verses 32, 33 and 35. In Mark 8, eyes and ears are mentioned in verse 17, as we have seen. Then in Mark 8:21-26 eyes and seeing and sight restored are mentioned in verses 22-25. We should not think that this is coincidental. It is quite deliberate and Mark has put these stories together for the purpose of teaching important truths.
As we have seen the disciples all had good hearing in a physical sense, but in spite of that, they turned out to be quite deaf to the work of God and to faith in God.
Mark 7:31-36 tells a story about what happened in the region of the Decapolis on the other side of Galilee, when some people brought a man who was deaf and who had a speech impediment to Jesus. Those who brought him asked Jesus to place His hands on the man. This was normal procedure. Sometimes Jesus touched people, sometimes they touched Jesus, sometimes Jesus wasn’t in the presence of the people and they were healed. This time they wanted Jesus to touch the man, but Jesus did something much different than usual. He put his fingers in the man’s ears and spit on his tongue. Why this unusual healing method? Was it because the man was a Gentile and needed more help to believe? We are not told. Geddert points out, however that, “He does not heal by getting the magical techniques and incantations right, but by God’s power.” “The healing occurs in response to Jesus’ authoritative word.”
Whatever the method, the result was that the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosened and he could hear clearly and he could speak once again.
The lesson is quite clear and declared by the people in Mark 7:37, "People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” And so we learn that Jesus is able to make the deaf person hear again. And we should not think that Jesus is only able to make the person who is physically deaf hear again. He is able to make the person who does not hear God hear again. This is a promise for all of us who struggle with unbelief. It is a word of hope for all of us who wrestle with doubt and who don’t get how God is working. Jesus is the one who can open our deaf ears to hear Him speak to us and to be able to understand what He is doing.
At the conference last weekend, the speaker, Dr. David Shenk spoke about Jesus. His text was Revelation 5 and he pointed to the fact that Jesus is worthy to take the scroll of the book of life. He is worthy because He was slain and purchased people from every tribe and tongue and nation. He is worthy because He is seated on the throne over all the earth. As I heard this message, I had to confess that I do not always believe that Jesus is Lord, that He has compassion and that He has all power to care for us. I confessed that I am not nearly quick enough to point people to Jesus. I had to confess, as I came home and began to meditate on this passage that my ears are plenty hard of hearing. How thankful I am for the promise that Jesus is the one who can open our ears. The one who has conquered, the one who is seated on the throne, the one who has loved us sacrificially, the one who has promised abundant life, the one who will reign for all eternity can open our ears.
He can help us to hear and understand and to know what God is doing so that we can put our trust in Him. So this becomes an encouragement to trust in Him, to know that He can help us hear. My prayer is that Jesus will open my ears.
III. Jesus Heals In Stages
The story in Mark 8:21-26 is also obviously connected with this whole section. This time seeing is mentioned. The unusual methods in which Jesus spit on the man’s eyes ties it to the story in Mark 7:31-37. These are the only two stories in the NT where spitting is involved, except John 9 where Jesus used spit to make mud to put on a man’s eyes. These clues make it clear that we need to connect all these stories together. So what is the connection between these stories and the lesson in this last story?
It connects with the previous story because it is a story of healing blindness. Once again we see that Jesus is able to heal the blind. Once again we are reminded that Jesus can make us see again.
But there is another unique thing about this story in that it involves a two stage miracle. Jesus healed the blind man, but it happened in two stages. The first time Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on them. When He did, the man was able to see, but not clearly, not completely. We read his response in Mark 8:24, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” There was a seeing, but it was not a clear seeing. When Jesus put His hands on the man a second time, we read that his eyes were opened and he “saw everything clearly.” Why this two stage healing? Because it reflects a reality in the world of spiritual understanding. The disciples had eyes, but they did not see. But remember that we said that “not yet” implied that they would yet understand and see? The disciples had realized a lot of things about Jesus. They had the beginnings of perception, but it was incomplete. In the very next part of Mark we have the first announcement of the death of Jesus. In that text, Peter clearly declared about Jesus, “You are the Christ.” But in the very next breath Peter rebuked Jesus and could not perceive that the way to victory was the way of suffering and death. In the weeks that followed, this confusion continued. They saw, but they didn’t see. They caught on to some things, but they missed others. Following the resurrection, their eyes were opened a little more and on the day of Pentecost, a little more. In fact, until the day of Pentecost they were in a bit of a fog, “seeing people walking around like trees.” But even then their seeing would not be complete and Peter and Paul would argue about what it meant to follow Jesus. But complete seeing will come. I Corinthians 13:12 says, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
How does this help us with our unbelief? It is helpful to know that it is not unusual that our seeing will be incomplete now. The disciples struggled to see clearly and so do we. But that knowledge is not intended to make us complacent. Behind the acknowledgement that sometimes seeing takes time and stages of perception remain there is the overwhelming truth that Jesus opens blind eyes. Not just physically blind eyes, but spiritually blind eyes. It is the touch of Jesus that will make us see clearly. In addition, there is the reality that sometimes seeing takes more than one stage for us to fully understand. Geddert says, “The two stage healing is a perfect reflection of the disciples’ situation. Just as the blind man has gained sight gradually, so will the disciples.” And so will we.
If you come to Jesus challenging Him to prove Himself, you will be disappointed. Just like Jesus did not answer the Pharisees, He will not respond to an unbelieving challenge.
If you come to Jesus expecting that He will give you whatever you want, you will be disappointed. He is sovereign and knows far better what is good for us and has eternal things in mind, not our temporal wishes. Although He often meets even these, He is not a cosmic Santa Claus.
If you come to Jesus with humble confidence in His power and His love, you will never be disappointed. You will trust His sovereignty, His compassion, His power and His love.
All of us at one point or another are deaf to this truth about God and blind to all that He has done and can do.
The word of hope to us this morning is to know that Jesus heals deaf ears and blind eyes. The word of encouragement is to be patient with ourselves and patient and humble with others knowing that we are all on a journey. The word of challenge for us is to keep looking to Jesus to bring the healing of our spiritual eyes and ears.