|WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Twenty Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 9, 2018
This morning we are coming back to our study of Mark’s Gospel account. It has been good to “take in” - God teaching us through Pastor Andrew and Pastor Dave. Today we’re coming back to our study of Mark - picking up in chapter 8 at verse 1.
If you are able - please stand with me as we come before God’s word together. Please follow along as I read for us our passage for this morning.
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He [Jesus] called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I sent them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
And His disciples answered Him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
And He asked them, “How may loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven.”
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. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, He said that these also should be set before them.
And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And He sent them away. And immediately He got into the boat with His disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
The Pharisees came and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven to test Him. 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.” And He left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.
Verse 1 begins with “In those days…” Which begs the question... “In what days?”
So, some back fill from where we’ve been in previous chapters.
Jesus Christ is the Gospel. He is the Good News in the flesh and blood of our humanity. Which is great theology. Really good doctrine. But what does that mean?
Mark in his Gospel - “Good News” - record of Jesus’ life - Mark has recorded for us - Jesus moving around from place to place - doing miracles and casting out demons - calming seas - Jesus demonstrating His authority - Who He is - being God in the flesh and blood of our humanity. Establishing credibility that requires people to pay attention to what Jesus is teaching.
Jesus teaching people that the Kingdom of God is at hand - as close as their hand - “Hello. I’m here.” - and calling on people to respond to that truth by repenting of their sin and opening up their lives to God - to live obeying God - by doing what Jesus is teaching.
Jesus has been working - through all that - to help His disciples connect the dots. Jesus is God in the flesh and blood of our humanity - the Messiah - the Savior - that the Jews have been waiting for and that we all are desperate for. To help His disciples to understand and grab the life changing significance of the good news for themselves.
We know that what Jesus has been doing and teaching has led to growing controversy and conflict. Jesus wasn’t afraid of conflict. He’s not intimidated by the rich and powerful and religious hierarchy. He hasn’t run away from all that.
But we saw in chapter 7 that Jesus begins to become increasingly assertive in His approach to ministry. He’s becoming more assertive in taking on theological and religious error - more assertive in confronting the different religious factions. Jesus is becoming increasingly out-of-the-box in His approach to ministry.
Which - looking at the map - we’ve seen Jesus - out-of-the-box - travel up leave ministry in Jewish Galilee and head up to Tyre and Sidon - think Gentile and pagan - do ministry there. Head back down - briefly passing through Capernaum - and move on to the Decapolis.
Decapolis meaning “ten cities” - meaning 10 Greek cities that in Jesus’ day were under Roman control. Very not Jewish.
It is important for us to be reminded that those 10 Greek cities and the area around them were founded as Greek colonies - back in the days of Alexander the Great - founded with the idea of spreading Hellenism. What was the Greek world view.
Hellenism - Greek philosophy that was based in the idea that humanity is the ultimate reality. The human mind is the basis of truth. The human body is the ultimate in wisdom. Human pleasure is the ultimate goal in life. Everything in those cities - Greek theater and sports and education and religion was all set up to push that world view.
The more things change… the more they stay the same. Sounds current. Doesn’t it? Hellenism being the ancestor of today’s humanism. How much of where we do life is pushing the humanist world view?
What is significant for us to grab onto in all that - in thinking about what days are “in those days” is that in these days Jesus is less about establishing His credentials and why people should listen to Him. Jesus is more about aggressively taking on the messed up religious teaching of the Pharisees and more about taking on the dominant world view that we’re up against even today - and speaking into all that the truth of what it means to follow Him.
So, “in those days” - as Jesus is increasingly out-of-the-box aggressive - Jesus travels to the Decapolis where this great crowd - probably made up of mostly Greeks - mostly non-Jews - this great crowd gathers - in the middle of no where - to listen to Him teach about the Kingdom of God being at hand - and their need to turn from following themselves as the ultimate reality and to give up their lives to the one true living God through repentance and living out what Jesus is teaching. To receive all of what God offers to them - and us - in Christ Jesus.
For three days they listened. A lot of preachers have trouble keeping people engaged for 1 hour. Four thousand plus people listened for 3 days. And when their food ran out they stayed. Hungry - they stayed.
There’s evidence in that for Jesus’ teaching ability and the desperation - the hunger - these people had for what Jesus was teaching. A message that humanity is just as desperate for today.
Pretty amazing to think about what that might have been like. Yes?
Then - going on in verse 1 - Jesus makes this statement to His disciples. Notice that its not a “How will we do this?” - teachable moment drawing the disciples into a discussion - kind of question. Jesus’ statement is simply drawing the disciples into Jesus’ thought process. His compassion for these people.
“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I sent them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
Jesus is just laying out the reality. A statement that the disciples turn into a question.
Verse 5: And His disciples answered Him - the disciples answering a question Jesus didn’t ask - And His disciples answered Him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
In chapter 6 Mark records Jesus feeding 5,000 plus people - probably upwards of 10,000 people - if we include women and children along with the men. What is a really familiar account that we looked at.
Jesus taking 5 really small loaves of really cheap bread and 2 probably way over salted small fish and feeding 10,000 people to the point where they all are stuffed full and Jesus providing doggy baskets of left-over bread for the disciples. A total God thing that the disciples we’re all in for. They were there - mosh pit - up front close.
So we would think that after they’d seen all that - spent hours distributing food and gathering up the left-overs - with the memory of all that still burning in the back of their eyeballs - we’d think that “in those days” in the Decapolis as Jesus is laying out the facts their first response would be something like: “We’ve got 7 loaves of bread and some fish. You are the Bread of Life - the great I Am - Yahweh Jirah - the God Who provides. Just like we saw you do this before we know You can feed this multitude. We trust You. We’ll follow your instructions. Where do you want the people sit down?”
Instead what’s here is a total lack of faith.
At least with the 10,000 they were thinking about how much money they had - counting up the denarii between them - to buy food. Which still would have come up totally inadequate. But here, they can’t even buy bread even if they had the money.
“We got nothing and there’s no place to go for anything or to send the people. Desolate is desolate.”
Their only resource is Jesus. But they’re not going there.
Which may seem strange to us. Their total disconnect. We might be tempted to bag on the disciples - criticizing them for their lack of obvious faith. Until we start thinking about ourselves.
How sometimes have we seen God do something really astounding in our lives. We’re up against something and we’re stressing over it and finally we end up praying about it. And God totally does the totally God thing. Like healing us. Or providing for some need. Or working out a set of circumstances in a way that has the fingerprints of God all over it. And we’re praising God and basking in His blessing.
And then something else comes up and we’re stressing about how we’re ever going to get through all that.
Anybody else been there?
Different location. Different people. Different amounts. Different context. But similar circumstances. Right? Lots of hungry people - out in a desolate place - listening to Jesus teach. Déjà vu but different.
Lightning strikes twice. But not in the same place. Jesus can miraculously feed people - reproducing the same miracle over and over again forever if He wills.
“In those days” - Jesus out-of-the-box is orchestrating God moments to teach His disciples that He really is the great I Am - of the Jews and of the Gentiles - totally trustable in whatever circumstances we go through in life. In every thing and every where and every when Jesus is all we need.
We’re together? In every thing and every where and every when Jesus is all we need.
And He asked them, “How may loaves do you have?”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t respond by chewing on the disciples or lecturing them about their lack of faith. Jesus doesn’t kick them out of the Apostle Training Program. Mark doesn’t record that Jesus “marveled unto their lack of faith thereupon.”
Jesus clarifies the number of loaves available. Directs the crowd to sit down. Gives thanks - emphasis this is a God thing verses total human inadequacy thing. Later He blesses the fish. Same deal. To God alone be the glory. Then He uses the disciples to distribute the bread and the fish.
Which should be hugely encouraging for us. God’s love and grace and mercy and patience and long-suffering towards us in our inadequacy and when we come up short in our faith.
Verses 8 and 9: “And they ate and were satisfied” - the result.
The Greek word is “echortasthesan” - which basically means that they were stuffed - uncomfortably stuffed.
7 baskets of left over bread are collected. The word here in Greek for basket is “sphuris” - which is a different word than the one used for the 12 baskets collected at the feeding of the 10,000. With the 10,000 the word for basket has the idea of a small “man bag” type carry your food with you lunch box doggy box type thing.
That’s big. Yes? Point being: That’s a lot of bread.
Point being that Jesus - once again - used inadequate resources to provide over-the-top abundantly. A total God thing.
Paul writes - in his first letter to the church at Corinth, Greece: “For consider your calling, brothers: Not many of you were wise according to the worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, Who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
God chooses the weak to confound the strong. God chooses the simple to confound the wise. God chooses the inadequate to display His glory.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, Who has made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills - our self-efforts at trying to be adequate before God by following the rules and regulations of the old covenant - all that comes up empty - it leads to death - but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:5,6 NASB)
That is a totally out-of-the-box world view. Totally contrary to humanity’s materialistic man centered, hopeless, empty, life is about me, world view of reality and life. That is a totally out-of-the box world view that acknowledges our inadequacy and that the life that satisfies with purpose and meaning and hope is only found through Christ and lived for God’s glory alone.
Let’s be clear.
When we’re up against something that we think we’re totally inadequate for. It’s because we are.
One more time. Because most of us don’t like hearing that. We maybe already arguing against it in our minds.
When we’re up against something that we think we’re totally inadequate for. It’s because we are. Even if we don’t think we are. We are.
That’s one reason why we stress over things. Our humanist driven culture is so driven by success - by achievement - by popularity. We celebrate those who persevere in the midst of a hopeless and purposeless reality. It is shameful if we prove inadequate. Guilt comes as we fall short. Hellenism - Humanism assumes that we are adequate in our humanity.
But God already knows that. God knows that what He calls us to - what He has created us for - that we by ourselves - we are inadequate to be and to accomplish who and what He has created us for.
So let’s be clear. God doesn’t need us to somehow become adequate and to accomplish what He wills for us to accomplish. God lovingly and graciously and mercifully chooses to involve us - to work in us and through us - for His glory - alone.
What we need to learn is to trust Him. Period.
Verse 10 brings us to Dalmanutha and the Pharisees.
And immediately He got into the boat with His disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
We’re not completely sure where exactly Dalmanutha was. Mark is the only one who mentions it. Matthew who also records this event - Matthew records that Jesus went to Magadan - which may have been another name for the same place.
There is a cave - just south of the Plain of Gennesaret - on the southwestern side of the Sea of Galilee - a cave that was found that has the name “Talmanutha” - which supports the belief that that’s where Jesus went to.
Which was pretty remote. Pretty desolate There were no large or important towns near by.
Point being that Jesus crossing back across the sea - being back in Jewish territory - seemingly just as Jesus arrives - in what would have been the equivalent of backwoods America - just as He’s hopping off the boat - the Pharisees - these Jewish religious experts on the Law show up ready to take up the argument with Jesus - harassing Jesus right where they’d left off.
Which is Mark emphasizing the attitude of the Pharisees. They are passionately driven by their need to renounce and reject Jesus and His teaching.
The Greek word “to argue” means “to argue” - to dispute something. Ongoing passionate push back.
A “sign” is something that points to something else.
The Greeks understood “signs” as something physical that pointed to the will of the gods or some kind of supernatural omen. A lightning strike was a sign of the will of Zeus.
To the Jews a sign was physical demonstration of God’s glory. A sign was a - beyond a doubt - revelation of God demonstrating that a prophet really was from God.
Which is what Jesus has been doing since day one - healings and casting outs and calming seas and winds and feeding thousands - all those “only God could do that” signs - demonstrating Jesus’ “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” - credibility. Jesus’ whole life and ministry “signed” - “signified” His identity. Jesus is the Good News - the Kingdom of God at hand.
Jesus sighs deeply. What is a profound - heart level - anguish Why? Because of the passion driven bitter opposition of these men to Himself and His message.
They’d seen the signs. They’d seen first hand what we can only read about and wonder at. They knew the signs were supernatural. Overwhelming testimony that could lead to only one logical conclusion as to Who Jesus and what their response needed to be.
They just didn’t like what all those signs pointed to. So they refused to go there. And no additional signs would ever convince them.
An illustration from Chuck Swindoll. Get comfortable… not too comfortable.
When the opportunity came for him to preach, to his surprise, it was to a group of men at the Gospel Mission, down in the sleazy part of town. These men pretty much existed in the gutter and lived on cheap wine. Because they were cold during the day, were half-starved, and needed shelter at night, the only reason they would come into the Gospel Mission was to get a hot mal, which they could smell from the street. To receive a meal, however, they had to sit through the sermon.
Rev. Clean (who had never had a drink in his life) showed up in his three-piece suit to preach on the evils of alcohol. What he lacked in experience he made up for in creativity. He brought with him an object lesson consisting of two large mason jars of liquid. One was filled to the brim with fresh water; the other was filled with distilled “bathtub gin.”
During his sermon, he pulled from his pocket a very healthy earthworm. “I want all you men to watch,” he said, and he dropped the worm into the water.
They watched for a few moments as the worm swam around, wriggled to the side, and began to inch its way back up over the top. Rev. Clean plucked it off the rim and said, “Now watch!” Immediately after being dropped into the gin, the worm began to quiver, started to disintegrate, and finally dropped to the bottom in pieces.
“Now, what have you learned from what you’ve seen?”
Silence fell, and pangs of guilt covered the room as the men glanced at one another. Finally, a grizzled old man in the back said, “Well, Sonny, I learned that if you drink enough booze, you’ll never have worms.”
The point of sharing that is not to point fingers at anyone or look down on people who are caught up in stuff.
But Swindoll makes this application which is hugely helpful for us: Clarity and precision are an important part of communication, but they do not guarantee that the message will be received. The hearer bears a part of that responsibility. And some people simply will not “get it” because they have a strong desire to remain in their ignorance. In that case, you have no choice but to let them. (1)
Jesus gets back in the boat. No sign. No argument. Only anguish over the generation. Generation meaning the Pharisees and the nation as whole. Jesus heads back to the other side of the Sea. To what we find out next week is the town of Bethsaida.
What would be the point of yet one more sign? Their minds are already made up.
In processing all that
In our response to Jesus and what He teaches us - about repenting and trusting God with our lives. Being “all in” with God. When it comes to responding to Jesus there are two groups of people.
Every time there’s an opportunity to trust God - like with a people hungry in a desolate place - an opportunity to trust God. Or an illness or a financial shortfall or something happening in the family or a death or whatever the crisis - whatever, whenever, wherever - what ever comes up they’d like to default to “I’m all in. God I’m totally trusting You.” responding in faith.
But - like most of us - they don’t. Not initially. Maybe not until God chews on them for a bit - lovingly and mercifully and graciously and patiently - until finally we come around to where we should have been in the first place. Until the next opportunity to trust God when we may or may not respond in faith.
Let’s be honest - we all struggle to “get it” - that in every thing and every where and every when Jesus is all we need. What we need to learn is to trust Him. Period.
The second group is made up of people who just won’t “get it.” Think the Pharisees. They see what the signs point to. But all that pushes up against their understanding of God and how to relate to Him. Or it pushes up against their world view - their understanding of what life is and how it needs to be lived.
Question: These days, which group are you in? One or two?
In answering the question, I have to admit that more often than not I default to Group Two.
No matter how much God reveals to me about Himself. No matter how greatly I see God at work in my life and around me in the lives of others - I keep asking God for signs. Wanting God to prove Himself once again before I’m willing to commit to being “all in” trusting Him.
My struggle to trust isn’t because I don’t see it. I just struggle because of what “it” requires of me in surrendering once again to God’s will and not my pretense of adequacy.
I hope I’m not alone in seeing the reality of that. Not just you all seeing that about me. “Oh my that’s true of Steve.” But that you might be seeing that for yourself as well.
Which is why we all need to keep coming back to the foot of the cross - to God’s love and mercy and grace. Why Communion can be so significant for us individually and as a congregation this morning - Renewal Sunday.
When we come to the foot of the cross of Christ we come to where Jesus sacrificially gave His life in place of our life - taking our sin on Himself - taking on Himself the full force of the wrath of God that should have been leveled against us.
At the foot of the cross we are reminded that life is about God. That life is to be lived for God’s glory alone. And that the ability to live that life does not come from us but from God alone.
We are the church because God has made us to be the church of Jesus Christ. Where He will lead us - how He will lead us - what He will do in us and through us - just as we individually must trust Him for that - we as a congregation must learn to together trust Him to enable us and to lead us forward for His glory alone.
It is at the foot of the cross - contemplating the broken body and shed blood of our Savior that we are reminded that in every thing and every where and every when that Jesus is all we need. What we need to learn is to trust Him. Period.
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark - page 215
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.