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MARK 8:14-21
Series:  The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Twenty Four

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 16, 2018

If you are able, please stand with me as we come before God and His word this morning.  And would you read with me our text for this morning:  Mark 8:14-21.


Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.  And He cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”


And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.


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?  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 did you take up?”


They said to Him, “Twelve.”


“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?


And they said to Him, “Seven.”


And He said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”


Verse 17 begins:  “Now they had forgotten to bring bread…”


“Now” meaning that we’re moving on to the next event in a sequence of events that are connected with each other.  Mark - as he’s writing his Gospel - Mark is making sure that we’re seeing the connection between those events.


So - some brief back fill on where we are in that sequence.


We’ve been seeing that Jesus has become increasingly assertive in His approach to ministry.  More confrontational in His response to the different religious factions.  More out-of-the-box in His approach to ministry - even taking His ministry and message to Gentiles.  


Last Sunday we saw Jesus in the Decapolis - a region made up of mostly Greeks.  Jesus fed 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish and ending up with 7 huge baskets of bread left over.


Which is about Jesus taking His ministry out-of-the-box and teaching Gentiles.  Because it doesn’t matter - Jew - Gentile - whoever we are.  Our need is the same.  Only God can deal with our sin - what separates us from Him.  Which He’s done through Christ’s work on the cross.  Whatever our background - whoever we are - we all need to turn from our sin and to trust God for what He offers us in Jesus.


Then - after feeding all those Gentiles - last Sunday we saw  Jesus head back across the Sea of Galilee to Dalmanutha.  Which you can see here on the map.  What is a Jewish area.


Where Jesus is immediately confronted by Pharisees who come to argue with Him and to ask for more signs.  More demonstrations about Who Jesus and why they should listen to Him.  Even though they’ve already made up their minds about Jesus and no amount of signs is ever going to convince them otherwise.


We saw Jesus - rather than turning all that into a teaching moment with miracles and reaching out to the Pharisees - Jesus express deep heart level grief over the hard heartedness of the Pharisees.  Which is pretty in-your-face. 


And Jesus then gets back into the boat with His disciples and heads back across the Sea of Galilee - heading towards Bethsaida.  Which is where we pick up the sequence of events in verse 17.


“Now” - after the feeding of the 4,000 Gentiles and the confrontation with the Pharisees - as they’re making their way across the Sea of Galilee - the disciples are checking their supplies and they find out that between them all they’ve got is 1 loaf of bread. 


The word “forgotten” has the idea of neglect.  Mind in neutral kind of forgetfulness.


Have you ever been driving and realized you don’t remember how you got where you are?  For some of us that may happen a lot.  We may be distracted by something so we’re not focused on what’s familiar to us - what’s routine - that we’ve done so many times before that we don’t even really think about it.


Same deal here.  These guys are fisherman.  Getting into a boat is something they’ve done millions of times before.  Getting into the boat with Jesus is something they’ve done a whole lot of times.  Pretty familiar.  So they were mentally “loafing” as they got into the boat.


If they’d been thinking they’d have brought bread.  But they neglected to do so. 


So now they’re out on the sea.  They’re getting hungry.  Check around.  We only have one loaf between us.  And they’re starting to stress.


Verse 15 - Jesus steps into all that cautioning them:  “Watch out; beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”


“Caution” in the Greek is way more intense than it sounds in English.  The word in Greek has the idea of Jesus giving commands.  Like yelling at somebody that’s about to step off a cliff.  “Be careful.” vs. “STOP!”


Jesus urgently decisively pointedly specifically warning His disciples of the danger they’re in and what to do about it.


“Watch out” translates a word that means to be mentally vigilant - mentally alert.  “Wake up and smell the coffee.  It is time to engage your mind.”


“Beware” translates a word that means to take actual steps to avoid the danger.  If you’re going to step off a cliff don’t just mentally engage with that.  “Oh, look!  I’m going to step off a cliff.”  Change direction before you step off.


Which is what Jesus is saying:  “You all need to change how you’re dealing with this.”


Jesus is warning His disciples - wake up and change:  “Watch out; beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”


Let’s make sure we’re together on what Jesus is warning His disciples about.   


“Leaven” we know is yeast.  What gets added to dough that causes it to ferment and rise. 


The Bible uses leaven as a metaphor.  The Bible uses leaven to describe doctrines and morals and sinful behavior that over time has a corrupting influence on God’s people.  Which is not a good thing.


Over time that influence affects God’s people so that their hearts and attitudes and actions towards God change.  To the point where God’s people can become spiritually dull towards God - even outright disobedient towards God.

Leaven which Jesus ties into the Pharisees and Herod.


The Pharisees - we know - believed that the study of the 5 books of Moses and especially the Mosaic Law - that the study of the law and that obeying the law was what God desired.  So the Pharisees were all about working hard at strict detailed obedience to the law and its various rabbinic interpretations.


“Herod” probably refers to the Herodian dynasty. 


A brief family history:  Herod the Great founded the Herodian Dynasty.  Herod the Great wasn’t actually Jewish.  But he was installed and supported by Rome.  He was an effective administrator.  The nation prospered economically under Herod the Great.  But Herod was cruel and ungodly.  Herod the Great was the king who had all the babies killed at the time of Jesus’ birth.


When Herod the Great died His sons - who are the one’s ruling at the time of Jesus’ ministry - Herod the Great’s sons inherited the kingdom.  Which was divided up between them.  And then Herod’s sons went on following in daddy’s footsteps.


So Jesus is probably referring to the Herodian dynasty.  In Matthew’s account - Matthew records Jesus referring to the Sadducees not Herod.  Which is about tying together religion and politics.   


So - pulling all that together - Herod here is Jesus warning about ungodly and immoral politics and religion that submits and panders to the Romans and the ideals and philosophies and religion of Rome.

Jesus tying together leaven - the Pharisees - and Herod.


The Pharisees and the Herodians may have been on opposite sides of the coin religiously and politically - but they both had the same world-view which - at the bottom line - was about themselves and not God.


Which at the bottom line isn’t different than the world view - which we saw last Sunday - the Greeks and their Hellenism - an ancestor of our Humanism - a world view which is all about humanity being at the center of everything.  We can dress it up in religious terms and actions.  Or we can dress it up as politics and talk about serving our fellow man.  But if God isn’t the bottom line, we are.


Our world view is the glasses - the lens - through which we view and do life.  It is our practical theology.  Not what we say we believe.  But how we actually process and do life in the day-to-day of life.


Either we’re living with a self-focused - man centered - humanist world view or we’re living by a God focused Biblical world view.  There are only two choices.  There is no grey area in between.  It’s either one or the other.


Jesus ties all that together - religiously - politically - economically - morally - Pharisees and Herodians with their focus on self not God.


The leaven of that world-view has had corrupting influence on Israel - on God’s people - on the Gentiles in the Decapolis and beyond - on us - on the disciples since the day they were born.


Watch out and beware because the issue they’re struggling with isn’t about having one loaf of bread or not.  The issue they need to make choices about is whether they’ll go on trusting themselves or Jesus.


When we come up short on bread - or anything in life - when we come face-to-face with our inadequacy and failure - are we going to go on trusting ourselves or are we going to choose to trust Jesus?


Verse 16 goes on with the disciples’ response: “And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.”


“Discussing” means that they were trying to resolve what was for them a conflict of two different issues.


First - the fact that they only had one loaf of bread - and then second - Jesus’ warning about leaven and Pharisees and Herod.  Which it seems they thought had something to do with the Pharisees that they’d just left in Dalmanutha.


The NIV renders verse 16 a little differently and it gives us a clearer picture of what they were discussion.  How they were adding those two things together.  No Bread.  Jesus’ warning. 


The NIV renders verse 16.  “They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”


1 plus 1 equals... 3.  No bread plus Jesus’ warning means that Jesus’ warning is because we left Dalmanutha with only one loaf of bread.


There is a total disconnect with where Jesus is coming from.  What Jesus is actually warning them about.  Jesus warning them about trusting themselves and not trusting Jesus.


Which may seem strange to us.  Their total disconnect.  We might be tempted to bag on the disciples - criticizing them like we would have picked up immediately on what Jesus was getting at.


“Sometimes its hard to see the forest because of the… trees.”


We can get so caught up in issues that we tend to stress over - loosing sleep over - getting bent out of shape over - maybe even treating other people badly because of our attitudes about all that.  Whether that’s abortion or how over sexualized our culture is or what’s happening in Sacramento or Washington or maybe just family stuff or our stuff - how we’re doing physically or emotionally or what’s been done to us - or church stuff - points of doctrine or how we do church - or work stuff or school stuff or money stuff or just plain old stuff about stuff - whatever.


When our focus in all that is about us - and our understanding of all that and our resources [or lack of] and what we’re going to do about it - when we get caught up trying to deal with all that while we’re being influenced by the man centered - self-focused - humanistic world view that’s around us - and sometimes even invades the church - when we default to trust self mode verses trust God mode - we’re going to miss the big picture of what God is speaking to us about Himself and what He’s doing in His creation and what He desires to do in us and through us for His glory.


We will miss His way through all that with Him.  Which we know - because all of us have been there - maybe are there - that doesn’t go so well.  Trusting ourselves is like stepping off a cliff… again.


Verse 17 - “Jesus, aware of this…”  Jesus knowing what they’re discussing and how they’re adding things up - Jesus does the equivalent of hitting them on the side of the head with a 2X4 - in a loving Jesus sort of way.  He’s not holding back.  It is crucial that they get this.  That they understand Jesus.


And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? 


“Why are you guys still stuck on the bread.  This has nothing to do with bread.”


Do you not yet perceive or understand? 


“To perceive” has to do with having our brains engaged.  Seeing something and taking it in and letting it rattle around inside us to the point where we actually are able to process it - even at the heart level -  where it makes a difference in how we do life.


Being transformed at the heart level - not by leaven - but by the word of God being worked out in us by the Holy Spirit.


“To understand” means observing all the dots and seeing how they all come together so that we see - we understand - the big picture.  Not just the pieces of the puzzle.  But how God is fitting all that together.

And even if we don’t see all of the big picture yet - trusting that God does.  And trusting God with the piece He’s entrusted to us.  That in His way and timing He will put it all together.


“Why are you guys not getting this?”


Are your hearts hardened? 


“Hardened” translates a Greek word that means “to petrify” or “to form a callous.”  It’s a process of petrification - of callousafication.   It’s in the passive voice meaning they’re just passively letting it happen to them - being influenced.


We know how things get petrified.  Right?  Some organic material - a  log - gets exposed to minerals over a long period of time.  So that the original pore spaces of the log get filled in with minerals.  Until the original organic material is more mineral than organic - a fossil.  Wood - over time - literally becomes stone.  Pretty hard.


Kind of the same thing with callouses.  It’s a process that takes time.  But eventually the skin can become toughened - hardened - even indifferent to things like pain.


Point being:  Over time - if we’re not watching and being aware - mentally and spiritually vigilant - what’s out there will wear at us - work on us - influencing us - changing us - hardening our hearts towards God.  We become indifferent to God as He speaks to us - reveals Himself to us - calls on us to follow Him - to trust Him.


In verse 18 Jesus describes what that hardening can look like:  Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? 


Which is how the Old Testament described God’s people becoming spiritually dull - dense - insensitive towards God.


Over time God’s people allowing themselves to be influenced by the peoples and cultures around them - allowing their hearts to be penetrated - gradually allowing all that affect their devotion and commitment to God - slowly being transformed by all that. 


So that even when God revealed His word to them - through what had been written down or spoken through the prophets - they heard God speaking but it meant nothing to them.  It moved them to the same passionate response towards God as towards yesterdays cold oatmeal.


They have eyes to see but they don’t see.  They have ears to hear but they don’t hear.  They’re seeing and hearing God.  But they’ve become spiritually numb - insensitive - indifferent - impervious  - hardened towards God.


Let’s be careful.  Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and say to ourselves, “Today I’m going to try really hard to be spiritually insensitive towards God.  Today I’m going to really harden my heart towards God.”


But we’re always in danger of going there.  Because we live in a fallen world that can influence us away from God - that encourages us to substitute ourselves as God - to trust ourselves rather than God.


When we give ourselves a bye being “all in” with God and living life with Him.  On gathering for worship and study and prayer and all the basics of what it means to hang on to God individually and together as the church.  When we slack off on watching and beware-ing.  At first that may seen like no big deal.  But it is.  We are placing ourselves in serious jeopardy - danger.  That neglect will catch up to us to the point where we can move so far away from God and we won’t even realize we have.


Verse 19:  Jesus - here’s what you guys should have seen and heard:  And do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”


Answer:  12


“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?


Answer:  7


“Hello...”  Jesus taking His disciples through the sequence of events Mark has been taking us through.  Jesus helping His disciples to perceive and understand what those events mean for them and their relationship with Jesus.


Different people in different places in different circumstances.  But in each situation Jesus took the inadequate resources that were brought to Him and supplied abundantly beyond what was necessary to supply His people with all that they needed.


Jesus - Who cares about their needs - even their lack of bread.  Jesus - the man responsible for those earlier miracles - now sits in the boat with them.


Verse 21:  Bottom Line - Question:  And He said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”


It’s not about the bread.  It’s about Me!  Me!  I am all you need.


Whatever else you may turn to - drugs - alcohol - sex - money - fame - wealth - religion - politics - philosophy - your own self whit, wisdom, and working.  Whatever else - or to whomever else - you may turn to - will never satisfy your need.  You will always come up empty and craving more.


Physically - mentally - spiritually - in all things - in all places - in all times - in every where, every when, and every what - I am all you need. 


I am the bread of life.  I am the light of the world.  I am the door of the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I am the resurrection and the life.  I am the true vine.  I am the way, the truth, and the life. 


I am the good news of the Kingdom of God at hand.  I am God with you.  Immanuel.  Yahweh.  Adonai.  Elohim.  I love you and I’ve come to heal you and restore you and to call you into relationship with Me now and forever.


“Do you not yet understand?”


Processing all that…


The disciples aren’t stupid. 


Understanding Who Jesus is and trusting Him isn’t a matter of intelligence or the degrees of theological training we may have earned or how many years we’ve been coming to church or how many thousands of AWANA verses we may have learned.  Or how many years we’ve been following Jesus around Galilee.


God doesn’t have an asterisk next your name or mine.  With a footnote that says, “Steve is not intelligent enough to understand.”


God wants us to understand.  And by God’s grace we can understand.


What the disciples struggled to overcome are two difficulties that we struggle with today.


First:  Ruts Are Easy.


These are Oregon Trail wagon wheel ruts outside of Guernsey, Wyoming.  Anyone ever been there?


In the 1800’s hundreds of thousands of settlers traveled the Oregon Trail - or the Mormon Trail or California Trail or Bozeman Trail - wagon after wagon going from Missouri - west.  Wagon following after wagon following after wagon - draft animals and people and wagon wheels wearing down the soil into ruts like these.  Sometimes as much as 6 feet deep.

Hard to get out of a rut once you’re in one.


Like wagon wheels we can follow after patterns of thinking that have been laid down for us generation after generation.  Patterns of spiritual thinking that can be influenced or based on what is not coming from the Bible.  A world-view that’s coming from the world not God.


We can get in these ruts of how to do life and how to do life with God that seem so right.  Patterns that may seem totally right and natural for us.  We may not even realize we’re in a rut.  So that anything else seems somehow wrong or may make us uncomfortable - even fearful.


The world we live in would have us think that we are adequate and should provide for ourselves.  That our reasoning is sound enough to work through what we’re up against.  That there is some inherent goodness in all of us that just needs to be nurtured.


Think about how much of how we do life is influenced by that.  For the disciples that influence came from the religious and political system they’d grown up under.


And yet Jesus is out-of-the-box taking His disciples down a trail that leads to God as God desires to be known and followed.  Jesus is blazing a trail of grace - not our intelligence and our adequacy and our goodness.  Jesus is blazing a trail of grace that leads to Him.


“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33)


I am the Kingdom of God which is at hand.  Seek Jesus - the relationship God offers us in Him - and God will supply everything you need.


We struggle with that level of trust because ruts are easy to get into.  Hard to get out of.


Second:  Numb is easy.


A few weeks back we were in Boise, Idaho.  Amazing state.  Beautiful city.  Being tourists we went to the capitol building to take a look at what that’s like.  And we happened to go past the Governor’s Office which is in the capitol building.


Having been up to Sacramento to our capitol building what I was expecting was something like this.  Which is what our Governor’s office looks like.  Guard.  Bear.  Ropes.  Formidable wooden doors.  Ultimately lots of security and not easy to get in to.


This is what the Office of the Governor of Idaho looks like.  Way different.  There’s even a warm inviting light coming through the panes on the doors.


So as we were wandering by this office - timidly - expecting to be shot or something - a lady passed by us on her way into the office.  And she said hello and asked if we’d like to come in.  Which we did.  Thinking she meant into the outer office area.  Maybe they had some brochures or swag or something.


But what she meant was:  “Would you like to go into the Governor’s office?”


And we’re still thinking - paying for a tour maybe.  Guards for sure.


But this lady - who we found out was the Governor’s secretary - she said, “Just go on in.”


Which we did.  Alone.  Without guards.  Just wandering around by ourselves looking at what was in there.


(selfie) Can you imagine doing this in Sacramento?


God - our Father - has lovingly and graciously and mercifully given to us a relationship with Him that is impossible to totally get our minds around.  Our creator’s presence in our lives is astounding.  That He gathers us to worship Him is amazing.  That we can study His word together - that we even have His word - is astonishing.  Prayer is beyond our understanding.  That He uses us for His purposes according to His will and for His glory is humbling.


What God has invited us into - if we really think about it - it should knock us prostrate - awe inspiring reality.


And yet…  In the day-to-day of how we live our lives isn’t it true that we can become a tad numb to all that?  Spiritually dull?  Seeing it and hearing it - over and over and over again - to the point where we’re not seeing or hearing with our minds and hearts engaged?


Is it possible - as we’re ordering our days and what fills them and our thoughts about what is a priority for us and how we do life - that just possibly we might take as expected - status quo - common - and by our choices neglect our relationship with God.  Like somehow we can take that access - that relationship for granted.  The supernatural almost becomes natural.


Jesus gives sight to the blind.  He restores someone with withered hands.  Cleanses lepers.  The deaf hear.  The blind see.  The mute speak.  He casts out demons.  Calms storms.  Stops the wind.  Raises the dead.  Feeds thousands.  Takes on the Pharisees.  Get in the boat with Jesus yet one more time.  How did we get here with only one loaf of bread?  Neglect.


Is it possible that the disciples had witnessed Jesus’ power so often that they had begun to take the supernatural as natural - almost common place.


The boat ride from Dalmanutha to Bethsaida is about 9 miles.  Not far and not long.


Please hear this:  Having 1 loaf of bread for a short journey is not a life and death situation.


But - it grew out of proportion - took on life and death urgency in the minds of the disciples - influencing them - filling their minds with frustration - maybe even division - blinding them to Jesus’ - kingdom of God at hand - presence and teaching.  If their hearts and minds and eyes and ears had been fixed on Jesus they might have been laughing together at their foolishness rather than blaming each other for it.


They were so caught up in their “discussion” that they totally ignored Jesus and His warning about what was influencing them away from Him.


Which happens to us when we allow ourselves to get stuck in the rut of this world’s view of life and we grow numb to what God offers to us in Jesus.


Which is why we need to keep coming back to the cross of Christ.


The cross of Christ is the stake driven by God into the heart of man’s arrogance.  The definitive act of God’s love and grace and mercy on our behalf.


The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is totally antithetical to the self-serving pride of our humanity.  It is so totally out-of-the-box that we can only marvel at the significance of it. 


But it is the truth about ourselves and God that we must choose to daily - in every moment - in the choices we make about how we do life - we must choose to stay focused on the cross if we are to watch and beware  and grow in our understanding of Who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him.


Intelligence is about us.  Understanding comes from God as we learn to trust Him.






Series references:

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.