Back in verse 1 of chapter 1 Mark wrote that this gospel which he was beginning to write was the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, this gospel is about Jesus Christ: who he is and what he said and did. And by the parables he told, and by the miracles he performed, he revealed that he is indeed the Christ, God’s Anointed King, sent to deliver his people from our sin and misery. Every time he cast out a demon he revealed that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King with the power and authority to destroy the Devil and all who belong to him. And every time he healed the sick or brought the dead back to life he revealed that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King with the power and authority to raise us from the grave and to give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. He’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, sent by God to deliver us from our sin and misery; and we all need to turn from our sins in repentance and we all need to turn with faith to the Christ, because the only way we can enter his kingdom and possess everlasting life is through repentance and faith. And Mark has repeated this message again and again and again throughout his gospel.
Today we come to verses 1 to 30 of chapter 8. The passage can be divided neatly into four parts. There’s the miracle of the feeding of the 4,000 in verses 1 to 10. Then in verses 11 to 21 we see the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees and the disciples. In verses 22 to 26 the Lord Jesus healed a man who was physically blind. And in verses 27 to 30 Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King.
The record we have here of the feeding of the 4,000 is very similar to the record we have in chapter 6 of the feeding of the 5,000. There are a number of differences between the two accounts, but both miracles are very similar. So, why bother recording the feeding of the 4,000 when we already have the feeding of the 5,000? And we’ve seen before how the Lord was able to heal many different people with many different ailments and troubles. He healed a leper and a paralytic back in chapter 1. In chapter 5 he healed the woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years and he brought back to life Jairus’s 12-year-old daughter. In chapter 7 he healed the Gentile woman’s daughter and the man who was both deaf and mute. There have been other references to how he healed all those who came to him, seeking his help. So why bother recording for us another healing miracle? Why has Mark recorded for us the miracle of the feeding of the 4,000 and the miracle of the healing of the blind man? Well, the key to understanding the significance of these two miracles comes in the verses which immediately follow them. And so, let’s look at this passage now to see what the Lord has revealed to us about the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
Verses 1 to 10
And so, in verses 1 to 10 we read how another large crowd gathered. From the Lord’s words in verses 2 and 3 we learn that they’d been with him for three days and have had nothing to eat. And the Lord was concerned that, if he sent them home hungry, they would collapse on the way. ‘But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?’ That’s what the disciples wanted to know. All they had were seven loaves of bread and a few fish. How could they feed so many with so little? And yet the Lord was able to multiple the loaves and the fish so that, according to verse 8, the people ate and were satisfied. In other words, they all received enough to fill their stomachs, so that no one was left feeling hungry and no one complained they didn’t get enough. And look: there were even seven basketfuls of leftovers. The Lord was able to multiply the loaves and fish in order to feed all the people who were there; and according to verse 9, there were about 4,000 of them. And the story finishes with the Lord sending the people away and he and his disciples got into a boat and moved on to the next place.
I don’t want to say too much about this miracle, except to remind you of what I said about the feeding of the 5,000 and how this kind of miracle reveals to us how the Lord Jesus is able to help us and to give us everything we need as we make our way as a pilgrim people to the Promised Land of Eternal Life in the presence of God. In the days of Moses, God provided his people with manna from heaven to help them as they made there way to the land of Canaan. And here we read how the Lord Jesus was able to help the people who had come to him; he helped them by providing them with food to eat. And by performing this miracle, he was revealing how believers in every generation are able to trust in him, God’s Anointed King, to help us and to give us everything we need as we make our way to the new creation, the new heaven and earth, where we will enjoy everlasting life in the presence of God. When he saw this hungry crowd, the Lord had compassion on them; and so, we too should look to him for the help we need, believing that he’s the same yesterday, today, and for ever, and that he’s still full of compassion for his people and he’s still able to help us as we continue along the narrow path that leads eventually to everlasting life in the presence of God.
Verses 11 to 19
But look now at the verses immediately following this miracle. We read how the Pharisees came to him and they began to question him. In fact, they came to argue with him. And instead of coming to learn from him, or to receive his help, they came, demanding a sign. Do you see that in verse 11? They wanted a sign from heaven in order to test him.
C. S. Lewis wrote about how unbelievers will put God in the dock. Do you know what he means? The defendant is in the dock and the judge is on bench. The unbeliever regards himself as the judge, sitting on the bench, to judge God; and they expect God and his people to defend themselves to the unbeliever:
Prove to me why I should believe in you!
That’s what’s going on here: the Pharisees see themselves as the judges who have come to test and to examine and to sit in judgment on the Lord Jesus. ‘Prove yourself to us!’ they’re saying. But if they only knew who they were dealing with, they would understand that the Lord Jesus is the one who will one day sit in judgment on them; and instead of judging him, they should have fallen down before him and asked him to forgive them for their sin and unbelief. They should have asked him for mercy instead of demanding a sign from him. And it’s the same today, isn’t it? Those who don’t believe think they can stand in judgment on Jesus Christ, when in fact they should humble themselves before him and ask him to show them mercy for their unbelief.
And, of course, we need to note carefully their spiritual blindness. They’re asking the Lord for a sign from heaven; but he’s already given them many signs. There’s the sign of the feeding of the 4,000. There’s the sign of the feeding of the 5,000. There’s the sign of all the healings. There’s the sign of all the exorcisms when he cast our demons. The Lord has given them many signs, but still — because of the hardness of their hearts — they would not believe in him. And so, on this occasion, he refused to give them the sign they demanded from him.
What’s so striking about these verses is their spiritual blindness. Despite everything the Lord had done to reveal who he is, they still did not believe. But the disciples are also spiritually blind. We see that in the following verses. They realised they’d forgotten to bring any bread with them, apart from one loaf. While they were thinking about that, the Lord warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. He’s used this before and how a little bad yeast can spread spoil a whole loaf of bread. And so, he’s warning his disciples that the evil influence of the Pharisees and Herod can spread and infect others. But the disciples are still thinking about bread; look at verse 16; they wondering:
What does he mean? Is he talking about bread? Is he saying this because we didn’t bring any bread with us? What’s he talking about?
And so the Lord rebuked them. Why are you talking about bread? Do you still not understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see? Do you have ears but fail to hear? Are you spiritually blind and deaf that you don’t understand yet who I am and what I can do? And then he reviews with them what he has done: When I fed the 5,000 how many baskets were left over? Twelve. That’s right. When I fed the 4,000 how many baskets were left over? Seven. That’s right. Now, do you still not understand? Are you still blind to who I am?
The Lord had performed all these signs for everyone to see which reveal that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, who has come into the world to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give whoever repents and believes everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. But neither the Pharisees nor the disciples had eyes to see and ears to hear. They still didn’t understand or believe who he really was.
So, what hope was there for them? If they had already seen so much, but still did not believe, what hope was there for them? And what hope is there for the people we meet who do not yet believe in the Saviour? All those people who live near this church who have received from us an invitation to come to church? All those people we’ve spoken to about faith in Christ but who say they’re not interested? And what about the people we meet in our daily lives and we’ve had opportunities to speak to them about the Saviour, but they have not believed what we’ve said? And perhaps there are people here today and you still do not believe in the Saviour even though you come every Sunday and hear his word; and every Sunday he appeals to you to put your faith in him? Is there any hope for such people who have not yet understood or believed? Well, that’s what the next two parts of today’s passage are about.
Verses 22 to 26
In verses 22 to 26 we read how some people brought a blind man to the Lord and they begged the Lord Jesus to touch him. And Mark tells us that the Lord spat on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him. We’re not told why he decided to heal this man in this way, but the Lord was free to use whatever method he thought best. But when he asked the man if he could see anything, the man replied that he could see people, but they looked like trees. In other words, he could see them, but not clearly or distinctly. And so, once more the Lord put his hands on the man’s eyes; and this time, his eyes were opened and his sight was restored and he able to see everything clearly and distinctly. This man was blind; but the Lord made him see. The Lord Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King with the power and authority to make the blind see. And when he comes again in glory and power to make all things new, I’ll be able to throw away my glasses, because with my new and glorified body — which he will give to me — I’ll be able to see perfectly, like never before. What a day that will be, when every weakness and imperfection will be removed from all of God’s people and we’ll live with him with new, renewed, glorified bodies.
But right now, in this life, the Lord Jesus is the one who the power and authority to give sight to those who are spiritually blind so that they’re able to see and understand and believe that he is the Christ and the only Saviour of the world.
Verses 27 to 30
And so, look at the final part of today’s passage. In verse 27 we read how the Lord asked his disciples a question:
Who do people say that I am?
And they replied:
Some say John the Baptist.
Well, we’ve come across that before — haven’t we? — in chapter 6 where we learned that some people were saying the Lord Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Others were saying he was Elijah, the great Old Testament prophet. In the very last chapter of the Old Testament, God announced that he would send Elijah into the world as a sign that the great Day of the Lord was coming; and so, some people evidently thought that the Lord Jesus was Elijah. Others thought the Lord Jesus was a prophet, sent by God to declare God’s word. The people were trying to make sense of who Jesus was.
So that’s what the people were saying about him; who do you say that I am? And Peter answered — and this is a turning point in the gospel, because this is the first time we’ve had such a confession from one of the disciples — Peter answered:
You are the Christ. You are God’s Anointed King, sent to deliver us from our sin and misery and to bring us into God’s everlasting kingdom.
Now, as we’ll see next time, Peter’s understanding of what the Christ will do was not perfect. In fact, in the next verses he rebukes the Lord for talking about how he’ll suffer many things and be rejected by the religious leaders and killed. Peter did not yet understand that, in order to save us, the Lord Jesus had to die on the cross to pay for our sins. He didn’t understand that. And so, in some ways, he was like the blind man before he saw everything clearly. Do you remember? The first time the Lord touched his eyes, he was able to see the people, but they looked like trees. He could see, but not clearly. Well, Peter could see that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, but he couldn’t see clearly yet. But he was getting there; he was getting there.
And, you see, this is the point of this passage. First, the Lord performed a great sign: he fed the 4,000. But the Pharisees and disciples were spiritually blind and they did not see what the sign meant and how it revealed that Jesus is the Christ. But then we read how the Lord was able to heal a blind man so that he was able to see again. And then we have Peter’s confession: at last he was beginning to see and to understand and to believe that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King and the only Saviour of the world. Here’s the point of this whole passage: In order to see and understand and believe, the Lord must first enlighten us. He must enable us to see what we previously could not see. And he does so by sending his Spirit to us; and the Holy Spirit comes and enables us to believe what we hear about the Saviour and what we read about him in his word. Once we heard these things and did not believe; but then the Holy Spirit came into our lives and he enabled us to accept what we read in his word is true; and he enabled us to believe that the Lord Jesus is the only Saviour; and he enabled us to trust in the Saviour.
Our church’s Catechism helps us here. It asks:
What is faith in Jesus Christ?
And listen to the beginning of the answer:
Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace….
It’s a grace, which means it’s a gift which he gives to us in order to save us from the wrath and curse of God. So, just as the Lord Jesus gave sight to the blind man so that he could see, so he gives faith to his people so that we might believe in him and be saved.
And so, if you’re a believer, then you owe your salvation to the Lord Jesus, who not only gave up his life on the cross as a ransom to pay for your sins, but he gave you the faith you needed to believe in him for salvation. If it were not for him — giving you the faith you need to believe — then you would still be lost in your sins and outside of his kingdom, and destined to perish forever, away from the presence of the Lord. But in his grace and mercy, he sent you his Spirit to enable you to turn to him and to believe in him and to trust in him for salvation. You were blind; but he made you see and believe. And so, all of your days you should praise the Lord and give thanks to him for his kindness to you. And you should prove your thankfulness by living your life, not for yourself, but for him and his glory, seeking to obey him and to do his will every day.
And if you do not believe yet, then you need to do two things. You need to keep coming to church, because when you come to church, you’ll hear the good news which you need to hear. You need to hear the good news; you’ll not hear it at home; you’ll not hear it at the shops; you’ll not hear it on the TV; you’ll hear it here, in church. So, keep coming to church to hear the good news about the Saviour. But when you come, ask the Lord to enable you to see. Ask him to take away your blindness. Ask him to enable you to see and understand and to believe that he’s the only Saviour. There was a time when Peter did not see or understand or believe. But the Lord gave him the faith he needed; and so, when you come to church, ask the Lord to give you the faith to believe, because whoever believes will be saved.
And what about all those people living around this church who do not believe? What about all those people we meet on our daily lives who do not believe? Well, if the opportunity arises, speak to them about faith in Christ and invite them to church in order to hear the good news. But above all, pray for them. Pray for them, asking the Lord to take away their blindness and to enable them to see and to understand and to believe that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King, who has come to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give whoever believes everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. Come to the prayer meeting on Wednesdays, where we’ll be praying for them. Come to the prayer meeting before the service this evening, where we’ll be praying for God to bless the preaching of his word. Just as those men in verse 22 asked the Lord to take away their friend’s blindness, so you should come to the Lord in prayer and ask him to take away the blindness of those who do not yet believe so that they will see and understand and believe that he’s the Christ; and by believing, they will be saved from their sins.