Fruit and Faith

20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:20-25 ESV

When Jesus departed the temple, He and the disciples returned to Bethany for the evening. The next morning, which was probably Wednesday, they made their way back to the city of Jerusalem. After His symbolic exit from the temple the day before, it is likely that Jesus chose to enter the city through the Lion’s gate rather than the Golden Gate, which led directly into the temple complex. They would have taken the same path through the Kidron Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane, so eventually, they came to the spot where Jesus had cursed the fig tree the day before. And to the shock of the disciples, the fig tree was “withered away to its roots” (Mark 11:20 ESV).

Just the day before this same tree had been in perfect health, covered in green leaves and full of life. But despite its outward appearance of vitality, it had been missing one important thing: Fruit. This tree, unlike all the other fig trees in the garden, had bloomed early. Under normal conditions, the presence of leaves would have been an indication that there would be figs present. But when Jesus had approached the tree the day before, He had found it completely barren. So, He had cursed it.

Peter was the first to recognize the dramatic difference in the tree’s appearance. And he recalled the statement Jesus had made to the tree 24 hours earlier: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14 ESV). Surprised by the tree’s sudden demise, Peter felt the need to let Jesus know that His curse had worked. He called out, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered” (Mark 11:21 ESV). Overnight, the once lush tree had dropped all of its leaves and lost every ounce of life-giving sap. It had withered away, from the roots up.

There is so much going on in this scene. The tree is the obvious focal point, and Jesus is going to use the opportunity to convey two different messages to His disciples. One will have to do with fruit and the other with faith. The reason the tree was dead was that it had failed to bear fruit. It had given all the appearances of fruitfulness but, upon closer examination, it was discovered to be barren. For Jesus, the tree was an apt symbol for the fruitlessness of the nation of Israel. Keep in mind that the city of Jerusalem was literally overflowing with pilgrims who had come to celebrate Passover. They were a people who practiced all the prescribed feasts and festivals. They regularly brought their tithes and offerings to the temple. They attempted to keep the Mosaic Law and, when they failed to do so, they counted on their sacrifices to assuage the anger of God.

Three years earlier, John the Baptist had confronted a group of Pharisees who had shown up in the wilderness of Judea where he had been preaching and baptizing. When John had seen them, he responded in prophetic anger, stating, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10 ESV).

As the religious leaders of Israel, these men were thought to be icons of virtue and the symbols of moral rectitude. But John had recognized them for what they were: Withered and lifeless trees incapable of bearing good fruit. Their flowing robes and outward displays of righteousness were nothing more than “green leaves” that gave the impression of fruitfulness but without nothing to show for it.

Jesus would later pick up on this same theme, warning His disciples to be on the lookout for false prophets. And He told them exactly how to spot these dangerous charlatans.

“You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” – Matthew 7:16-20 NLT

And Jesus had also warned His disciples that only those who abide in Him can bear good fruit. And all those who refuse to abide in Him and fail to produce fruit will be dealt with severely by God.

“He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” – John 15:2 NLT

The Jewish people were to have been God’s choice vine, but they had failed to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And when God had sent His Son, the people of Israel had rejected Him. So these fruitless “branches” would be cut off, completely eliminating any hope that they would ever produce good fruit.

The apostle Paul would later elaborate on this “cutting away” of the fruitless branches. In writing to the Gentile believers in Rome, he reminded them that they were branches that had been grafted into the olive tree of Israel. But at the same time, some of the natural branches had been removed.

Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them and participated in the richness of the olive root, do not boast over the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. Then you will say, “The branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. – Romans 11:17-20 NLT

With the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus was making a statement about the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. And His foray into the temple complex the day before had revealed just how spiritually fruitless Israel had become. They were rotten to the core, down to the very roots. Their religious leaders were exactly what John the Baptist had declared them to be: A brood of vipers. And their venom had poisoned the people, leaving them just as withered and lifeless as that fig tree.

But none of this was on the minds of Peter and his companions as they stood looking at the dead tree. They were fixated on how quickly it had died after Jesus had cursed it. And Jesus knew that they were more interested in His display of power than they were in any lesson He might be trying to teach them. So, rather than expounding on the fruitlessness of Israel, Jesus took the opportunity to teach His disciples about faith.

“Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.” – Mark 11:22-23 NLT

First, He pointed them to God. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that God Almighty must be the focus of their faith. The reason the people of Israel had become fruitless was that they had failed to remain focused on God. Remember what Paul said: “They [Israel] were broken off because of their unbelief, but you [Gentiles] stand by faith” (Romans 11:20 NLT).

The real point behind Jesus’ lesson was the power of God. The reason we place our faith in God is that He is all-powerful. Nothing is impossible for Him. And Jesus uses an impossible scenario to describe the unfathomable power of God. If the unlikely situation arose where a mountain needed to be moved from one place to another, God could make it happen. The lesson Jesus is trying to teach has nothing to do with getting whatever we pray for. He is not suggesting to His disciples that they have a blank check from God to fulfill their heart’s desires. The focus of their faith was to be God, not the thing they wanted from Him. Having the power to curse a fig tree would end up being a curse in and of itself, if God was left out of the equation. God is not to be viewed as a source of power to accomplish our desires. He is to be the focus of our faith and the object of our affections. His power is not why we love Him, but it is always at the disposal of those who do love Him.

Fruitfulness is the byproduct of faith. As long as the disciples kept believing in God, they would experience His power flowing through their lives and resulting in the good fruit that only He can produce.

But Jesus also wanted His disciples to understand that while their access to God would place His power at their disposal, it came with conditions. The privilege of entering into God’s presence through prayer could prove dangerous. Attempting to avail oneself of God’s power for selfish reasons is always a risk. That is why James wrote, “you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:2-3 NLT).

But there is another, and even more dangerous tendency to avoid. God’s power is not to be used to seek revenge on your enemies. That’s why Jesus warned His disciples, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25 ESV).

Jesus didn’t use the power of God to wither the fig tree because He was angry. He did it to teach His disciples a lesson. Jesus never used the power of God to seek revenge or call down divine wrath on His enemies. Yet, He knew that this would be a temptation for His disciples. In fact, just days earlier, as they were making their way to Bethany, Jesus had sent a few of His disciples into a Samaritan city to find accommodations for the night. When they returned, they announced to Jesus and the other disciples that the Samaritans wanted nothing to do with Jesus. This news infuriated James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” and they asked Jesus for permission to use divine power to destroy the entire town.

“Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” – Luke 9:54 ESV

But Jesus rebuked them for their spirit of revenge and their desire to use the power of God for self-centered purposes. This was not what He had taught them.

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:44-45 ESV

Faith and fruitfulness. These two vital characteristics are inseparable. Without faith in God, it is impossible to produce fruit. And the absence of fruit is evidence of a life devoid of faith in God. But as Jesus had previously told His disciples, God was going to be glorified by their future fruitfulness. And the key would be their faith.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:7-8 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Things Are Possible

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:14-29 ESV

The next day (Luke 9:37), when Jesus, Peter, James, and John rejoined the other disciples, they were greeted by a scene of chaos and confusion. There was a large crowd encircling the other nine disciples, who were in a heated argument with the scribes. But as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene, He became the focus of attention, drawing the crowds like moths to a flame.

Like a father who arrives home to find his children in an unexpected predicament, Jesus attempts to discern the cause of the trouble. And it doesn’t take Him long to discover that the conflict involves His disciples and one other man in the crowd. The rest of the crowd were like rubberneckers at an accident, drawn by the spectacle of it all and curious to see what was going to happen next.

When Jesus demanded to know the cause of the argument taking place, a father in the crowd spoke up.

“Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.” – Mark 9:17-18 NLT

This man had come expecting to find Jesus but instead, he had encountered the nine disciples whom Jesus had left behind. In his account of this event, Matthew describes the man as kneeling at the feet of Jesus. His actions reveal his high regard for Jesus and his belief that Jesus was capable of assisting him with his need. He had brought his son to Jesus for healing but when he had discovered Jesus to be gone, he had turned to the disciples for help.

“So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” – Mark 9:18 NLT

Disappointed by his failure to find Jesus, the anxious father had turned to the disciples for help. And it seems clear from the text that these men had made a valiant effort to cast the demon from the man’s son but with no success. What makes their failure so significant is that Jesus had given all of the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). And they had successfully proven their possession of that authority when Jesus had sent them out in pairs to preach, teach, and heal. Mark reports that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV).

And yet, on this occasion, their efforts had come up short. The argument that had ensued must have begun when the disciples started making excuses for their failed attempts at exorcising the demon. Perhaps they began to question whether this man or his son had broken a particular Mosaic law and this violation had resulted in the boy’s condition. They were obviously frustrated at their inability to exercise their authority over the demon, and were trying to figure out what was standing in their way. When all the dust had settled, they even asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28 NLT).

The scribes may have been dragged into the argument in order to explain the Mosaic Law and to give their opinions on the boy’s condition and the demon’s persistent power over him. The whole scene had quickly devolved into a shouting match, with each side pointing fingers at the other. And all the while, the boy remained demon possessed.

Into this storm of confusion and chaos, entered the only one who could bring peace and calm. Jesus, disappointed at the sordid scene taking place in front of Him, declared His frustration.

“O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” – Mark 9:19 ESV

To fully appreciate Jesus’ words, one must recall the transfiguration that Jesus had just experienced on the mountain top. For a brief moment in time, Jesus had been transformed into His future, glorified state. He had been joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, and the three of them had discussed His coming “exodus” or departure from this life. It had all been a much-needed reminder that His days on this earth were coming to a close and He would soon be returning to His Father’s side. But upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus had encountered a scene of faithlessness and spiritual apostasy.

This recalls a similar scene that took place hundreds of years earlier. Moses, the great deliverer of the Hebrew people, had just spent 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai. He had enjoyed an intimate communion with God and had received the Ten Commandments from the hand of God. But when He descended from the mountain, he had found the people of Israel worshiping before a false god. He had returned to a scene of chaos and confusion prompted by the faithlessness of the people of God.

Jesus, having descended from the mountain of transfiguration, was being forced to look upon a scene where faith was in short supply and the enemy was having his way among the people of God. The disciples’ inability to cast out the demon had left the boy still possessed and persecuted. But even more important, their failure of faith had left the people in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

But Jesus stepped into the darkness of the moment and focused His full attention of the state of the boy. The father provided Jesus with a blow-by-blow description of his son’s condition, explaining in great detail how relentlessly the demon had tormented his child. And you can sense his growing state of desperation as he begs Jesus for help.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” – Mark 9:22 ESV

At this point, he is not even sure if Jesus can do anything about his son’s condition. He is losing hope. But Jesus gently rebukes the man’s timid and half-hearted expression of faith, stating, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (MRK 9:23 ESV). Jesus seems to be telling the man that it is not so much a matter of if He can heal the boy, but if He will. This was less an indictment of the man’s faith, so much as it was an exposure of his lack of understanding of who Jesus was.

The father, anxious to see his son healed, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). He desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could heal his son, but he had seen the disciples try and fail. He still harbored doubts and asked Jesus to remove any and all doubts by casting the demon from his son. And Jesus did just as the man wished. He addressed the demon directly, commanding it to leave the boy and to never return.

“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” – Mark 9:25 ESV

And the demon obeyed, convulsing the boy one last time and leaving him in a catatonic state that made it appear as if he was dead. But Jesus raised the boy up, revealing him to be fully restored to health.

This entire scene had been a demonstration of faith. But the focus was not on the faith of the father. Jesus was exposing the faithlessness of His disciples. Matthew records that after Jesus had exorcised the demon and the disciples had asked why they had been unsuccessful, He had responded, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).

Remember, Jesus had told the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The emphasis was on His own faith, not that of the father. Jesus fully believed He had the power and authority to cast out the demon, and He proved it by doing so. He knew who He was and what He was capable of accomplishing with the power He had been given by God. But the disciples were another matter. Their belief had proven insufficient. But it was not the amount of their faith that was the problem. It was their inability to understand the true source of their power. According to Jesus, all they needed was the smallest portion of faith but in the full power of God, and they could literally “move mountains.”

Their ability to cast out demons did not reside in themselves. It was not some inherent power they possessed but it was meted out to them by God. That is why Jesus told them that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). They had failed to understand that their earlier experience of casting out demons had been authorized by Jesus and made possible by God’s power, not their own. But they had somehow believed that they were in personal possession of that power. They had wrongly assumed that it had become permanently resident within them.

In trying to cast out the demon, they had put their faith in themselves. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the disciples had ended up worshiping a false god: Themselves. They thought they were the possessors of power, but Jesus reminded them that even the smallest of faith placed in the power of God could produce the greatest of miracles. Jesus believed He had authority over the demon because He believed He had the power and authority of God at His disposal. His life was living proof that “All things are possible for one who believes.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blurred Vision

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. Mark 8:22-30 ESV

In this passage, Mark combines two different incidents from the life of Jesus in order to convey an important truth. In the first, Jesus performs only the second miracle that Mark records in his gospel. In chapter 7, we have his record of Jesus healing the deaf man who also suffered from a speech impediment. And there will be some similarities between these two miraculous healings.

Jesus and His disciples have traveled from the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee to the town of Bethsaida, located not far from the sea’s northern-most tip. This was not the first time Jesus had been to Bethsaida. In fact, Matthew reports that Jesus has a stinging indictment against the city for the stubborn refusal of its inhabitants to repent.

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God. “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse.” – Matthew 11:20-21 NLT

This rather harsh statement from Jesus is important because it provides insight into the miracle Jesus performed. Upon His arrival in Bethsaida, Jesus was met by a group of individuals who were bringing a blind friend in need of healing. Mark says that these compassionate friends “begged him to touch the man and heal him” (Mark 8:22 NLT). And what Jesus does next is both interesting and insightful.

To fully appreciate the actions of Jesus, it is important to consider all that has happened up to this moment. Earlier that same day, Jesus had transformed seven loaves of bread and a few fish into a meal that fed thousands of people. And He had followed up this miracle with a warning to His disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The religious leaders had come to Jesus demanding that He give them a “sign from heaven” in order to prove His claim to be the Messiah. But these prideful and arrogant men had been blind to all that Jesus had done, refusing to accept His miracles as proof of identity. So, Jesus warned His disciples not to allow the teaching of the Pharisees to influence them. The unrepentant hearts of these self-righteous men were causing them to reject Jesus and encouraging others to do the same. Like yeast spreading through a batch of dough, their unbelief was beginning to permeate and influence the people of Israel. But the disciples failed to understand the meaning behind Jesus’ warning, thinking instead that He was upset that they had failed to bring enough bread. So, Jesus addressed their inability to comprehend His words.

“Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all?” – Mark 8:17-18 NLT

Notice the last thing Jesus said to His disciples before they left for Bethsaida.

Do you not yet understand?” – Mark 8:21 ESV

All of this sets up what happens next and reveals the sovereign hand of God behind all that Jesus did. It was no coincidence that a blind man was brought to Jesus. And the manner in which Jesus chose to heal the man was highly intentional and purposeful. First, Jesus isolated the man from his well-meaning friends by leading him outside the village. Once they were alone, Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and touched him. But why? Couldn’t Jesus have simply commanded the man to receive his sight? Was it really necessary that this healing require spit and human contact? And why did Jesus’ first attempt to restore the man’s sight seem to fail?

…spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”

The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” – Mark 8:23-24 NLT

Jesus’ methodology seems a bit odd. And it’s outcome appears less than successful. But everything Jesus did was intentional. The blind man, unable to see anything that Jesus was doing, was able to hear Jesus spit and could feel the sensation of the spit on his eyes. He could sense the hands of Jesus gently touching his eyes. Yet, when he opened his eyes, his sight was only partially restored. He could see but only as through a haze. Everything was fuzzy and indistinct. Men looked like trees walking about.

This man had gone from complete blindness to partial sight. His condition, while much-improved, was not what he had been hoping for. Blurred sight was far better than no sight at all, but it was still not ideal.

Earlier, Jesus had healed a deaf man by restoring his hearing. Now, he was restoring the sight of a blind man. Both hearing and seeing are metaphors for the human capacity to understand. That is why Jesus had said to His disciples: “You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?

They had seen Him heal the deaf man. And they had heard His warnings about the Pharisees. And yet, they still did not fully understand, just as the blind man did not fully see. But Jesus had no intention of leaving the man with imperfect sight.

Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. – Mark 8:25 NLT

Jesus finished what He had begun. He didn’t leave the man with slightly improved sight but He completely restored his vision so that he could see everything clearly. This two-part healing provides an important lesson. It reminds us that Jesus came to restore far more than physical sight or hearing. He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they might see the glory of His presence. He came to open the ears of the spiritually deaf so that they might hear the message of the good news. But what they see and hear must include the full scope of God’s redemptive message.

The disciples thought they understood who Jesus was. They saw Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They had high hopes that He was going to set up His Kingdom on earth and reward them with places of honor and prominence in His administration. But when they heard Jesus speak, they became increasingly confused by what He said. And before long, when He began to talk of His pending death in Jerusalem, they would have difficulty comprehending and accepting His words.

The apostle Paul reminds us that the plan of God is far greater than we can understand. Much of what we experience in this life appears out of step with our understanding of God’s will. We are like men with partially restored sight who view everything through distorted lenses that provide an imperfect image of reality.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

The disciples did not fully comprehend who Jesus was and what He had come to do. But Jesus was gradually opening their eyes to the truth of His ministry and mission. In time, they would see clearly and fully. But, as Paul reminds us, we will not fully understand the ways of God until His plan of redemption is complete.

After telling the newly sighted man to avoid going back to the village, Jesus and His disciples made their way north to Caesarea Philippi. On their way, Jesus struck up a conversation with His disciples, asking them, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27 ESV). His question was intended to get the disciples to wrestle with the various rumors concerning His identity. In a sense, Jesus was asking the disciples to reveal who the people understood Him to be. When they saw Jesus perform miracles, what was their conclusion? When they heard Him speak, who did they think they were listening to? And the disciples reveal that there were all kinds of opinions among the people.

“John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” – Mark 8:28 ESV

The people were like the man with partially restored sight. They could see, but imperfectly. Their view of Jesus was incomplete and inconclusive. Notice that there is no mention of Jesus being the Messiah. When the people looked at Jesus, it was like they were viewing Him through distorted lenses. He appeared indistinct and blurry.

This prompted Jesus to turn to His disciples and ask them the same question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 ESV). These men had spent their every waking minute with Jesus. They had seen every one of His miracles and had heard every one of His messages. They enjoyed intimate access to Jesus and the privilege of hearing Him explain some of His more cryptic parables. So, who did they understand Him to be?

And the ever-impulsive Peter was the first to respond.

“You are the Christ.” – Mark 8:29 ESV

In his gospel account, Mathew records that Peter added the further description: “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Peter, speaking on behalf of all the disciples, acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah but also the Son of God. His words revealed a level of understanding and insight that the rest of the people did not share. But Matthew lets us know that Peter did not come to this conclusion on his own.

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 16:17 ESV

God had revealed this insight to Peter. His partially blinded eyes had been opened so that he could see the truth of who Jesus was. This statement from the lips of Peter was like an unexpected epiphane. Even as the words came out of his mouth, Peter must have wondered whether he truly believed them. And He would go on to reveal that his understanding of who Jesus was and what He had come to do was still cloudy and indistinct. He would continue to wrestle with the weight of his own words and the expectations of his own heart. But the time would come when he and his fellow disciples would see everything clearly and distinctly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Mercy for the Defiled

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:24-37 ESV

After His rather lengthy and heated debate with the religious leaders over the topic of ritual cleansing and defilement, Jesus took His disciples on an unexpected journey outside the confines of Israel. The Jewish Messiah, who had come “to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11),  took His message to the Gentiles. In a sense, Jesus was leaving behind the legalistic, self-righteous law-keepers and choosing to align Himself with the unclean and lawless pagans living in the land of Phoenicia.

The scribes and Pharisees had been appalled that Jesus and His disciples did not practice the traditional rite of hand-cleansing before eating bread. What would they think when they heard that Jesus had defiled Himself by traveling outside Galilee and associating with non-Jews?

But that seemed to be the point of Jesus’ excursion outside the land of Israel. God had promised Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 ESV). And the apostle Paul picked up on that theme in his letter to the churches in Galatia. These congregations would have been made up mostly of Gentiles who had become followers of Christ.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” – Galatians 3:7-8 ESV

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

In traveling to the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus was demonstrating the truth of the Father’s promise to Abraham. The “offspring” of Abraham was about to “bless” the nations.

Mark indicates that Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden” (Mark 7:24 ESV). This statement was meant to carry a lot of weight. According to Jewish law, by entering the house of a Gentile, Jesus defiled Himself and rendered Himself ceremonially unclean.

The strict Jew would not enter a Gentile’s house, nor sit on the same couch, nor eat or drink out of the same vessel. The very dust of a heathen city was defiling. – Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

A second-century text called The Book of Julilees contains the following warning against any association with Gentiles.

And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father. Separate yourself from the Gentiles, and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable. – Jubilees 22:16

So, Mark’s reference to Jesus entering a Gentile home was meant to shock and surprise his readers. Yet, the rumors concerning Jesus and His miraculous powers had made their way all the way to Phoenicia. And Mark indicates that “immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet” (Mark 7:25 ESV). Matthew refers to her as “a Canaanite woman” (Matthew 15:22 ESV). The term “Canaanite” was an all-inclusive term used to refer to any and all Gentiles who lived in the land that had originally been known as Canaan. This woman was a Gentile and yet she was willing to seek out the Jewish Messiah in the hopes that He could help her with a pressing problem. And it seems clear that Mark wants his readers to grasp the shocking nature of this encounter.

Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. – Mark 7:26 ESV

The woman was a non-Jew, so she was unclean and unholy. And to make matters worse, her daughter was possessed by a demon. Everything about this scenario is meant to stress her defilement and to place Jesus in a potentially compromising position. But in his account of this story, Matthew adds a very interesting and important detail. In begging Jesus to help her daughter, the woman reveals an uncharacteristic understanding of who Jesus really was.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” – Matthew 15:22 ESV

By addressing Jesus as “Son of David,” she acknowledged her belief that He was the Jew’s long-awaited Messiah, the promised descendant of King David. This was not necessarily an expression of saving faith, but a confession that she believed Jesus to be someone of great power and significance. And because she had heard of His many miracles, she begged this powerful man to show her mercy by helping her daughter.

Only Matthew provides any indication as to the reaction of the disciples to all of this. He reveals that these good Jews were appalled at the woman’s unmitigated gall and begged Jesus to get rid of her.

“Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:23 ESV

Everything about this trip must have had them shaking their heads in wonder. Why would Jesus drag them on a 30-mile journey to a place like Tyre. It’s likely that none of these men had ever ventured outside the borders of Israel, so they might have seen this trip as an adventure. But when Jesus began to interface with the local inhabitants, they must have been surprised and confused. And what Jesus says to the woman echoes the disciples’ sentiments.

“Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Mark 7:27 ESV

Dogs were considered unclean to the Jews. Rarely kept as pets, they were typically used as guard dogs, and the streets of most Israelite towns and villages were filled with strays that scavenged for food and could prove to be a threat to public safety. So, when Jesus referred to this woman as a “dog,” He was expressing the commonly held view of most Jews concerning Gentiles.

According to Matthew, Jesus had told the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 ESV). He had made it clear to her that His original mission had been to His own people. But she was not willing to give up that easily. Her need was great and Jesus was the only hope she had.

Unphased by Jesus’ comments, she simply responded, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 ESV). She didn’t debate His assessment of her social standing. She wasn’t offended by His seeming slight. She acknowledged her unworthiness and humbly begged for a “crumb” of His goodness and mercy. She knew she was undeserving of His mercy and she was willing to take anything He was willing to give her. And Jesus gladly obliged her request.

“For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” – Mark 7:29 ESV

And Matthew reveals that it was not the statement itself that produced her daughter’s miraculous healing, but it was the faith that had motivated it.

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:28 ESV

She had believed in the power and authority of Jesus, and she was rewarded for that belief.

And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. – Mark 7:30 ESV

She went home to find her daughter completely whole and in her right mind. But Jesus and His disciples left Tyre and headed north to the city of Sidon, then back through Galilee and all the way to Decapolis, on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. This would have been a long and arduous trip that lasted anywhere from a few weeks to a month. And when they arrived in this predominantly Gentile region, Jesus once again found Himself confronted by a request for healing.

…they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. – Mark 7:32 ESV

Mark doesn’t reveal whether this man was a Jew or a Gentile, but like the Canaanite woman, he had a pressing problem that required the power of Jesus. And Mark’s description of the man’s condition is critical to understanding the meaning behind this miracle. This man suffered from a “speech impediment” and Mark uses a rare Greek word, mogilalos, to describe it. The only other time this word appears is the Greek Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 35:4-6.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute [mogilalos] sing for joy.

This Messianic passage prophecies the coming of the Messiah and portrays the amazing miracles He would perform on His arrival. And here was Jesus being provided with yet another opportunity to reveal His true identity through another supernatural display of His power.

The means by which this miracle was enacted is truly unique. Jesus took the man aside, “put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue” (Mark 7:33 NLT). None of this was necessary. Mark had just described Jesus healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter from a distance and with nothing more than a spoken word. But in this case, Jesus went out of His way to touch the man, and in doing so, He would have become ceremonially defiled. This man’s very condition made him unclean because it was a common belief among the Jews that disease and disabilities were the end result of sin. Yet, Jesus touched the man’s ears and even his tongue, then declared, “Be opened” (Mark 7:35 ESV). And they were. The man’s hearing and speech were immediately and fully restored, and the onlookers “were astonished beyond measure” (Mark 7:37 ESV). They couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.

“Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.” – Mark 7:37 NLT

And while Jesus warned them to tell no one what they had seen, they couldn’t help themselves. The news of this miracle spread throughout the region. And these two miracles, the healing of the girl in Tyre and the healing of the man in Decapolis, created an interest in and a hunger for the Messiah among the Gentiles. And this is important, because after His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). And when they arrived in those places like Phoenicia and Decapolis, they would find an audience ready to hear about the good news of Jesus, the Messiah.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

From Empty Pockets to Full Baskets

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Mark 6:30-44 ESV

After a brief diversion to inform his readers about the fate of John the Baptist, Mark brings the focus of his narrative back to the 12 disciples. Jesus had sent them in pairs to preach the gospel of the Kingdom and call the people to repentance. And to validate their message, He had given them the power to perform miracles. Mark provides no hints as to the length of this missionary journey, but simply states, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30 ESV). 

This rather anticlimactic description of their return leaves a lot to the imagination. There is no sense of excitement. We are told nothing about their exploits. But we can assume that these men must have had stories to tell and were anxious to regale one another with their exploits. Luke provides an idea of the kinds of reports these men would have given to Jesus upon their return. He recalls another occasion when Jesus sent out 72 additional disciples, providing them with the same instructions He had given the 12.

“Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” – Luke 10:9 ESV

When these disciples returned from their mission, their eagerly shared with Jesus what had happened. And the focus of their report reveals much about their takeaway from their experience:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” – Luke 10:17 ESV

Notice that they mentioned nothing about the message of the Kingdom or the peoples’ to it. They were blown away by their ability to cast out demons – just like Jesus had done. Their focus was on the more sensational aspect of their mission. But, as if to bring their egos back to earth and to refocus their attention on what was truly important, Jesus responded, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20 ESV).

So, when the 12 disciples returned from their missionary journey, it is likely that they shared similar stories about casting out demons and healing the sick and the lame. Recognizing that these men were excited yet worn out from their journey, Jesus led them to a remote place where they might get some much-needed rest. But isolation and alone time were difficult commodities to come by for Jesus and His disciples. Everywhere they went, they found themselves encountering and accosted by large crowds. And this time would be no different.

Mark indicates that they crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat and headed to a desolate area near the town of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). But their every move was under constant observation by the crowds. So, as Jesus and His disciples made their way by boat, the people ran along the shoreline, trying to guess where they were headed. And when the boat made its way to shore, Jesus and the disciples found themselves surrounded yet again. The weary disciples were probably frustrated by this turn of events. They had just returned from a long and arduous trip and were looking forward to some much-need R&R. But it was not to be. And Mark indicates that Jesus saw the crowd and “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV).

This statement sets up a subtle contrast between Jesus and His disciples that will become more obvious as the story unfolds. Jesus was moved by the helpless and hopeless state of the people. The very fact that they kept following Him revealed their desperate desire for leadership and direction. There were people in the crowd who were hurting emotionally and physically. Others were poor and needy, lacking the resources to meet the basic necessities of life. Luke indicates that Jesus “taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick” (Luke 9:11 NLT). 

It’s interesting to note that Jesus did for these people exactly what He had commanded the disciples to do on their recent missionary excursion. And yet, there is no mention that the disciples participated in the teaching of the people or in doing any acts of healing. It is almost as if they were taking the day off. They had done their part and now it was time to relax. And one can almost sense their eagerness to bring this long day to a close by what they said to Jesus.

“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” – Mark 6:35-36 NLT

There is not much compassion in those words. The disciples were ready for the crowds to disperse so they could finally get the rest they so richly deserved. Their feigned concern for the well-being of the people was nothing more than a way of getting rid of them. Yet Jesus, always aware of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those around Him, simply stated, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37 ESV).

The ludicrous nature of this command is easy to miss because we have no idea how many people Jesus is actually referring to. It is not until later in the story that Mark reveals the actually size of the crowd. But the disciples could see the problem with their own eyes. As they heard Jesus speak those words, the disciples were staring at literally thousands of men, women, and children. And don’t forget that when Jesus had sent these men on their missionary journey, He had told them “to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money” (Mark 6:8 NLT).

They had just returned and would have had no resources with which to fulfill the command of Jesus. And you can sense their confusion and frustration in their somewhat sarcastic response.

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” – Mark 6:37 NLT

They estimate that it would take at least two hundred denarii to buy enough bread to feed a crowd that size. A denarius was the equivalent of a day’s wage for a common laborer. Their quick calculation was meant to emphasize the sheer impossibility of what Jesus was asking them to do. They didn’t have those kinds of resources. In fact, they were broke. And just to expose the true nature of their insufficiency, Jesus has them take an inventory of what food was on hand.

“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” – Mark 6:38 NLT

Don’t miss what happened next. Jesus sent the men among the crowd, just as He had sent them into the towns and villages of Galilee. But this time, they came back with a less-than-thrilling report. After they had canvassed the crowd, the disciples could only return with a miserly five loaves of bread and two fish. It was not good news.

But Jesus was nonplused. As the disciples watched, Jesus simply instructed the people to sit down in groups of 100 or less. This would have taken a bit of organizational planning on the part of the disciples. And when their work was complete, Jesus “took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share” (Mark 6:41 NLT).

It seems that the disciples played the roles of waiters, distributing the food to the various groups of people. And as Jesus broke the bread and the fish, the disciples kept returning to find yet more food to hand out. They would bring back an empty basket, only to be handed another one full of bread and fish. And, as if to stress the truly miraculous nature of this scene, Mark holds off the most important detail until the end.

A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. – Mark 6:44 NLT

And even that large number is a bit misleading. It is safe to assume that many of those men were married and their families were made up of at least one or two children. So, it would be safe to assume that the actual number of people fed that day was likely twice what Mark reported. It could have easily been as many as 10,000. And yet, as Mark makes clear, “They all ate as much as they wanted” (Mark 6:42 NLT). No one went hungry. Not a single person went without or failed to receive as much as they wanted. And that includes the disciples.

But the truly amazing fact is that when the crowd had dispersed, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. They had shown up that day with no food, but each man walked away with a basket filled to the brim with bread and fish.

These men, who had lacked compassion for the people, had been given a once-in-a-lifetime lesson on God’s power to provide for the needs of the helpless and hopeless. When Jesus had looked on the crowd, He had seen sheep without a shepherd. But the disciples had simply seen a problem for which they had no solution. And sadly, they lacked any desire to come up with one. In spite of their success at casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, these men had failed to learn the most important lesson of all: That with God, all things are possible. And the man with whom they had linked their lives was God in human flesh and fully capable of meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of mankind. Yes, He could provide bread, but He had come to be the bread of life. He could fill stomachs, but He had come to satisfy mankind’s hunger and thirst for righteousness. And as these men walked away with the baskets brimming with bread and fish, their hearts and minds were still lacking a full assurance of who Jesus was and what He had come to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Amazed At Their Disbelief

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:1-6 ESV

After healing the woman with the discharge of blood and raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus and His disciples made their way to Nazareth. But there is one last thing we need to look at before leaving these two amazing miracles behind. In recording the events associated with these miracles, Mark provides two different pieces of information that, at first glance, appear to be unimportant. First, when describing the medical condition of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe, Mark states that she “had had a discharge of blood for twelve years” (Mark 5:25 ESV). It would be logical to assume that he included this detail simply to emphasize the long-term and hopeless nature of the woman’s condition.

But then, just a few verses later, in describing the healing of Jairus’ young daughter, Mark adds another interesting detail.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age) – Mark 5:42 ESV

Once again, why did Mark feel the need to provide the girl’s age? Perhaps it was his way of explaining her ability to walk when commanded to do so. But why did he think it was so important to share her exact age? Even a toddler could have responded when Jesus called out “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41 ESV).

Could it be that Mark was attempting to use these two references to years as a way to connect these two miracles? Consider the fact that the very year the woman’s debilitating medical condition began would have been the very same year the young girl had been born. And while this woman spent the next 12 years visiting physicians and spending all her financial resources seeking a cure, the young daughter of Jairus would have been living a rather protected and privileged life. After all, her father was a well-respected leader in the local synagogue. For 12 years, the woman’s life would have been marked by pain and suffering, while the young girl most likely experienced a happy and carefree existence. But to the surprise of her family and friends, her young life would end suddenly and tragically in death. No one saw it coming. And while her anxious father had sought out the miracle worker named Jesus, his efforts would prove futile. It was too little, too late.

It would be natural to expect the older woman, who suffered from an incurable medical condition, to be the first to die. But she was spared because she placed her faith in Jesus. The one who knew her condition was fatal and was standing with one foot in the grave was delivered from death’s door. But the young girl, whose best years had been ahead of her, ended up dead, surrounded by mourners who grieved over her loss. But because of the faith of her father, Jesus raised the girl back to life. Upon hearing the devastating news that his daughter had died, Jairus was told by Jesus, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). Jesus didn’t tell Jairus why or what he should believe. But the distraught father followed Jesus and, along with his wife and three of the disciples, watched as his 12-year-old daughter was miraculously restored to life.

Two women – one old and one young. One sick and the other whole. One anticipating death and the other completely surprised by it. And yet, both women were delivered from death by the same man. The one who was near death was prevented from having to experience it. The one who experienced death was brought back from it. And all through the power and authority of Jesus. This reminds us once again of the words He spoke to Martha, just before He raises her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 ESV

When we read the words, “…though he die, yet shall he live,” we should think of the 12-year-old girl. When we read the words, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” we should think of the woman who had been sick for 12 long years. These two women provide us with living proof of Jesus’ statement. Yes, both would end up dying at some later date. But, in healing them and delivering them from death when He did, Jesus was demonstrating for His disciples that He had power over death and the grave. And, one day, He would prove it with His own death and resurrection.

But back to today’s passage. Jesus and HIs disciples made their way to Nazareth, the town where He had grown up. This is where Mary and Joseph had settled and raised their family. After the birth of Jesus, they had gone on to have additional children, and, unlike Jesus, they had all chosen to remain in Nazareth.

But on the next Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue where Jesus was honored as a visiting Rabbi or teacher. He was given the opportunity to address the congregation, and what He had to say that day made a huge impression on those in the room. But it seems that His words received mixed reviews.

“Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” – Mark 6:2-3 NLT

Some were blown away by Jesus’ eloquence and His ability to perform such incredible miracles. Likely, the news about His most recent demonstrations of power had already made its way to Capernaum. But there were others in the crowd that day who were unimpressed because they viewed Jesus as nothing more than a carpenter. They knew His family and were probably aware that even His own brothers thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). Even His own family refused to believe Him to be the Messiah of Israel (John 7:5). It seems likely that Jesus’ siblings had shared their own opinions regarding their famous brother. And all of this negative publicity appears to have jaded the minds of those who had known Jesus since He had been a little boy. Mark reveals that the opinion of the naysayers prevailed that day.

They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Mark 6:3 NLT

Mark goes on to note that Jesus was amazed at the level of disbelief among those who knew Him best. It is clear that they had heard the rumors concerning His miracles. They had just heard Him speak and expressed their amazement at His wisdom. But they just couldn’t get past the fact that this was the same man whom they had seen running and playing in the streets of Nazareth as a boy. He was the son of a carpenter. How could He be the long-awaited Messiah? The old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt,” comes to mind. They knew too much, and their knowledge blinded them to the truth.

And sensing their disbelief and outright rejection of His message and ministry, Jesus commented, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family” (Mark 6:4 NLT). Even the prophets of old found it difficult to get those who knew them best to listen to their words. Their claims to spokesmen for God went unheeded, and their calls to repentance fell on deaf ears. And Jesus includes Himself among the rejected and disrespected prophets of God. He was in good company and experiencing the same bad outcome.

And the refusal of the citizens of Nazareth to accept Jesus as the Son of God prevented them from experiencing the power of God in their midst. The miracles of Jesus would continue to be nothing more than rumors. The healings they had heard about would not take place in their community. The sick would find no relief. The demon-possessed would experience no release. The blind would remain sightless and doomed to walk in darkness. And the citizens of Nazareth would allow the Light of the world to walk away, leaving them wandering in the darkness of their own sin.

Mark paints a rather pathetic and pitiable picture of the scene that took place as Jesus prepared to leave His hometown.

And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. – Mark 6:5 NLT

There was an absence of faith in Nazareth. Despite everything they had heard and seen, they couldn’t get past the fact that this was Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. He was just a man. He was no better than they were. So, why should they honor Him? Why should they believe Him? Sadly, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, had grown up among them, but their stubborn pride and sin would prevent them from recognizing Him. And while Jesus would mercifully heal a few, the rest would be left to die in their sins. Their refusal to believe would have dire and deadly consequences, just as Jesus would later tell Martha.

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Touch of Faith

21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:21-34 ESV

The disciples sailed back to the opposite shore with their minds filled with the images of the herd of demon-possessed swine plummeting over the cliff into the sea and the former demoniac sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. It had been a whirlwind 24 hours. They had witnessed Jesus calm a violent storm and restore a demon-possessed man to sanity. In addition, they had heard those demons refer to their master as the “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7 ESV). In a sense, with the testimony of the demons still ringing in their ears, they had unknowingly received the answer they had posed earlier. When they had witnessed the miracle of Jesus calming the storm, they had asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV).

They should have had their answer. But Jesus was not done revealing the true nature of His identity. There would be more God-ordained encounters in the days ahead that would provide further proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be and who the demons confessed Him to be.

Having returned from their brief but eventful trip to the region of Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples found themselves immediately surrounded by a large crowd. Mark gives the impression that, before Jesus could even disembark from the boat, the masses of people had been lined the shoreline. And Luke supports that idea by adding,, “they were all waiting for him” (Luke 8:40 ESV).

Still standing by the sea and surrounded by a mass of people, Jesus was approached by a man named Jairus, who was a ruler in the local synagogue. This man was not a professional priest, but a layman who was responsible for conducting Sabbath services and for the ongoing care of the synagogue. His role would have made him a recognized and well-respected member of the local community. And his high-visibility position most likely resulted in some familiarity with the Pharisees and other religious rulers of Israel. So, when he kneeled at the feet of Jesus, in front of a large gathering of his own neighbors and friends, he was taking a great risk – not only personally but professionally.

We know from John’s gospel that the religious leaders of Israel were intensifying their efforts to discredit Jesus and to pressure the people from following Him. John records an occasion when Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. When the Pharisees interrogated the man’s parents, attempting to discern whether he had truly been born blind, they were racked with fear. And John tells us why.

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. – John 9:22 ESV

Yet, here was Jairus, a ruler in the local synagogue, kneeling before Jesus and begging Him to heal His daughter.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:23 ESV

Mark tries to convey the intensity of the man’s desperation when he writes, “he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly” (Mark 5:22-23 ESV). Mark uses the same Greek word, parakaleō, that he used to describe how the demons begged Jesus not to torment them, but to cast them into the swine. And it was the same word he used to describe the fearful townspeople begging Jesus to leave their community.

This man was emotionally distraught and willing to do anything to save the life of his dying daughter. She meant far more to him than his career or reputation. And if expressing faith in Jesus could preserve her life, the loss of his job was a price he was willing to pay. And much to his relief, Jesus agreed to go with him. But they didn’t go alone. Mark reports that “a great crowd followed him and thronged about him” (Mark 5:24 ESV). The crowd moved en masse, pressing in on Jesus and the anxious father as they made their way to the man’s home. But before they could reach their destination, something else took place.

There was another individual in the crowd that day. But, unlike the ruler of the synagogue, this person held no high position in the community. It was an obscure, unnamed woman who had made her way to the seashore that day with the desperate hope of receiving healing from this man named Jesus. But she was just one among many, struggling to fight her way through the crowd in an effort to get close enough to touch the hem of His garment.

This woman had what appears to be an incurable medical condition that Mark describes as “a discharge of blood” (Mark 5:25 ESV). And she had suffered with it for 12 long years. Not only that, she had exhausted all her resources seeking a cure through traditional medical treatments. But nothing had worked. In fact, her condition had grown worse, leaving her in a state of desperation. But unlike Jairus, the crowds were not going to part and allow her access to Jesus. She was going to have to fight and claw her way through the bustling crowd just to get close enough to see Jesus.

But what stands out is the woman’s faith. She fully believed that if she could only touch Jesus’ robe, she would be healed.

If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” – Mark 5:28 ESV

Jairus was convinced that if Jesus would only touch his daughter, she would be made well. This woman believed that if she could just touch Jesus, she would be healed. Both believed that Jesus was the solution to their particular problem.

Somehow, this frail and physically weakened woman forced her way through the crowd and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. And Mark describes that “immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 5:29 ESV). Her healing was immediate, and she knew it. But no one else in the crowd was even aware of her presence., and they had no idea that a miracle had even taken place. Yet, Jesus did.

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” – Mark 5:30 NLT

Luke reports that Jesus informed His disciples, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s identity. He could have said nothing and simply allowed the woman to walk away unnoticed and rejoicing in her renewed health. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know what had happened. And He was willing to postpone his trip to Jairus’ house in order to reveal the miracle that had just taken place.

Suddenly exposed and unable to extricate herself from the crowd, the woman timidly and guiltily stepped forward. She “came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (Mark 5:33 ESV). Once again, her confession was not for Jesus’ benefit. He already knew what had happened. But this woman’s remarkable testimony was meant to encourage the disciples and provide them with further proof of who Jesus was. It was also meant to illustrate the kind of faith they were supposed to have. Notice what Jesus said to the woman.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:34 ESV

Jesus had not spoken her healing into existence. He had not even touched her.  And yet, she stood before Him completely whole. It was her faith in Jesus that had brought about her remarkable transformation. He wants to correct a dangerous misconception in the woman’s thinking. She had reasoned that there must be some kind of power emanating from Jesus, and this power must be transferable. But Jesus insists that her healing was a result of faith, not superstition or some kind of supernatural force field.

As incredible as it may sound, at the moment the woman touched the edge of His robe, Jesus was aware of the woman’s presence, the purpose of her action, and He willingly released His power to heal her. This was not some kind of automatic outflow of energy that was outside of Jesus’ control or volition. There were countless people who touched Him that day, many of whom longed to receive healing. But it was only this woman who received that for which she had hoped. And Jesus describes her action as an example of faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). This woman hoped to be healed, and was fully assured it would happen if she could only manage to get close enough to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe. She didn’t need to talk to Him. She believed His power was so great that a simple touch of His garment could do what countless physicians had been unable to do. And her faith was rewarded.

And when Jesus said, “be healed of your disease,” He was confirming the veracity of her testimony and the source of her healing. It had been Him.

But before the crowds could take in all that had just happened or the disciples could ask any questions, the mood of the moment was about to take a dramatically dark turn. The focus was going to shift from healing to death, from joy to sorrow, and from hope to despair. But Jesus was far from done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Who Is This?

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Mark 4:35-41 ESV

It had been a long and event-filled day for Jesus and His disciples, and as it came to an end, they sought to escape the constant pressure of the ever-present crowds. Jesus instructed the disciples to take Him by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but Mark indicates that “other boats were with him” (Mark 4:36 ESV). It seems that there would be no rest for the weary. Perhaps these additional boats were carrying home those who had traveled from other towns in the region to see Jesus. Or it could be that when some of those who had been following Jesus saw Him sail away, they decided to continue their pursuit by boat. They were not going to let Him out of their sight.

The interest in Jesus was at an all-time high. It’s obvious that His miracles had attracted many, but it’s also likely that His messages concerning the Kingdom had also proven to be a draw. There were already rumors circulating that Jesus might be the Messiah. And having witnessed Him heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), many had begun to wonder if those rumors might be true. These same people had seen Jesus heal those possessed by demons and had heard the demons shout, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11) as He had cast them out.

But not everyone believed Jesus to be the Messiah. His own family members had claimed He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21), and the religious leaders declared that He was in league with Satan (Mark 3:22). The reviews were mixed. Yet the crowds continued to show up, day after day. And even as Jesus and His disciples made their way across the Sea of Galilee, there were those who followed in His literal wake.

But something significant took place as they made their way across the sea. As Jesus slept in the stern of the boat, “a great windstorm arose” that turned the placid surface of the sea into a boiling cauldron, with waves so high that they washed over the sides of the boats. The unique geography surrounding the Sea of Galilee makes it extremely susceptible to these kinds of sudden and violent storms. It was not uncommon for these kinds of extreme weather conditions to appear without warning leaving even the most seasoned fishermen fearing for their lives.

So, even though Simon, Andrew, James, and John were all professional fishermen, they were just as concerned as the other disciples. The boat was quickly filling with water and the risk of capsizing was becoming increasingly more likely. Yet, in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, Jesus remained in a deep sleep, a likely indication of His extreme weariness. But in the desperation, the disciples woke Him up and exclaimed, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38 ESV).

Whether they realized it or not, their reaction to the storm and their response to Jesus revealed much about the condition of their faith in who Jesus was. Notice that they addressed Him as “Teacher.” Unlike the demons, the disciples of Jesus didn’t address Him as “the Son of God.” They didn’t call out to Him as their Messiah. At that point, in the middle of a life-threatening storm, they saw Jesus as nothing more than a physically worn-out Rabbi who was sleeping while they were suffering.

But if you read the accounts of this event provided by Matthew and Luke, it becomes clear that at least a few of the disciples saw Jesus as something more than just a Rabbi. In the confusion of the circumstances, all of the disciples were shouting as they tried to make themselves heard over the howling of the wind and the crashing of the waves. But one of them cried out, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matthew 8:25 ESV). Another one shouted, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24 ESV). Those terms, “Lord” and “Master” do not indicate anything other than the fact that the men in the boat regarded Jesus as their official leader. They were turning to Him for guidance. They wanted to know what He thought they should do about their dire circumstances.

It’s important to remember that this whole scene began with Jesus making the rather innocuous statement: “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35 ESV). When He had spoken those words, the disciples had thought nothing of them. Most of these men had made the very same trip on countless occasions. But this time proved to be different. Yet, there was more to Jesus’ words than a mere suggestion. He was indicating a point of destination and, in essence, assuring their arrival at that destination. But the unexpected presence of the wind and the waves had caused the disciples to lose hope and to take their eyes off the objective of their trip. They no longer cared where they were going or why they had begun the trip in the first place. All they were interested in was their own physical safety.

Mark matter-of-factly states that Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” (Mark 4:39 ESV). And according to Matthew “there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26 ESV). At the words of Jesus, the wind and the waves immediately subsided. The storm ceased. The danger faded away. The chaos and confusion were replaced by a great calm. Just picture the scene for a moment. The disciples stood in the boat, drenched to the bone. They were breathing heavily from all their efforts at rowing, bailing water, and trying to keep the boat afloat in the storm. But now, they were surrounded by placid waters that gently lapped on the bow of the boat. 

But these men were also dumbstruck by what they had just witnessed. When they had woken Jesus up, they had no idea what He was going to do. They had no preconceived expectations as to how He was going to get them out of their predicament. But He had spoken and the waves and the winds had immediately ceased.

But it would be the next words out of Jesus’ mouth that made the greatest impact. He looked at His disciples and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40 ESV). Luke seems to provide an interpretation of Jesus’ words by recording Him as saying, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 ESV).

Jesus was addressing a pre-existing condition. The storm had not caused their lack of faith, it had only exposed it. Jesus knew that they had been struggling over His identity since the day they had first met Him. In spite of all the miracles they had seen Him perform and the messages they had heard Him deliver, they were still unsure of who He really was. They were filled with doubts and questions. Could He truly be the Messiah? Was there a chance his family was right and Jesus was nothing but a lunatic? What about the religious leaders? Could these learned men be telling the truth? Had Jesus been doing miracles by the power of Satan? All of these thoughts must have crossed their minds at one time or another. But in the heat of the moment, when the storm was pressing in and their lives were threatened, the disciples had begun to have some serious second thoughts about Jesus. And Jesus had been completely aware of the thoughts that had filled their minds as they faced what they believed to be their certain deaths.

And at the rebuke of Jesus, Mark describes the disciples as being “filled with great fear” (Mark 4:41 ESV). The storm was over, but their fear remained. But this was a different kind of fear. They were awestruck by what they had just witnessed. In a matter of seconds, Jesus had completely eradicated a violent storm with nothing but His words. And this never-before-seen experience had left them dumbfounded, but not speechless. Mark records that they turned to one another and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV).

Who then is this? This response sheds light on the nature of their limited understanding of who Jesus really was. Matthew reports that they said, “What sort of man is this?” (Matthew 8:27 ESV). This man, whom they viewed as their Rabbi, teacher, Lord, and master, had just done the unthinkable and inexplicable. He had exhibited complete power over the elements of nature. He had done what no one else had ever done before. The miracle they had just witnessed and lived through had been like something from the writings of Moses. It was reminiscent of the day when God had parted the waters of the Red Sea so the people of Israel could pass through on dry ground (Exodus 14). It was like the time God delivered the people of Israel by destroying their enemies with hail and prolonging the battle by causing the sun to stand still in the sky (Joshua 10).

What Jesus had done had been God-like. It had the handprints of God all over it. But all they could manage to say was, “What sort of man is this?” Was He a teacher, a prophet, a holy man, or could He possibly be who He claimed to be: the Son of God?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Repeat Myself

21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:21-25 ESV

It’s easy to assume that because Jesus was the Son of God, every time He spoke, the words that came out of His mouth were totally new and unique. In other words, He never said the same thing twice. He never repeated Himself. But the Old Testament is filled with evidence that even God the Father was in the habit of repeating Himself.

Just look at how many times God warned His people about making and worshiping false gods.

“You are not to make any gods alongside Me; you are not to make for yourselves gods of silver or gold.” – Exodus 20:23 BSB

“You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.” – Exodus 34:17 ESV

“Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 19:4 ESV

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.” – Deuteronomy 5:8 NLT

God constantly repeated Himself because His audience was constantly disregarding His commands. So, He made a habit out of reminding them of His expectation of faithfulness by repeating His prohibition against idolatry.

But what does this have to do with today’s passage? As the Son of God, Jesus was also in the habit of repeating Himself. He often said the same thing numerous times and on different occasions because His audience was constantly changing. But ultimately, His tendency to repeat Himself was for the benefit of His disciples. There were some messages that He wanted them to hear over and over again so that they might fully grasp His intended meaning and the lesson He was trying to convey.

In these five verses, Jesus conveys a series of short lessons that appear elsewhere in the gospels, but in different venues and at different times. But rather than view these as possible discrepancies or contradictions in the gospel accounts, it makes much more sense to understand them as examples of Jesus’ use of reiteration for the sake of emphasis and clarity.

For example, in his record of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Matthew has Jesus stating something very similar to what Mark records in verse 21.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” – Matthew 5:14-15 ESV

In the same, Luke includes yet another example of Jesus utilizing this imagery of the hidden light or lamp.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.  If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” – Luke 11:33-36 ESV

Jesus utilized the same basic imagery, but in this case, He had a different lesson He was trying to convey. Now, consider verse 22.

“For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.” – Mark 4:22 ESV

Here, Jesus communicates another short, parable-like message that appears elsewhere in the gospels. Take a look at Matthew 10:26-27.

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

Luke records yet another instance of Jesus using this very same message, but in a completely different context and, in this case, Jesus ties it a warning concerning the Pharisees.

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. – Luke 12:1-3 ESV

This pattern continues throughout this passage. In verse 24, Jesus states, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.”

Once again, Jesus used the same basic language in His sermon on the mount, but with a different point in mind.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:1-2 ESV

Luke has Jesus saying the same message but at another time and place.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” – Luke 6:37-38 ESV

Finally, in verse 25, Mark reports that Jesus said, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Matthew has Jesus saying the same thing on two different occasions.

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” – Matthew 13:11-12 ESV

Towards the end of his gospel, Matthew includes yet another instance when Jesus used the same language, but in His parable of the talents. And, in this case, Jesus put the words in the mouth of one of the characters in His story.

“So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” – Matthew 25:28-29 ESV

And Luke includes a similar parable that Jesus told, which also contained the same basic language.

“And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’  And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’  ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” – Luke 19:24-26 ESV

So, what’s the point? It seems that Jesus understood and fully utilized the power of  repetition as a teaching tool. And don’t miss His emphasis on hearing.

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear… ” – vs 23

“Pay attention to what you hear…” – vs 24

It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t miss this!” He is going to continue to repeat these truths until His disciples begin to grasp what it is He is trying to convey to them. These men were struggling to understand what was going on around them. They were becoming increasingly more convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, but so much of what He said and made no sense to them. His actions and cryptic-sounding messages were not in keeping with their expectations of the Messiah.

But in using the imagery of the lamp, Jesus was letting them know that they were being enlightened by the “true light” (John 1:9) and the “light of the world” (John 8:12). They were being exposed to the truth of God as revealed in the life of His Son. And that message, while still unclear to them at this point, was to be declared to all those around them. The day was coming when they would be expected to carry the light of the gospel to the ends of the earth. It was not to be hidden or secreted away like some precious jewel, but it was to be revealed to all those living in the darkness of sin.

In an encounter that Jesus had with Nicodemus, a member of the Pharisees, He told this learned religious leader, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 ESV).

Jesus was that light, and He wanted His disciples to understand the illuminating nature of His ministry and mission. Light not only exposes darkness, but it also expels it. Darkness cannot remain where light exists. Paul put it this way:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. – Ephesians 5:11-14 ESV

Jesus was preparing His disciples for the inevitable. He had come to do the will of His Father and that was going to include His death on the cross. But that reality remained hidden from the disciples at this point. And even when Jesus began to divulge the truth concerning His pending death and burial, they would have difficulty understanding and accepting it.

But Jesus was going to keep telling them the truth. Slowly but surely, He would make them aware of the true nature of His mission. And, in time, they would grow to understand that the Light had come to expel the darkness by sacrificing His life for the sins of mankind. But God the Father would restore His Son to life, rekindling the Light of life and exalting Him to glory by restoring Him to His rightful place at His side.

And the apostle John reveals another point in time when Jesus will return to earth again and shine as the Light of the world once more. In the vision given to him by Jesus Himself, John saw the future, when Jesus will become the literal and eternal Light of the world, having dispelled all darkness and having eliminated the last vestige of night.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. – Revelation 21:22-25 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faith and Family

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35 ESV

An examination of the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke reveals that Mark has taken some liberties concerning the timeline of this event. Both of the other two gospel writers indicate that Jesus had other things to say after His response to the accusation that He was demon-possessed. According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:34-37 NLT

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). These are the same men who had accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. They had flatly stated, “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22 ESV). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…” – Matthew 12:39 NLT

There was nothing Jesus could do that would convince these men of His God-given authority. He even alludes to the fact that He will die and resurrect three days later, but they will still refuse to believe.

“…as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” – Matthew 12:40 NLT

Even His death, burial, and resurrection would not convince these men. They would never accept His claim to be the Son of God.

“…you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:41 NLT

“…you refuse to listen.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

And Matthew records that Jesus wrapped up His condemnation of the religious leaders by comparing them to someone who had been freed of a demon. With the coming of Jesus, they had been exposed to the truth and offered freedom from their captivity to sin and death. But while they had heard the truth, they had refused to accept it. So, Jesus indicates that their rejection of Him will have dire consequences. Their “demon” will return, bringing his companions with him, and leaving them in a worse state than before.

“…the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:45 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke includes a series of parables that Jesus told to the crowds. One was the parable of the soils, in which He explained, “The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8 14 NLT).

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” – Luke 8:18 NLT

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because it provides context. The way Mark describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His confrontation with the scribes. But as we have seen, Jesus had a few other salient messages He had delivered before their arrival. And what He had to say is crucial to understanding HIs response to the news that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him.

John reveals that Jesus’ own family members were having a difficult time accepting that He was the Son of God. John flatly states, “…not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). And, according to Mark, their disbelief had prompted them to conclude that Jesus had lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

None of the gospel writers tell us why Mary and her other sons showed up. According to Matthew, Jesus was given the message: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you” (Matthew 12:47 NLT). Mark indicates that they stood outside the place where Jesus was teaching and “called him.”

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. His actions would not have validated the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

Since the day He had left their home in Nazareth, Jesus had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and hearing the rumors about Him healing and casting out demons. But she had also heard about the episode in Jerusalem when He had thrown out the money changers and overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. She knew that He had become a target of the religious leaders. And it is likely that she had heard all the rumors about her Son, including that He was demon-possessed. So, she had shown up with her other sons in order to talk to Jesus. As a loving and concerned mother, she wanted to see how He was doing.

But upon hearing that His mother and brothers were outside, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33 ESV).

At first blush, this statement comes across as surprisingly harsh and uncaring. But we have to consider the context. Jesus has been speaking about hearing and believing. He has emphasized the tendency to reject His ministry and message. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9.

“When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand. – Luke 8:10 NLT

John reports that Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing. He had been calling the people of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17 ESV). And yet, there were still those who refused to believe, including His own brothers. So, when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers,” He was indicating that there was another kind of relationship that was far more critical than that of mother to son or brother to brother. Being born into the same family as Jesus had not helped His brothers believe. Having a sibling relationship with Jesus was not enough to secure a faith relationship with Him. Even Mary and her sons were going to have to believe in who Jesus claimed to be.

This brings to mind a statement made by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to the Judean wilderness to watch him baptize. When John had seen them, he had called them a “brood of snakes”  (Matthew 3:7 NLT). Then he exposed the fallacy behind their assumption that, because they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a right relationship with God.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

Notice his emphasis on the bad tree that produces bad fruit. And don’t miss that he tells these men that being a blood-born relative of Abraham was no guarantee of acceptance by God. John demanded that they repent and turn to God.

That was the very same message Jesus preached, and it applied to all, including His mother and brothers. They too would have to hear, receive, and believe. And Jesus turned and motioned to His disciples, saying, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35 NLT).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus gave the only “work” or requirement that God has placed on mankind.

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

Everyone, regardless of their social status, religious affiliation, economic standing, educational achievements, or whether they were a relative of Jesus, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. The disciples were struggling, but continuing to express their belief in Jesus. It’s likely that Mary and her sons were wrestling over the disconnect between Jesus’ behavior and their expectations. He wasn’t acting like a king. He wasn’t behaving like a Messiah. And the religious leaders were just flatly denying that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

But Jesus made it clear. For anyone to have a relationship with Him, they would be required to believe in Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson