Asking for a sign

Mark 8:10-21 (NASB)
¹⁰And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples and came to the district of Dalmanutha.
¹¹The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him.
¹²Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
¹³Leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side.
¹⁴And they had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them.
¹⁵And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
¹⁶They began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.
¹⁷And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart?
¹⁸Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember,
¹⁹when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.”
²⁰”When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.”
²¹And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Some further information:

The Christ is still traveling around.
Now he visits the parts of Dalmanutha, so no corner of the land of Israel might say that they had not had his presence with them.

He arrived there by ship (Mark 8:10); but, meeting with occasions of dispute there, and not with opportunities of doing good, he entered into the ship again (Mark 8:13), and came back. In these verses, we are told,

Jesus refused to gratify the Pharisees, who challenged him to give them a sign from heaven. They came to Him on purpose to question Him; not to propose questions to Him, that they might learn of Him, but to cross question Him, that they might ensnare Him.

The Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, as if the signs He already gave them were nothing and not counting, and not sufficient.
There was a sign from heaven at his baptism,
▪︎ in the descent of the dove,
▪︎ and in the voice (Matthew 3:16,17);
It was public enough; and if they themselves were present at the baptism, they might have seen it.

Afterward, when he was nailed to the cross, they wanted a new sign: “Let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” In this way obstinate infidelity will always have something to say, no matter how unreasonable the demand is.
They demanded this sign, tempting Him; not in hopes that He would give it them so they might be satisfied, but in hopes that He would not, so they might imagine themselves, to have a pretence for their infidelity.

He denied them their demand; He sighed deeply in his spirit (Mark 8:12). He groaned (so some interpreted it), being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, and the little influence that His preaching and miracles had had upon them.
The infidelity of those that have long enjoyed the means of conviction, is a great grief to the Lord Jesus; it troubles Him, that sinners should thus stand in their own light, and put a bar in their own door.

Jesus reacts and answers them upon this demand with a question.
Why does this generation seek after a sign; 
▪︎ this generation, that is so unworthy to have the gospel brought to it,
▪︎ this generation, that is so unworthy to have any sign accompanying it;
▪︎ this generation, that so greedily swallows the traditions of the elders, without the confirmation of any sign at all; 
▪︎ this generation, which, by what is told them in the scriptures, should easily be able to perceive how, when, and where the coming of the Messiah will be; 
▪︎ this generation, that has had such plenty of sensible and merciful signs given them in the cure of their sick?
What an absurdity is it for them to desire a sign!’’

Jesus refuses to answer on their demand: 
“Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (Mark 8:12)

When God spoke to particular persons in a particular case, outside His common ways, people were encouraged to ask a sign, as Gideon and Ahaz did; But when He speaks in general to all, as in the law and the gospel, sending each with their own evidence, it is presumption to prescribe other signs than what He has given. 
Shall anyone teach God knowledge? 

He denied them, and then left them, as one would leave persons not fit to be talked with. If they will not be convinced, they shall not; leave them to their strong delusions.

Following this Jesus and His disciples left by boat, and the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. It seems that they worried about this, as there was not enough (Mark 8:16). Then Jesus warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.

● Observe what the caution was: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (Mark 8:15). Take heed, beware, so you will not partake of the leaven of the Pharisees, so you will not embrace the traditions of the elders, which they are so tied to, as this may make you proud, and hypocritical, and ceremonious, like they are.
Matthew adds, ‘and of the Sadducees’; Mark adds, ‘and of Herod’.
▪︎ From this some conclude, that Herod, and his courtiers were generally Sadducees, that is, deists, men of no religion.
▪︎ Others give this sense, The Pharisees demanded a sign from heaven; and Herod was long desirous to see some miracle wrought by Christ (Luke 23:8); such as he should prescribe
So that the leaven of both was the same. They were unsatisfied with the signs they had, and would have others of their own devising; “Take heed of this leaven’’ (saith Christ), “be convinced by the miracles ye have seen, and covet not to see more.’’

● Observe how they misunderstood this caution.
At their going out to sea this time, they had forgotten to take bread, and had no more than one loaf in their ship (Mark 8:14). When therefore Christ bid them beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, they understood it as an intimation to them, not to apply themselves to any of the Pharisees for relief, when they came to the other side, for they had lately been offended by them for eating with unwashed hands.

They reasoned among themselves, what should be the meaning of this caution, and concluded, “It is because we have no bread; he saith this, to reproach us for being so careless as to go to sea, and go among strangers, with but one loaf of bread.”
They reasoned it, they disputed about it. Thus distrust of God makes Christ’s disciples quarrel among themselves.

● Observe the reproof Christ gave them for their uneasiness in this matter, as it argued a disbelief of His power to supply them, notwithstanding the abundant experience they had had of it.

The reproof is given with some warmth, for he knew their hearts. “Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? ¹⁸Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember” (Mark 8:17,18).

  • Do you not understand, that, of which you have had so many demonstrations?
  • Have you hardened your hearts, so nothing will make any impression upon you?
  • While you have eyes, don’t you see what is plainly before your eyes? 
  • While you have ears, didn’t you hear what has been told you so often?
  • How strangely stupid and senseless you are! 

Do you not remember what was done but the other day, when I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, and soon after, the seven loaves among the four thousand? 
Do you not remember how many baskets full you took up of the fragments?

Yes, they did remember, and could tell that they took up twelve baskets full one time, and seven another; “Why then,’’ said he, “how is it that ye do not understand? As if he that multiplied five loaves, and seven, could not multiply one.

They seemed to suspect that the one was not enough to work upon, if He should have a mind to entertain His hearers a third time: and if that was their thought, it was indeed a very senseless one.
As if it were not all alike to the Lord, to save by many or few, and as easy to make one loaf to feed five thousand as five. It was therefore proper to remind them, not only of the sufficiency, but also of the leftovers, of the former meals.

▪︎ Note that the experiences we have had of God’s goodness to us during our lives should improve our trust in Him.

▪︎ Note that our not understanding of the true intent and meaning of God’s favours to us, is equivalent to our not remembering of them.

▪︎ Note that we are overwhelmed with present cares and distrusts, because we do not understand, and remember, what we have known and seen of the power and goodness of our Lord Jesus.
It would be a great support to us, to consider what God has done before for us and others.

▪︎ Note that when we forgot the works of God, and distrust Him, we should repent and ask ourselves
• Am I without understanding?
• Is my heart hardened?

Now let us reflect on this

Asking the Lord for a sign.
▪︎ We can do this from our relationship with Him. Just like Gideon (Judges 6:33-40). To continue on the way with Him.
▪︎ We can also ask God for a sign out of unbelief. Just like the Pharisees here. To continue our own path.

The Pharisees now ask Jesus to identify himself as sent by God (Mark 8:11). They, for sake of convenience, just ignore all the signs that they have already heard of, and the signs they have seen themselves, and think that He must do something extra. And forget that He Himself is all the sign from heaven.

By the way, would they – self-enforcers as they are – actually believe that extra sign, if it was given (Mark 8:12)?

To believe is not that we come to the conclusion that Christ answers and fulfills our wishes and conditions, but the other way around: that we bow down to Him and accept Him as the sign of the Lord.
At most, faith is confirmed and strengthened by signs afterwards.

That just seeing signs is not enough is also clear from the sequel.
Twice, Jesus’ disciples have experienced a wonderful solution to the bread question (Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-9).

But now that they are without food, it is actually their only concern (Mark 8:14,16).
▪︎ Do they have so little confidence now?
▪︎ Didn’t the repeated sign also lead them to faith?
▪︎ Are they also permeated with the unbelief of the Pharisees or of those who associate with Herod (Mark 8:15, Compare Mark 3:6; 12:13)?

Jesus here means by the leaven the pernicious influence of the thinking and acting of the Pharisees and the Herodians. A tiny bit of their false teaching will spoil the whole thing.
▪︎ The Pharisees saw serving God as limited to outwardly following all kinds of rules and regulations.
▪︎ The Herodians used religion to perpetuate political power and thus remain themselves.

In Mark 8:19 and 20, it is striking that Jesus’ disciples know very well how many baskets of chunks they picked up at the first and the second miraculous feeding. But they lacked spiritual insight (Mark 8:17,18,21).

You can know the Bible without believing. How is that with you?

Question for self-reflection

▪︎ What does it mean to you: believe first, then see? (Compare John 20:26-29.)

Prayer suggestion

▪︎ Pray that you may live by faith.

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