Mark 8:11-21

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds)

August 2, 2012)



This section of Mark contains two events which are described in a little more detail in Matthew 16:1-12. 


Mark 8:11-13 – Another conflict with the Jewish religious leaders - After feeding the large multitude of Gentile people in the area of Decapolis which is south and southeast of Sea of Galilee, Jesus crossed back over the small body of water and landed on the western shore a little south of Capernaum...earlier Jesus had some conflict with the Jewish religious leaders in this area, and He criticized them for being spiritually blind and hypocritical (see Mark 7:1-23)...when Jesus returned to their area, they were waiting for Him...


The following notes are from Bob Utley’s excellent study guide:  The Gospel According to Peter:  Mark and I & II Peter:

8:11 “Pharisees … began to argue with Him” This was a common occurrence. The word translated “argue” is syzetein which means “to dispute or debate.” 

“a sign from heaven” … refers to the Pharisees’ request for proof of His authority, possibly (1) a prediction (cf. Deut. 13:2–5; 18:18–22); (2) a heavenly sign (cf. Isa. 7:11; 38:7–8); or (3) an apocalyptic sign (militaristic victory over enemies).

“to test Him” The word peirazō has the connotation of to try, test, or tempt “with a view of destruction.”

8:12 “Sighing deeply” This is a compound and thereby intensified form of “groaned” (cf. 7:34). Jesus had showed them His authority already by deed and word, but their spiritual blindness remained.

“in His spirit” This refers to Jesus’ personhood (cf. 2:8). It has the same connotation in 14:38 in respect to human beings. The term “spirit” is used in Mark for

1.   the Holy Spirit (1:10, 12)

2.   unclean spirits (i.e. demons, 1:23, 26, 27; 3:11, 30; 5:2, 8, 13; 6:7; 7:25; 9:17, 20, 25)

3.   the human spirit (2:8; 8:12; 14:38)

“ ‘this generation’ ” - Denoted the nation of Israel represented by these religious leaders (cf. 8:38; 9:19; 13:30). They continually rejected God’s gracious dealings with them (cf. Deut. 32:5-20; Ps. 95:10). [1]

“Truly” This is literally “amen.”

“ ‘I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation’ ” This is a Hebrew idiom of strong negation … involving an understood, yet unexpressed, oath. When compared to Matt. 16:4 Jesus obviously meant no further signs. Jesus had given them many signs (i.e. OT prophecies fulfilled in His acts and words), but they refused to accept them or Him because He challenged their traditions, cultural position, and popularity. Matthew cited the only exception, “the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 16:4), that is, Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Matt. 12:39-40).[2]

8:13 Jesus traveled extensively in northern Palestine because He wanted all to hear His message but also because of the press of the crowds.[3]


This event challenges us to examine the basis of our belief in Jesus.  Why do we believe what we believe about Him?  What is it that moves a person to cross the line between unbelief and belief?  Based on this incident and the larger context of the events occurring at this time in Jesus ministry, I want to point out to you three kinds of belief – two that are inadequate and one that will stand the test of time.


I.  There is a kind of belief which demands too much evidence

1.   That was the problem of the Pharisees in this I've shared with you before, the Pharisees were the religious fundamentalists among first century Judaism...they viewed themselves as the sole possessors and protectors of truth...they had already been stung by Jesus' accusations in chapter 7 that they cared more about their traditions than the commandments or will of God...

2.   So they came back to challenge effect said, "If you're really who you claim to be, if you're the Messiah, prove it. Give us some sign, some miracle."...was a custom of the Jews to demand some sign or wonder from anyone claiming to be a messenger from God, especially if that person were teaching something new or unusual...and that's what the Pharisees demanded of Jesus...

3.   What is wrong with that?  What is wrong with saying, "I will not believe in Jesus until God gives me some irrefutable sign or miracle?"...I think several things--

·         It is never really satisfied - Evidence is never quite good enough...for this kind of belief to survive, the miracles have to become more and more spectacular...truth is, those who demand more and more evidence have a predisposition not to believe...was problem with Pharisees...why would they possibly need more miracles from Jesus?...were well aware of things had already done...sick who had been healed, storms which had been calmed, multitudes which had been fed...why possibly need more signs?...because belief which demands too much evidence is never satisfied...and Jesus refused give them additional evidence because knew would be fruitless...

·         It tends to confine God to abnormal experiences - Ministry of Jesus and indeed entire NT reminder more likely find God in midst of everyday lives than in some highly unusual experience...Barclay said it well: "God never shows Himself to us so much and so continuously as in the ordinary things of everyday life."

·         It borders on sensationalism - Very early in His ministry Jesus rejected sensationalism as means of winning people to Himself...during temptation experience Satan took Him pinnacle of Temple and said, "Jump and let the angels catch you.  The people will see it and recognize you as the Messiah."  But Jesus said, in effect, "I'm not going do it that way...don't want people coming to me because of some external act...want them come based on their internal commitment..."

            And for all those reasons, belief which demands too much evidence, which must have a sign or miracle is inadequate belief...


II. There is a kind of belief which demands too little evidence

1.      Certainly wasn't problem of the Pharisees, but was problem of the great crowds of people who were following Jesus at this time in His ministry...without really thinking through the implications of their commitment, just because they saw or heard of Jesus doing something spectacular, they chose to follow Him...but that their belief was superficial is obvious from the fact that by the time Jesus went to the cross, they had all deserted Him...they made an emotional commitment with no intellectual foundation...and because of that, their commitment didn't last...

2.      There have always been people who have insisted on divorcing Christian faith from intellect and reason...people who believe that it's somehow unspiritual to apply thought and reason to  Christian belief...never forget the well meaning but misinformed person who pulled me aside for a little heart to heart talk just before I when left home church to go to seminary...said, "Watch out for those professors in that school.  If you listen to them, you'll lose your faith!" But my experience at seminary and since then has been just the opposite.  The more I study and read and think, the more convinced I become of the claims of Scripture. 

3.      There are two types of people who attempt to separate thought from faith...

·         Some are just intellectually lazy - Blind faith, as some people call it, is not very demanding I've said before, it is much easier to say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it" than it is to say what the Bible says, why I believe it, and what it settles...

·         Some are spiritually and intellectually insecure - Afraid their faith cannot stand the test of critical thought...can't understand that...if God is God, will always be larger than anyone's puny thoughts and questions about Him...early Christians not afraid take their faith into any arena...good example of that is Paul sharing gospel with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens, a city where many people spent their time doing nothing but debating philosophy...

The kind of belief with demands too little evidence is just as inadequate in long run as kind of belief which demands too much evidence...


III. There is a kind of belief which is based on available evidence

1.   This is the kind of belief which eventually characterized Jesus' disciples...they watched Him, they listened, and they made a rational decision to cast their lots with Him...

2.   Don’t misunderstand what I'm saying...Christianity certainly involves faith...but real faith is not belief which is compelled by some miracle nor is it belief which ignores one's intellect...real faith is belief based on evidence...

3.   There is a little game I play with my youngest grandchildren.  Will hold them in my arms, walk over to a soft sofa in their home, and drop them on the sofa from about three feet up. For them to allow me to do that is an act of faith on their part, but it is not blind faith.  If I wanted, I could choose to drop them on the floor or on a table.  But based on what they know about me and what they have experienced with me, the trust (have faith) that I will drop them in a safe place.  

4.   That’s the way it is with Christian famous Christian philosopher-theologian spoke of people making a “leap of faith” into Christianity.  Christian faith is a leap, but not a leap into the's a leap into the light and God gives us ample reason for making that leap of faith...look at the evidence for yourself--the evidence in God's the testimonies of millions of believers--and decide for yourself whether or not it makes sense to commit your life to Jesus. 

5.   Malcolm Muggeridge, the famous British intellectual, explained his conversion to Christianity with this wonderful statement: "...I have concluded, having failed to find in past experience, present dilemmas, and future expectations any alternative proposition.  As far as I am concerned, it is Christ or nothing."


What is basis of your belief in Jesus Christ?

·         If your belief is based on signs and miracles, that kind of belief will crumble when the miracles don't come. 

·         If your belief merely a blind, thoughtless commitment, that kind of belief will not stand the test of adversity. 

·         If your belief based on the evidence God has made available to us, that kind of belief will stand the test of time.


Mark 8:14-21 – Another teachable moment with the disciples - Easy for us read passage like this and almost laugh at those first century could they have been so blind?...why couldn't they understand who Jesus was and what He was trying to teach them?...but truth is, more times than we would like to admit, we are very much like them...wonder how often we are surrounded by spiritual truth but are unable to see it...from this paragraph want share with you a simple formula which can help us avoid spiritual blindness...


I. To avoid spiritual blindness we must look for God in the ordinary things of life

1.   After the confrontation with the Pharisees in the previous paragraph, apparently Jesus and the disciples hurriedly returned to their boat and crossed back over the Sea of Galilee...

2.  In their haste, the disciples had forgotten to take bread for their journey...may not seem significant to us, but was very important to a culture where there wasn't a McDonald's every few miles, one would never go on even a short trip without taking some on the boat trip across the Sea of Galilee, the main topic of conversation among the disciples was their failure to bring bread...and Jesus seized the opportunity of their discussion of an ordinary, everyday concern to teach an important spiritual effect said, "Since you are discussing bread, let me remind you to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod."

3.   In Scripture leaven or yeast is often a symbol of evil and corruption...just as only a little yeast is necessary to make large amount of bread, only a little evil and corruption can do great warning the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herodians was saying, "Don't develop kind of spiritual blindness which emphasizes laws and rules and regulations over people...don't be overly harsh, judgmental, unbending...don't fail to extend to others the grace and forgiveness which God extends to you..."

4.   And what want you see now is how Jesus built a spiritual lesson on an ordinary, everyday thing such as the disciples' concern about having enough bread for their journey...


1.      It was Elizabeth Barret Browning who wrote the famous lines:

Earth is crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

2.   Afraid we've so developed mentality of looking for God in the spectacular, abnormal, extraordinary experiences that we miss Him midst of our everyday would be so much more meaningful and fuller if we would do what Jesus did...if would develop habit of looking for God in midst of the ordinary things of life...


II. To avoid spiritual blindness we must remember what God has done in the past

1.   The statement Jesus made about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod seemed go right over disciples' heads...was as if they never even heard it...just continued to talk about their lack of physical Jesus asked His disciples a series of stinging can hear the frustration in His voice in verses 17-18..."Why do you discuss the fact you have no bread?  Do you not yet see or understand?  Do you have a hardened heart?  Having eyes, do you not see?  Having ears, do you not hear? "

2    And the clincher in that series of questions is the phrase in the last part of v.18 - " you not remember...?"...Have you forgotten what I just did?  How can you be worried about having less than one loaf for the 13 of us in this boat when I fed 5000 with only five loaves and there were 12 baskets left over and I fed 4000 with only seven loaves and their were 7 baskets left over?  Have you so soon forgotten?


1.   Truth is, all of us too easily forget the blessings and activity of God in our lives...time and time again God meets our needs, but in times of crisis we tend to forget His faithfulness as ring hands in anxiety and fear...we need to work at remembering all that God has done for us...

2.   In OT there is a beautiful story...Israelites, under leadership of Joshua, had just crossed Jordan River and entered Promised Land...had been long, difficult journey of more than 40 years... Joshua instructed one person from each of the 12 tribes to take a large stone from the Jordan at the place they crossed...carried those stones to Gilgal, the place of their first camp in the Promised Land...there in Gilgal built memorial from those stones as reminder of God's leadership of the nation across the Jordan...and Gilgal became Joshua's headquarters during the campaign to conquer the Promised Land...time and again came back to the stones to remember God's leadership in the past...and remembering, he gathered the wisdom and strength to go on...

3.   We all need some Gilgals in our lives...memories of God's leadership and activity to which you can return to draw strength for what lies ahead...

 4.  All of us would do well to follow the admonition of the Psalmist when he wrote: "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits." [Psalm 103:1-2)...

[1] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mk 8:12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mk 8:12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (91–92). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.