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The disciples were like this in Mark 8:1-21. It’s was the second mass feeding with the bread and fishes. The first go-around, Jesus fed 5000 folks, not counting the women and children. This time, He fed 4000 folks. It is during this scene that the disciples had a memory lapse from the first feeding, and they were struggling with their faith.
Notice how Jesus talked to them about it. Their conversation would be more humorous if it were not so relevant to how we can be at times. There are occasions when the Lord has to remind us that He’s still in charge, and if you would think about the past miracles in your life, it will serve you with where you are today. Here’s how it went in Mark.
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand” (Mark 8:17-21)?
I hear, but I don’t understand. I see, but I don’t perceive it. At times it feels as though I haven’t made much progress at all. I have read the Bible for years, learned much, served much, but at times, I think I haven’t learned anything and can feel so juvenile in my faith.
Typically, this perspective happens after I do or say some knuckleheaded thing, which occurs suddenly. Experientially, I know that “God is,” but still yet, there are faith issues in my experience, the way I think and operate daily. There are moments when I lack trust. I have ongoing battles that promote a lack of faith.
Most believers struggle this way. Trusting God, as simple as it sounds, is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. I’m not talking so much about trusting Him with your salvation, which can be a battle for some people. But I’m speaking about trusting the Lord practically with our mundane choices and vital relationships.
Starting at Mark 8, we are coming to the end of Act 1 in his Gospel narrative. The extended prologue is closing, and Mark is about to turn the page to his stretch-run to the cross. Up to this point, Mark has been communicating a message of hope by showing the activity of the Savior. Jesus had been busy doing stuff.
One of the characteristics of Mark’s Gospel is the rapidity of the action. Jesus is moving and grooving while proving that He’s the man. There is no question to his closest friends and even many of the others that the Savior is a miracle worker, plus maybe something else even more special. People were starting to talk (Mark 7:37).
But despite all the evidence, the disciples still did not get Jesus. The disciple’s struggle does beg the question for the rest of us. Do we get it? More specifically, do we “get Him?” Let’s go deeper with the probe by asking more personal question, are you faithfully trusting Christ when things are not working out well for you?
The disciple’s slowness in understanding Christ is a significant encouragement to me because I don’t get Him all the time either. Jesus gives of Himself, again and again, and His boys are still not sure if He is the right guy that they should be following. Part of the problem is that a lack of faith tends to happen when we are not getting what we want. You see this with the Pharisees.
In Mark 8:11, they came to argue with Christ. Of course, they were not interested in the truth. They had their plan, and at the end of the day, it didn’t matter what Jesus did or say. They were not going to trust Him. They wanted a particular kind of Savior, one that would bend to their wishes.
“If Jesus is not going to give me what I want, I will not follow him.” This presupposition and practice do not work with God. Jesus will not be on my team just because I want to bend Him to my desires. I am to endorse His plan, and it does not matter what I am going through or what I want, at least not primarily.
We like a God who is not manipulate-able unless He’s not giving us what we want. The self-centered, personal-agenda-driven-Christian is out of luck with an unbendable Savior. There is only one playbook. It is when a person wants things to turn out according to their hopes that there will be a crisis in faith.
In Mark 8:12, Jesus is sighing at that kind of attitude. The Pharisees were arguing while asking Him for a sign to prove who He said He was. I can be that way, too. Rather than trusting Christ, we want Him to do something for us, and then we will believe.
Jesus sighs at this kind of thinking. (Life is not supposed to turn out the way we want it to happen all the time.) Thus, Jesus has to ask His followers, “Do you still not understand?” It’s the right question for you and me. Do you still not understand, after all the things that He has done?
And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand” (Mark 8:21)?
The best way to address these problems of understanding and trust is by asking a few questions. When our faith is weak and our issues are tense, you want to take an inventory of what you know about God because that is what Jesus is asking with His “do you not understand” question. So, let me make a few queries.
Do you know Jesus? I don’t want to assume that all of my readers are believers in Christ. In Mark 8, some were—the disciples, and some weren’t—the Pharisees. Everybody that “hangs with Jesus” is not necessarily a follower of Jesus. Thus, the first issue to clarify is your salvation (John 3:7).
If you are not a Christian, I appeal to you to become one. You may talk to us by going here, and we can lead you to salvation. If you are a believer, are you resting in His assurance (John 10:28)? Do you understand what Christ did on the cross, accomplished through His resurrection, and offers to you through His gospel (Romans 10:9, 13)? If you’re struggling with assurance, you may find help here or here.
For those who are trusting believers, you can still deviate from His playbook. The disciples did this in Mark 8. Christ called them, which is a version of what happened to you when He saved you. God calls us to salvation. We repent and believe. Then we follow Him to heaven.
But there are times when the journey becomes hard, and the temptation to let up or walk off the path is powerful. The disciples did this right after Christ died. The resurrection had not happened yet. They were living between all-controlling fear and disappointment. They fell into the “I want to have it my way” kind of thinking, which was an untenable posture to take.
A faithless heart means fear is at work in the idol factory. It’s the comfort monger in all of us that reverts to the Gospel According to Me, to bring about a more preferred lifestyle. It’s a religion wrapped around personal desires, that serves a myopic plan, in a little kingdom, instead of trusting the King who should be sitting on the heart’s throne.
In Mark 8:18-19, Jesus was reminding the disciples about the five loaves for the five thousand. Then He stated the obvious by asking about what just happened with the four thousand (Mark 8:20). Afterward, He popped the real question, “Do you not yet understand” (Mark 8:21)? The point that He was making was not about the bread, but about their belief.
“Is your heart so hard that you cannot see or believe?” As Jesus would say, “Do you not yet understand?” He could have said, “After all you have heard and seen and been through, who do you think I am?” You must understand what Jesus was attempting to teach them. They were struggling over a practical matter about feeding some folks.
Jesus was trying to get them to see that their practical problem of bread pointed to a more significant issue, which was belief. They did not clearly understand that He was God in the flesh. They were tripping over the bread problem because they still did not believe Jesus was the Son of God. You will always struggle in the practical realm if your faith in God is weak.
The truth to learn is that after you move away from the distractions and focus on the real problem, you have a person who does not want to believe in God the right way. Following Jesus is the most challenging life you’ll ever live. The disciples eventually accepted the burden and risk of following Jesus and eventually turned the world upside down. They became martyrs to boot, except for John.
Once you have sanctification salvation, to where you are willing to walk away from all preferences, hopes, dreams, and best wishes, you’re in the crucial spot to become Christlike. I’m not saying it puts you on easy street; it doesn’t. You will continue to struggle; there will be many temptations, and all your relationships won’t be blissful. But you will be different.
There is “a breaking” at salvation, and there is another one during your sanctification. Sometimes it’s a heartbreak like what the disciples experienced at the cross on that dark day. It does not have to be through that kind of personal or relational disappointment. But your faith must undergo the testing that tries you, and you end up stronger for it.
As you ponder these things, there is one more message that you must not miss. Christ does not give up on His disciples. Though they were weaving all over the road, He kept pressing in on them because He loved them. What God started with you at salvation, He will persevere with you to the end (Philippians 1:6). God is a persevering God.
When Jesus asked them, “do you not yet understand,” it seems to imply that they will understand in the future. And they did. Christ did persevere with them; He was relentless, especially when they were weak in their faith. You, too, could be weak in your faith, but God is not a weak Sovereign. He will never give up on you.
The Christian life has always been seeing, but not seeing, hearing, but not hearing, remembering, and then forgetting. But the hope is always that you will eventually get it. And you will because God will not give up on you. He loved His disciples despite their lack of faith, and He thinks similarly about you. He already proved this by dying for you, and then reserving a spot in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4).
Jesus loves you more than you love Him. Though He may ask you many times if you understand, it does not mean He’s mad with you. He will continue to walk with you. Praise God for this glorious reminder of the gospel.