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February 7, 2021 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Gospel of Mark

Topic: Discipleship Passage: Mark 8:1–8:34


An Exposition of Mark 8:1-34

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: February 7, 2021

Series: Mark: Knowing and Following God’s Son

Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



This morning we are returning to the Gospel of Mark. And we've got a lengthy passage: Chapter 8, verses 1-34. This is the kind of passage where it is so important to see the whole thing all at once. In future weeks, we will have the opportunity to dig into some more of the details that occur in the latter part of this passage, but this morning I want us to see the whole thing, because it all fits together and helps to orient our spiritual outlook. So let me go ahead and read, beginning in verse 1. Holy Scripture says:

1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 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? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 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.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

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.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:1-34)

This is God's Holy Word, and it is for our good. Let's pray:

Father, we do indeed pray that you would – in this hour – honor your holy Word. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us. Make your words known to us. Incline our hearts to see what Jesus would have us see. In his name we pray, amen.


“Follow me.” That's what the Lord said to Simon and Andrew in Chapter 1: “Follow me” (Mark 1:17). That's what the Lord said to Levi the tax collector in Chapter 2: “Follow me” (Mark 2:14). That's what the Lord will say to the rich man in chapter 10: “come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). And so here, in Mark 8:34, the Lord is inviting all who would listen to come after him and follow him.

But it is very difficult to follow him if you are blind, if you don't have eyes to see, if you're unable to observe his footsteps, if you don't understand who he is and what he came to do and what it means to follow him. If we're going to follow someone, our eyes have to be open to see them and to see the direction in which they go. You need to “[see] everything clearly” (Mark 8:25). The problem, though, is that apart from God's gracious intervention, we do not see everything clearly. In fact, we are quite blind.

Notice these questions that Jesus asks in verse 18: “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” This echoes some passages from the Old Testament. For example, in Jeremiah Scripture says,

“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,

who have eyes, but see not,

who have ears, but hear not.” (Jeremiah 5:21)

And in another passage the Lord says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 12:2) How sad when the organs of perception are dysfunctional! Our only hope of healing and restoration is God's gracious intervention in the depth of our hearts.

As the children of Israel stood on the cusp of the promised land, Moses said to the people:

“You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:2-4)

Did you catch that? “You have seen” but you do not have “eyes to see”. How often we can be surrounded by outward demonstrations of God's grace and Power – we see it, but we don't really see it. Think about the disciples. The disciples, like the Israelites of old, had front-row seats to all kinds of healings and miracles. Jesus was casting out demons and healing diseases and raising the dead and calming the sea and walking on water. They had seen so much, and yet they did not see.

We need to pray the prayer of Psalm 119: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18) – out of your word. Wondrous things! It's not enough to see data, it's not enough to see information, it's not enough to see interesting connections. Our eyes have to be opened to behold the wonder, the glory, the majesty. And the good news is that Jesus is totally committed to enabling his followers to see clearly. And when he reproves us – as he indeed reproves the disciples in verses 14-21 – when he reproves us, he does not intend to leave us in our cursed ignorance. Instead, he wants you to see, he wants you to hear, he wants you to understand.

These testimonials of what Jesus is doing, in healing the deaf man at the end of Chapter 7 (v. 31-37) and the blind man here in the middle of Chapter 8 (v. 22-26) and then another blind man at the end of Chapter 10 (v. 46-52) – these physical healings are indicators that he is totally committed to enabling his disciples to see spiritually the things that we need to see.


I want you to take a big picture look at verses 1-34 this morning – and to do this it will be helpful to go right toward the center of the passage in verses 22-26. Because the physical healing of the blind man is a picture of the spiritual journey that the disciples are on. This isn't just some mere physical healing that's thrown into the discussion at random. This physical healing reveals what is going on spiritually with the disciples.

So you have a blind man who is brought to Jesus. And similar to what Jesus did with the deaf man at the end of Chapter 7 – Jesus took the deaf man away privately and they had a very personal encounter and then Jesus healed that deaf man – here Jesus takes the blind man away from the village. It's another personal, private, very physical and hands-on interaction. When he healed the deaf mute, he spit and touched the man's tongue. Here Jesus spits onto the man's eyes. This is really personal! Behold God in the flesh – not just breathing, but spitting on the eyes of a blind man.

After spitting on the man’s eyes and laying his hands on this blind man, Jesus says to him, “Do you see anything?” (v. 23) Jesus had just been reproving his disciples because they couldn't see (in v. 17-21). “Do you see anything?” Yes. Yes. I see. I see people but they're not really clear – they’re kind of fuzzy, they’re walking around like trees (v. 24). If you've been reading the gospel of Mark, you know that this is no accident. It's not as if Jesus has failed to do the cure. This is all very intentional and instructive to everyone present – and also instructive to us who are now reading it and hearing it. So then Jesus lays his hands on the man's eyes a second time, and then the man “saw everything clearly” (v. 25).

The two-stage physical healing of the blind man reveals the spiritual journey that the disciples are on. And what's going on in terms of the disciples spiritual journey is that, though they see a little bit, they do not see clearly. They are stuck in patterns of partial blindness and they don't really understand what the Lord is up to and what he's all about. The disciples need their spiritual eyes to be healed, enlightened, and transformed.


Let's think about this a little bit by going to the beginning of the chapter and then we'll work our way through the passage.

Back in Chapter 6 Jesus fed the five thousand men (plus women and children). Here he feeds a total of four thousand people – another large crowd, and it's a very similar feeding miracle to the one that we encountered in Chapter 6. One difference – probably, we don't know for sure – between the two miracles is that this miracle in Chapter 8 probably took place in Gentile land. As we come out of Chapter 7, Jesus is ministering in the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31), which is in Gentile country. And he's probably still in Gentile territory at the beginning of Chapter 8, thus indicating that Jesus came to be the great provider for the Jews (in the Chapter 6 feeding miracle) and the great provider for the Gentiles (in Chapter 8 feeding miracle). Part of the good news is that Jesus came for all!

Notice that Jesus is motivated by compassion in verse 2. Back in Chapter 6 it was Jesus’ compassion that motivated him to teach the people because “sheep without a shepherd” need to be taught the ways of the Lord (Mark 6:34). And no doubt Jesus had been teaching this crowd in Chapter 8 over the last few days – but now a few days have passed and there's a food shortage, and Jesus has compassion on the crowd. He is concerned that if he were to send them home now, they would “faint on the way” (v. 3). And so, once again he takes a little bread and a little fish, and he multiplies them in order to feed the multitudes in a desolate place. As I like to say, desolate places are not desolate if Jesus is there.

Verse 10 tells us that after the miracle Jesus “got into the boat with His disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.” We're not sure exactly where Dalmanutha is, but it's probably on the western side of the Sea of Galilee, back in Israelite territory.


And now moving to verses 11-13, the Pharisees step on the scene. There has been this controversy brewing between Jesus and the Pharisees for several chapters now. “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.” (v. 11) Never mind that they knew that Jesus had healed diseases and had cast out demons and had performed various miracles of compassion. Never mind that! So they asked Jesus for some big, indisputable, authenticating proof – a sign that would verify who he is.

You have to understand that this request from the Pharisees was not coming from a place of honestly seeking after truth. There is an example of honestly seeking after truth in the person of John the Baptist. John the Baptist, who had prepared the way and announced the arrival of the Lord, later on was having doubts. So he sent his disciples to Jesus in order to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:19). In other words: Are you really the one? Are you really the Messiah or should we be looking for somebody else? Jesus did not reprove John. Jesus said to John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up” (Luke 7:22).

But John’s honest question was very different from the Pharisees’ request, which was coming from a place of unbelief. Jesus had told us back in Chapter 7 that their hearts were far from God (Mark 7:6). If the Pharisees were walking closely to the Lord, if they really loved the Word of the Lord the way that they thought they did, if they really knew God the way that they thought they did, then guess what would have happened when God's Son showed up? God’s Son is the very reflection of the Father, the very embodiment of the Word. So if the Pharisees truly loved the Father and the Father’s Word, then they would have recognized the Father’s Son. But they did not recognize him. In fact, they despised him.

So they are asking for this proof, this authenticating mark, this “sign from heaven”. You might recall in the Old Testament that Elijah called down fire from heaven, that Joshua made the sun stand still, and that Moses brought down manna from heaven – all in the Lord's strength, of course. So they say, in essence,  Do something amazing, do something spectacular. Now they're not really cheering for Jesus here. They came “to test him”. They don't expect him to pass the test. They don't expect him to really come through in the way that they're saying – in fact there is this opposition, this arguing going on.

Here's what the Pharisees don't understand. Jesus did not come to do spectacular things to satisfy the demands of people who refuse to believe in the Lord. He didn't come to put on a show. He didn't come to do some spectacular tricks. In fact, in the most fundamental sense, Jesus himself is the sign. Do you want a sign from heaven? Well, here it is: the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, came down to earth. There's a sign! He is the sign! Jesus is bread from heaven. He is the eternal Word made flesh, and his words and deeds reveal his wisdom, grace, and power. But you need to have the eyes to see, and they didn't see.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (v. 12) Jesus was grieved. He “sighed deeply” (v. 12). And he walked away (v. 13).


Now Jesus and the disciples are back in the boat heading across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida, which they get to in verse 22. Bethsaida is back in Gentile country, at the very north of the Sea of Galilee, but in Gentile territory. And the disciples “had forgotten to bring bread” (v. 14). There was a lot of leftover bread from the feeding miracle (v. 8) – I don't know if that was still relevant here, I don't know how much time has passed. But in any case, they forgot to bring bread.

Now the lack of bread was not a matter of worry to Jesus at all. But Jesus used the opportunity to caution them: “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (v. 15) Watch out! Look! Pay attention! Beware! Which is really hard to do when you're blind and you don't see.

Jesus is giving them this profound spiritual warning – and what do the disciples do? “They began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.” (v. 16) Let's talk about bread! Let's talk about dinner!

Now briefly we should say something about “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Over in Luke, Luke tells us that “the leaven of the Pharisees” refers to their “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Matthew tells us that “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” refers to “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6, 12).

Clearly this leaven – or this fermented dough used in the making of bread – represents a corrupting and spreading influence. And we know, just from within the gospel of Mark, some things about the Pharisees and about Herod. The Pharisees were not believing, they were seeking after a sign, they were full of hypocrisy. They looked good on the outside but inside their hearts were far from God. They had replaced God's Word with their own traditions. They loved their own polished image, but did not have mercy for other people. The Pharisees wanted to impress others with their piety. Herod wanted to impress others too, with his banqueting and entertainment that we learned about in Chapter 6. Herod sinned against his conscience – because he knew that John the Baptist was a holy man and he listened to John preach, but he would never repent – and at the end of the day, because he was unwilling to lose respectability with his court, he had this holy and righteous man killed. Both the Pharisees and Herod were unable to humbly receive God's message even though it was right there in front of them. They did not live in the fear of God. They lived in the fear of man and they lived for the world's applause. “Watch out”! Do not let the corrupting influence of the Pharisees or of Herod corrupt you! And by the way, it is interesting to note that, at the end of the day, graceless religion and graceless politics are essentially the same thing.

But for the disciples – all this is just flying right over their head. They're not thinking about what we just thought about – they're not thinking about that at all. They're thinking about bread. “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?”” (v. 17-21)

Notice that you can have the right answers – “Twelve”, “Seven”, great student! – and yet be clueless. It’s just data, it's just information, it's just facts – and it doesn't mean anything to you. So, the disciples need help!

You see, the disciples are like the blind man after the first touch, but before the second touch. They understood a little bit. They were following Jesus. They were seeking to learn from him and they asked him questions. They did a successful short-term mission trip back in Chapter 6. They responded obediently to Jesus’ directives. Clearly they were not in the same camp as the Pharisees. However, they were afraid on the stormy sea back in Chapter 4: “Who then is this,” they asked, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the water in Chapter 6 – and they didn't know that it was Jesus walking on the water. “[They] thought it was a ghost” (Mark 6:49). And then Jesus says to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:50) And he gets into the boat and the sea calms down, and then Scripture says: “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51-52) And over and over again, they did not understand the parables. And back in Chapter 7 Jesus said, “Then are you also without understanding?” (Mark 7:18) And then here in Chapter 8 Jesus says, “Do you not yet perceive or understand?” (v. 17)

Like the blind man after the first touch, they see, but not clearly. They hear, but their reception is weak and staticky. They understand, but not much. And all this comes to a head in verses 27-34.


Look at verses 27-30. Lord-willing, we will look at these verses more in depth next week. But now we're just trying to get the whole lay of the land here. Jesus asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” They answer, “John the Baptist” –  as in John the Baptist 2.0, like Herod thought back in Chapter 6, John the Baptist come back from the dead. “[And] others say, Elijah”. The Old Testament looked forward to an Elijah figure who would come before the great and terrible day of the Lord. Is he Elijah? Is he “one of the prophets”? That's what people were saying. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what other people are saying. “But who do you say that I am?” What do you say? What do you think? Where do you stand in relationship to Jesus? And then Peter confesses – I assume on behalf of all twelve disciples – “You are the Christ.” You are the Messiah. You are the Anointed One – the King from David's line who was promised in the Old Testament, who would come to bring righteousness, justice, and peace to Israel and to all the world. You're the One! You're the One!

Now don't think that this represents clear sight. It doesn't. It's as if from Mark 1:16 – when Jesus called Simon and Andrew – until right now in Mark 8:29, there has been a lengthy process that has been enabling them to see a little bit, namely, to see that Jesus is the Messiah.

But this raises another question: what kind of Messiah is he? Is he a political Messiah who is going to restore our country to the golden age? Is he a military Messiah who is going to give us victory over and against Rome? Is he a ‘guarantor of health and wealth’ Messiah who is going to make our life so much better? No, no, and no! In fact, Jesus is the suffering Messiah.

In a moment we will look at verse 31, but first let me insert an important comment here. What happens between the healing of the blind man in Chapter 8 (v. 22-26) and the healing of another blind man at the end of chapter 10 (v. 46-52)? These two bookends, each about the healing of a blind man, tell us that this whole section is about what it means to see Jesus clearly. This section teaches us to see clearly what it means to follow Jesus and to live in the light of who he is. That's what this section is all about. And by the time we’re through Chapter 10, it is Holy Week! For Chapter 11 begins with the ‘triumphal entry’. So right here in Mark 8:22–10:52 we get instruction on core Christian discipleship – Discipleship 101. This is the whole shebang, right here, in these three chapters. This is all about seeing clearly – and if you would see clearly, then Mark 8:22–10:52 must jump out to you as beautiful and compelling and worth pursuing, and then you'll begin to live in this manner.

Now right after Peter confesses that Jesus is indeed the Christ (in verse 29), verse 31 begins: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and” (v. 31-32) – and what? Did Peter say, ‘Thank you. I understand now. That's just what I thought.’ No! Peter hardly sees anything! The passage says, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (v. 32) Peter might have said something like: ‘Jesus, you don't know what you're talking about here.’ “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (v. 33)

Jesus is a very unconventional Messiah. He didn't come to fix external troubles. He came to address the incurable disease called sin – incurable, that is, except through his blood. The Messiah conquers through suffering, through rejection, and through death.

Now, here's the thing that you need to see – and this is a big reason why I felt we needed to do all of verses 1-34 today. The reason that Jesus conquered through suffering, rejection, and death was not to get you physical and social comfort in this present life. Jesus didn't follow the way of the cross so that you would get prosperity instead of suffering, respectability instead of rejection, and safety instead of death. If that's what you really want – if you really want prosperity respectability and safety now in this present life, if that's your main thing – then there's the door. You are free to leave. Jesus let a lot of people walk away.

When Jesus walked the path of suffering, all the way to the point of death on a cross, he was cutting a trail for his followers. He was cutting a trail for you and for me. Now someone might say: ‘Wait a minute! Wasn't Jesus’ death unique?’ Yes indeed: Jesus’ death was totally unique. He bore in his body our sins, our guilt, our punishment, our suffering. Our dying has zero atoning value. All of the atoning value, the forgiveness value, the reconciliation-to-God value – all of it was on the shoulders of the Lord Jesus Christ. And none of it is on our shoulders. But Jesus calls those who would trust him to identify with him in his suffering, to identify with him in his rejection, and to identify with him in his dying. Which is why he says, right after teaching about what's going to happen to him – it's no accident that the very next thing he says is this in verse 34: “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.””

Right after telling us that he is going to suffer and be rejected and die, he says in essence, If you're going to follow me, then you need to share in my suffering, you need to share in my rejection, you need to share in my dying. Come after me, die to yourself, deny self’s craving for the world's goods and the world's approval and the world's safety net, and take up your cross, which is an instrument of death, and die to yourself, die to your sin, die to the world, and venture all on me. And if you do that, then you will also share in my glory.

So here's the deal: the way of Jesus and the way of the world, are worlds apart. Just because a group of people has the label ‘church’ doesn't mean that they are following after the way of Jesus. Some people want healings and miracles, dramatic proofs and signs. Some people want money and power – economic and political salvation. Some people are like the Pharisees and like Herod: they just want to put on a good show – one that makes them look really good. Some people are just like the immature disciples in Mark 8: they are preoccupied with bread and comfort. The question is: do you find the Lord Jesus Christ so compelling – he is the true King who conquered through suffering – do you find him so compelling that you are willing to lay down everything for his sake? Remember his promise: if you partake of his suffering, then you will also partake of his glory.

What about you? “Do you not yet understand?” (v. 21) “Do you see anything?” (v. 23) Do you see him? Are you setting your mind on the things of man or on the things of God? The rest of chapters 8 through 10 will get into the details of what this looks like. So stay tuned.

Let's pray. 

Father, we thank you for the perfect sign from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ himself – the bread, the nourisher, the sustainer – whose body was broken for the salvation of sinners. Father, as we come to the table, I pray that with eyes that can see, with a heart that can believe, that we would receive the nourishment that you provide through the death and resurrection of our Lord. In his name we pray, amen.



James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.

Eckhard J. Schnabel, Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 2). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

James W. Voelz, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013.

Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

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