The Danger of Faithless Familiarity

The Danger of Faithless Familiarity

The Danger of Faithless Familiarity
Text:  Mark 8:1–21

Main Idea: Faithless familiarity is just as dangerous as abject unbelief.

I.   The Disciples’ Astounding Ignorance (Mark 8:1–10)
II.  The Pharisees’ Abject Unbelief (Mark 8:11–13)
III. The Disciples’ Alarming Condition (Mark 8:14–21)

Mark 8:1–21

One of the greatest privileges any child can have is that of growing up in a truly Christina home. A home where both parents endeavor to love God with all of their heart, soul, and strength, love their neighbor as themselves, and bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. A home where Christianity is not a matter of legalistic rule-keeping but where Christianity is the pursuit of a living, vibrant, joyful faith in Jesus Christ.

But, this wonderful privilege can also be an incredible danger, in that, faithless familiarity can breed everything from open contempt to confident callousness. Contempt is usually easy to identify. But, confident callousness can be very deceptive. What I mean by this is that the child is confident about their Christian knowledge: They know all the stories, they have learn all the right answers, they have attended all the right classes and camps, and they speak of their love for Jesus and hope to escape hell. But, they are utterly callous to the true nature of Christianity and their need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are so close but at the same time, so far away.

And that is the exact place the disciples are in our text today. They have had the greatest privilege in the world—unlimited access to Jesus and intimate participation in his ministry. But, their familiarity with Jesus has not led them to faith in Jesus—yet. And what I want you to see this morning is that Mark uses these three accounts to expose us to one key truth.

Main Idea: Faithless familiarity is just as dangerous as abject unbelief.

The Disciples’ Astounding Ignorance (Mark 8:1–10)
The Pharisees’ Abject Unbelief (Mark 8:11–13)
The Disciples’ Alarming Condition (Mark 8:14–21)

The Disciples’ Astounding Ignorance (Mark 8:1–10)

A Continuing Compassion (Mark 8:1–4)

The first thing that I want to point out in the text today is that Jesus is continuing to ignore Jewish social barriers as he ministers to “unclean” Gentile outsiders. Notice, the text does not tell us “who” these people are. But, the opening phrase “during those days” inextricably links this episode with the previous healing in the Decapolis–which is Gentile territory.[1]

The Second thing, is that these Gentiles have been with Jesus for three-whole-days, not just a long afternoon. Jesus is not ministering to these people as a mere afterthought. He is not disgusted by their sin or their social status. And at the same time these unclean outsiders are captivated by Jesus and his teaching… Jesus isn’t just giving them crumbs from the table he is giving them a gospel feast that will culminate in miraculous banquet of bread and fish.

A Contrast

Yet, as we dig into this miracle it’s easy to emphasize the similarities between the two feedings and miss a significant contrast.

In the first feeding miracle Jesus had compassion on his Jewish audience because they were like sheep without a shepherd so he began to teach them many things. His Jewish audience needed spiritual instruction because their religious leaders were utterly corrupt and leading them away from God (6:34). Their greatest need was spiritual instruction. In fact, Jesus didn’t raise the issue of food. The disciples did.

In this feeding miracle, Jesus has compassion on his Gentile audience because they might not be able to make the long journey home on an empty stomach after three days of teaching (8:3). Jesus isn’t just focused on spiritual needs to the exclusion of physical needs; his heart breaks for both. And in this miracle he raises the issue of food… which links us to a continuing theme.

A Continuing Theme

The link between these two feeding miracles is that disciples are still stumbling around in their unbelief. Now, we might excuse the first instance with the 5,000 because they had never seen Jesus multiply loaves and fish. But, the disciples’ answer in this episode is utterly mind boggling.

Mark 8:4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

In light of everything they have seen Jesus do, they might as well be asking: What color is the sky? What color is snow? What is 1+1? This is Déjà vu all over again! Who can feed these people in such a desolate place? The same person who fed 5,000 people in a desolate place two chapters ago—Jesus! They’ve already experienced this exact miracle, they should be organizing a search party for left-overs knowing that Jesus is more than able to meet and satisfy the crowds greatest needs!

And when everything is said and done, the surprising revelation in this story is not only that Jesus is the Son of God that feeds 4,000 Gentile people; it’s the astounding disclosure that his disciples cannot see what’s right in front of them. They might love Jesus and be intimately familiar with Jesus but they appear utterly clueless… just like Jesus’ unbelieving opponents the Pharisees. Mark wants us to see that there are two groups of people walking in unbelief. One group walks with him every day. And the other is diametrically opposed to his very existence.

The Pharisees’ Abject Unbelief (Mark 8:10–13)

Notice, the Pharisees step into the picture with a singular purpose, they want to “test” Jesus (8:11). And the Greek word for “test” (πειράζω) here doesn’t denote an objective examination, but a stumbling block, a trap, or attempt to discredit.[2] They have already rendered their judgment. They refuse to believe that Jesus is God’s promised Messiah despite the fact that Jesus’ teaching and miracles fulfill God’s OT promises and clearly confirm his identity.

See, they are not just asking for another miracle—they have seen scores if not hundreds of miracles. No. They are demanding some form of outward compelling or undeniable proof that Jesus’ authority comes from God himself.

Here is Mark’s point. The very ones who claim to know God and authoritatively teach God’s law to others CANNOT recognize the signs that God has already displayed through Jesus because they are spiritually blind.[3] They are not even following God’s prescription in Law.

Deuteronomy 18:21–22 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lordhas not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

In other words, true prophecy is always authenticated through actual fulfillment. Every word that Jesus has spoken or commanded in the entire Gospel has come to pass without a single exception. Jesus has already passed every test, which is why Jesus refuses to give them a special sign. There is nothing else to see there is nothing else to demand.

As one commentator notes, faith that depends on proof is not faith at all, but only veiled doubt.[4] If a man hires a private eye to spy on his wife while he is away in order to “prove” her faithfulness, the detective’s “proof” will never guarantee the husband’s faith. Faith, just like love itself, cannot be proven; it can only be demonstrated by trust and active commitment.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Examples of faith:

    • Noah believed and built the Ark.
    • Abraham believed and left his homeland not knowing where he was going.
    • By faith Abraham offered up Isaac believing that God could raise the dead because God promised a family line through Isaac.

But, as Jesus and his disciples get back into the boat. Mark wants us to see that disciples are walking in the very same unbelief.

The Disciples’ Alarming Condition (Mark 8:14–21)

Bread in the Boat

Now, what’s the first thing that happens in the boat? The disciples realize that they had forgotten to bring bread and they only had one loaf with them (8:14). And it’s important to remember that this is not loaf of French bread or Wonder bread but it’s a single piece of pita bread.[5]

But, notice Jesus isn’t worried about bread and frankly they shouldn’t be either after the two feeding miracles. Rather, he completely hijacks the bread conversation to expose their alarming condition. When Jesus warns them about the “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (8:15) he is warning them about their spiritual condition. Let’s take a minute to unpack the importance of leaven.

I realize many of your Bibles say yeast here but the ancient world didn’t have commercially produced yeast cultures. Rather, they used “leaven” which was small piece of fermented bread dough from the previous week that was mixed into the new batch to help it rise.

The Roman historian Plutarch wrote: leaven “is itself also the product of corruption, and produces corruption in the dough with which it is mixed … and altogether the process of leavening seems to be one of putrefaction; at any rate if it goes too far, it completely sours and spoils the dough.”[6]

This is the key. Leven is a small corruption that ultimately impacts the whole batch of dough. This is fine if you want to make fluffy loaves of bread. But, in the spiritual realm, leaven is utterly devastating in that small corrupting influences can completely consume the whole… which begs the question:

What is the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod?

Commentators have spilled gallons of ink over this question throughout the centuries. But, if we have been reading Mark’s gospel closely, the one point at which the Pharisees and Herod are united is their abject unbelief in the face of overwhelming evidence.

In chapter 6, Herod refused to believeJohn the Baptist and failed to believewhen he heard about Jesus’ ministry and miracles (6:14–16). Rather, he rationalized the plain truth away by convincing himself that John the Baptist had returned from the dead.

The Pharisees have even more than Herod. They have the entire OT and they have personally witnessed Jesus ministry and miracles. But, instead of believingthat God’s promised Messiah has come, they accuse him of performing miracles by the power of Satan and demand that he produce heavenly signs affirming his authority.[7]

As Jason Meyer observes: At first glance, Herod’s response looked better than that of the Pharisees.[8]

“Herod believed that the miracles were from God. The Pharisees thought they came from demons.

Herod even believed in a kind of resurrection (John the Baptist raised from the dead). The Pharisees rejected everything as a sham.

But in the end, both responses were responses of unbelief. Neither was saving because both of them rejected the true identity of Jesus as the divine Son of God.”

And here is the scary part. The disciples don’t realize that they are infected with a dangerous, corrupting cancer that may lead them into the very same unbelief!

See, when Jesus says in verse 17 and 18, “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?”he is alluding to Isaiah 6:10–12. A text that he used to explain his use of parables in Mark chapter 4… He spoke in parables because just like the religious leaders of Isaiah’s day, the Pharisees had physical eyes and ears but they could not see or hear spiritual realities because their hearts were hardened.

The disciples are consistently worrying about insufficient resources—it’s going to take too much money to feed the crowd; there is no way the crowd can get bread in such a deserted place; now they, themselves, have no bread. Their anxiety over physical things—like bread— is preventing them from looking up and seeing what Jesus has already done in their midst. Their problem is not their lack of bread, it’s their unbelief. Unbelief that is infecting every sensory organ of their life despite their intimate relationship with Jesus!

Proximity to Jesus and familiarity with Jesus must grow into understanding, and understanding into faith; or else, like Judas, it will merely inoculate us to the person and work of Jesus Christ.[9] Because, Faithless familiarity is just as dangerous as abject unbelief.

Primary Implication

It is easy to read through the Gospels and wonder, “What is wrong with the disciples?” Why can’t they see what’s going on! How can they be so dense? It’s easy until we see how the very same tendencies play out in the Church today.

The disciples thought they were insiders. They had been part of Jesus ministry from the beginning. They heard all his teaching and witnessed all of his miracles. But, they were completely missing the point!

I just wonder with horror, how many people have grown up in the church from their earliest memory are still living in unbelief even though they have attended SS, participated in mission trips, sung on worship teams, and taught Bible studies? Teen agers, young adults, and grandparents who think they are truly Christians because they are so familiar with Christianity, when in reality they are not Christian at all. You don’t become a Christian through attendance or some form theological osmosis.

Parents don’t make the mistake of thinking that good behavior, Bible memory, missions trips and rock-solid apologetics are the same thing as true abiding faith in Jesus. Never assume the gospel.

Matthew 7:22–23 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Romans 10:9–10 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believein your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

True Christians are those people who heard and believed the good news of the gospel: Jesus lived, died, and rose again for your sin; and that God will forgive you and make you his very own child forever if you turn and believein Jesus as your only hope of salvation.

[1]James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 229.

[2]Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 235; Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 338.

[3]David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 309.

[4]Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 236–37.

[5]Literal Translation v 14: “They had forgotten to bring “breads,” and they had only one “bread”with them in the boat.”

[6]Garland, Mark, 310.

[7]Garland, Mark, 310–11.


[9]Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 239.