We always want a sign. Sometimes its because we need to know where we fit in a world that feels big and chaotic. Sometimes its because at times of great uncertainty, we need the comfort of a signpost that shows us where we are going and what the plan is.
This is a completely normal and natural anxiety and yearning for order. It’s why horoscopes are so popular. And it’s not a new problem. Throughout the Old Testament, God warns the Israelites not to engage with spiritualists and diviners. It displays a lack of faith in God. It means they weren’t trusting in God’s promises or his faithfulness. They took things into their own hands. Without any apparent signs from God, they went to find their own signs. And, if they were anything like us, kept looking for signs until they found the one they liked.
I stopped reading my horoscope when I became a Christian (it seemed fairly pointless after you know where you’re going) but I remember when I did read them, that if one was a bit generic (funny that, eh?) then I google another horoscope. And if that one didn’t sound that good, I’d look for another one.
The thing is, the Israelites did have signs. They had God actually with them. So did the people gathered around Jesus. God was actually with them. He was performing sings and wonders all over the place. It was pretty hard to miss. And yet they did.
The place we’ve reached in our Bible studies takes us to a story that seems awfully familiar. In Mark 8:1-13, Jesus feeds the four thousand. In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus had fed the five thousand. Is this truth or literary device to make a point? Both would seem likely.
As a truth, what does it tell us?
“During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”
His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied.
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present.” (Mark 8:1-9)
It’s a miracle. It points to the fact that Jesus is something more than human. It’s reminiscent of God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus – as they followed and grumbled and complained and God had compassion on them. In Jesus’ compassion, he gave in such abundance that there was seven basketfuls left over.
As a literary device, what does it say? The story and wording is very similar to narrative in Mark 6. This device is like bookends – to draw attention to to what sits between. And what sits between the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000?
- The feeding of the 5,000
- Jesus walks on water and calms the storm even though the disciples hearts are hard
- Jesus teaches against shallow observance of surface religion and a focus on cleanliness of the heart – re-teaching the intention of God’s commands and away from human rules
- Jesus heals the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and teaches the order of salvation, and making it clear that the gospel will be for the Gentiles also
- Jesus heals the deaf and mute man
- The feeding of the 4,000
The feeding stories are the two ends of the banner. What the stories in between tell us is the important part. It tells us that he has the same power as God (point 1), he has the authority to speak for God and interpret God’s communication (point 2), he also has the power and authority to communicate God’s plan (point 3) and his healing activities are foretold by the great prophets (point 4, as foretold by Isaiah).
Taken on their own, the feeding stories are marvelous but people could have interpreted Jesus’ role as a new Moses, who was God’s representative in the wilderness during the provision of manna, quail and water. The stories between the two ends show that Jesus’ role cannot be misinterpreted (for those who have ears to hear that is).
And yet, people do misinterpret. In verse 11-13, after the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 and all the signs in between, the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him for a sign. He tells them there will be no sign. Not because he will not give them any, but because he has given them many but their hard hearts stop them from seeing them. They will accept no sign even though there are signs all around them and God is right in front of them.
I wonder reading this, what signs do I miss? I am a believer and (with God’s help) a growing disciple. But still, where is my hearty hardened? What do I miss? Do I get so wrapped up in my anxieties and worries that I fail to see where God has moved powerfully in my life?
Sometimes, I think we need to strip things back and re-remember who Jesus is. I need to remember how powerful and how present God is in my life. I can get so worried about not knowing whats going to happen or where I fit in that I can try to take things into my own hands. I organise and manage and change the routine and work things so I feel in control of where things are going. Obviously I need to make sure my kids are well and happy and healthy and everyone gets to where they need to be and all that. But outside of that, anything that crosses the line into taking power away from God (as if I could!) shows where I am not trusting Him. As difficult as that is, I need to stop doing that.
How? I need to develop my God-vision. I need to see the signs. I need to be observant and see the hundred little things every day that show me how God is there.
So everyday, take a moment. Think about the day. See where God moved in your life. Remember Him. Remember the cross. Remember God’s promises. Remember His faithfulness.
This is a stand alone blog but is also part of a series working through the Gospel of Mark. You can dip into any you have missed here.