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Mark 8:14-21 NET.

14 Now they had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 And Jesus ordered them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!” 16 So they began to discuss with one another about having no bread. 17 When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? 18 Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They replied, “Twelve.” 20 “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They replied, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

As we have been looking at the commands of Christ in the Gospels, a certain pattern has emerged. Usually, an event takes place, or a certain person or group has encountered Jesus, and out of that encounter, we get a command from Jesus. But today’s text is different. In today’s text, the command comes first. The only introduction to the command is that Mark includes the fact that the disciples had failed to bring enough bread with them for the boat trip. They had only brought one loaf. You must remember that the loaves of bread in those days were not long like the loaves we are used to. The disciples are not talking about this at first. They started thinking about the fact that they had not brought enough bread because Jesus blurted out his command out of nowhere. His command was: “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!”

The twelve misunderstood this command, and it led to an argument (16-17).

Most of the time when we Christians argue with each other it is over our interpretation of scripture. It is easier for us to take sides in an argument than it is for us to look deeper and find a resolution. The twelve heard the words of Jesus and the first thing they concluded was that someone among them had done something wrong. They wanted someone to blame.

Jesus had not said that they had done anything wrong. He was warning them to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. Yeast is something that is put inside a lump of dough to transform it into something else. Jesus did not say that the twelve had already been changed. He was warning them that it was possible. He was commanding them to protect themselves from outside influence.

But the disciples misinterpreted the words of Jesus, and it caused them to turn on each other. I think there is a reminder here for all of us who do theology. It is so each to draw lines in the sand and identify everyone who disagrees with us on doctrines as our enemies, just because they do not dot their I’s and cross their t’s like we do.

Some people criticize denominations because they think denominations exist because of this problem. But historically that is not the case. Most of the denominations developed as a way for Christians with certain theological beliefs to unite with each other while accepting and respecting those who hold different views.

When Penny and I were college professors, we served in a college that had been begun by our denomination. But we served students and churches from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds. We helped all our students see the history of the development of all church groups and theological positions.

The real problem that Jesus is addressing here is not denominations. The problem is also not that he is blaming certain disciples for failing to collect enough supplies for the trip. The problem was that all the twelve had failed to understand the spiritual significance of the miracles that they had recently experienced.

Jesus reminded them of how he had miraculously supplied their physical needs (18-21).

On two separate occasions, Jesus had taken the meager supplies that the disciples had procured and turned them into a miraculous example of his abundant provision. He had fed the five thousand from a boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fishes. Then he fed four thousand from seven loaves and a few fish. After each miracle, there was a large amount of food left over. What the twelve should have understood from these events is that it does not matter how much you start with. When Jesus blesses your efforts, the result is going to be more than enough.

The apostle Paul had learned this lesson. He had been called by God not to stay in one place, but to go from place to place, preaching the gospel, leading people to Christ, and starting churches in places that had not yet been reached. He had only a few people and churches that provided for his needs as he did his missionary work. But it was always enough.

Each of these disciples needed to learn this lesson because (except for Judas) each of them would also be called to missions work that would require them to attempt much more than they had prepared for. Those twelve people in the boat with only one loaf of bread are a symbol of how their lives would be lived. They are on their way. They do not have enough. But because Jesus is in the boat with them, their “too little” will result in too much.

But what did Jesus mean by that command? We really cannot tell from the immediate context because Mark only makes clear that the disciples misunderstood Jesus, and Jesus did not explain himself.

We know from Matthew’s version of this story that the disciples eventually realized that the yeast was false teaching. Jesus was warning them that they could be wrongly influenced by groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees, so they needed to keep their theology pure and not taint it with heresies and false teachings of others.

But Mark does not mention that conversation. I think it is important for us to ask why Mark included the story where he did and the clues that he did include in his Gospel. I know that now – after all this time – we have the other Gospels to consult, but there were probably lots of people who only had Mark’s Gospel and they had to figure out what Mark meant by only looking at what Mark wrote. So, what could Mark have meant by the yeast of the Pharisees?

The yeast of the Pharisees implied here is probably the “prove it to me” attitude (8:11).

Earlier in his Gospel, Mark included this verse: He said, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven to test him.” Jesus had proven that he was who he said he was by many indisputable miracles. But the Pharisees looked at all that evidence and essentially said that it wasn’t enough. It was not enough that multitudes believed in Jesus. The Pharisees had to be convinced themselves. They said that they would not be moved by anyone else’s testimony. If Jesus was the Messiah, he would have to prove it to them.

There are lots of people who have the same attitude about Jesus right now. They may have had friends or relatives or teachers or co-workers who believe in Jesus. But the testimony and practice of those people are not enough. Like Thomas, they will not believe unless they see the proof of the resurrection themselves.

“The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But (Thomas) replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!” Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!”” (John 20:25-28).

It was wonderful that Jesus appeared to Thomas and gave him undisputable proof of his resurrection. But it is tragic that lots of people continue to have that attitude today. I’ll tell you why. First, Jesus calls that attitude continuing in unbelief. Second, the Bible tells us that Jesus is coming back, and he is going to judge every person that has ever lived. There will be a significant number of people who Jesus is going to send into the fire which will result in permanent death. But those people will say to Jesus that they had not been convinced. But Jesus will tell them that he had given plenty of evidence of his existence. They were not convinced because they chose to not be convinced. They chose to continue in their unbelief.

He is also going to look at all those goats and point in the direction of the other group – the group of people who he had directed to his right side. These are the ones who had committed their lives to follow Christ, and most of those people will have never seen Jesus. They believed and were blessed because of their faith in the one whom they had not seen.

If you are an unbeliever today, I challenge you to find a genuine believer and ask him or her to share their faith with you. I’m not asking you to get them to prove that Jesus is real. I’m asking you to seek proof of Jesus’ reality from the faith of those who believe him. If you are honest enough with yourself, you will know that’s all you need. If Jesus has ever changed anyone’s life, then you must repent of your sins and come to him before it is too late. Don’t let your stubbornness keep you from the gift of eternal life.

The yeast of Herod implied here is probably his brutal use of authority (6:17, 27).

Herod had decided to contain the influence of John the Baptist by imprisoning him – just because he was powerful enough to do so. There are lots of people who are working hard to erase the gospel from the world, and they are using the powers of government to do so. History tells us that when such things begin to happen, it eventually leads to persecution and death of Christians. That is what happened under Herod. He originally meant only to imprison John, but he wound up beheading him.

Our culture is turning against Christ and the gospel, and it is only a matter of time before its distaste will result in destruction. When those in authority turn against the truth it inevitably results in bloodshed and brutality.

The only way for us as individuals to deal with that reality is for us to decide that we will not allow the truth to be hidden away by those in power. We need to hold our leaders accountable for crossing the line. We do not have a good track record in doing that. When those in power say a person can marry whatever they want, and parents have the right to kill their unborn children – and Christians do not object – then the yeast of Herod is already in our bread.

Jesus’ command to his disciples was to watch out and beware of that yeast. For us, that means we must take a good look at what we believe and teach, and practice to make sure that it is genuine Christianity. We cannot assume that everything we have been taught is true. Neither can we assume that what is acceptable in our society today is appropriate for citizens of Christ’s coming kingdom.

We must learn to be positively discriminating — not prejudiced against a person because of their skin color, but careful not to hold a belief just because it is popular or someone in power supports it. If we are too timid to do that, then we are part of the problem, not part of the solution. When our loaves are filled with the yeast of Pharisaical doubt and Herodian corruption, it will be very hard for the world around us to find Jesus in us. He calls us to be salt and light in this world – to influence it. We need to stop letting the world influence us.


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Matthew 15:21-28 NET.

21 After going out from there, Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon.22 A Canaanite woman from that area came and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed!” 23 But he did not answer her a word. Then his disciples came and begged him, “Send her away, because she keeps on crying out after us.” 24 So he answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!” 26 “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said. 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

Today is Mother’s Day – a day we set aside to obey the biblical command to honor our mothers. If I asked y’all to give testimony this morning of how your mothers influenced your lives, I imagine that most of you would have something to say. I’m not going to do that right now. Instead, I’m going to talk about the mother that Matthew wrote about in today’s text.

Matthew calls her a Canaanite, and Mark tells us that she was “a Greek, of Syrophoenician origin.”[1] Both terms could apply to her if she was an inhabitant of the region that Christ was visiting at the time. It was clear that she was not a member of the Jewish race. She was not one of Jesus’ disciples. She appears to have known enough about Jesus to address him as “Lord.” We see that in verse 22 and verse 27. She also knows that Jesus is the “Son of David” so she might have been exposed to the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah.

But the only important things to know about this woman is that she was a Gentile and she had a daughter who was demon-possessed. Jesus was visiting the place where she lived, and she decided to ask Jesus for help. As we have been reading through the Gospels in the series of messages on the commands of Christ, we have noticed that wherever Jesus goes, people learn about him and seek his help. What is unusual about today’s text is that for some reason, Jesus seems to be reluctant to help this woman.

Jesus always has a good reason for doing what he does. It seems that Jesus wanted to draw attention to this mother’s intercession for her daughter. Today I want to look closer at what this mother does to help her daughter. At some point in our lives as parents, all of us are going to face a crisis where we need God’s help for our children. Today’s passage offers mothers and fathers a guide to praying for our children. The same principles apply to those of us who are praying for our parents or friends when they need God’s help.

This mother interceded personally (22,25).

She was personally committed to seeing her daughter well. In fact, before she even mentions her daughter, she says to Jesus “Have mercy on me, Lord.” Later, “she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!” Her daughter’s demon possession is not just her daughter’s problem. It’s her problem. She identified with that child. Those of you who are parents know what I’m getting at.

This woman’s mother heart felt the pain and shame of her daughter’s infirmity. The neighbors might have said to her “Oh, your daughter is just going to have to deal with that.” But this woman could not have that attitude. This demon was not her daughter’s problem to deal with alone. This demon had attacked her daughter and when he did that, it became her problem. So, logically, she comes to Jesus asking him to help her. The demon had not just wrecked her daughter’s life – he had wrecked her life. This was personal.

This mother interceded persistently (23-26).

Today’s passage tells us that she cried out to Jesus for help. But at first, he appeared to have ignored her. It says, “he did not answer her a word.” Oh, brothers and sisters, I know you know how that feels. We often go to pray to our Lord about this thing or that, and most of the time our first answer from him is no answer. We learn something about prayer from this woman because the text goes on. The story does not stop there because this woman did not turn around and head back to her house. She did not scratch Jesus off her list of things to try.

Jesus taught a parable about prayer in which a widow kept coming to a judge seeking justice against her adversary.[2] In the parable, the judge refused to address her problem for a while. But she kept at it. Eventually, the judge decided to give her justice because she kept bothering him. Now, Jesus’ point was not that God is reluctant to answer our prayers. His point is that when it comes to praying, persistence and tenacity matter. People who are victorious in prayer are the kind of people who will keep praying and not give up.

This mother could have given up when Jesus ignored her, but she didn’t. Instead, she decided that if Jesus would not answer her directly, she would try to get to Jesus through his disciples. It looks like she approached each disciple one after the other, either trying to get help from them or trying to get one of them to go to Jesus for her.

She pled, she bothered, she nagged, she persisted, she bugged those disciples until they were about crazy. They finally came to Jesus and begged him to send her away because she had kept on crying out after them.

Jesus told her “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Now, if somebody ever said something like that to me, I know I would feel offended. I just might get mad. But this interceding mother did not get mad.

This mother interceded dependently (27).

This mother responded to Jesus’ statement with a reply that was a brilliant mixture of both confidence and humility. She boldly said “Yes, Lord, but…” That’s confidence. That is the boldness of someone who knows who God is and so is not afraid to argue a bit when she gets to the throne room. She’s not arguing with the fact that Jesus mentioned. She knows that as a Gentile she has no clout in the courtroom of heaven. She knows that Jesus had been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and she was not a member of the family.

But it is that very fact that she is not qualified to partake in the family inheritance that she realizes is her secret weapon in the throne room. She tells Jesus “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She says, “Jesus, you go on and share the bread of life with all your Jewish brothers and sisters. I’m not qualified to be at that banquet. But I will stick around to take any stray crumbs you might let fall toward me. That’s humility.

That combination of boldness to approach the throne and humility in seeking God’s grace is a winning combination. I call it dependence. It’s our secret weapon in the war room of prayer.

This mother interceded victoriously (28).

Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour. We are not told anything about the daughter except the fact that she had been demon-possessed, and she got healed. That is good news for us because we are left with the impression that all that daughter needed was what she had. Her father is never mentioned. She didn’t have an army of prayer warriors in a local church back home. She didn’t have a handkerchief prayed over by a televangelist. She didn’t have a Sunday School education. As far as we know, she didn’t even have a personal faith in God. The only thing that daughter had was a mother who interceded for her and would not quit. The only reason this is a victory story is that this mother got ahold of Jesus and would not let go of him until he blessed her by answering her prayers.

This is a story for all the mothers and fathers and siblings and friends and neighbors out there who face overwhelming problems in their lives. It is a story about how to get victory over those problems, even when it seems that God himself has been ignoring you. We never learn this mother’s name or anything else about her, but we do learn a great deal from her. We learn to ask and keep on asking and it will be given; seek and keep seeking and we will find; knock and keep knocking and the door will be opened. We learn to intercede for those in need and keep interceding. There is a loving Savior watching who rewards those who diligently seek him.

[1] Mark 7:26.

[2] Luke 18:1-8.


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20230507 Will Your Work Last?

John 6:22-29 NET.

22 The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the lake realized that only one small boat had been there, and that Jesus had not boarded it with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 But some boats from Tiberias came to shore near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life — the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God, the Father has put his seal of approval on him.” 28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires — to believe in the one whom he sent.”

I like to read mysteries. I get caught up when the sleuth tries to figure out what happened, why it happened, and who done it. We have been going through the stories about Jesus in the Gospels, looking at the commands that Jesus gave. Today’s passage contains another command in the context of the aftermath of the feeding of the 5000.

None of the Gospel authors identifies any of the crowd that had been fed beside the seashore by name. But from today’s text, I can tell you the names of some of those people. Sherlock Holmes was among them, along with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. They had a mystery on their hands, and they were trying to put all the facts together to solve that mystery. If Perry Mason was in that crowd, then Earl Stanley Gardner would entitle this story “The Case of the Missing Messiah.”

Here are the facts of the case. Jesus and his disciples had been involved in preaching to a large crowd. In the process of their ministry, somehow a huge meal had been provided for that crowd of thousands. No one in that crowd doubted that a miracle had taken place. Nobody argues with a full stomach. That wasn’t the mystery that the crowd was trying to solve. The mystery they were trying to solve was what happened next. Witnesses had been on the beach when a small boat carrying the twelve disciples set off in the direction of the city of Capernaum. Those witnesses verified that Jesus did not enter that boat.

Consequently, the crowd assumed that Jesus would be available for them the next day. The mystery began the next day when a careful search was done, and no Jesus was to be found. John tells us that…

The crowd was working hard trying to find Jesus (22-25).

The disciples had left, but all the evidence showed that Jesus was still there somewhere. The previous day they had been fed so well that naturally, they were in the mood for a repeat performance. But they looked all over, and they could not find Jesus anywhere. Poirot put his little gray cells to work but found nothing. Sherlock wore out his pipe trying to figure it out.

I wish that people would try just as hard today to find Jesus for any reason. We seem to live in a world that is trying hard to lose Jesus. Christmas is about a dude in a red suit. Easter is about a bunny. Instead of waiting for the second coming, our world seems to be trying hard to erase all the signs of his first coming.

So, I applaud this crowd because at least they were looking for Jesus. But the trouble was that it would not have mattered how hard they tried because Jesus was not where they were looking. Here is a message for this secular world today. They need to know that Jesus is not where they are looking. He’s not in the drugs. He’s not in loose morals. He’s not in the rebranding of sin – calling it a choice and demanding the right to choose it. John tells us that…

They were working for their needs to be satisfied (26b).

Jesus had fed them once. For once, they had eaten all they wanted. They never forgot that. They were hungry again. So, they thought all they needed to do to get another miraculous meal is to find the Rabbi.

Penny and I work at the food bank on a regular basis. We gather with a large group of workers from several churches. After the food items arrive, we put them out on tables to distribute to each car as it drives up. When we have everything set up, we all hold hands and pray. We pray for the safety of everyone involved. We pray that we will work with a cheerful attitude. We pray to meet the needs of those who show up in the line. But most of all we pray that those who receive the items might know that we are doing this because of Jesus.

We are from various churches, but we all know that we want to do more than just sit in our churches and proclaim the gospel to each other. We want to demonstrate Jesus’ love by what we do. The church is called to a ministry of proclamation. But the Church is also called to a ministry of demonstration.

That is what was going on here. When Jesus fed the 5000, he was demonstrating his power. He showed the crowd that he cared about them, and he wanted to meet their needs. But now he was giving them an opportunity to pursue him further. He had another lesson to teach. John tells us that…

Jesus told them to work for food that will last forever (27).

The crowd finally noticed that Jesus was not there, and figured out that he must have gone back to Capernaum by some other means. They pursued Jesus until they found him. But when they found him, Jesus challenged them to look for something else besides their next meal.

The problem with food is that no matter how much you eat, you will eventually get hungry again. Even if the food is from a fancy and expensive restaurant, you’ll still get hungry again. Food sustains our lives. But there has never been a food item that sustains us so well that we never need any food ever again.

So, when Jesus told them to work for “the food that remains to eternal life” he was not talking about physical food, and he was not talking about this physical life. We all have a certain number of days to live. Food can help to sustain this physical life, but it cannot sustain us permanently. But Jesus was waking these people up to the reality that another life is available.

He told them to work for food that will last forever. Later in the chapter, Jesus explains what he meant:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves.       The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:51-54 NET).

The crowd came looking for Jesus to get some more bread. But Jesus used that opportunity to teach them something about himself. There is food that will last. Don’t waste your entire life looking for the wrong bread – working for the wrong food. That physical food is good. But you have a need that cannot be filled by that physical food. You need a body that will not wear out, and a mind that will not deteriorate.

Someday, you are going to be sleeping in one of those graves out there in the cemetery. When that happens, it won’t matter how big a house you had. It won’t matter how fashionable your clothes were. It won’t matter how much you ate or how good it tasted. No, your days of tasting that physical bread will be over. On that day when you lie silent in your grave awaiting the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call, the only thing that is going to matter is whether you worked for the bread of life. But John tells us that…

That food cannot be earned — it must be received by faith (28-29).

The crowd said to Jesus, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires — to believe in the one whom he sent.”

When Adam sinned in the garden, God told him that “cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). Ever since then, we have been working the ground so that it can give us the physical bread and vegetables and fruit we need to sustain our physical bodies, our temporary lives. But there is no work that we can do to produce bodies that will never die. That work could only be done by the Son of Man. He had work that only he was qualified for. God sent him to accomplish that work, and he accomplished it once and for all.

Now, there is some work that I can do that you cannot do. There is some work that you can do that I cannot do. But there is something that you and I and every other human being on this planet can do. We all have the capacity to believe in Jesus. God has given each of us that capacity and that is all we need to receive this promised eternal life. That food cannot be earned — it must be received by faith.

The apostle Paul put it this way: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).

Now for many, there comes a time when they must stop working for the bread they eat. But if we have time enough to repent of our sins and confess Christ as our Savior, we still have access to that eternal life he promised. The trouble is, so many are content to work their lives away seeking the food that doesn’t last.

God has done the sending. Christ has done the saving. The only thing he asks you and me to do is believe him. Accept his work by faith and someday when those graves are opened, you and I can wake up to eternal life. Believing in Jesus is the only work that will last.