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The Feeding of the Four Thousand

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 15, 2020 12:01 am

The Feeding of the Four Thousand

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 15, 2020 12:01 am

Just after Jesus miraculously fed another great crowd, the Pharisees came demanding more signs from Him. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Mark to identify the dangers of a hardened heart.

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Coming up next on the Lord's Day edition of Renewing Your Mind… Razing the dead, healing the blind, restoring the deaf. Jesus proved that He was the Son of God, but the Pharisees actually demanded another sign and refused to believe.

As we continue Dr. R.C. Sproul's series from the Gospel of Mark, we'll be in chapter 8, where Jesus has just performed the miracle of feeding 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread. At first glance, when we listened to the text that I just read to you, we must stop for a moment and think, what's happening here? Did some copy scribe in the early centuries get mixed up on the pages of his manuscript and repeated the same story that we just looked at a few weeks ago in the story of the feeding of the 5,000? Many critical scholars have assumed just that about the text for the simple reason that there are so many similarities in this narrative that we found already in the story of the feeding of the 5,000. On both occasions, there was a vast multitude there who had been listening to the teaching of Jesus somewhere out in the wilderness. In both narratives, we see that Jesus is moved by compassion for the needs of the people who are gathered. In both narratives, He inquires of the disciples as to what provisions they have found among them. And in both narratives, we have a few loaves and just a few fish. In both narratives, Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes to such a degree that all of the people are satisfied and that there's a large abundance of fragments that are left over after the feeding, which fragments are picked up in baskets. After both narratives, Jesus leaves the crowds by boat to go to another part of the Sea of Galilee, followed by an interrogation and confrontation with the Pharisees who had come up from Jerusalem. So we see all of these similarities between the two narratives, and you can understand why the critical scholars would say, obviously this is a doublet.

It is simply an error in repetition of the same material. Well, when I read those criticisms of the text, I think back to the first year I taught college in western Pennsylvania. I was teaching theology and philosophy, and I had a friend on the faculty who taught the humanities and English.

And in the humanities course that was required of all freshmen, they had to study Ovid's Metamorphosis, which was filled with ancient mythology. And my friend was passionately opposed to the truth claims of Christianity. So every day in class while they were studying Ovid, he kept pointing out the similarities between the mythological content of Ovid and the New Testament teaching about Jesus, so that people from his class would scurry to my class, and they would say, Professor so-and-so said today, and they would repeat what he said, what do you say? I was getting a little tired of this.

And so I saw my friend in the student union on one day, and I said to him, Chris, who later quit teaching and became a soap opera star. But in any case, I said, I said, Chris, what's going on with this Ovid stuff, you know, telling all these similarities? And he says, well, they're there. And I said, yes, they are. I said, here's what I want to know. Are you giving an equal amount of time discussing the differences between Ovid's Metamorphosis and the New Testament narrative of Jesus?

I didn't know there were any differences, said my friend. So we spent about an hour, and I pointed to difference after difference after difference after difference, not the least of which was a radically different view of history. And at the end of that time, he said, all right. He says, I didn't realize that. I said, fine.

I said, why don't you do this? Why don't you teach English, and I'll teach theology, and we're going to get along fine, because I don't teach literary criticism in my theology class. So the point I want to make is this, that in any science to gain any knowledge, any precision of language, there is a process that is involved called the process of individuation, where the first thing that you do is that you put ideas or concepts in groups of similarity, just like we do in biology. And then after we've noted the similarities, then we begin to differentiate by calling attention to those aspects that differ one with another. This is what happens in medicine.

If you have a stomach ache and you go to the doctor, you know that that stomach ache may be a result of indigestion, or it may be a result of stomach cancer. There are similarities. But thanks be to God, the doctor doesn't send us for chemotherapy when we have indigestion, because the doctor also studies the differences as well as the similarities. That's what makes for knowledge.

That's what makes for science. And it's also true in applying our understanding to the Word of God. We've seen several of the similarities. I don't have all day to point out the differences, but some of the most obvious differences that we see in this text are first of all the people that have been there for three days, not one, and we see that they find seven loaves, not five.

They pick up less fragments in a different word for the baskets that are used to pick up the fragments at the end. We also see the different word for fish in this situation, which takes place in Gentile territory in the Decapolis, where the audience is almost certainly Gentiles rather than Jews. It takes place in an area that specializes in the fishing and selling of a certain kind of fish, sardines. And that's the word that is used here. In the feeding of the five thousand, it was generic fish, not sardines.

Here it's sardines. We could go on and on with these technical points of differences between them. Again, at the end of the description of the narrative, we are told that in the feeding of the five thousand, we think, well, it seems the same five thousand, four thousand. What's the difference between the one thousand people? Well, remember in the feeding of the five thousand, it was five thousand men, not counting the women and children. Here it's four thousand people including the women and children.

So there's a vastly different number of people that are being described here. And of course the coup de grace in all of this is that in the narrative, Jesus when He's discussing the matter with the disciples calls attention to the fact that this has happened twice, once with the Jews, now with the Gentiles, and that the disciples didn't get it either time. So I'm confident that what we have here is not a copyist's error in conjoining the same narrative twice, but we have a separate act of Christ, in this case for the Gentiles. Well, let's look then at what happens after the feeding is finished, and Jesus came to the region of Domenutha, which is on the western edge of the Sea of Galilee, and once again the Pharisees come to Him. Now we read in verse 11, the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him.

That English word's a little weak. Really the force that we have here in the Greek is that they came out to harangue Him, to harass Him, not merely to have a polite little discussion or debate about matters, but they are here in full hostility against Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. Now notice Jesus' response to this request for a sign, but before we notice the response, let me just say this.

How many signs did these people need to have? I mean Jesus had been going through this region with a blaze of miracle. Everywhere He goes, He's raising the dead. He's giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and so on. But remember that these Pharisees were convinced that those works Jesus had performed by the power of Satan, and so they did not constitute a real divine authentication of Jesus as a trustworthy prophet. They wanted to hear the heavens opened. They wanted to hear God's voice say, this is My beloved Son. Obviously they weren't present at the baptism of Jesus when God did just that. But anyway, they're coming now demanding a conclusive sign that'll settle the matter once and for all, and they're saying, Jesus, prove to us that You really are from God. He said, I'm not going to prove you anything. You're not going to get any sign.

This generation is not entitled to any more signs. And then we read Mark's description of Jesus. He sighed deeply in His Spirit.

He sighed deeply in His Spirit. Even that doesn't catch the full nuance of what's going on here. Rather it's telling us that Jesus comes to the absolute limit, humanly speaking, of His exasperation. He's going, oh, not again. He's sick and tired of this kind of response. Now you may say, wait a minute, Jesus is supposed to be sinless, and if He's sinless, He should certainly be patient. Well, Jesus has been more than patient with these people, and one of the points that we fail to grasp occasionally, friends, is in what sense God Himself is patient. The Bible talks about His patience. It talks about His forbearance. It talks about His longsuffering, and do we see that so many times in sacred Scripture of the patience of God, the forbearance of His mercy, that we sometimes begin to believe that God's patience is infinite?

Have you thought that? That's an extremely dangerous conclusion to come to, because again and again God warns His people, my Spirit will not always strive with men. There is a limit to God's patience, beloved. He may forbear with you week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, until we become at ease in Zion and think, well, He's always going to forbear with us. But there are times in the Bible where God ends His patience, and He gives people over to their sin. That could happen to people who are sitting in this room right now who have depended on God's mercy, and they're thinking, well, tomorrow I'm going to get right with God, or give me another week.

Next week may be too late to deal with God. And this is what Jesus is saying here to these people. And we read, and He left them, and He got into the boat again and departed the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread. They weren't much for packing foodstuffs and knapsacks whenever they traveled with Jesus. And now they're the ones without bread, and they say they didn't have more than one loaf with them in the boat, never mind that the bread of life was sitting in the middle of the boat.

They're worried because they only have one loaf of bread to divide among themselves. And so Jesus took this opportunity to give a charge to His own disciples. Listen to what He says, take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. I'm sure you've all seen farmhouses where on the gate there's a sign that says, beware of vicious dog. Or you remember Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where the soothsayer cries in the street saying to Caesar, Caesar, beware the ides of March. Well, it's one thing when a ragged old soothsayer tells you to watch out for something or a farmer puts a sign on his gate. But when God incarnate tells you to beware of something, you need to stop in your tracks. You need to take heed.

You need to listen. What is it that Jesus is warning His disciples about that requires this strong admonition? Take heed, beware. He says, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. What's the leaven of the Pharisees?

Elsewhere in the New Testament. The Pharisees' leaven is described as the leaven of their teaching and the leaven of their hypocrisy. Jesus is saying, watch out for false doctrine.

Watch out for hypocrisy and teaching that can poison you. Because this metaphor of leaven borrowed from the process by which bread was made, where yeast was added to the dough to make it rise and so on, a fermenting agent of the ancient world and still in our own day, the whole metaphor is just a little bit of this substance can radically alter and change anything it's mixed with. And almost every time in the New Testament when leaven is used in a metaphorical way, it's used in a negative way. It's of an influence that corrupts, an influence that destroys. He's saying to the disciples, you just saw what I did here.

It's the second time you've seen it. And you heard the questions of the Pharisees, and we leave the Pharisees on the shore. We get in the boat, and it's like an echo in here. It's like I'm hearing the same thing out of your mouths that I was hearing out of the mouths of the Pharisees.

Aren't we like that? You spend time with cynics. You start to be a cynic.

You spend time around antagonistic skeptics. You become an antagonistic skeptic because the leaven of the Pharisees is a poison that can kill us. And that's what Jesus is saying to His own disciples here in the boat. And they're taken aback by it, and they're trying to figure out why Jesus is coming on so strong.

It's because we don't have any bread. Jesus understood what they were saying, and He said to them, why do you reason because you have no bread? Well, let me read this next question from Jesus with one alteration, one editorial alteration, where Jesus says, Do you not perceive nor understand? Is your heart hardened? Now I left two words out of that citation.

I'm going to go back and read it the way He actually said it. Do you not yet perceive and understand? Is your heart still hardened? Understand, dear friends, that by nature we are deaf to the things of God, blind to the things of God. Our hearts are recalcitrant. They've been calcified.

They've been reified. That's the way we are by nature, hearts that are hearts of stone that have no pulse beat for the things of God, so that the Word of God bounces off our hearts just as something might bounce off of a rock. By nature, we don't perceive the things of God until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and opens our ears.

We're impervious to the truth of God, and the disciples were fallen creatures just like you and I. Jesus said, You don't get it yet. You still don't see it? Are your hearts still hard?

Let me stop right there and jump across the ages and make application to you, to me today. How's your hearing? How's your sight of the things of God? How's your heart?

Do you have calluses on your heart? Have you found ways to defend yourself from the truth of God's Word? Do you still run from it? Do you still blind yourself to it, cover your ears so that you don't have to listen to it?

Remember, that's our nature. Don't you remember, Jesus said, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? He said twelve. How about when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up? And there's a difference there, but there's also a painful similarity, and Jesus said, and how is it that you do not understand? The Lord will not always strive with us. He has given us His Word. He's given us Himself as the bread of life. He's given us the table, which is an outward, visible, tangible sign and seal of His death for us. That's why we come to the table, to remember His death until He comes, to anticipate the banquet feast that we will have with Him in heaven at the marriage feast of the Lamb and His bride. And the Spirit and the bride still say, come, come ye who have no money and eat freely of the bread of life, of the bread that has come down from heaven. He offers Himself to all of those who despair of their own righteousness, who despair of their own efforts to get them into the kingdom of God, for those who know that their only hope in life and death is Christ and His work. The Pharisees refused to believe that Jesus was from God.

They refused to believe that He is God, and that unbelief condemned them. We have the same evidence in front of us today, and I hope that you have trusted in the work of Christ, His perfect life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection, and that you find your only hope of salvation in Him. We're glad you've joined us for Renewing Your Mind on this Lord's Day.

I'm Lee Webb. Each Sunday we are pleased to feature a sermon from Dr. R.C. Sproul's verse-by-verse series from Mark's Gospel. It's a series that was the basis of a commentary by Dr. Sproul. We'd like to send it to you.

It's a hardbound volume, but it's not intimidating at all. Dr. Sproul's commentaries are easy to read and eminently helpful. So contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we'll be glad to send you this commentary on Mark.

This is an online offer only, so go to And let me take this opportunity to remind you that we bring you these sermons each week to be a supplement to your own local church assembly. We would never want this program to take the place of sitting under the teaching and preaching of your pastor, and that's why we here at Ligonier Ministries believe that our mission really is to come alongside the local church and to provide the kind of resources that you hear on this program. Well, next Sunday, Dr. Sproul will continue this sermon series from Mark. Jesus will heal a blind man, and Peter will make a profound observation about Jesus. Please join us next Lord's Day for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-27 18:33:04 / 2024-01-27 18:41:03 / 8

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