Why Would Jesus Do The Same Miracle Twice? My Mark 8 Sermon

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons


Good morning. My name is Bobby; I’m one of the pastors here. Peace be with you. At Sojourn, our mission is to reach people with the gospel, build them up as God’s church, and send them wherever God leads.


You might have just heard Jennifer read today’s text and thought you were experiencing deja vu. Didn’t we just have the same feeding miracle in Mark 6? The numbers are a little different but it seems like Jesus is doing the same thing, like a magician in residency: you can go back night after night, and they’re always going to pull the same rabbit out of the same hat. Is that all that’s going on here?


The last time I preached I said that the purpose of the Bible is to point us to the truth, beauty, and goodness of King Jesus so we will want to become Kingdom People. How does this story do that, in a different way than the previous story where Jesus did the same thing?

One reason for this second feeding miracle might be to show us how dull the disciples were. And, if we’re honest enough in our own self-assessments, we might realize that we’re often this dull, too. We make the same mistakes and miscalculations, over and over. We fall into the same traps. We doubt God in the same ways, in spite of all God has done for us in the past. 


The message here might be that Jesus is patient and kind, coming through for us in spite of our lack of faith. That’s a good message. But something deeper might be going on.


Another reason to tell this second story is to continue the theme that Jesus is rerunning the story of Israel in his life. He will become “faithful Israel,” fulfilling their end of the covenant with God. And he is God, fulfilling God’s end. There were two stories of a miraculous feeding in the wilderness during Israel’s exodus from slavery (Ex 16; Num 11). And now Jesus has performed two feeding miracles. 


But there’s another reason for this second story that’s easy to miss, and may make all the difference in your life. To discover it, we must pay attention to the preceding context – what happened in the verses right before this, which Pastor Jonah preached about last week. And we have to pay attention to geography. Last week’s reading told us where Jesus was:


Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. – Mark 7:31


The Decapolis is an area east of the Jordan River (and southeast of the Sea of Galilee), with ten predominantly Gentile cities loosely linked by political alliances. Decapolis means “The Ten Cities.” Jesus and Toto are not in Kansas anymore. Jews are a minority now, and the ones who live there have adapted to gentile culture.


Once we’re aware of the geography we see other signs in the story that highlight the gentile focus of this miracle: 


Verse 8 says, “Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.”


The Greek word for baskets here is spurídes. This is a gentile basket made from coiled rope or reeds. Back in chapter six when Jesus fed people, the disciples collected leftovers in Jewish baskets called kóphinoi, which looked like wicker baskets. It would be like coming from a place where everyone walked around with backpacks, and now you’re seeing leather handbags.


So we had one feeding miracle in Jewish territory and now one in Gentile territory. And this miracle occurs right after Jesus healed a man in gentile territory who could not hear or speak, and a gentile woman whose daughter was possessed. Now we have the third miracle to reinforce the theme that Jesus brings good news to Jew and gentile alike. 


We can acknowledge that this is good news for us but still miss the radical nature of what Christ can do for us and in us if we don’t consider what life was like for Jesus and the family he was born into


He’s from Nazareth, population a few hundred, an hour’s walk from Sepphoris, the district capital of Galilee. The Jewish people had been conquered by Rome just like they’d been conquered in previous centuries by the Greeks, the Medes and Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians. Esau McCaulley writes, “It is wrong to imagine that Mary and Joseph lived in some idyllic farm town far from the politics of the day. Joseph and Mary grew up in the shadow of the empire with the reminder of Rome’s domination just a short jaunt down the road.”


Rome didn’t necessarily make life more difficult than previous empires had. In some ways, Caesar brought an economic prosperity that primarily benefited the rich but somewhat trickled down to lower classes because of things like increased trade and massive building projects.


But most Jews, like those in Nazareth, lived hand to mouth. And they were ruled by people who thought of them as second class. A Roman historian named Seutonius wrote an early second-century biography of Augustus, the Caesar of Jesus’s early years. Seutonius wrote this: 


“Augustus thought it most important not to let the native Roman stock be tainted with foreign or servile blood, and was therefore very unwilling to create new Roman citizens or permit manumission of more than a limited number of slaves.” 


A puppet king named Herod ruled Israel for Rome. When Herod died in 4 B.C. some Jewish people near Jesus’s hometown took the opportunity to revolt so Rome sent over 15,000 warriors from Syria to kill and destroy. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the Roman general “Varus sent a part of his army presently to Galilee … and burned it.” Then Varus crucified 2000 of those who survived the initial attack.


This is the area where Jesus grew up. Some of his parent’s friends and relatives were probably killed in the carnage. If you grew up with the knowledge that a certain demographic of people do that kind of thing to your people, then when you see someone who looks like those people on the street, do you want to be buddies?

Shouldn’t Jesus tell his disciples, “Now I will rain down fire from heaven on these gentiles”? 


How can he turn to his Jewish apprentices and say, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. Mark 8:2


At the very least, why doesn’t he just leave and let them fend for themselves? He’s led them outside the cities of the Decapolis to an open area with no Kroger in sight. He says, 


“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?” – Mark 8:3-4


So just abandon them. But he doesn’t. 


This may be more surprising when we remember Jesus’s mother. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus her cousin Elizabeth prophesied that Mary’s baby was the Lord. Then Mary prayed a song that we call the Magnificat. 


This is a song for the resistance, one of the most famous protest songs of all time, taken up everywhere from the medieval Peasant Revolt to 20th Century farm workers in Central America. Mary was Bob Dylan before Dylan was Dylan. Totalitarian governments have banned her song because it’s too revolutionary. Mary sings things about the God of her people, like:


He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty. – Luke 1:52-53


And yet here is Jesus, all grown up: 


“I have compassion for these people … If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way … Mark 8:2


Listen, we have to stop dunking on “Mary, Did You Know?” It’s fashionable to say, “Of course she knew; Gabriel told her.” I’ve said that. But there’s a lot Mary didn’t know. Twice, the Bible says she “pondered these things in her heart.” Just like all of us, she had to ponder the question, “Who is Jesus? What is he up to?” 


Her song was an accurate reflection of what God had done for her people and what God would do through Jesus, but she had no idea that her boy wasn’t going to be a warrior who conquered by killing his enemies, but by bringing them in.


A New Testament scholar named Helen Bond writes, “The feeding miracles … give a taste of the messianic banquet to come, a magnificent future feast to which Jew and gentile alike will be invited.” 


No matter what your name is, what color your skin is, how much money you’ve got, what your sex or nationality is, or even what you’ve done, Jesus welcomes you.


He even submitted to a conspiracy of leaders to kill him in the most degrading and painful way possible, recognizing that the real fight isn’t against other people but demonic powers that manipulate them. He knew the way to defeat those powers and he was willing to do it at enormous cost to himself, even when winning looked like losing: 


He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. – Colossians 2:13-15


Now, here’s the good part. That thing Jesus did in the Decapolis, having compassion on people he should have at least been indifferent to, if not hostile … we get to do that too. 


And we don’t just have the example of Jesus to help us do it but the power of Jesus, who has filled us with the Holy Spirit so we would bear fruit that looks like the life of Christ:


the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. – Gal 5:22-23


The Holy Spirit wants to produce within you a love so stunning, so brazen, so unconventional … a love that changed the world, and can change it again.


To whom should we show compassion? Ask yourself this: is it someone who would be hungry if they had nothing to eat? In other words, is it a human being? If they need to eat, then we need to love them. We get to love them, because Jesus first loved us. 


“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. – Mark 8:2

So here’s my Monday challenge to you. I don’t know if you’ll be able to do this tomorrow but I want you to commit to planning this tomorrow – write it down if you have to – and then do it as soon as the opportunity arises:


The next time you’re somewhere: maybe in line at a grocery store or gas station, or some other public event, and you see someone who reminds you of “those people” – whoever are the kind of people that you’ve never had a great opinion of – ask God to give you compassion without condescension. 


Perhaps you can help them in some way, or maybe just pray. Say, “God, I don’t even know anything about this person’s story but I’m thinking uncharitable thoughts because of how they’re speaking to someone on the phone, or how long they’re taking to check out, or the clothes they’re wearing, the music that’s coming from their car,” or whatever it is. “Help me to see them as a fellow image bearer of you.”     This is just one small thing you can do. It won’t change the world, but it might begin to change you. And if you do it enough, you may start to find that your heart feels a bit lighter.


“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. – Mark 8:2


I’ll say this once more: The Holy Spirit wants to produce within you a love so stunning, so brazen, so unconventional … a love that changed the world, and can change it again.


Certainly a love that will change your heart so that one day when you’re sitting at that great feast, and you’re looking at all kinds of people who are nothing like you, you’ll be glad you’re there.


Let’s pray.

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