The call to follow Jesus is an invitation to faith. Many choose to stay in the crowd. It is comfortable in the crowd. It is easy in the crowd. But, Jesus longs for us to be disciples. To be a disciple means to engage with Jesus. It is a call to trust and to follow. There will be challenges along the way, but the journey is beautiful, deep, and rich. The call to faith means turning your life over to God’s agenda and experiencing joy and peace in Him. Following Jesus is where you see the miracles and truly live the life you were created to live.
Compassion for All People
As we begin Mark 8, let’s remember that Jesus is still in the Gentile territory of Decapolis. Even though the strategy of His ministry was to focus mainly on the Jews, He still spent time with the Gentiles. A large crowd gathered around Jesus, undoubtedly because they were amazed at His words and miracles. Jesus said to His disciples, 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 (Mark 8:2-3).
Jesus’ disciples seemed to forget that Jesus had not long ago multiplied a few loaves of bread and fish to feed five thousand people! In verse 4 they ask Him, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” Jesus then asks them how many loaves they have, and they tell him they have seven. Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples to distribute to the people. Verse 8 reads, The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Now, the Gospel of Mark has shown Jesus miraculously feeding thousands of people not once, but twice. But you may be wondering, why did the author, John Mark, include both miracles? Well, there are some important differences in the two stories, and they reveal much about Jesus and how He sees people.
First of all, remember that Jesus was among a crowd of Gentiles. These were people who mostly worshiped pagan gods, not the God of Israel. The Jews looked down upon them, and the Pharisees questioned why Jesus would even associate with them. And yet, Jesus had compassion for them, and considered their needs. The first time Jesus multiplied bread and fish, it was among the Jews, and Jesus used the miracle to display His power and grow His followers’ faith in Him. This time, He was among the Gentiles, and Jesus used the miracle also to display His compassion for all people.
Second, the numbers of loaves and baskets are changed between the two stories. This difference has a symbolic purpose! In Mark 6, when Jesus feeds the five thousand Israelites, there were twelve baskets left over. That’s twelve baskets representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Here, as Jesus feeds the four thousand Gentiles, there are seven baskets left over. That’s seven baskets, a number which has the Biblical meaning of fullness and completion.
How incredible, that even the leftovers of Jesus’ miracles reflect His purpose (the Gentile woman who asked for even the crumbs was onto something!). Jesus came to serve the role of the Jewish Messiah, but His complete work is enough for the Gentiles, too.
Two Types of Healing
[Jesus and His disciples] came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him (Mark 8:22).
The life change that can happen when people ask Jesus to help the people around them is astonishing. This verse certainly suggests it was more the idea of the man’s friends to seek His healing than the blind man himself. Jesus touched the man’s eyes once and asked him if He saw anything. Verse 24 reads, [The man] looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” The man only had blurry vision, so Jesus’ healing wasn’t complete, at least not yet. In the next verse, once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
It’s great that the man eventually had his vision fully restored, and he only had to wait an extra moment. But it’s likely the author’s intent that we would read this passage and wonder, why would one touch not be enough? We know that Jesus has total control and power over everything. So why did His power seem to be limited, even in the slightest sense, in this moment?
To see the answer, let’s consider the paralyzed man whose friends lifted him down from the roof to ask for Jesus’ healing. If you joined us in our study of Mark 2, you might remember that Jesus first told the man his sins were forgiven, and only moments later told him to rise and walk. You see, Jesus’ power isn’t limited in any way; when He separates healing into two parts at two times, it’s so us humans can witness and value them both. If the paralyzed man had been told to walk immediately, the profound forgiveness of his sins may have been lost on God’s people.
It’s a similar situation for the blind man. His friends brought him in faith to Jesus, and then Jesus displayed some of His authority. This provided an opportunity for both disabled men to come to faith in Jesus before their full healings were complete. You see, Jesus invites everyone to have a personal faith in Him. As disciples, our call is to bring others to Jesus, and have faith that He will do the rest.