Don’t You Remember?
Key Verse 8:18
“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?”
I have a hard time remembering many things, and I attribute that to growing older. But I can say that even so, I would not— actually never— forget a miracle of the magnitude of feeding the multitude of 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! So what happened to these disciples, such that in a similar situation, it slipped their minds what Jesus had done before— and that he could easily do it again? Jesus says that they have eyes but fail to see with them, and ears but they fail to hear with them. Now, what does that mean? How can that explain their lapse in memory? Jesus also tells them in this passage to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod’s. So, eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, and compounded with “yeast” or influence of the Pharisees and of the King Herod, seem to have blocked their faith. And when faith is missing, even our most memorable things about God and his work fade to nothing. Faith. It’s always faith. When we have faith, we can see clearly. We can remember clearly the hand of God. The impossible becomes possible. And when we let our faith falter, even the simplest of things that God does and would do become an impossibility, and we remember nothing.
The two events— the feeding of the 5000 and then the feeding of the 4000— seem to almost be the same. But in this short Gospel of Mark, Mark records these events one after the other for a reason. In other words, outwardly they seem to be the same, but what God would teach us is more that what we see. So what is it? Let’s see. Briefly then, Jesus again looks at the crowd of 400 and his compassion is triggered. So he turns to his disciples and asks them what can be done to feed these people. Incredibly, the disciples reply that such a tremendous task would be impossible. Then Jesus again patiently repeats the same lesson again, and the lesson is that in order to do such an impossible work of God does not require reasonable outward means. That it only requires a quality of the inner person— requires heart— requires willingness— requires faith. The truth Jesus was patiently teaching them and us is that one does not need much in order to do what God would have them do— regardless of what it is— regardless of how big or small the work may be— but it does require someone— one person— with faith— someone who is willing to see what Jesus wants him or her to do— then add some compassion which is always needed in doing what God would have us do— and of course, some faith. With these things, we can do the work of God. Now, this lesson seems to be the same lesson Jesus wanted to teach his disciples in the two stories, the feeding of the 5000 and that of the 4000 thousand.
But in some ways, the two events are different from one another! In the first event of the 5000, Jesus teaches them the character of God’s work in general. Christian work is done, not by our hands— because we are weak and incapable of doing the work— but only by God’s hand. Yet it is carried out through the faith of his people. This means that God works through the faith of his people to fulfill the mysterious and wonderful works of God in our lives and in the world. In the second event (the 4000) Jesus teaches his disciples what exactly about this faith that can maintains and propagate and continue the work God gives us. And that element as Jesus puts it— “remember” what God had done”— can be understood as “a sense or awareness of God’s history.”
A person usually does not forget if another person owes them five dollars. But it’ is amazing how often we forget the work of God that happened, and is happening all around us. For example, many among us had their lives literally snatched from hell-fire. Every one of us could never, by our own power, have pulled ourselves out of our wretched previous lives. Life for many of us had been like falling in quicksand, no way up but only downward. It is obvious that it was the Lord himself who snatched us. Can anyone of us say otherwise, that by our own effort we were taken out of the pits of the sins we were in? None. God himself brought us into the life of his Son Jesus. God himself, had graciously seen us through the endless pitfalls of our lives and has kept us from the way of destruction that we were heading to. But surprisingly, instead of remembering the hand of God all around us, helping us step by step to grow and mature in his grace, sometimes we go about whining and fussing over every difficulty we encounter. Some walk around with stern faces forgetting the pure joy which God had instilled in their hearts— the joy of knowing the Lord— all because we have suffered here and there. How can we forget every step Jesus has brought us through in his gracious hand, and entertain complaints or criticisms or judgments on one another who have loved by the Lord. When we forget what God has done for me, in me, and through me, we are likely to deaf and blind to what God wants to do in us, for us, through us for his own glory! When that happens to me, what I need is not some understanding, or some cheap sympathy, but what I really need is to hear the words of Jesus, “Don’t you remember?” Because God wants us to remember his grace, and his work in us and in others, and wants to continue that work for us, in us and through us exactly as before. And what we really need every day, is a heart that repents of all the unbelief that floods our hearts when we do not remember! Not remembering what God had done, hardens our hearts.
We must listen to Jesus’ words, and learn the importance of “remembering” what God has done. It will remind us as well of what God is doing today, and give us the hope and vision of what God will also do tomorrow. Without this kind of hope and vision, no one can remain strong in God’s history. Without this kind of hope and vision, we easily despair and let our own thinking and feelings take over when we should stand on faith— otherwise whatever God wants to do, is hindered by our lack of memory. Jesus’ rebuke for his disciples in this passage reflects his desire for them and for us not be vague about God and what God has done and would still do— as if there was never a yesterday and no tomorrow— as if there is nothing but today and its endless problems and hindrances in our way. God’s children— must always live with the assurance of faith— and an assurance of God’s great history which began in the disciples continues even now in his people— you, his children. There is another kind of the assurance that Jesus would have us hold on to. The same Lord who snatched us from destruction is still working here and now in his disciple, in you and me, his people, will continue to work until God is glorified, and until his redemptive work is accomplished. But in order to have these kinds of assurances firmly in our hearts, we must remember God’s history. The worst thing happens when we lose the sense of what God has done, whether in my life or around me, and then become vague— turning faith into something not so clear, looking at things with doubts and fears and reservations and uncertainty. We must learn to “remember” as Jesus helped his disciples do.
Read verses 1-3. “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.’” Even if there had been social worker back then, and social workers they wouldn’t know what to do with this kind of large crowds. Perhaps they would have had them fill out the necessary forms, assigned them to this case or that case, file the forms and say We’ll get back to you. But from God’s perspective Jesus’ solution to our life problem is the word of God. For three days, they did not fill out forms, not did they answer some questionnaire. For three days Jesus taught them the living word of God. For three days, he planted the word of God in their hearts. And for three days he went around planting hope in their hearts and urging them to have faith in God. Jesus believed that this crowd was suffering not as much from neglect, but from spiritual neglect, from the lack of God’s word. So he always taught them the Bible so that they might rise above their human problems and have their hearts fixed on the kingdom of God. This was Jesus’ compassion for them. Compassion is saying: “I feel for you.” Instead, compassion seeks to equip someone with what they need to escape their spiritual prisons and then set them on a homeward journey to the kingdom of God. Its what Jesus did. He equipped them with what they needed, the word of God, which gives them hope and faith and the love of God so that they look to God rather than being trapped in their human prisons. Compassion is helping someone by taking their hand and helping them to put their hand in God’s hand, so that God would lead them out of their miserable place in life, and start walking spiritually. Compassion is the willingness to say someone— with the word of God— “Get up son or daughter, I’ll show you how to walk through the darkness of life towards the light of the Lord.”
Look at verses 2 and 3 again. Jesus taught the crowds the word of God for three days. During three days, the crowds didn’t complain. There were the suffering and the miserable, and those who were terminally ill. They all needed personal attention. But not one of them felt the time passing. For three days, they forgot their earthly sufferings and, through Jesus’ words, visited the kingdom of God. For three days, they saw through Jesus’ words that life is more than physical existence, that life is communion and union with God. They saw that God loved them. When the love of God came on their hearts, it wiped away all their troubles and brought them peace. During the three days, they also forgot to eat. What little they had had also vanished and there was no more food. But they chose to stay in spite of their hunger. How great they were! How beautiful the words of Jesus must have been to their ears that they chose the word of God over their personal comfort.
But Jesus could not forget about their hunger. So he turned to his disciples, and confessed his broken heart for this crowd. They should have not looked at the impossible situation, but they should have looked at his heart. They should have seen that Shepherd heart burdened on account of his children going hungry. They should have said, “Lord, even if we cannot possibly feed them, we know that you can, for you have done so before. Just tell us what to do, and we will do it.” But his disciples did not say such words of faith. Rather, once again they said words of despair. Read verse 4. “His disciples answered, ‘But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?’” When his disciples once again failed the test of faith, Jesus did not rebuke them. Rather he helped them again to count their blessings. He helped them again to see what they have and not what they do not have. He helped them to look at the work of God with eyes of faith. Look at verse 5. “How many loaves do you have” Jesus said. And they answered “seven”. Look at verses 6-9. Then Jesus once again, just as before, took the little that they had, gave thanks to God, and blessed it. His blessing to the little that they had went as far as feeding the 4000 with some leftovers. It was another demonstration of what Christian work is like— its not measured by human means, but by your conviction and faith that God is going to bless wahteverr you bring to him by faith and use it. Bringing something by faith is everything. It was a lesson that his disciples should have learned— held on to it— and practiced it every day in their lives.
Look at verses 10-13. After this event, Jesus went to the region of Dalmanutha. The religious leaders came and began to question Jesus in order to test him. They had heard about all that Jesus was doing. They had heard that Jesus had fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. They had heard that Jesus had also fed the 4000 with seven loaves. They may have even witnessed these events themselves. It was enough to reveal to them who Jesus is. It was enough to plant faith in their hearts. But they asked Jesus for a sign from heaven.
They didn’t need a sign. What they needed, what we all need is only faith. They didn’t need more miracles. Now they needed to have faith and to put their faith in him. But it seems that they were determined not to believe— determined to close their hearts to the truth— and do hold on to their own ideas about Jesus. They demanded a sign! For example, a Christian might say “I have faith that God will take care of all my needs.” But then he might add saying: “Lord please let me win this lottery so that all my needs might be taken care of.” That person no longer has faith to believe that God takes care of his needs. He now is looking for a miracle to relieve him of the situation God has put him in in life so that he might say Thank you Lord— demands of God’s sovereignty in his life. That person is looking for relief from the life of faith God would have him life. The Pharisees were looking for a sign. It was not so that they might believe in Jesus. It was so that they might continue living as they please. These miracle seekers were faithless. To faithless people who have no guts to turn to God by faith— who always find an excuse to avoid the life of faith— and who are slaves of their own desires, Jesus says: “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” (12)
The Pharisees were hostile to Jesus and hostile to the life of faith— because faith demands self denial and sacrifice. they were bad influence on all the people who looked at them in envy for their comfortable lives as the social and religious successes. They were bad influence on the disciples also, because the disciples suffered together with Jesus to bring the gospel to the people at great personal cost. Jesus was concerned about the religious leaders’ influence on his young and immature disciples who might otherwise think that the easy going and pleasure seeking life is desirable. So what did Jesus say to his disciples? Read verse 15: ‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod?’” The yeast Jesus warned his disciples about was the bad influence of the religious leaders who were spiritually corrupt. But the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them. So they discussed this with one another and came to the conclusion, “He is talking about bread because we did not bring any bread on board with us.” It was unreasonable to think of having no bread when Jesus had just fed the 4,000. But when they had no sense of what God had done— and why God had done it— their hearts were hardened. Their ears were closed. Their eyes were shut.
Then Jesus helped them. Read verses 17-21. “They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?’” “Do you still not understand” was Jesus’ question. It did not mean that they did not understand. It meant that their understanding was clouded about what God had already done before, and to what God was doing right now. They had become helpless at the mercy of every despairing thought and impossibility there is in life. They should have a sense of history. They should be equipped with faith.
How can I have a sense of God’s history? I must remember the work of God. Especially I must remember how God worked in my life. I must remember where I was before I was found by Jesus— how he rescued me by his grace— and how far he has helped to come to where I am today. I must remember how God had worked in his church, so that I might not be vague about what God is doing and will do in and through his church— but have the assurance of what God intends to do to bless and continue his work in the lives of all those whom God sends to bless and be a blessing. We must not be unclear or vague or doubtful about what we are doing as God’s servants— in preaching the gospel, in teaching the word of God, in brining the good news of Jesus to others, and we must not be vague about why we are doing it. We are doing it because Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us, also called us to love others. It’s how his church grows into what its supposed to be. A sense of God’s history leads to the assurance of faith that no matter who we are and what situation we are in today, The Lord who worked before is working today and will work tomorrow to bring about victory. Read verse 18. “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember.”