How to Develop Your Faith

I. Introduction

Forgive me ahead of time; it was difficult to focus this week on preparing a lesson. We had plumbing leak #4 this past Sunday and our study was damaged by the leaking pipes. We were already working on a solution to replace the ancient galvanized piping with the newer PEX tubing which was going to be expensive, but I was waiting until after taxes and IRAs and stuff. But the leak rushed us into a fix, and 3 big sweaty guys spent the week in our house tearing out sheetrock in every single room in the house to get at the plumbing. Our little peaceful sanctuary of home has been a demolition zone this week. So it was hard to focus.

Before we dive into this week’s lesson, let’s put it in context. Back in Mark 6, Jesus had fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm that was frightening the disciples. Around this time, the popularity of Jesus was growing as word of his knowledge, compassion, and miracles spread. The knowledge of the disciples was growing, and Jesus had drawn the attention of Pharisees. In Mark 7, Jesus clashed with the Pharisees over the the ceremonial cleansing of hands before a meal; Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t the food that a man put into his body that defiled him but the wickedness that comes out of a person’s heart that defiles him. Jesus was pointing out that empty rituals of cleansing and diet did nothing for God, it was a right relationship with God that He desired.

Now, many years later in Acts 17, Paul went to Berea and was questioned. It says in Acts 17:11, ” Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

So the Pharisees questioned Jesus, and the Bereans questioned Paul. Were the Pharisee considered noble for questioning Jesus? What’s the difference between the way the Pharisees and the Bereans questioned God?

II. Mark 8:1-13, Little Hope

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.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The Pharisees had closed their minds to Jesus. Jesus had already performed dozens of miracles by this point in view of the Pharisees, including feeding the 5000, feeding the 4000, raising a little girl from the dead, healing a paralytic, healing a leper, calming the storm, walking on water. But they wanted Jesus to perform on demand.

We must resist the urge to do this today. When we are scared or when we are weak or when we are troubled, we pray to God. We want Him to answer now, on our terms. And when He doesn’t answer on demand, our faith wavers. Who is our God that He couldn’t or wouldn’t do this for me?

But faith in our God cannot depend on Him being a magic genie in a bottle. God does not bend to our will. Instead, God asks us to surrender our will to him.

Today, People still have a choice to accept spiritual truth or reject spiritual truth. Why would one reject it? I don’t know, but the Pharisee sure rejected the truth in front of them. They wanted a sign from heaven right now. What authority did they have to demand miracles from God?

I talked to an old high school friend this week who’s an avowed atheist. He believes that Jesus was a good person, but religion is bad and the supernatural stuff didn’t happen. I believe the supernatural happened and is still happening today. Everything around us is a God-given miracle, from the giant glowing ball of fire in the sky that warms our planet to the tiny blood cells that carry oxygen from my lungs to the tips of my fingers. If you believe that to be a miracle, you can see God’s work everywhere. Or if you’re like the Pharisees, you say, “oh that giant glowing thing that warms our planet is just a natural occurrence of nuclear fusion. That’s not a miracle.” The point is that nature and science doesn’t have to act this way at all, and that the very existence of nature and science is in itself a miracle. If you exclude miracles from everything around you, then you don’t see God anywhere.

Did the Pharisees really want a sign? If they really wanted a sign, would they have seen one?

Jesus said, “No sign will be given.” Jesus does not force belief on anyone. Be honest for a moment. Is there a particular miracle you want God to perform for you right now? I know I do. And if God doesn’t answer to us on our timetable the exact way we want him to, does that affect our faith in Him? But to demand that God perform a miracle to justify our faith in Him isn’t faith. Trust without proof is faith.

Jesus left the Pharisees to move on to others who wanted to understand. Why did Jesus enter into a dialogue with the disciples, but refuse to enter into a discussion with the Pharisees? Weren’t the Pharisees men of the synagogue, the peak religious people of the time?

III. Mark 8:14-21, Some Hope

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” 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? 19When 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?”

Jesus listened to the disciples and I find it interesting He allowed their confusion. Perhaps the disciples were arguing about who was supposed to bring food. Their attention was on physical food. Jesus redirected the question to what they needed spiritually. It’s important spiritual nourishment comes first, before physical nourishment.

Jesus challenged them about having eyes that do not see or ears that do not hear. Just like the Pharisees. Just like OT Israel. Just like you and me if we aren’t diligent. A lack of spiritual maturity can manifest itself with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear. Because of our traditions, or thoughts and feelings, we alone decide what is “right” and disregard the scriptures, disregard the word of God in our hearts. Just like Jesus’ disciples, we have the capacity to understand, but we must be careful not to become deaf and blind as those who were antagonistic toward Jesus.

So Jesus equates the physical bread to the spiritual bread to make a point, that the disciples should keep in mind the miracles of Jesus in their lives. Jesus points out in verse 19 (loaves for the 5000, leaving 12 loaves) and in verse 20 (loaves for 4000 leaving 7 loaves). This is not an encouragement to work on our arithmetic.

Jesus sounds a little exasperated when he asks, “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asks them to again think about what those miracles meant. It’s a lot more than just providing food for hungry people. It confirms Jesus’ supernatural power to provide for all of our needs and Jesus asks us to look beyond the material.

In order to open our eyes, open our ears, we must learn to look beyond the material moment. High gas prices. Loneliness. Anger. Messy homes with leaky piping and sheetrock damage. Job loss. Sickness. Among all of these shortages in our life, Christ provides constant spiritual care.

Has something material diverted your attention from God? How can you use this opportunity to focus on God instead of being diverted?

Who watched the Texas Alabama game this week? University of Texas playing against Alabama for the National Title. The quarterback, Colt McCoy, missing out earlier this season on the Heisman Trophy, trying to win a national championship. And in the very first series, he hurt his shoulder. Can you imagine the disappointment, not being able to play and watching from the sidelines as your team loses?

At the postgame interview, he was asked how it felt to watch from the sidelines, and he sort of struggled to talk at first, then he explained how much he really wanted to play but his arm felt dead, like it was asleep. But in his suffering, he congratulated Alabama for obtaining the dream he so badly wanted to win, and then proclaimed that God is in control of his like and that He trusts in God’s purpose even when he may not completely understand it.

IV. Mark 8:22-33, More Hope

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

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. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

I think the next miracle in Mark 8:27 is indicative of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach; he heals a blind man just after asking the disciples if they did not have eyes to see. Then he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s interesting how many people have a response to this question. Whether a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist, everybody seems to have something to say about who Jesus is. A prophet, a good man, a teacher, a wacko, a god, everybody has an opinion. The disciples said that some thought he was John the Baptist, others as Elijah, other as a prophet. While Jesus was indeed a prophet, it’s only a small part of a larger truth. Jesus was God’s son, sent to fulfill prophecy, to become a living sacrifice so that all may become children of God.

Peter’s response of “You are the Messiah” was also interesting as all the disciples knew that he was the Messiah. They just didn’t understand what that meant. The Jews expected “a” messiah with a little “m; literally, an anointed one or a deliverer. The Jews at the time also believed in a conqueror that would set them free from foreign occupation.

These preconceptions, whether from what we’ve heard from others or what we heard as a child can hinder our faith, like the Pharisees preconceptions hindered theirs. What are some of the misperceptions about Jesus today?

In verse 30, why do you think Jesus warned them not to tell anyone he was the messiah? The messiah meant many things to many people. using the title messiah would certainly lead to confusion. Not even the disciples understood the implications. The idea of a military-political leader would rally the Jews to rise up against the Romans, a purpose for which Jesus did not intend to fulfill. Therefore, claiming to be the messiah caused problems. Peter spoke the truth – Jesus was the messiah, and he did fulfill the hopes and dreams of a nations, but Jesus needed to refine this understanding.

In verse 31, Jesus began to teach the disciples about who he was as the messiah. This teaching would last far longer than 1 or 2 lessons; it took most of Jesus’ energy for the rest of his ministry on earth. Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” to challenge the disciple’s faith. The disciples knew who Jesus was, but did they really know who he was? Many Christians today can say that they know Jesus is their savior, but they do not know how to explain to somebody who he is.

Who do you say Jesus is? If Jesus appeared today and asked you to explain who he was, what would you say?

When you listen to the Word of God, what sort of questions challenge your understanding of Him?

Jesus instead referred to himself instead as the Son of Man, probably because of the misconceptions regarding the word messiah. This title is found mostly in the books of Daniel and Ezekial. The title referred to a man who drew strength from the spirit of God to judge the people, a purpose for which Jesus the Messiah fulfilled.

Jesus says some shocking things about himself. He says the anointed one must suffer. The disciples didn’t understand that the suffering fulfilled God’s intention, both physical suffering but also the suffering of being rejected by the Pharisees, the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, the people that were supposed to be in tune with God’s revelations. But these very religious people were so certain of what God’s will was and who the messiah was supposed to be that they would not open their eyes and ears to what Jesus had to tell them. We run that same danger today. The misconceptions we already talked about hinder people coming to Christ.

Jesus also said he would be killed. This was so shocking, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus. The messiah, the conqueror, the deliverer, would be tortured and killed? What kind of messiah is that? But again, the misconceptions of Jesus interfere with our ability to see and her who Jesus really is.

V. Conclusion

Learning to keep your eyes and ears open is our lesson, something to practice daily so our hearts do not become as closed as the eyes and ears of the Pharisees. Challenge yourself to find out who Jesus really is and what His death means to you and to all men. If our eyes are closed and our ears are closed, then our minds are closed and we cannot develop spiritually. Look away from the material things that Jesus provides and look to the future that Jesus provides. If we are open to receiving spiritual truth, we will recognize it with new eyes and ears not bound by our past misconceptions.

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