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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Behold and Be Transformed


'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?' Mark 8:17-18

‘Behold’. It means to gaze upon. To fix your eyes upon.

Now let each of these statements wash over you:

Behold, Jesus God’s Son; sealed with God’s seal of approval.

Behold, Jesus the ‘good news’ of God to the world.

Behold, Jesus full of authority and wisdom.

Behold, Jesus the Holy One of God; proclaimed to be so by demons.

Behold, Jesus silencing religious rulers and amazing the crowds.

Behold, Jesus overcoming the powers of darkness and setting the demon possessed free.

Behold, Jesus forgiving sins and marveling at faith.

Behold, Jesus reversing the curse of disease and death.

Behold, Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors.

Behold, Jesus conferring power on his disciples.

Behold, Jesus, rebuking hurricane force storms to a whisper with a word.

Behold, Jesus declaring those who sit at his feet: family.

Behold, Jesus, full of compassion.

Behold, Jesus, crossing frontiers to reach Gentiles.

Behold, Jesus, satisfying the hungry.

Behold him walking on water; and raising the dead.

Behold him making the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.

Behold, Jesus, who has done everything well.

And there is no more room for me to go on, though if I had it, I could!

All those references come out of the first seven chapters of Mark’s gospel.

They come out of what we have seen and heard.

The reason I’ve begun like that is because, chapter 8 verses 1 to 21 represent the end of the first act in Mark’s gospel drama.

After this, the focus shifts. We’re going to see Jesus and his disciples move out of the region. And we’re going to see Jesus pointing much more keenly to his destination - to the cross and to his death.


But here at the end of this first act in Mark’s gospel account, as we’ve already noted, there is an intensification going on. An intensification whereby, Jesus is teaching his disciples. He’s looking for one thing: development. He’s looking for growth. He’s looking for progression in their Christian character.


Which is why, he will shortly be asking them who they say that he is. You can see that in verse 29: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ That’s where this is heading. Will the disciples have grasped who he is?

Beholding Jesus, have they really seen him? Or, has he just passed them by?


And because, we’ve been on that journey with them, the question is to us too. Having beheld Jesus, do we see? Or is he passing us by?


The disciples had been with Jesus - had beheld Jesus - and yet we’re going to see Jesus show that they were missing him.

And whilst we might marvel at how that was possible, I surely have to marvel at my own dullness when I have the opportunity to encounter Jesus every day, with a bible in my hand and zero fear of persecution, and yet I am so consistently lacking in spirituality.

So, maybe there are some pointers here to how I – how we - can avoid the disciple’s mistake. And how we can learn too.

Chapter 8 starts with an event that is so familiar to us, because there is that matching one in chapter 6 - the feeding of the 5000.

Jesus is still in the region of the Decapolis on the east side of the lake, where he was last time. And once again, a large crowd has gathered to hear him.

It’s a predominantly Gentile region remember, so in all likelihood his audience was a Gentile one.


And it’s an audience that has travelled with Jesus a long way - for three days, verse 2 says. They were by now a long way from home according to verse 3. And they were without food. Evidently all their provisions had been used up by this point.

Wherever they were, was, by all accounts remote. That’s what the disciples say in verse 4. And so, it’s not like they could get fresh provisions for the journey home whilst they were in that area. They were out of food; a long way from home; and without access to food. A bleakpicture.


All of these circumstantial details are cause for concern to Jesus. Concern enough, to call the disciples to himself and say, ‘I have compassion for these people…if I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way’.


This is illuminating about the heart of Jesus because it’s a lot harder to feel compassion for a crowd, I think, than it is to feel compassion for an individual.

With an individual, you can look into their eyes and see the fear or the sense the panic. But with a crowd it’s harder to feel a personal connection.


But Jesus’ heart is so big, he can do it. He can get to a personal level with the individuals that make up the crowd.

And he doesn’t go cold on them. He feels deeply the danger that they are in, and he cares deeply for them. He wants to see them fed.

Now, this time Jesus doesn’t say to the disciples, ‘you give them something to eat’ like he did last time. He just conveys that he can’t see to sending them home hungry.

He doesn’t need to say any more anyway because the disciples are on it. Only not in a good way!

Listen to what they say. Verse 4: ‘But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?


This crowd was at least four thousand strong, you can see that in verse 9. Matthew says four thousand ‘besides women and children’. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. But we’ve been here before, right?


Surely the disciples know how this story finishes. And yet, they say, ‘can anyone get enough bread to feed them?’ It’s an incredible remark, but it’s not unfamiliar. Just think how often we have seen the hand of almighty God at work in our lives - powerfully - and the next time we’re in a fix we totally forget what God has done for us before. In other words, I don’t think we’re terribly different. The elements are different, but the issue is the same – where is the faith?

Let’s see if we can glean something that would help us in the future when we’re caught in a faith-fix like the disciples are here.

What Jesus does is almost identical to what he did in chapter 6 so I think we can take this as instructive and get some pointers.


First, he asks the disciples what they’ve got. Let’s call this ‘supplies’. God supplies us with what we need and so often we overlook it. The disciples had seven loaves (verse 5) and a few small fish (verse 7) Mark records.


Second, Jesus gives thanks. Don’t take what you’ve been given for granted. You didn’t merit it. God gave it - out of his abundant grace. So be grateful for all his provision.

And, bearing in mind that Jesus is about to perform a miracle, which is not something we can do, an appropriate response to what God has supplied would be thanksgiving mingled with prayerful request also.

So that the supplies might be used well.


Third, we’ve got to act. Jesus took the bread and the fish and gave it to the disciples to distribute, verse 7 says. As Jesus was handing the food out, or as they were handing it out – it doesn’t matter which - Jesus was multiplying the food miraculously, but they still had to do something. They had to act. And so must we. By faith, we act and rely on God for the miracle.


Fourth, everyone was satisfied and there was an abundance left over. And they counted it. They counted seven basketfuls. Seven loaves had become 4000 meals and seven basketfuls.

Jesus is not just abundant; he is super abundant. Overflowing towards his people. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, poured into our laps.

That’s what he is for us.


That good measure might not always look like we would like it to look - but Jesus knows what is good for us. He knows when his people are going to collapse on the way, and he will provide for us in all the ways that are necessary for the advancement of our faith and our joy in the Lord (Philippians 1:25).


So, when we know that we have been looked after like that, because we are so amazed and satisfied with what we have received, then let our hearts pour out in thanksgiving, and let our faith expand.

This is what experimental Christianity. It’s being excited to see in what remarkable ways the Lord might work.


Here’s an example: maybe there’s someone you’ve been witnessing to, as God gives opportunity, for a long time. As yet, there’s been no response - no change to speak of. And it’s getting a bit repetitive and you’re getting a bit fed up of getting nowhere. What might you do?


Well, you might look at your gifts – your ‘supplies’ - and think, there are other resources at my disposal here for reaching this person. And your prayer might go something like: ‘Lord, I thank you that you’ve given me contact with this person. You know I long for their salvation. The compassion you had for the hungry compels me Lord Jesus, and I have compassion for the soul of this person. I know that you are miracle-working God. Would you work a miracle this afternoon as I try this different approach. Would you cause this person to ask a very unusual question? Would you cause them to ask a question that they are not even clear where it came from? Would you cause them to be totally free of all their self-awareness and ask a crazy question about Jesus? I’m looking to you O Lord - mighty and good - as I go to spend time with them. I want to be blown away by watching you work. Would you give me cause to praise you for your remarkable deeds on behalf of people, this afternoon Lord?’


I think that’s a very exciting prayer. You’re inviting God to do something which, if it happens, could only be an answer to this prayer. And it’s the kind of prayer God would love to answer because it would magnify his glory. Imagine how faith building that would be!

And then you go, and act, and wait, and long, to be satisfied. And God either will or he won’t, but that’s not up to you. And then you go again, maybe with another prayer inviting God to do remarkable things.


I just don’t think we live with this kind of expectation and anticipation enough! The disciples clearly didn’t because, look at their response!

The fact that the disciples were so dull is what Jesus is showing here. Why perform a virtually identical miracle twice? He did not have to do this with bread and fish like last time. He could have just fed them all from nothing.


And I’m certain he’s making a point about the kingdom of God and the Gentiles. The last miraculous feeding was for the Jews, this one is for the Gentiles. And Jesus only just said to the woman in Tyre, let the ‘children eat all the bread they want first’. There’s a message here that the Gentiles will be children in the kingdom of God too - not just the Jews.


But he is surely showing the disciples how dull they are. How they are failing to see who Jesus is. It’s as if he says, ‘you’ve seen me do it once already, will you remember if you find yourselves in the same position again? Or, will you be earth-bound; fleshly; unspiritual?’ He’s showing them clearly: they’re missing him!

What happens next is not detached from Jesus’ aim. He’s going to show the disciples more of their dullness.


Mark says, he dismissed the crowd to their homes, full. Then he got in the boat with the disciples and went back across the lake where he was met by Pharisees, verse 11.


The Pharisees questioned him, and tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. Which is exactly like the wilderness generation after the exodus. Remember how they tested God when they were without food and water in the desert? Here’s how Hebrews 3 puts it: ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation’.


The kind of sign these Pharisees were looking for was the kind of sign their ancestors had received in the desert when God miraculously brought water out of the rock for them and provided bread from heaven for them.

But their hearts were hard. And the hearts of these Pharisees are hard too. And it causes Jesus to ‘sigh deeply’ at their unbelief.

For all the signs, their ancestors rejected God. And for all the signs they will reject Jesus too.

It is a hard unbelieving heart that asks for outward signs but fails to believe in Jesus.

Jesus says with a solemn ‘Truly I tell you’, ‘no sign will be given to this generation’. And with that he removes himself from them again - returning to the other side of the lake. This time to the north-west; to the town of Bethsaida.


But on route there, in the boat - in light of what just happened with the Pharisees - Jesus gives a warning to his disciples.

He says, ‘Be careful, watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees’. I hope you sense that the bread theme continuing – it’s stitching everything together. We’ve had feeding with bread, allusions to bread from heaven, and now Jesus uses the active ingredient in bread to make his point.

So, what does the warning mean?


The disciples asked themselves the same question. And the answer they come up with reveals the very thing in them that Jesus is warning against!

The answer they come up with is: their lack of bread. Do you see that in verse 16?

In verse 14, Mark notes that they had forgotten to bring bread; they had only one loaf. And in verse 16, they discussed the phrase about the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ and concluded it was for their lack of bread.


We know it’s the wrong conclusion because Jesus responds in verse 17 by asking, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread?’ Clearly, it’s notwhat Jesus had in mind.


So, Jesus is now going to point out for a third time that he can make bread if he wants to. He made 5000 meals plus 12 basketfuls out 5 loaves in chapter 6. He made 4000 meals plus seven basketfuls out of seven loaves in this chapter, both of which he points out in verse 20. And yet they can still conclude that he means, they forgot to bring the bread when he says, ‘watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees’. It’s staggering!

What Jesus is actually talking about is the hardness of heart which characterises the Pharisees - demonstrated most clearly in their teaching. Matthew confirms that fact in his own account.

The disciples are repeatedly showing that they are in danger of this yeast, by repeatedly missing who Jesus is!

And it causes Jesus to chastise them seven times in the space of 3 verses. Watch: Verse 17, ‘Do you still not see?’ Verse 17, ‘Do you still not understand?’ Verse 17, ‘Are your hearts still hardened?’ Verse 18, ‘Do you have eyes but fail to see?’ Verse 18, ‘Do you have ears but fail to hear?’ Verse 18, ‘And don’t you remember?’ And verse 21, ‘Do you still not understand?’ It’s a damning indictment by Jesus.

Notice that ‘seeing’, and ‘understanding’, and ‘believing’, and ‘remembering’ are all talking about the same thing here. They are all ultimately talking about embracing – or not - who Jesus is. They are referring to what it is to be spiritually alert.

And the point that Jesus was making to the disciples is that you can be for Jesus and have the yeast of the Pharisees about you. Oh yes you can!


That’s what they had. They had eyes in their heads, but unbelieving hearts. They had ears on their faces but unbelieving hearts. It wasn’t that they weren’t followers of Jesus, they were! But their appreciationof Jesus and who he was, wasn’t growing. They were seeing his miracles but not deepening in their understanding of him.


It’s like Paul wrote in Romans 12, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world - that is the yeast of the Pharisees - but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Romans 12:2).

Evidently believers can continue, after they have been saved, to conform to the world instead of being transformed.


How does transformation happen? And transformed into what exactly? 2 Corinthians 3 gives the answer: ‘And we all, who with unveiled faces’ - unveiled faces means with believing hearts - ‘contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’.


This ‘veil’ imagery Paul is using is coming from the occasion in the Old Testament when the Israelites encountered Moses after he had been in God’s presence on Mount Sinai and his face shone with the glory of God. But in their hardness of heart and unbelief, they asked him to put a veil over his face so that they wouldn’t have to see the Lord’s glory.


We are not to be like that! We are to love the Lord’s glory. And with hearts that believe, gaze on it more and more. And when we do, we will be transformed into the image of the Lord with ever-increasing glory.


The transformation happens by gazing on the Lord Jesus. And the goal of the transformation is becoming more like the Lord Jesus - he is the image of God.

If we do the gazing, we will embark on becoming. That’s the recipe Paul is giving us. That’s why I started with all those ‘behold Jesus’ statements. That is what we need to do - contemplate the glory of Jesus.

And do you hear the emphasis on progression? ‘Transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory’. That means the process is ongoing and it’s progressive. The degree of the glory that we grow up into is to be a progressively greater one.

And the point of termination is the end of our lives, when we will be finally glorified in all the fulness of what God has promised.

Progressive glorification until we are glorified is for the glory of God. God has designed that we progressively be transformed into the likeness of his Son, for his glory.


In other words, God expects his children to grow up. That shouldn’t shock us. And the emphasis isn’t landing on technical knowledge - the Pharisees had plenty of that! The emphasis is landing on the heart. On embracing, on treasuring, on prizing, on seeing, on hearing, on remembering, on knowing Jesus more personally day by day; walking closer and closer with him all the days of our lives by the power of his Spirit at work in us.

I think this is what Jesus is aiming at in these verses. He wants us to beware a superficial appreciation of who he is. He wants us to go deep with him. He wants us to behold his glory more and more. He wants us to be renewed day by day in ever expanding appreciations of who he is and what he has done.

Last week I had the privilege of spending a day with a brother. And as we walked together, he reminded me of just how valuable and crucial it is to fix our eyes on God and on his Son, Jesus. To gaze more fixedly at him.


In other words, he rubbed my face in God again during that time together and I was the better for it. Jesus is rubbing the disciples faces in his own glory again here, and they will be better for it.


Later, one of those disciples would write this, ‘Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good’.

That was Peter, who back here thought Jesus was talking about lack of bread when he said ‘beware of the yeast of the Pharisees’.


He grew up in his faith. And Jesus helped him to do that by warning him and by reminding him how he needed to feast on his glory.


And by extension, Jesus reminds us to behold him until we all grow up into the fulness of his image. Behold his compassion for the people. Behold his provision for the hungry. Behold his patience with the disciples.


So, let’s heed the warning, and let’s remind ourselves of his glories, often. And let’s look for growth in our lives. And by God’s grace we will.


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