Pastor David B. Curtis


Bread for the Dogs

Mark 7:31 - 8:10

Delivered 07/30/2006

In his book called America on Six Rubles a Day, comedian Yakov Smirnoff writes: "Coming from the Soviet Union, I was not prepared for the incredible variety of products available in American grocery stores. While on my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk ­ you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice ­ you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder ­ I thought to myself, 'What a country!'"

If we only look at each component part, we may draw the wrong conclusion. We must see the big picture. To understand what God is doing in our lives, we must first understand what God is after. In most of what God is doing, He is trying to teach us a lesson of faith. He desires that we learn to live by faith in the daily affairs of life. God wants us to learn how to trust Him:

Hebrews 11:6 (NASB) And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Beginning with chapter 6 of Mark, Mark is dealing with our Lord's training of the twelve disciples, as He seeks to instruct them about who He is and help their faith grow. Last time we saw how He left the nation of Israel and went into the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon on the coast of Palestine. There He delivered a Gentile woman's daughter from demon possession. In the passage we come to this morning there is further ministry among the Gentiles. Jesus spent almost a third of his three-year ministry among Gentiles. Obviously, He was seeking to impart to His disciples some sense of His mission and ministry to the Gentile world as well as to the Jews.

As we finish chapter 7 and move into chapter 8, Jesus is now inside of a year until His crucifixion, and the majority of His intention is being poured out into His leadership team--His disciples-- preparing them for the mission to come.

Mark 7:31 (NASB) And again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis.

Jesus went into this region in a rather strange way. Instead of coming directly back into Galilee, He left Tyre and Sidon and went by a northern route through what is presently the country of Syria and continued down the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee into the southern part of that region. It would be very much like starting out for Nags Head from Chesapeake, but going by way of Emporia and Raleigh. This was a long and strenuous journey. It is 60 miles as the crow flies, and they were not flying ­ they were going up and down hills and valleys.

It is evidently Jesus' intention here to remain strictly within Gentile territory for the time being. As we saw earlier in Mark, the reason for removing Himself from Galilee was to forbid Herod from mounting an attempt at snatching Him away. In the territory of Herod Philip, the king whose wife Herod Antipas had taken, He was more likely to find a friendly ally who wouldn't give Him over into the hands of the Galilean king if His whereabouts became known.

Many scholars feel that this journey took about eight months, so He spent a long time in the Gentile regions ministering to those who were not Jews.

Mark tells us that Jesus again went "Within the region of Decapolis." The area east of Galilee was known as the Decapolis during Jesus' time. This region was once home to Israel's half tribe of Manassah but eventually came under the influence of pagan groups.

In Jewish tradition, the Decapolis was known as "the land of the seven," representing the seven pagan nations driven from Israel in Joshua's day. Jews believed the area was dominated by the devil. The pagans were known for worship of fertility gods, and many of their practices were detestable to God's people.

But the Decapolis also boasted a sophisticated culture. Its cities had many attractions; including gymnasiums, baths, and theaters. Not wanting to be tempted by pagan culture, Jews rarely visited the area, despite its location within view of the Jewish communities near the Sea.

The cities of the Decapolis were fully immersed in Greek culture. Hellenism, the humanistic religion of the Greeks, glorified sexuality, the human form, and the excesses of pleasure, violence, and wealth. Sounds like America! It taught that truth could only be known through the human mind, and that pleasure was a crucial goal in life. Festivals that celebrated pagan holidays and theaters that portrayed erotic themes were a part of the daily life in the Decapolis.

Jesus had come to this area already. We saw in Mark 5 that Jesus had come here and had been confronted with a man who was possessed with a number of demons. He had cast the demons out of the man and had allowed them to enter a herd of pigs. The pigs had stampeded down the hillside and into the waters of the Sea of Galilee to drown.

The man, now healed, had wanted to follow Jesus. Instead, Jesus instructed him to go home and to tell everyone about what had happened to him:

Mark 5:19-20 (NASB) And He did not let him, but He said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you." 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone marveled.

Some time has now passed. Jesus has returned to the Decapolis. And it seems as though the man who had been healed had done his job. Everyone in the area has heard about Jesus. It is not long before a crowd gathers:

Mark 7:32 (NASB) And they brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they entreated Him to lay His hand upon him.

The crowd had heard of the miracles of Jesus. And so, they bring to him a man who has a need. This man had not heard of the miracles. He hadn't heard of anything. He couldn't hear.

Can you put yourself into the sandals of this deaf mute? He has been in this condition for a very long time. It has been a lonely life. He has no one with whom to talk. He is a social outcast. He has no friends and his family considers him to be a liability rather than an asset. He could not hear a testimony, he could not ask any questions, he was living in a silent world of complete isolation from all those around him. He cannot even express the frustration that he feels.

Then, one day a group of people come to him. They are excited, and they are talking about something, but he cannot understand them. They pull at him and perhaps he is afraid. What are they trying to do to him? Is he being accused of something? Does some new persecution await him? They lead him to where a large crowd has gathered. But since he cannot hear what is being said, he can make no sense of what they are doing, or why they are here.

And then, there is another hand upon his shoulder. It firmly guides him away from the crowd and the confusion. He looks at his new guide and sees a man with Jewish features. This man seems genuinely interested in him:

Mark 7:32 (NASB) And they brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they entreated Him to lay His hand upon him.

Mark has an interesting choice of words here. The word "difficulty" is from the Greek word mogilalos, which means: "hardly talking, i.e. dumb, having an impediment in his speech." This Greek word is found only in one other place in the whole Greek translation of the Bible (The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Bible). This word mogilalos is only found here and in:

Isaiah 35:6 (NASB) Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah.

In Isaiah 35 the prophet Isaiah is talking about the coming Messiah. He says when that Messiah comes, the ears of the deaf will be unstopped and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. There are just two places where mogilalos shows up. You see, with his word choice, Mark is saying to his readers that this Jesus is the Messiah; He is the One of whom Isaiah spoke years ago. But I don't think the original audience got that.

Mark 7:33-35 (NASB) And He took him aside from the multitude by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; 34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!" 35 And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly.

The healing of this deaf-mute occurs only in Mark. Notice the upward look of Christ. This is symbolic of the communion He had with God. As Christ began to minister to this man who was deaf, He deliberately fixed His gaze toward Heaven. It was as if to say to the man, "The source of My power is from God." In each use in Scripture, the idea of looking up to heaven has the idea of looking for the miraculous power of God to work in extreme cases. It was symbolic of calling on God. Only God could unstop men's ears and loosen their tongues.

Ephphatha, the Aramaic word which Peter undoubtedly preserved in telling Mark of this incident, means: "Be opened," and the man immediately began to hear and to speak. That is amazing, because those who recover their hearing after a long period of silence usually cannot speak but must learn how. This man instantly began to speak again. The use of the imperfect tense means that the man started speaking plainly, and that he kept on speaking plainly.

This healing demonstrates the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that stated that the Messiah would cause the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. I believe this is also a physical demonstration of a spiritual need. The whole symbolism demonstrated that God, through Jesus' power and words, would unstop first the disciples' ears and tongues and then the ears and tongues of both Jews and Gentiles and make them speak freely as promised in Isaiah 35. It was a physical demonstration that He was here to introduce the new age.

Mark 7:36 (NASB) And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it.

The restoration in this manner was intended to be a lesson to the disciples; the miracle for the man's own good. But Jesus did not want great crowds coming for miracles. So He firmly requested the people there that they would not tell others about it. The Greek verb tense indicates that He kept on telling them, repeatedly. Perhaps several times He said to them: Do not spread this abroad. But what He asked is contrary to what men are, and they went out and told everyone they knew.

Mark 7:37 (NASB) And they were utterly astonished, saying, "He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."

Notice the crowds reaction: "They were utterly astonished" ­ this is the Greek word ekplesso. It is a very strong word that means: "to be struck with amazement; to be struck by a blow"­ they had the wind knocked out of them! This is the third time Mark has used this word to speak of the crowds reactions to Jesus. Had you known this man and had you seen this happen, this would have no doubt been your reaction also.

The account moves right on into Chapter 8. Ignore the chapter break; God didn't put the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible:

Mark 8:1 (NASB) In those days again, when there was a great multitude and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples and said to them,

The gathering of the great crowd is no doubt due to the spreading of the news of the healing of the deaf and dumb man (7:36); possibly enhanced by the witness and remarkable change in the ex-demoniac described in 5:20.

They had been with Him for three days without any food. Now, why do you think this huge crowd was following Jesus? It is without question that they came because they wanted to see the miracles He was doing. Just as He had anticipated, the spreading abroad of news of the healing of the deaf and dumb man had brought people streaming out of the cities. They were there to watch the wonder worker, the miracle man. For three days they had hung around hoping to either get or see a miracle. During that three days I'm sure that our Lord taught them many things.

Mark tells us that Jesus "Called His disciples and said to them":

Mark 8:2-3 (NASB) "I feel compassion for the multitude because they have remained with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat; 3 and if I send them away hungry to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a distance."

Here it is Jesus Who expressed concern for the lack of food, while in chapter 6 it was the disciples. He had preached to them and had no doubt done many healings over the three days, and He knew that now their food supplies were gone. He knew that many had come long distances, and in His compassion, was afraid that if they returned home without food, they would not be able to make the journey. It is worth noting that this is the only time in the Gospel where Jesus identifies His own compassion for people. Oftentimes the Gospel writers will say, "Jesus had compassion" But here Jesus says it Himself--about Himself--that He had this compassion.

The Greek word used here for "compassion" is splagchnizomai. It is a very strong word. It means: "to be so moved on the inside that it compelled Him to take action on the outside." It is found only in the Gospels, and in every usage it is always related to need.

Sometimes we see situations, and we would say: "You know, I feel sorry for them." But that is not this word. This word goes well beyond that. It is to be so moved that we actually do something about it to help resolve the situation. It is a picture of Jesus we need to remember--that Jesus cares about the everyday stuff of our lives.

In this text we see that our God is a compassionate God. What text do you think of when you think of God's compassion? When I think of God's compassion, I think of God's attitude toward the prodigal son. The son took his inheritance and went out to a far country, which could have been the Decapolis, and spent it all in sinful living. When he ends up broke and in the pig pen, he decides to go home and ask his father if he can just be a hired servants. Notice carefully the Father's response to this repentant sinner:

Luke 15:20-24 (NASB) "And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion [splagchnizomai] for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him. 21 "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' And they began to be merry.

Compassion belongs to the Lord God; it is a vital aspect of His divine nature. So when we look at Christ, we should not be surprised by the compassion that He demonstrated as the Messiah. The Lord Jesus Christ is a compassionate God.

Remember, compassion means: "to be so moved on the inside that it compels you to take action on the outside." It's important to understand that if we are truly going to be Christ followers, we need to, like Jesus, genuinely care about people. As Christians, as children of the heavenly Father, we have a duty to imitate Christ, who is compassionate:

Ephesians 5:1 (NASB) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children;

As Christians, we are to be like Christ, we are to be compassionate. How do we get this heartfelt compassion? By spending time with God. In order to be like Christ, we have to know what He is like. The best way to learn about Christ is to read the Gospels. Every story, statement, and teaching unfolds some aspect of His divine and human natures, the beauty of His character, the faithfulness of His redemptive work, and His call to follow Him. We are to reflect Christ to all we come in contact with; this means that we are to be compassionate.

Suze Orman is one of the most recognized financial gurus of our day. She has a weekly program on CNBC, and she has published six straight best-selling financial self-help books.

She tells the story of how, when she was 13 years old, her father's tiny food stand went up in flames, and he barely escaped with his life. The family showed up, and they were watching as the stand went up in flames. Suddenly, her father realized that the metal cash box was still inside the food stand. So, much to everyone's disbelief, her father ran back into the inferno to get the cash box. However, the intense heat had sealed the drawer shut. So he picked up the scalding box and carried it outside and threw it on the ground. In the process, it took skin on his arms and his chest off.

In her book, The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, Orman says this: "That was when I learned that money is more important than life itself. From that point on, earning money--lots of money--not only became what drove me professionally, but also my emotional priority." You see, she was close to her father, and she picked up the value of money, because it was what he risked his life for. It didn't matter what he said; it was what he did. He risked his life for money.

In the same way, if we will draw near to Jesus, we will find out His value is people. He just didn't risk His life; He gave His life for people. Why? Because Jesus cares about people. In our text, Jesus sees the need and has compassion and meets the need. Why? Jesus cares about people, and He wants us to do the same.

Mark 8:4 (NASB) And His disciples answered Him, "Where will anyone be able to find enough to satisfy these men with bread here in a desolate place?"

Do you believe this question? They had asked this same question before:

Mark 6:35-36 (NASB) And when it was already quite late, His disciples came up to Him and began saying, "The place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat."

In this situation they saw Jesus feed about ten thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. And when everyone was full, there were twelve baskets left over:

Mark 6:42-43 (NASB) And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish.

Now, maybe six to nine months later, they seem to have forgotten all about this miracle. How could this possible be? The answer is found in:

Mark 6:52 (NASB) for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

All this time with Jesus, and they still didn't get it. I think that Jesus, opening the ears of the deaf man just prior to this incident, is telling us that the disciples need their spiritual ears opened. And their question proves this. Look again at their question:

Mark 8:4 (NASB) And His disciples answered Him, "Where will anyone be able to find enough to satisfy these men with bread here in a desolate place?"

The Israelites of old were confronted with the same dilemma when they fled Egypt and found themselves in a barren wilderness. Like the miraculous provision of manna in the wilderness, Jesus, Himself provides bread in abundance for the hungry crowd who came out into the desert to seek him.

Mark 8:5-7 (NASB) And He was asking them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven." 6 And He directed the multitude to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the multitude. 7 They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be served as well.

Now this should sound vaguely familiar. We've had a story of the feeding of the five thousand. It's similar enough that some commentators think Mark is just telling the same story twice. But when you look at the two stories, the differences are greater than the similarities, and Jesus Himself, as we go farther into the text, referred to both miracles. There's no question that it happened twice. The feeding of the five thousand was to a Jewish audience; this is to a Gentile audience.

As you read through the text, it is interesting that everything is going through the disciples, so I am convinced it is ultimately about them--about teaching and training them. In this miracle, Jesus is involved in teaching His disciples something. In fact, this is a teaching miracle itself, and so was the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus uses a very familiar teaching technique here, the technique of repetition. In both these miracles, Jesus is seeking to teach His disciples that they can trust Him instead of relying on their own human resources, or lack thereof.

Just what was Jesus trying to say through these miracles? If you look closely, several important truths emerge. The first is that Jesus is the bread of life. After the first feeding of the multitude, Jesus declares Himself to be the bread of life. So we know for sure that this was one of the implications of the feeding of the multitude. Jesus wanted His disciples to see that they could depend on Him for their spiritual nourishment.

He does not want people to focus on the physical. He wants these disciples to see also that He is teaching them a far more important lesson than that He can provide bread for the body. He is driving home the lesson of the centrality of the spiritual. That is, there is a spiritual hunger in our lives as well as a physical, and there is a spiritual bread which feeds it. And without this, life would surely fail.

There's no doubt that this miracle points towards the Creation story, because what's in existence is being so incredibly multiplied that a new creation of physical objects is taking place where only a certain quantity of them was in existence. It's not that wheat is being milled, baked, and presented to those present, but that, from a meager resource, bread is coming into existence that could not have been made to exist through normal means. This is pointing out that Jesus is the Creator; He is God. This is what Paul told the Colossians about Jesus:

Colossians 1:16 (NASB) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him.

Now notice what was left after everyone ate:

Mark 8:8-9 (NASB) And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. 9 And about four thousand were there; and He sent them away.

The numbers here are significant. Greeks see numbers primarily as a quantity. But Hebrews see numbers primarily as quality or symbol. To us there are simply seven baskets. But to the Hebrew mind, the seven is symbolic.

In the first feeding of the crowd, who were Jews, there were five thousand, and they had five loaves ­ five, is the covenant number. And they took up twelve baskets; and twelve, the number of the twelve tribes, had pointed to Israel the covenant people. In this second feeding the crowd is Gentile, and there are four thousand. Four is the world number. They had seven loaves and took up seven baskets of leftovers ­ seven is the number of divine completeness and perfection.

In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was in the Jewish desert. As the bread of life for the Jew's twelve baskets were collected; twelve being the number for Israel. But for the 4000 in the Decapolis, a Gentile area, seven baskets were collected. Although the Decapolis has 10 cities, it was known to the Jews as the "Land of the Seven," since the Jews believed the 7 Canaanite nations settled in that region. Jesus is also the bread of life to the "Land of the Seven"­ Gentiles.

When Jesus asked His disciples how many loaves they had, the reply was "Seven." At this the ears of every Hebrew, who was listening to the Gospel read, would perk up. Every listener would recognize the divinely perfect number, conveying the idea that God was bringing the Gentiles into His church. This was why Mark added the mention of fish as a secondary item. He did not want to take away from the impact of "seven loaves."

When he talks about the baskets here, this is a different basket than the feeding of the five thousand; Mark uses two different Greek words. In the feeding of the five thousand, it was more like a little mesh pouch, kophinos, that any Jew who was out traveling would take with him. The Jews would have carried food in these so that they would not have to eat food that had been touched by Gentile hands. But the basket in our text is a large wicker basket, spuris. To understand the size of this basket, look at the use of this same Greek word in:

Acts 9:24-25 (NASB) but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

The words "large basket" are one word in the Greek, which is spuris. In chapter 6 the bread was gathered up in identifiable Jewish baskets, but in Acts 9 in "universal" baskets. These were large mat baskets as used universally; They were huge baskets, so there were a lot of leftovers here.

Mark 8:8 (NASB) And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces.

What Jesus was offering of Himself as symbolized in the bread was fully satisfying. Then having partaken of the sevenfold loaves, symbolizing the perfect and sufficient provision of God, there is perfection and sufficiency remaining, seven baskets. Both accounts stress the broken pieces. It was only as Jesus was broken for His own that future provision was made for them.

The number of baskets of left-over crumbs is twelve in the first incident and seven here. Seven is the number of the first deacons in the church in Acts 6. There are twelve "apostles," who seem chiefly concerned with proclamation to Jews; seven Greek-speaking members are chosen who, according to the subsequent narrative in Acts, are engaged in proclamation to Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles.

They gather up bread that has been touched by Gentile hands. This bread is no longer kosher. It is ceremonially unclean. What are they going to do with this bread? They are going to eat it! Jesus is teaching them that the ceremonial uncleanliness with which the Jews were so preoccupied is not supposed to be an issue in the Kingdom.

Mark 8:9 (NASB) And about four thousand were there; and He sent them away.

Matthew tell us that the number of four thousand was an estimation of the men present and that there were additional women and children who seem to have gone unnumbered (Matthew 15:38).

"And He sent them away" ­ No fear of an uprising here. No one wanted to make Him a king. They were satisfied with what they had received.

Mark 8:10 (NASB) And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples, and came to the district of Dalmanutha.

One of Mark's favorite words is the word "immediately." You get the impression through the whole book that he is in a hurry; there is a sense of urgency. Immediately this happens and immediately that happens. They jump in a boat, and off they go.

Dalmanutha is across the lake on the western side, near the present city of Tiberias. He is now back is Jewish territory.

In our last study we saw Jesus begin to give the children's bread to a Gentile woman. Today he has taken the bread to a huge crowd of Gentiles. Jesus is trying to teach His disciples that He is the bread of life for Jew and Gentile:

John 6:35 (NASB) Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

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