As we go through our daily routines, we are constantly bombarded with distractions of every stripe. Personality conflicts. Complicated problems. Doubts. Skepticism. Busyness. All of these conspire to desensitize our feelings, build calluses on our skin, and harden our hearts. To Maintain a healthy faith, we must Remember what God did in the past, Meditate on his promises in the present, and Trust him to provide for the future.
In Mark 8:11-21, we see the twin dangers of unbelief and forgetfulness. The Pharisees demand proof (11-13) when in reality they only want an argument. The disciples are so focused on present problems (14-21) that they forgot God’s provision in the past. Unbelief and forgetfulness can contaminate and poison our faith if we’re not careful.
As the passage opens, Jesus and his disciples are on the western side of the Sea of Galilee in the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees show up demanding irrefutable proof of Jesus’ authority. Rather than seeking convincing proof so they might be persuaded to believe, they only want to argue. Like the person who says, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!” the Pharisees had closed their minds to Jesus and his teachings. Their actions reveal that they were blind and hard-hearted.
Not all questions seek the truth. While Jesus often went the extra mile to dialogue with seekers, he refused the demands of skeptics. Rather than engage in pointless dialogue, Jesus leaves the area.
In their hasty departure, Jesus’ disciples forgot to pack a lunch for the trip. They are so focused on their present problem they forgot Jesus’ miracles in the past (14-21).
With the encounter with the Pharisees fresh in his mind, Jesus warns his disciples not to be contaminated by the unbelief of the Pharisees. While Jesus and his disciples are using the same language, they mean entirely different things. Jesus uses the term, yeast or leaven, metaphorically while the disciples interpret it literally.
In some cases, yeast can be good. It can serve as a pervasive influence in spreading the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:33). But it can also describe the corrupting influence of evil (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). In this case, Jesus is sounding a warning against the hypocrisy and unbelief of the Pharisees.
Jesus warns about yeast and the disciples are thinking they forgot their lunch. Their myopic response reveals they were so focused on their present problem that they forgot Jesus’ miraculous provision not long ago. They demonstrated that they were dense and hard-hearted.
Seeing the Pharisees’ and the disciples’ reactions raises a yellow flag in my own life. Those closest to Jesus are the most in danger of becoming callused and hard-hearted. It is possible to know the Scriptures, see miracles, receive answers to prayer, and yet never allow the truth to penetrate below the surface.
Don’t let your faith be contaminated by …
- Unbelief – There is nothing wrong with doubt and honest questions. They will lead you to the truth. But unbelief has chosen not to believe.
- Hypocrisy – Some put on a mask and appear pious and religious, yet deep inside they are antagonistic to Christ.
- Present problems – We can get so consumed with today’s issues that we forget our God is almighty and all-powerful.
- Forgetfulness – We can become so distracted that we forget who God is, what he has done, and all of his promises.
- Hard heart – Unconfessed sin, broken relationships, and compromise can all serve to build up calluses on our hearts.
To maintain a healthy faith …
- Remember what God did in the past. Keep a journal to remind yourself of what God has done, answers to prayer, miracles, provision, etc. Remembering what God did in the past will bring help in the present.
- Meditate on God’s promises in the present. Focus on God’s promises and goodness rather than on your problems. They will give you hope for the future.
- Trust him to provide in the future. Remembering and meditating will lead you to greater confidence in the future.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 24, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.