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Mark 8:1-21 – When Jesus Shook His Head

Sometimes when I am on a business trip, I find myself shaking my head at how some of the other drivers are driving. I have seen some people zipping past me at 90 mph. I recently saw a police vehicle slaloming through traffic like a madman. Others have speeded up and driven within feet of the car ahead hoping to influence them to move aside. When this happens, I often shake my head at their poor driving. Why do people drive like this?

Sometimes I wonder if God has the same response to the way that we live our lives. After all He has done for us and taught us, He sometimes finds us driving through life in a way that doesn’t make much sense. Do you think God has ever looked down at your life and shaken His head about the choices you have made? I am sure He has with me. And in today’s passage, we will see how Jesus responded to the choices made by several who should have known better.

  1. The Feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10)

    Though somewhat similar to what happened in Mark 6:30-44, this account of the feeding of the 4000 is a separate occasion with different details. However, the events once again teach us something about Jesus and who He is.

    What does it say?

    The multitude of people who came to see Jesus had nothing to eat. With this in mind, Jesus talked to His disciples and expressed His compassion for the people. The crowd had been with Him for three days and now had nothing to eat. He was concerned that if they were sent home now, they would faint before they got home since some had come from far away. The disciples asked how such a crowd could be fed in the wilderness. But this did not deter Jesus. He asked them how much bread was available. When the disciples told him that there were seven loaves of bread, He told the multitude to sit down on the ground. He then took the bread, thanked God for it, and broke it into pieces for the disciples to distribute. There were also a few small fish which were blessed and given to the people. Everyone ate and had enough to satisfy their hunger. When the meal was finished, there were seven large baskets full of leftovers. There were about four thousand people in the crowd. After the meal, Jesus sent them away, got into the boat with His disciples, and went to Dalmanutha.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus cares about people.

    While we may have been overwhelmed by the attention of so many people, Jesus had a different response. He had compassion toward them. His compassion was not only for their spiritual needs (which He addressed by preaching) but also for their physical needs. In this instance, He was concerned that they didn’t have any food to eat. Some of the people had been with Him for three days and some had come from so far away that they probably wouldn’t be able to make it home without passing out.

    Jesus was thankful for God’s provision.

    Did you notice what Jesus did before distributing the food? “Mark notes that Jesus gave thanks for the bread and blessed the fishes, but the two terms are quite synonymous as indicating the usual prayer before meals.”1 Perhaps this is where we get our tradition of praying before our meals. Jesus did this as an example to all who were there. He wanted His disciples and the people in the crowd to see God’s provision even in the most dire of situations. God wants people to be thankful for what He has provided. And, if you think about it, everything we have is a gift from God.

    Jesus did a miracle.

    When Jesus stated His concern for the hungry crowd, the disciples responded with a question. “They recognized the need as utterly beyond any ordinary means available.”2 There was no grocery store nearby and no means of paying for such a large meal. They were in a wilderness where nothing was available. And these circumstances made Jesus’ miracle all the more visible to everyone.

    After thanking His heavenly Father for the food that was available, Jesus began to break apart the loaves and miraculously multiplied the pieces into enough to satisfy about 4000 people. He did the same with the few, small fishes that were available. This was not something that a mere human could do. Jesus could do this because He is both man and God.

    After everyone was satisfied, the disciples collected the leftovers in seven baskets. How big were these baskets? “The baskets (spyridas) on this occasion differed from those used in feeding the 5,000 (kophinoi, Mark 6:43; cf. 8:19-20). They were rope or mat baskets sometimes large enough to carry a man (cf. Acts 9:25).”3 This type of basket was used to lower Paul out a window when he was being pursued by murderous enemies. “Moulton and Milligan cite the use of this word in the papyruses for ‘a basket in which were fifty loaves.'”4 Jesus, by His divine power, was able to not only feed 4000 people but also caused the leftovers to be 50 times greater than what He started with.

    Some have noted that this miracle sounds like the one done previously for the 5000. But there are several differences. (1) The size of the group was 4000 not 5000. (2) The people sat on the ground instead of the grass. (3) The starting amount of food was 7 loaves and small fishes not 5 loaves and two fish. (4) The leftovers were 7 large baskets as opposed to 12 small baskets. For those who have trouble believing this second miracle, please note that “Jesus is able not only to perform but also to repeat his mighty words.”5 And “without the hand of Him who first made the world out of nothing, the thing could not be. But in the almighty hands of Jesus seven loaves and a few fishes were made sufficient to satisfy four thousand men. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.”6

    How does it apply?

    We need to believe that Jesus cares about us.

    The fact that Jesus had compassion for the needs of this multitude should give us comfort. If He had compassion for them, do you think He cares for us in the same way? I am sure of it. Peter, who probably told Mark these stories, said so in his own epistle.

    1 Peter 5:7 – “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

    When you are in great need, you can be sure that Jesus is aware of your need, loves you, and wants to help you in your situation.

    We need to be thankful for what God has provided.

    When Jesus discovered what food was available, He thanked God the Father for it. You could say that this was easy for Jesus to do as He knew what He was about to do. But you can also see His thankfulness for what had already been provided. Sometimes we look at what we don’t have instead of being thankful for what God has already provided. It might not be much. But thankfulness takes our eyes off what is missing and thanks God for what He has given. Whether there is little or much, let us be thankful for what God has provided.

    Psalm 100:4 – “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.”

    We need to trust in God’s ability to provide for our needs.

    When we remember what Jesus did for the 5000 and here for the 4000, we should be filled with hope that He can also do the same for us when we are in need. The same Jesus who fed these crowds promised that He would provide our food and clothing as we make His kingdom and His righteousness a daily priority (Matt. 6:33). Do you think He has changed His mind since then? I think not.

  2. The Unbelief of the Pharisees (Mark 8:11-12)

    Although they had missed the miracle across the sea, the Pharisees were quick to find Jesus when He returned to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee. Sadly, their attitude toward Him had not changed.

    What does it say?

    Having arrived in the region of Dalmanutha, the Pharisees came out and argued with Jesus. They eventually asked for a sign from heaven trying to test Him. But Jesus responded with a deep sigh and asked why this generation was seeking a sign. He then told them that no sign would be given to this generation.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus had not convinced the Pharisees.

    The Pharisees were not convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah or that He was the Son of God. But because He had early exposed their hypocrisy and because the people thought so highly of Him, they demanded that Jesus provide a sign from heaven. They did this despite the fact that He had healed many, cast out demons, twice fed thousands of people, walked on water, and raised a dead person. “Asking for still another sign was clearly an insult. It implied that the miracles already performed were insufficient as credentials.”7

    What were they asking for? “They wanted some startling celestial phenomenon, some audible or visible sign in the sky, which would incontrovertably establish His claims. But for Jesus to have yielded to this passion for sensational display would have made faith impossible. … They failed to recognize the messianic signs already being given, while demanding a sign of their own choosing.”8

    Do you think a sign from heaven would have changed their minds. Probably not. They asked for a sign, “as if, had he done any of these things, or anything of similar sensational nature, they would not have ascribed also such a sign to Beelzebul as its source! Their purpose was to tempt Jesus, to get him to attempt to produce such a sign. They hoped that he would try and fail, so that he might be publicly discredited.”9

    Jesus was not willing to work with them.

    Despite their loud arguments and demands for proof, Jesus was unwilling to work with these religious hypocrites. They demanded answers from Him despite their own sinfulness and lack of integrity. This caused Jesus to give a deep sigh from His inner most being. He was frustrated by “their obstinate unbelief”10 and refused to give in to their demands.

    How does it apply?

    There will be some people who will not believe.

    It can be frustrating when we try our best to convince someone to turn from their sin and believe in Jesus. There are times when the individual will respond well and put their faith in Christ. But when the person refuses to believe and becomes defiant, there comes a time where we have to leave that person in God’s hands. Sadly, some people will not believe. This ought to grieve our hearts, but it is a reality which we have to accept.

    When someone rejects the good news of Jesus, we can become upset. But we can also pray that the Lord will open their heart at some later date. What is impossible with men is possible with God. Don’t lose heart. If one rejects the good news, there will be another person who might respond well. So have faith in God’s ability to save sinners and keep talking to people about Him.

  3. The Leaven of the Pharisees (Mark 8:13-21)

    After a long day, Jesus and the disciples crossed the sea once again. As they traveled, Jesus took the time to teach them some things. At least, that it what He attempted to do.

    What does it say?

    Jesus left the Pharisees, got into the boat, and started for the other side of the sea. But they only had one loaf of bread because the disciples had forgotten to bring some. As they traveled, Jesus told them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples thought that Jesus was referring to their lack of food. Jesus noticed this and questioned why they were thinking that way. He asked if they did not understand or if their hearts were hardened. Did they have eyes but could not see? Did they have ears but could not hear? Didn’t they remember what Jesus had recently done? He then asked them how many baskets of leftovers they had collected after He fed the five thousand. They acknowledged that there were twelve baskets. He then asked them how many large baskets of leftovers there were when He fed the four thousand. They acknowledged that there were seven large baskets. Jesus then asked how it was that they didn’t understand.

    What does it mean?

    The disciples were in danger of being influenced by the Pharisees and Herod.

    Jesus believed that the influence of the Pharisees and Herod was a reality. When He spoke to the disciples, He gave two commands: (1) take heed, and (2) beware. To take heed means that they were to notice what it was. To beware means that they were to realize that it could harm them. The influence of both the Pharisees and Herod were bad. “The Pharisees displayed an outward conformity to the law, but their hearts were full of unbelief and sinfulness (Mark 7:6–13).”11 Herod’s influence is not spelled out in the gospels. Perhaps it was a worldly way of life that pushed for political change without relying on God. I don’t really know. But Jesus saw that his influence was bad for the disciples.

    Their influence was like leaven or yeast. “No word more suitable could have been employed. It exactly describes the small beginnings of false doctrine—the subtle quiet way in which it insensibly pervades a man’s religion….”12 It only takes a little bit of yeast to cause a loaf of bread to rise. So a little error could do great harm to the faith of the disciples.

    The disciples were not paying attention to what Jesus had done.

    The disciples were oblivious to what Jesus was trying to teach them. They must have been hungry as all the talk about yeast got them thinking about them forgetting to replenish their food supply. You can sense the exasperation in Jesus’ questions. As He was warning them about the influence of the Pharisees and Herod, they were worried about not having enough bread to eat. Their hunger had caused them to miss what Jesus was teaching (the leaven of error) and what He had already done (provided food for thousands of people on two different occasions).

    Jesus asked them if they could not see or hear. He asked them if they had noticed the miracles He had done to feed the crowds. He asked them how many baskets of leftovers there were after feeding the 5000. There were twelve baskets. He asked them how many large baskets of leftovers there were after feeding the 4000. There were seven large baskets. His point was that they were worrying about bread when He had twice miraculously taken care of the needs of far more than this small group. How was it that they could not understand this?

    How does it apply?

    We need to guard ourselves from bad influences.

    While it has become unpopular to speak about biblical separation from error or to mention the names of those who are a bad influence, this is something Jesus did. He pointed out the trouble with the Pharisees and Herod by name. He warned His disciples about how their influence could slowly permeate their lives if they weren’t careful.

    We need to be careful that we are not slowly influenced by bad spiritual influences. It only takes a little bit of error to cause us to turn aside. As Paul said, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Today we are faced with the error of worldliness. We think that a little worldliness in our lives won’t cause much trouble, but it doesn’t take long until we are no longer concerned about being holy for God and we no longer seek to do His work. Take heed and beware lest you become influenced and turn away from the Lord. If you have already turned away from the Lord, notice it, repent of it, and turn back to the Lord.

    We must remember the works of God.

    “It is a common observation that believers frequently forget God’s amazing dealings with them in the past when confronted with some new crisis.”13 How can we avoid becoming forgetful about God’s amazing works? Asaph wrote a song about this same topic.

    Psalm 78:4 – “Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.”

    If we don’t want to forget what God has done, we have to tell others about it. As we tell others, we will be praising God and fortifying our memories of God’s amazing power. Have you forgotten what God has done in your life? Take some time this week, to write down what God has done in your life: (1) how He saved you, (2) how He has answered your prayers, (3) how He has provided for your needs, and (4) how He worked out an impossible situation for you. Write these things down and then tell somebody about it. We need to remember ourselves. But when we remember and share these things with others, it will increase not only our own faith but that of others.


Can you imagine how frustrated Jesus may have been at the end of our passage? He had done a great miracle in front of thousands of people. But the Pharisees didn’t think it was enough. He had done the miracle in front of the disciples on two separate occasions but the disciples still wondered how they were going to split a loaf of bread between themselves. This must have been frustrating.

I wonder today, as the Lord looks down on us, if He has the same response. After all He has done for us over the years (loved us, saved us, changed us, helped us, provided for us, answered us, etc.), does He find us to be thankful to Him? Does He find us to be trusting Him to meet our current needs? Let’s do something about that. Let’s stop worrying and start acting like we really do trust the Lord to do as He has promised. Maybe then, He won’t have to sigh and ask us some humiliating questions. Will you stop worrying and start trusting Him again?


1 Hiebert 219.
2 Hiebert 218.
3 Grassmick 137.
4 Hiebert 220.
5 Hendriksen 313.
6 Ryle 155.
7 Hendriksen 315.
8 Hiebert 222.
9 Hendriksen 315.
10 Grassmick 138.
11 “What is the leaven of the Pharisees?”
12 Ryle 159.
13 Hiebert 218.


Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Ryle, J. C., Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume One, Matthew – Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977.

“What is the leaven of the Pharisees?” as viewed at on 2/3/2024.