Upset with His Disciples: Studying Mark 8

Upset mom gripping steering wheel
Upset mom gripping steering wheel
Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

“Mom, are you mad?” Upset? Me? How could you tell? The kids could always tell when I was upset with them.

“No!” I asserted, gripping the steering wheel and  slamming my foot down on the gas pedal. Flooring the accelerator was always a dead give away. For that matter, so was ballistic questioning.

David, why didn’t you turn your homework in again? What were you thinking? How many zeros do you want?  Do you really believe your teacher is an idiot? Do you want to go to college? And you say you want to go to med school? How do you expect to do that if you flunk out of high school?!

Of course, I didn’t give him a chance to answer any of those questions. I didn’t even take a breath. Actually, those questions weren’t real questions, they were simply expressions of my exasperation. I guess I expected better of my children.

That’s how I could tell Jesus was upset.

How Can We Tell He’s Upset?

We’re continuing our study of the Gospel of Mark.  Mark 7 left us with an astonishing example of a Gentile woman’s faith. She asked for Jesus’ help and he pushed back, testing her. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer; parrying with him in words that showed true faith. Full of joyful astonishment, he answered her need.

Now in Mark 8, we meet a different emotion from Jesus. He rattles off a string of questions without taking a breath. After he gets a one word answer from his disciples, he hurls a seventh at them, before ending with question number eight, “Do you not yet understand? (Mark 8:21).

What mother among us hasn’t ended her own tirade with a modern version, of that question, “Don’t you guys get it???”

Righteous Indignation

Full disclosure, my anger often crosses the border into sin, even when it’s somewhat justifiable. But Jesus’ doesn’t. We tend to picture the Sinless One as always serene, but he wasn’t. It’s important to realize he has just revealed his bounty to not one, but two very different groups of people. In Mark 6 he fed a large crowd of Jews with 5 loaves and two fish. Now he has just fed an enormous group of Gentiles with 7 loaves.

Meanwhile, as they’re crossing the Sea of Galilee once again, the disciples start muttering to themselves that they forgot to bring bread. Can’t you hear them?

“Hey Peter, do you have any bread left?” “Uh, no, I finished mine. I thought you wrapped up the extra in your robe.” “I did, but it must have fallen out.” “James? John? Andrew?” “Nope.” “Oh no, now what are we going to do??”

I can just see Jesus shaking his head. Don’t they get it?

Upset About Faith

Although I’m amazed that Jesus got upset, I’m comforted, too. It means he has expectations of his disciples, like I do of my kids. After all this time with him, he expects them to see his works and begin to believe. Their faith in him should be growing with miracle by miracle, day by day. Consequently, it was their unbelief that prompted him to ask seven questions without a pause.

Here are the facts: Jesus has just finished feeding an enormous crowd for the second time. The numbers were different, but the miracle was the same. Naturally, he expected his disciples to remember, ponder, understand, and then apply their understanding to the current situation.

Under those circumstances, his exasperation weren’t just a frustrated response to their clueless questions, but a righteous response to their failure of faith.

What was it they were supposed to understand? That’s one of our questions this week.

No Longer Upset, But Amazed

Later in the chapter Jesus has another intimate conversation with his disciples. This time they give the right answer, articulated out loud by Peter. Matthew 16:17 records the blessings that spill out of Jesus’ mouth in response, one right after another, much like the questions had before.

Both of these conversations show us something about the disciples–they certainly had their highs and lows of faith–but also something about Jesus. Jesus wasn’t a teaching-and-miracle-working machine. He wasn’t aloof, emotionally uninvolved. On the contrary, he related to his disciples with the full range of true humanity. He didn’t just affect them, he was affected by them.

How does this fact affect the way you and I relate to him?

Turning toward the cross

The disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ true identity opens the door for him to begin telling them about his true mission. At this point in the narrative, Jesus changes his teaching. He begins to talk about the necessity of the cross. This is a great opportunity for each of us to reflect personally on the necessity of the cross for our salvation, as well as what it means to walk in the way of the cross as his disciple.

Day 1: Context — Reread Mark 7:31-37 and Matthew 15:29-31. Then read Mark 8:1-10.

  1. What region was Jesus in as we head into Mark 8? (This region was mostly Gentile).
  2. How does Matthew describe this scene?
  3. What detailed incident does Mark give?
  4. What else does Jesus do for the crowd (Mark 8)? Why?

Day 2: Observation — Read Mark 8 as 2 miracles and 3 conversations.

  1. How was the feeding of the 4000 different from the feeding of the 5000? How was it similar?
  2. Describe the two conversations occurred after this miracle? What motivated the Pharisees’ question? What emotion accompanied Jesus’ response?
  3. In the boat what was on Jesus’ mind? In contrast, what were the disciples thinking about? As a result, what does he want them to understand in 8:21?
  4. How does Jesus heal the blind man? How would his actions have been felt by a man who couldn’t see?
  5.  What does Jesus begin to teach his disciples in the last scene? How does he phrase that same idea to the crowd? What searching question does he ask the crowd and the disciples together?

Day 3: Meaning — Read Mark 8 as a story leading to the climax of Peter’s confession.

  1. Why do you think Jesus repeated the feeding of a crowd? What were the disciples supposed to understand about him? Equally important, what were they to understand about the Gentile crowd?
  2. Why did the conversation with the Pharisees prompt Jesus to caution the disciples? What was he warning them of?
  3. What were the disciples worrying about? Why didn’t they need to worry about that? Not to mention, what was that worry distracting them from?
  4. How is the healing of the blind man a commentary on the understanding of the disciples?
  5. What did Peter see clearly? In addition, what did he miss completely? With this in mind, how did Jesus’ words to the crowd address Peter personally?

Day 4: Application — Read Mark 8 as a personal meditation on the necessity of Christ’s death and his call to you to follow him.

  1. First, reflect on your conversion. Why did Jesus have to die for you? How were you trying to save yourself? Rejoice in your Savior!
  2. Second, reflect on his call to you to follow him. What have you given up? Contrast that to what you have already gained. Finally, what do you have to look forward to? Rejoice in your call!

This is a deep chapter. It marks the turning point in Jesus’ ministry from the crowds to the cross.

Find more Gospel of Mark posts here.