Story 103: Accepting and Rejecting: Epic Choices in Galilee

Matt. 15:32-16:12; Mark 8:1-21

red sky in Alghero

Jesus and His disciples were by the Sea of Galilee, but they were in the Decapolis. That was an area of 10 cities where Gentiles lived. This was outside of Jewish territory, and the people that lived there were the kind that most Jews would not even sit down with to eat a meal.  But Jesus went out to them and began to preach, and the multitudes flocked to see Him.

The people listened to Jesus preach for three full days. They had been there so long that they had nothing to eat. Jesus felt compassion for them. He didn’t want to sent them away on empty stomachs. Many had come from a long distance to be near Him. He called His disciples to Him and explained His concern.

They had no idea what to do. They asked Him where He thought they would find enough food to feed such a big crowd. They were in a desolate area, far from any village or town. That might seem like a pretty normal question to ask, but their lives weren’t normal anymore. They were the disciples of the Messiah! Didn’t they remember when Jesus fed the 5,000? Jesus was so very patient with His thickheaded disciples!

Jesus asked His disciples how many loaves of bread they had. This time, there were seven loaves of bread and a few little fish. The Lord had the crowds sit on the ground. He took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks to His heavenly Father, and began to break the bread. He passed the bread to His disciples, who served it to the crowd. They also passed out the fish.

When everyone in the crowds was full, the disciples went and gathered up the leftover pieces. There were seven large baskets left! The superabundance of the Messiah’s blessing had once flowed out on His Jewish audience. Now it was overflowing to the Gentiles. There were four thousand men listening to Jesus that day, and that did not include the women and children that had come with them.

Jesus sent the multitudes back to their homes. They were full of good food, amazing visions of miracles, and the strong, whole teaching of the Good News of Christ. Imagine the conversations that took place as they made their way home.  Meanwhile, He and His disciples got into their boats and sailed for the region of Magadan, which was Jewish territory. If we were able to go back and stand on the shores of Galilee and looked out at all the different hills and valleys that surround it, all we would see was the beautiful green and yellow grass under a bright blue sky. But in the eyes of the Jews and the Gentiles, there were invisible, high walls that acted like fortresses of suspicion and hatred between one group and the other. Those unseen walls had been built over hundreds of years, but as Jesus and His disciples traversed the Sea on their boats and landed wherever the Father led them, they broke right through those boundaries. They were creating new paths for a new kind of world.

When Jesus and His men arrived in Jewish territory again, the Sadducees and Pharisees were waiting for them. They wanted to test Him and argue with Him. Only now, things were different. This is the first time in the Gospels that we learn that the Pharisees and Sadducees were working together. Normally they thought of each other as hated enemies. They believed very different things about the Bible and about God, and there were great internal divides in the Jewish faith because of them. But now, they had found a common enemy in Jesus. They had joined together to come against this travelling minister that everyone was talking about. Whatever their differences were, they didn’t seem important in the light of this new threat. Jesus was going to overturn everything, and they were willing to make friends with anyone necessary to stop Him.

As they argued with Jesus, they demanded that He show a mighty sign from Heaven. The Old Testament said that the Messiah would do things on a cosmic level, and God had already done many magnificent things through men like Moses and Elijah. The sun stood still, the seas divided, and fire fell from Heaven. If Jesus was from God, why didn’t He do those things, too? They seemed to think that He had to prove Himself to them. Jesus said,

“ ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red” and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times! A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’”

And with that, Jesus left them. There was no genuine search for truth behind the questions of these religious leaders. They didn’t care about the amazing signs pouring out of Jesus all the time. Jesus knew that they were hardened in their wickedness, and so all that He had left for them was the sign of Jonah. The prophet Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a fish. Jesus would spend three days in the grave before rising again. He would die a horrific death in front of all the religious leaders. There would be no way to deny that He had really given up His life. And then He would rise again. That radical transformation was the only sign that these religious leaders would receive from Jesus…yet is was a remarkable one. Would it be the final thing that caused them to repent and receive their Savior?

After His confrontation with the religious leaders, Jesus and His disciples went back to the other side of the Sea. His disciples had forgotten to bring bread with them. There was only one loaf left to feed them all.

Jesus began to talk to them about the influence of the religious leaders on the Jewish nation. “‘Be careful,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” He also warned against Herod. The Lord could see His powerful enemies circling around Him, and He wanted His men to be aware.

The disciples started talking to each other, worrying about what He meant. He had mentioned yeast. Maybe Jesus was mad because they forgot to bring enough bread on the trip!

Yeast is an important part of the dough that makes bread. It is added to the dough and makes it expand, filling it with air bubbles. When it is cooked, instead of a becomin a flat piece of bread, it is light and fluffy. For the Jewish people, yeast was used as a symbol of bad things. That is how Jesus is using it here. The Pharisees and Sadducees were like the yeast, and the nation of Israel was like the dough. Just as yeast mixes throughout dough and changes it, the false teachings and hatred of the religious leaders had been mixed into the minds of the Jewish people about Jesus. They deceived many and hindered the people from coming to their Savior.

Jesus knew that the disciples didn’t understand what He meant. He knew they thought He was talking about the food they forgot to buy.

What were they worried about? Didn’t they know how many baskets He could fill with their one little loaf of bread? Had they already forgotten the miracles?

He asked them:

“‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets still full of bread you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’”

With this explanation, the disciples understood that Jesus was talking about the Sadducees and Pharisees. It is interesting that the disciples had so much trouble understanding when Jesus spoke about spiritual things. Imagine all the conversations going on every day, all over the Jewish world.   They had been through a lot of false teaching by their leaders. The Pharisees were legalistic, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the Kingdom of God, and the Herodians believed the Messiah would come out of Herod’s family. None of them were truly turning to the God of Abraham. If they had, they would have recognized the Messiah when He came!

As the disciples let go of all of these false teachings that were popular in their time, their eyes became more and more clear. They were becoming more able to understand what the true Kingdom was meant to be, and what the true Messiah was really like.

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