Mark 8:10-13. Cr. Matthew 16:1-4
BRIEF INTRO: It should appear odd that the Pharisees would be asking for a sign, an “attesting miracle,” to validate who Jesus says He is. When we survey the gospel accounts up to this point, we are quickly inundated with many situations in which Jesus performed miracles. He cast out demons (1:23-27), healed Simon’s mother-in-law from fever (1:29-31), and healed many who were sick from various illnesses (1:34). He healed lepers, paralytics, and a man with withered hands, a woman with a bleeding issue (5:25-34), and many others. He even fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish! Who else but God the Messiah can do such wonders?
And yet, as often as we see the Pharisees in the gospel accounts, gathering together to test Him, observe Him, and even debate Him, with full knowledge of what He has done for the people, we still find them “seeking a sign.”
Do you need some sign before you trust in Jesus?
11 And the Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, demanding from Him a [a]sign from heaven, [b]to test Him.
FOCUS ONE: The problem with the Pharisees
Who were they anyway?
“After the Babylonian exile, the Pharisees organized with the express purpose of ensuring that the people of God would no longer stray away from the divine precepts. In an effort to do so, they became expert exegetes and interpreters of scripture. They painstakingly studied the law of God and created a sort of oral commentary on the law, which evolved over time and later was produced in a written form known today as the Mishnah. The parts of the Mishnah directly related to commandments or legal requirements of the law were known as halacha, which means walking through the law.”
“By New Testament times, the Pharisees had reached the height of their influence. They were well-respected by the common people because of their commitment to piety and dogged loyalty to the nation of Israel. They were bitter rivals of the Sadducees, a similar group that was made of mostly upper-class Jews, though with more liberal political views. The Pharisees, whose name in the original language signifies a literal separation from that which would defile, were the opposite of the Sadducees, who were highly motivated by any relationship or arrangement which would advance their political or economic aims. The Pharisees were deeply committed to doctrinal and personal purity. While the Pharisees did consider Sadducees to be compromising backsliders, we do see them leaguing together to entrap Jesus (see Mt. 22:15-16,22-23,34).”
So, they didn’t start badly, but over the years, the motivations of many of them changed. Their influence over the people was of paramount importance to them. Jesus called them out over this very thing in Matthew 23:6-7. “It seemed as though their primary qualm with Jesus was that He was detracting from their influence and thus diminishing the ability to maintain control of the hearts and minds of the people.”
Some problems we notice regarding the Pharisees:
- They had an incorrect view of authority (7:6)
- They failed to acknowledge the inconsistencies in their hearts
- They were self-consumed and self-absorbed (Matthew 23:1-36)
- They were hypocrites (Matthew 23)
In our text, we find Jesus and His disciples had just entered the district of Dalmanutha and were immediately harassed by the Pharisees from that region. Where is Dalmanutha?
“(1) A place on the west of the Sea of Galilee, mentioned only in Mark 8:10 . In the parallel passage, it is said that Christ came “into the borders of Magdala” ( Matthew 15:39 ). It is plain, then, that Dalmanutha was near Magdala, which was probably the Greek name of one of the many Migdols (i.e., watch-towers) on the western side of the lake of Gennesaret. It has been identified in the ruins of a village about a mile from Magdala, in the little open valley of ‘Ain-el-Barideh, “the cold fountain,” called el-Mejdel, possibly the “Migdal-el” of Joshua 19:
In this place, we read Christ’s response to them regarding their request for a sign.
12 Sighing deeply in His spirit, He *said, “Why does this generation demand a [a]sign? Truly I say to you, [b]no [c]sign will be given to this generation!”
FOCUS TWO: Why a sign?
The Pharisees already had many attesting miracles (signs) that revealed the deity of Jesus. It wasn’t that they needed clarification of anything. No, it is evident in these few recorded words of Mark that they were there to “test” Him and did so while “arguing” with Him (8:12).
Those words: “sighed deeply in His spirit,” reveal the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ! They express how deeply affected He was by their “wickedness” and “hypocrisy.” It appears that their “obstinate unbelief” is the issue underlying His refusal to give them a sign of their asking. So, no sign at their request, in such unbelief, will be given to them, BUT Jesus will provide “one” sign of His choosing! Matthew 16:1-4 records Christ’s words regarding the sign He will provide: the sign of Jonah! It was NOT what they asked for and would NOT be given because they asked for it.
Now the question should arise: Is it always wrong to seek a sign? I guess the answer to that would be yes AND no! Confusing? Let’s focus on that answer for just a bit.
In our day and age, the definition of terms is very critical. While one person may understand a word to mean one thing, others may define it differently. So, we need to be careful here. There seem to be three different possible meanings being used when the word “signs” is used.
“2The first category for “signs” is biblical but should NOT be sought after by Christians. The second category for “signs” is biblical and should be sought after by Christian’s. And the third category for “signs” is not biblical and thus should not be sought after by Christians.”
The first category of “signs” is what I would label as “signs and wonders.”
In the Bible, there is clear evidence that at certain times in history, God has chosen to create “signs and wonders” to send a message, warnings, or to mark the fulfillment of a promise.
An example of this would be in Luke 2:8-15, when an angel appeared to the shepherds and announced the supernatural birth of Jesus. Luke 2:12 states, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
“While these types of “signs” are clearly biblical, these are not the type of signs a Christian should look for to hear from God on a daily basis. Signs and wonders are rare and will not be performed by God whenever we want him to do them. God chooses to use these types of signs for special purposes and reasons. We should not ask God to speak to us through signs like this whenever we want to know his will for our lives. These types of signs and wonders are something God will choose to do when he wants to, but this is not something we should seek after.”
The second category of “signs” is what I would label as “evidence for what God wants you to do in your life.
“Unlike “signs and wonders,” this second type of “sign” is the kind I believe Christians should always be looking for so that they can fulfill God’s specific will for their life. The process of seeing these signs is less about asking God to send them to us and more about properly interpreting the signs God is already sending to us. God is always telling us what he wants us to do in life, and we need to properly interpret these “signs” so we are doing what God wants.”
“When certain things are happening in your heart and in your life, we need to interpret these things through a biblical lens. When I use the word “signs” in my videos and articles, I’m referring to this process of interpreting events through applying the Bible. If “________” happens, this is a sign you should apply “_________” biblical principle. Just like a doctor who looks at the patient and examines what symptoms are present before giving medicine, we need to look at the “signs” in life that would lead us to apply the correct biblical wisdom.”
For example, if you are a man and asked God, “Lord, do you want me to ask Ashley out on a date?”, it would not be biblical to ask God to give you a vision to tell you what to do. But, it would be biblical to look for evidence in your life and interactions with Ashley to help you rightly apply the word of God. So if you are talking with Ashley and it comes out that she is not a Christian like you thought she was, this would be a “sign” that God does not want you to date her because 2 Corinthians 6:14 states that God does not want his people unequally yoked.
Because our goal here is to apply biblical wisdom rightly, this is why we can use the language, “God wants you to do this” or “God wants you to do that.” The Bible is God’s word; therefore, when we rightly apply the Bible to our lives, we know we are doing what God wants us to do in our lives.
The third category of “signs” is what I refer to as “horoscopes and superstitions.”
“When someone is using the word “sign” in this sense, they are attaching unrelated meaning to random events and situations in life.”
“For example, if a man was asking, “Lord, do you want me to date Ashely?” and then he instantly saw five grey cats walk in front of him, and he then interpreted this as a sign that God does want him to date Ashley, this would be unbiblical. Why? Because those five grey cats have nothing to do with healthy relationship principles found in the Bible.
If this man prayed that prayer and then at church that night, he and Ashly have a great conversation together, and they get time to serve with one another, and it seems like they both are prepared to start a godly relationship – then that could be interpreted as a sign that God is telling him to move forward with her. But when we try to attach our meanings to random things in life, we are playing God and just making things up in our heads. This is not what God wants for us.”
“Or if a woman was asking God if she should breakup with her boyfriend and then on her way to work she literally got stopped at every red traffic light possible, and then she interpreted this as a sign that God was telling her to breakup with him, this would not be biblical because red traffic lights don’t mean anything biblically or relationally. However, if on her way to work she sees her boyfriend kissing another woman, clearly that would be a sign she needs to breakup with him because this man is not showing the character of a faithful man that the Bible requires for husbands.”
“God speaks clearly through the Bible, through the Holy Spirit’s impressions on our hearts, and through the circumstances in our lives. God will help us rightly interpret the “signs” in our lives by showing us how to rightly apply biblical wisdom to the situations and relationships we experience in our lives.”
I trust these examples from a website on applying God’s word will help us better understand the importance of correctly defining terms and biblically applying scripture.
13 And leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side.
FOCUS THREE: Approaching Jesus
One other thing that stands out in this portion of scripture, at least to me, is the question of how we approach Jesus? To simply state it, there are only two ways to approach Jesus:
- Incorrectly (irreverent, argumentative, hypocritically) 10:2; 11:18
- Correctly (humbly, repentant, sincerely) 7:27-30; 5:21-24; 35-43
I encourage you to read the scriptures cited above for yourself because in them, you will see a stark contrast in the heart and behavior of each person represented.
Once again, we read that Jesus leaves to go “to the other side” with His disciples. We see this many times leading up to our text today:
8:13 seems to be the last time
In verse twenty-two we find their destination: Bethsaida!
- (1) The Growth network (internet site)
- (2) Applying God’s word (internet site).