TODAY’S READING: Matthew 16; Mark 8
The feeding of the 4,000 happened in Gentile territory. The disciples didn’t get it and Jesus became frustrated with them (Mark 8:17–18). The lesson related to the Pharisees and Sadducees doubting Jesus (Matt. 16:1). The religious leaders wanted a sign, the populace wanted bread, and the disciples wanted to understand. Jesus was understandably perturbed with all (Mark 8:21). Rather than trusting Jesus, the religious elite wanted to put Him on trial. Their destructive and dangerous doctrine (Matt. 16:12) revolved around their insistence in putting God on trial—as if God has to prove Himself to others. What frustrated Jesus about the leaders was that they spent more energy on arrogantly vetting God than on obeying His commission. God was not to be judged, He was to be obeyed. What frustrated Jesus about the crowd and the disciples was that their fixation on His power more than His purposes.
From feeding 4,000 in Gentile territory, Jesus led His disciples to the town of Caesarea Philippi, twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. This city (full of non-Jews) was founded around 332 BC and called Panion (after the Greek god Pan) by 223 BC. After Rome gave the city to Herod the Great, Herod built a temple to Augustus Caesar, and when Herod’s son Phillip succeeded him in 4 BC, he changed the city’s name to Caesarea. Decades later, Herod II renamed the city Neronias after Nero; then under the Byzantines the city reverted to the name Paneas (like Panion). The point is this, Jesus fed 4,000 on a missions trip among the unreached and then in a city whose names venerated Pan, Caesar, Nero, and Phillip, He asked His followers who they thought He was.
We disciples tend to be like the blind man at Bethesda (Mark 8:22–25). Even when Jesus touches us, it takes us a while to see clearly. Taken together—the Pharisees’ bad doctrine, the missions trip, the question of who Jesus is—we see what Jesus was driving at: His purpose, not His power. The point is not that Jesus has all power; the point is that Jesus is the Messiah who came to earth to die for the sins of the whole world. Jesus asked the critical question of His identity in a pagan, idolatrous international city, because all those around Him continued to be blind to the fact that His raging passion and central purpose was to die for the sins of the world. It’s not about food—it’s about unreached peoples! It’s not about dying to self to gain the reputation as an ascetic—it’s about losing our life for the gospel’s sake (Mark 8:35). The gospel is intrinsically universal, inclusive of all nations.
What frustrates Jesus to the point of Him telling His own to get behind Him because they think like Satan (Matt. 16:23) is our slowness to see that His purpose is that every people group be represented around the throne. It’s not about food or power and authority or self-denial. Let’s stop frustrating Jesus. Let’s see clearly that He has one goal—the gospel going to every people.