Jesus, Help My Unbelief!

March 12, 2017

We all know that clean water is a necessity for life. In the United States most of us are not concerned about a lack of drinking water. However there are places in the world where finding enough drinking water is a great challenge. It’s not that there isn’t any water. It’s just that the source of water is contaminated. It is undrinkable. And so in those places there is an ongoing search for a source of good, clean water to sustain life.

As Christians we believe that Jesus Christ gives us life. And yet, every day we are faced with circumstances and questions that challenge our faith in Christ. Today as we look at Mk.8:14-26 I want to drive home the powerful truth that Jesus is the primary Source for our daily life in this world.


In order to get the context for this passage let me summarize the preceding events. In Mk.7:24 Jesus leaves the area of Capernaum which was governed by Herod Antipas. Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and it was Antipas who had John the Baptist beheaded. Many think Jesus left this area because of Antipas and because of increasing conflict with the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus goes northwest to the Gentile city of Tyre where he casts a demon out of a little girl. He then goes 20 miles north to Sidon and then turns southeast and makes his way to the east side of the Sea of Galilee into the Gentile area known as the Decapolis (the ten cites).

In Mk.8 Jesus is speaking to a crowd of about 4,000 gentiles who had been with Jesus for some 3 days and were running out of food. Jesus asked his disciples about how many loaves of bread they had. They had 7 loaves and a few small fish. So Jesus once again, miraculously fed the crowd of 4,000 people. They had seven baskets full of bread left over. It should not be missed that Jesus extended himself to the Gentiles just as he did earlier to the Jews in the feeding of the 5,000.

After this miracle Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and returned to the area governed by Antipas. There some Pharisees came and Mk.8:11 tells us that they began to argue with Jesus, asking Jesus to perform a sign from heaven to test him. And Jesus responds by saying, “Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." Jesus gets into the boat and sails northeast towards Bethsaida.

When you read a Bible story, it is often helpful to put yourself into the story. What is going on? How would you have felt, etc.? So here we are in the boat with Jesus and, “Shoot, we forgot to bring enough bread. There’s only one loaf here and there is 13 of us in the boat.” All of us have been in that kind of situation. We walk off and forget to bring our lunch or wallet, or whatever. But as they were talking about bread, Jesus had something far more important, on his mind. He tells the disciples to beware of the leaven or yeast of the Pharisees and Herod.”

In the Bible yeast rarely has a positive connotation. One exception is in Mt.13, where Jesus likens the growth of the Kingdom of God to yeast that slowly permeates in the dough of the world. But yeast generally refers to something that is negative. Just as yeast permeates a lump of dough causing the whole lump to rise, so negative, sinful thoughts, attitudes, and people have a way of infecting the whole. Here Jesus refers to the yeast or leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. What does he mean? Many think Jesus is referring to their hard, unbelieving hearts. Think about this, Jesus is warning his disciples about having that kind of unbelieving heart. “Really, Jesus? These are your disciples. You handpicked them. You don’t need to worry about these guys. They are on your side.”

But I don’t know, look at v.16. It’s like what Jesus said went in one ear and out the other. Somehow they had bread on the brain and all they could think about was the fact that they hadn’t brought enough bread with them. I want to submit to you that this conversation about bread is an indication of a serious deficiency in the faith of the disciples. They didn’t realize it, but Jesus did and he warned them that they were in danger of being like the Pharisees and Herod. So what is this about?

Well, when our lives are tied closely with this world, as they are since we live in this world, we will struggle with unbelief. Why is that? It is because the way of life in this world is all about sustaining one’s life through the acquisition of wealth and material goods through our own ingenuity. When we live or draw our life from this world, our awareness of spiritual reality and possibility is stunted. In other words we do not readily consider the reality and power of God in our daily living. There are many believers who for all intents and purposes are materialists and pragmatists. They live their daily lives without any real awareness of their need for God.

One thing we know about the disciples is that they were expecting Jesus to overthrow Roman occupation and restore the national kingdom of Israel. Their focus was on life in this world. When you focus on this world you will diminish Jesus.

In v.17-21 Jesus asks 7 back to back questions. And these questions show just how concerned Jesus was about the spiritual condition of his disciples. “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" They said to him, "Twelve." "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" And they said to him, "Seven." And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"

What do you think the implied answer is to these questions? Jesus is implying that yes, their hearts are hard. They do not understand. They just do not get it. The disciples of Jesus did not view Jesus as being more than sufficient to care for their needs. They were not looking to Jesus for their life. They were looking to themselves. “We forgot to bring enough bread! “Now what are we going to do?”

If you have listened to me preach for any length of time, you know that one of my concerns is that the gospel message proclaimed today is focused on “getting my sins forgiven so that I can go to heaven when I die.” When the gospel is reduced to that thought there is little impetus to being a disciple, a follower of Jesus. “I prayed the sinner’s prayer and now I’m good to go to heaven when I die.” This is not the gospel proclaimed by Jesus, Peter, or Paul. The good news is that through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus living life in the kingdom of God is available now. When we come to Jesus in faith repenting of our sins and seeking his forgiveness we don’t get a ticket to heaven. Rather we immediately enter the kingdom of God and we begin living under the rule of Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. Heaven comes to dwell in us. In other words we received the resurrection, new creation life of Jesus to live right now in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If anyone had reason to think they had a lock on heaven, it would be the disciples who were close to Jesus. But Jesus is warning his disciples of having a hard heart of unbelief. Men and women, as Christians we do not live from this world. We do not draw our life from this world. We draw our life from Jesus. Do you struggle with unbelief? I don’t mean, do you sometimes have doubts. I mean do you live from you own sufficiency and ability or do you trust in Jesus for all things? Jesus couldn’t believe that they were worried about bread when he had shown them that he is more than able to provide bread. If they could not trust him for bread, how could they trust him for eternal living? These questions are for us to answer. Do we see and understand?


The boat landed and they came ashore at Bethsaida. Bethsaida was in the area governed by Philip the Tetrarch, who was also a son of Herod the Great and half-brother of Antipas. A blind man was brought to Jesus so that Jesus might touch him. This story also has bearing on the faith of Jesus’ disciples.

When Jesus healed people he did not heal everyone in the exact same way. For example when Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus in Mk.10 he merely told Bartimaeus to go his way and he could see. But that is not what Jesus does here.

Notice what Jesus does. He takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out of the village. Then he spits on the eyes of the man and lays his hands on him. Then he asks, “Do you see anything?” The man says, “Yes. I see people, but they look like walking trees.” Well, clearly more healing was needed, so Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes again and when the man opens his eyes his sight is fully restored. He sees everything clearly. And Jesus sends the man away.

Now this is very interesting. In a wonderful observation made by James Edwards, he points out that in v.23-25 there are 8 different Greek words used for sight and seeing. I looked at this and then contacted Edwards for clarification and, yes. He is right.  Why would Mark go to the trouble of using 8 different Greek words? Edwards suggests that Mark is making a very important point. With these words he is counterbalancing the questions Jesus asks his disciples in v.17-21. And in v.23 Jesus asks, “Do you see anything?” When Jesus healed Bartimaeus he didn’t ask if Bartimaeus could see anything. When Jesus does a miracle he usually makes a pronouncement of some kind. Here he asks a question. In fact it is a very similar question that Jesus asks his disciples in v.18. “Do you not see?”

In this miracle we see that Jesus touches the man repeatedly. We see that this man’s healing came in stages. Could that also be the case when it comes to our faith and trust in Jesus? Could it be that Jesus must continually work within our lives to strengthen and encourage our faith in him? Mark 8 is a significant dividing point in Mark’s gospel. The lack of belief that we see in 8:14-21 will transition into a better, but limited understanding as we work through this chapter.

What we need to recognize is that the only way for our faith in Jesus to become settled, sure, and consistent is for us to be at the feet of Jesus, listening to him and learning from him.

In Mk.9 a desperate father brings his son who has an unclean spirit to Jesus. The father says, If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replies, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believe.” The man cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Yes, all of us can make that cry. “Jesus help my unbelief.” Faith is a gift of God’s grace that is strengthened in the presence of Jesus. If we are not cultivating life in the presence of Jesus, we will be susceptible to hardness of heart. And when there is hardness of heart we do not look to Jesus for all of life and living. How is your heart today? Is your sufficiency for life resting fully on Jesus? Are you a follower of Jesus? Have you come to Jesus by faith for life under his rule, in his kingdom, through his death and resurrection? If not repent of your sin and call upon Jesus to save you and give you his life. Amen.