“The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.” - Mark 8:11-13
Jesus had raised the dead, healed the deaf and blind, cast out demons, and cured diseases. He had also fed a multitude with a few loaves and a couple of fish. Twice. Still, the Pharisees demanded a sign from heaven to prove his power and authority were legitimate. Seriously? I love Mark’s description of Jesus’ response: “And he sighed deeply in his spirit” (v. 12).
Mark is once again creating a narrative sandwich. Just prior to this encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute. As we shall see in the next passage, he then healed a blind man. The first man’s ears were opened; he heard the word of the Lord and believed. The second man’s eyes were opened; he saw Jesus’ mighty works and believed. Meanwhile, the religious leaders, who knew every messianic prophesy and promise, were deaf and blind. They did not have ears to hear or eyes to see the truth about who Jesus was.
The Pharisees were learned men, well-versed in religious texts. Surely they recognized that Jesus was fulfilling the prophesies of old. Why, then, did they insist on challenging and testing him at every opportunity? Why did they resist him so tenaciously? I cannot answer that question definitively, but I can offer two possible theories.
First, they questioned Jesus’ power and authority because it undermined their own. Until now, the people had looked to them for spiritual guidance and instruction. They were the ones who enforced religious law and interpreted Scripture. To be blunt, Jesus was stealing their thunder. Not only was he captivating crowds, he was teaching Gentiles and Jews alike. He threatened the Pharisees’ entire identity as leaders among God’s chosen people.
Second, the Pharisees had very clear expectations for the Messiah. He would be strong and powerful, not kind and humble. He would adhere to and uphold religious laws, rather than defying them. (He certainly would not let his disciples eat with unwashed hands!) Most importantly, he would free the Israelites from Roman oppression and restore the Jewish nation to power and freedom. Jesus did not exactly fit that description. He was much more concerned with teaching, preaching, and healing than defeating the Romans. And his goal was to build God’s kingdom, not an earthly nation. According to the Pharisees’ narrow definition, there was simply no way Jesus could be the Messiah.
These religious leaders were so focused on their agenda that they completely missed God’s, even as it unfolded right before them. After the encounter, Jesus used them as an example and cautioned the disciples about the dangers of unbelief and hard-heartedness. Mark offers us the same warning. What agendas blind us to the work of Jesus and the kingdom of God? Are we more concerned with power, prestige, or earthly riches than heavenly values? As disciples, we must constantly pray that our eyes and ears will be opened, our hearts made soft and teachable, and our faith strengthened.
Reflect and Respond:
Take some time to consider whether your agenda aligns with the Lord’s. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the Living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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