Cross-Formed Perspective

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 3/1/2020

By now, you’ve surely observed how erratic the disciple’s faith could be. One moment they’re leaving their nets to follow Jesus; the next they’re begging Jesus to save them from teeth of a storm! One moment they’re being sent out on a potentially perilous preaching campaign; The next they can’t trust Jesus to meet their most basic needs! One moment full of faith; the next fear! One moment they’re as dull as a butter knife; the next as sharp as a laser, they possess penetrating insight!

In Mark 1:15, Jesus says, “repent and believe.” Faith sounds like such a simple invitation, “just believe.” But in practice, faith is infinitely more daunting. From a human perspective… faith is like a roller coaster—full of ups and downs, twists and turns and loops. Our faith can grow white hot than icy cold. We can hit a grand slam one moment but then strike out the next. I don’t know if you find it encouraging of discouraging—but the disciple’s faith could be just as erratic as anyone's. 

What is the nature of faith? >Is faith a matter of feeling and emotion? John Mark goes to great lengths to record people’s emotional reactions to Jesus. People are astonished when Jesus teaches and then heals (Mark 1:22, Mark 7:37). They are amazed by Jesus’ authority (Mark 1:27). They are are astounded as Jesus’ healed a paralytic and forgave his sins (Mark 2:12). The disciples are terrified that they wind/waves obey Jesus (Mark 4:41). Everyone commends Jesus, “he’s done everything so well. . .” (Mark 5:37) 

We could also ask, >Is faith a matter of sensory experiences? In Mark 8:11 the Pharisees argue with Jesus, demanding a sign from heaven to test him. If you survey Mark 1-8, how many overt miracles, signs, and wonders happen? Yet what do we see? No matter how much people experience and see and hear and feel… it’s never enough! In Mark 8:12, when the Pharisees demand a sign Jesus “sighs deeply in his spirit.” When the disciples run out of bread for the third time in Mark 8:21, Jesus is incredulous and asks, “The 5000… the 4000… The Storms… Don’t you understand yet?” Neither feeling, emotion, or experiences are propelling the disciple’s faith. 

We could also ask, >Is faith a matter of public consensus? There were many strong, contradictory opinions being offered about Jesus. In Mark 8:27-28 Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and the disciples answer, “John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.” Does is strike you as odd that the Bible never conceals anyone’s skepticism about Jesus’ identity? Those who lie tend to overreach, exaggerate, omit contradictory opinions/evidence… 

Jesus own momma (Mary!), his own brothers and sisters, don’t believe (Mark 3:31-32). The religious experts don’t believe and plot to kill him. Herod didn’t know what to make of him. People in Jesus’ own hometown, in his synagogue were not only offended by him but tried to run him out of town on a rail! John the Baptist wondered, “Jesus, are you the one or should we expect someone else?” 

So you can see how the Rocky Soil of feelings/emotions… of real sensory experiences (signs, miracles, wonders)… of public consensus fails to sustain true faith. At the CORE of faith is this singular matter, and its Jesus’ question in Mark 8:29a, “Who do you say that I am?” Who do YOU say Jesus is? In Mark 8:29 Peter has the right answer. “You are the Messiah… the Christ…” We find the right answers in Mark 1:1, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” But how does a person get to this conclusion? 

We could also ask, >Is faith a matter of intellectual accent? From the beginning Mark has been careful to diagnose our core problem. Jesus’ power/authority/wisdom have been on full display. Everyone has seen (or at least heard about) the Jesus’ signs, miracles, and wonders. The Twelve. The Crowds. The Religious Leaders. Herod. But forget about everyone else a moment. Let’s focus on the Twelve. The Twelve disciples have each had front row seats to Jesus’ majesty. But their core problem isn’t intellectual, its spiritual! Their hearts were bad like everyone else. It’s just Jesus describes in Mark 4:12 Parable of the Soil Types, “people may indeed look, and yet not perceive; they may indeed listen, and yet not understand; otherwise they might repent and be forgiven.” 

In Mark, unbelief has everything to do with a stubbornness/hardness of heart. When Jesus rescues the Twelve at sea, in Mark 4:40 Jesus rebukes the Twelve, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” When Jesus rescues the Twelve at Sea (second time), Mark 4:51-52 tells us, “They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.” 

In Mark 8:11, when the Pharisees demand a sign from heaven to test Jesus, not only does Jesus sign deeply in Spirit, but he turns right around in Mark 8:15 and says, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” In other words, “Guys… watch out… the same rebellious/hardness/stubbornness of the Pharisees is working its way into your hearts!” If you have any doubts about the hardness of the Twelve’s heart, in Mark 8:18 Jesus says to them, “Do you have eyes and not see; do you have ears and not hear?” And do you now remember….” 

Again do not forget the context. Jesus is so disgusted with his disciples hardness of heart, he wanted to walk by them on water! He’s so disgusted with the Pharisees for the same reason, he just groans and sighs! But then suddenly in Mark 8:29, almost without explanation, Peter has this great epiphany! “Thou are the Christ!” 

Now Matthew’s gospel, and Mark’s Gospel have a different way of telling us how Peter came to this great epiphany, this great verbal declaration of faith. It wasn’t by feeling/emotion, sensory experiences (signs, wonders, miracles), popular consensus, mere intellectual assent (personal reasoning, they connected the dots). 

Mark stacks up three miracles to teach us about the nature of faith. Remember. Our core problem is a hardness of heart, its spiritual “deafness” and “blindness.” Parable of the Soil types! In Mark 8:32-37 we read about this miracle: “They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking and begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. 33 So he took him away from the crowd in private. After putting his fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, he touched his tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”). 35 Immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly. 36 He ordered them to tell no one, but the more he ordered them, the more they proclaimed it. 37 They were extremely astonished and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” 

Then in Mark 9:22-25 we have a second miracle. “They came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village. Spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 He looked up and said, “I see people—they look like trees walking.” 25 Again Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes. The man looked intently and his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly.” [Spitting connects these stories] 

Now let’s just pause. How does the man whose had eyes, suddenly also not just begin to see (dimly) but also begin to perceive (clearly)? How does a man who has ears but cannot hear, begin to understand? How does a man whose been tongue tied his whole life suddenly have his tongue loosed to speak clearly, boldly, proclaiming Jesus? How does Peter suddenly now see(perceive), hear (understand), speak (profess)? 

Then we have a third miracle in Mark 9:14-29. The disciples try to cast a demon out of a boy. When they fail, a crowd forms, and the disciples and scribes get into a big argument. When the crowds see Jesus, they ask him to resolve the dispute—why couldn’t the disciples cast this demon out? The father explains his son’s condition to Jesus. The man doesn’t really know what to ask for here. In Mark 9:22 the man says to Jesus, “Many times the [demon] has thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” In Mark 9:23 Jesus says to the father, “If you can? Everything is possible for the one who believes.” In Mark 9:24 the father immediately cries out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” And in Mark 9:24 Jesus casts out the mute/deaf spirit. Do you see, all three miracles are connected! 

There is a verse in Isaiah 35 that captures the promise of the coming Christ. Jesus Isaiah says God “will strengthen weak hands, he will steady shaking knees!, he will say to the coward ‘Be strong and do not fear.’ Jesus has already done all this in Mark! But in Isaiah 35:5-6, Isaiah says, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. . . the tongue of the mute will sing for joy.” Isaiah 35:8 says, “the water will gush in the wilderness and like streams in the desert.” That’s the Holy Spirit!! *But God is going to open eyes to see, unplug ears to hear, and loosen tongues to proclaim! 

There is a centuries old debate about faith. Does faith come from God, or does faith come from man? Is faith a gift from God, or is faith a response from man? How does Peter go from being scolded, “Do you not understanding” to this great confession? Whereas Mark’s gospel has three stories that answer this question, Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 16:17) explicitly quotes Jesus blessing Peter saying “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.” In other words, you didn’t come to this right conclusion of your own accord (through intuition, experience, reason), the Father “revealed” it to you! 

So, our preliminary conclusion is that >Faith is a Gift from God!. But then how do we receive the gift of faith? Can we not all, every one of us, seek this gift? In Mark 8:32 they beg Jesus to help this man deaf man hear and speak. In Mark 9:22 the blind man begs Jesus to touch him and heal his sight. In Mark 9:24 the Father begs Jesus to show compassion and help his son. But the Father says something something rather peculiar: “I believe help my unbelief.” Just because faith is a gift, doesn’t mean there can’t also be human responsibility. In every example, people are seeking, asking! 

Passages like Psalm 19, and Romans 1:18-32, affirm that even though were sinful, and even though our hearts are hard, we’ve not been left completely void of ANY/ALL knowledge of God. We all retain this ability to cry out for greater faith. I believe, help my unbelief. Help me perceive. Help me understand. Loosen my tongue to confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of the Father! 

In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew really makes this explicit. In Matthew 7:7-11 he records Jesus making this explicit statement: “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” 

>Repent and Believe. Here is the takeaway. No matter how evil the person, not even the evil lose their capacity to ask for good things! If faith really is a matter of the heart, you can see why Jesus in his preaching in Mark always couples the commands “repent and believe.” What if belief flows out of repentance? What if the real roadblock to faith isn’t whether you get an emotional high, or experience signs/miracles/wonders, or enjoy a popular consensus in culture, or connect the dots… what if the real obstacle to faith comes down to simple desire, that you ask God for something from your heart? in Luke 17:5, “Lord, increase our faith!” Why would God do any less? “God I believe, help my unbelief! Open my ears! Open my eyes! Loosen my tongue!” Jesus promises, Matthew 7:8 is that EVERYONE who asks, receives; everyone who seeks finds; everyone who knocks, is welcomed. And with greater faith comes even greater things.

Scripture Verses

Mark 8:22-9:41

Worship Playlist

Cornerstone by Hillsong

Build My Life by Passion

Jesus Messiah by Chris Tomlin

Christ Be Magnified by Cody Carnes

Study Questions

  1. There are two different accounts of blind men being healed in Mark. These accounts serve as bookends, or content markers. Read Mark 8:22-26, and then read Mark 10:46-52. How are these stories alike and how are they different? What do you think Jesus would have you learn from these two stories?
  2. Read Mark 8:27-30. What was Peter's "AHA" moment? What did he finally understand about Jesus? Why is Peter’s statement so important? What would change for Peter and the disciples by believing Jesus was God’s Messiah?  
  3. Read Mark 8:31-33. Spiritual breakthroughs are exciting, but demand greater faith. What did Jesus want Peter to understand? What motivated Peter's actions in verse 32? How did Satan attempt to exploit Peter's fear?
  4. Read Mark 8:34-38. What is Jesus teaching in these verses? What does it mean to take up your cross? What is radically different about Jesus' prescription for the Christian life? Is this the mindset of Christians today?
  5. Read Mark 9:1-13. What is Jesus teaching us about his power over life and death? Put yourself in Peter's shoes. How might he have felt about the transfiguration in light of his confession and Christ's call to take up his cross?
  6. Compare Mark 9:1-8 with Mark 1:1-13. In each passage a window into heaven seems to open. God's voice is heard. What does Mark want us to know and profess about the identity of Jesus?  
  7. Read 2 Peter 1:12-20. In verse 14 Peter speaks of his expectation to soon lay aside his "earthly tent." In verses 16-20 he references Jesus Transfiguration. How does Peter spell out the everyday implications of living the Christian life in light of the end? How should you live life in light of the end?  

Apply It!

Resources

At the Lakeside Bookshelf:

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of The Son of God by Timothy Keller