Identifying contemporary blind spots in the local church cultivates spiritually perceptive discipleship among its members. Mark 8:1-26 helps us to identify four potential blind spots. After surfacing these blind spots, let’s consider discipleship solutions that we can cultivate to edify one another.
In Mark 8, the disciples lack ministry imagination. Jesus presented the group with a logistical dilemma, and all they saw were their insufficient resources: no food, a desolate place, limited finances, and lacking relational connections. They failed to see their all-sufficient Savior. Notice the faith-filled solutions that Jesus provided: compassion on those in need, an inventory that produced some bread and fish, a prayer of thanks and blessing upon the existing provisions, and trust that God would work. Consider Paul using his tent-making skills with Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18) or finding a lecture hall for disciple-making when the synagogue congregation opposed his gospel (Acts 19). Logistical dilemmas in ministry are opportunities for faithful stewardship of existing resources and to depend on God to do mighty works that only he can do.
One of the shocking absences in Mark 8 is the disciples’ failure to pray juxtaposed to Jesus giving thanks and blessing the meager rations with trust in his heavenly Father. It is shocking because they had encountered a similar scenario in Mark 6:30–44. They had witnessed Jesus’ prayer life in a situation like this:
And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men (Mk. 6:41–44).
Could it be that our ministry obstacles remain in the way and seem impossible because we have failed to give thanks and ask for God’s favor and strength? Let’s learn from Jesus to pray as dependent disciples. Let’s learn from Nehemiah, who frequently offered God short prayers as he tirelessly served to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem (cf. Neh. 1:8; 4:14; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31).
When Jesus and his disciples encounter the Pharisees in Mark 8:11–13, a mission-crippling eschatology surfaced from the religious leaders. They had misunderstood the Scriptures, especially Old Testament passages such as Genesis 3:15; Psalm 22; and Isaiah 53—all of which indicate the suffering of God’s Messiah prior to his glorious triumph. The Pharisees allowed the very real suffering of the Jewish nation and their longing for freedom to inform their eschatology more than Scripture and more than Messiah himself. Eschatology still has significant sway today in how we mobilize for ministry. For example, our views on the rapture, heaven, the kingdom, and Israel and the Church contribute to how we evangelize, disciple, pray, and relate to God. While a lot could be written here, let’s suffice it to say that if your views about the end of time, the kingdom, and eternity are preventing you from the disciple-making of Christ’s great commission, then you have a serious case of mission-crippling eschatology. Mark wrote in his record of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse on eschatology in chapter 13 that the return of Christ will not precede the completion of the gospel mission,
And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations (v. 10).
Make sure that your eschatology properly accounts for the great commission.
Distracted discernment really ties all these together. “Distraction” is what they have in common. The disciples were distracted by the logistical problems, so they couldn’t imagine. They were distracted by the overwhelming needs of the crowd, so they failed to pray to the overcoming God. The Pharisees were distracted by their personal ambitions for the nation, so they didn’t see the real mission and identity of the Messiah. The disciples were distracted by physical food in the boat, so they were unable to receive the teachings of Jesus. What’s the solution for distracted discernment? I believe Jesus gave us a hint in Mark 14:38 when he told his sleepy disciples,
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Strength of spirit is needed to overcome the weaknesses of the flesh. Remember the first readers of Mark’s Gospel lived after the Day of Pentecost, when the Father and Son bestowed upon the church the Holy Spirit. I believe a central solution to distracted discernment is a new life and new vision provided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, get to know what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit’s ministries in the lives of believers. As we enter the Christmas and Advent season, remember again this gift (Eph. 1:13–14), the Lord and Life-giving Spirit who helps us imagine what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart imagined (1 Cor. 2), who helps us in our weakness when we know not how we ought to pray (Rom. 8), and who fills us for the gospel mission for the glory of Christ (Acts 1:8; 13:1–3).
In Hope Rejoicing,
Rex J. Howe