Mark 8:11-21 (ESV)
11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 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.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 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.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
When Jesus and his disciples landed in the district of Dalmanutha, the Pharisees, hoping to debate with him, asked him for a “sign.” When they demanded this sign, Jesus sighed deeply. The Greek word translated as “sighed deeply” is only used here in the New Testament and not very often in Greek literature either. It means to inwardly groan, not in pain or anger, but in discouragement. The people of Israel refused to embrace Jesus for who he was, and their rejection caused him to feel despair. Jesus got back in the boat and moved on. No signs were given for the stubborn Pharisees in Dalmanutha. Those with Jesus got back into the boat too. Then Jesus warned them about the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod Antipas. Leaven means yeast, which is an important ingredient in bread. Yeast works by spreading throughout the bread dough, causing it to rise. Jesus tried to teach them that the critical and hostile attitude of the Pharisees and Antipas had affected the entire nation. As Jesus was working to instruct them, the disciples thought he used the word leaven because they had rushed off and forgotten to bring more bread into the boat. Jesus was again discouraged. Didn’t the disciples get it yet? Jesus had just fed the five thousand men and then the four thousand. He wasn’t worried about bread.
Jesus was exasperated. The Pharisees demanded a sign, and the disciples still didn’t get it. Jesus asks his disciples a series of questions in verses 17 and 18: “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?” Sense the exhaustion he must have felt as he asked these questions. He concludes with, “Do you not yet understand?” (v. 21). Sometimes, we can adopt kind of a “been there and done that” attitude when we are looking for something more from God. If you are a follower of Christ today, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Antipas. Make sure you aren’t depending upon the new and spectacular to fuel your trust in Jesus. Instead, remember who he is and where he has brought you so far. If your faith is small, ask him to increase it. He didn’t give up on the disciples, and he won’t give up on us either.