Mark 20: Fake news or good news?

Mark 8:1-21

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

8 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees Demand a Sign

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.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod

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?”


I just want to say that I am super excited to be able to bring today’s Word with my best friend, Stacey.  Although she now lives in a village called Melbourne, she’s still very much an RSIer at heart.  So please encourage and cheer her on tonight!

But before we get into the passage, have you heard the words “Fake news” before? Thanks to the 2016 US presidential election, These words appear everywhere nowadays, on tv, social media, campuses and in our workplaces.  The Cambridge dictionary defines fake news as “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke”.  Long story short, it’s best to not believe or consider what is fake news.  

But with everyone telling you what to believe in nowadays, how can you tell what’s fake news or not?  Things that appear false are true and things that appear true are false.  How do we know what to believe in anymore?

And because of that you get people that say they won’t believe in something until they see it.  For them if there’s no physical or tangible evidence, they won’t believe it. This is especially the case when people come across Jesus, and maybe that’s some of us here today.  When we read our bibles and discuss scripture, do we believe in what it says about who Jesus is or do we just see them as myths or a story of a middle eastern celebrity?  When we come across the Gospel, do we see it as good news or fake news?  And if we say we believe in Christ, do we know why we believe in Christ?  The scary thing that Christians need to know is that you can be around Jesus, know about Jesus, hear about Jesus, and still not believe in him.   

As we’ll see from tonight’s passage, what will ultimately shape whether we genuinely believe in Christ is the state of our hearts.  We’re going to have a look at 3 things tonight, the Receptive Heart, the Hard Heart and the Slow Heart.

1. The Receptive Heart

Mark starts off this chapter with the feeding of a great crowd, “8 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat”. Now if you’ve been following our series on the book of Mark you would’ve had a serious case of de ja vu just now, “wait a second Josh, didn’t we just have a sermon a couple months ago on this?”.  The short answer is no.  But you’re not alone if you thought tonight’s passage was similar to Mark 6 when Jesus fed the 5,000 – in fact, it is very similar and it is for a good reason.  

But since it’s been a month from when we left our series on Mark, let’s have a look at the context.  After feeding the crowd of 5,000, Jesus left the Jews and went into Gentile territory.  He performed an exorcism at Tyre, healed a deaf man in Sidon, and is now in the region of Decapolis.  And you know what, Jesus performing miracles and teaching the Gentiles is good news to us.  Why? Because it means that what is promised to the Jews is also promised to the Gentiles, people like you and me.  As the story goes, no matter where Jesus went, by the sea or on the mountain, the crowds grew bigger and bigger. In fact, they’ve been following Jesus for “three days”, “have nothing to eat” and “some of them have come from far away”.  Doesn’t this say a lot about the crowd and what’s important to them?  Before going on any road trip I always make sure there’s enough supply of food and drinks to last the journey there and back again.  Here, Decapolis is a barren and rugged place so it’s a place you don’t want to be caught without supplies. But the crowds here are something else, they are determined and have decided to stick with Jesus even if it means they’ll run out of food.    Jesus also didn’t announce that he’ll do a 3 day conference, he was simply passing by, so the crowd following Jesus would’ve been unprepared, they would’ve slept on the ground and been exposed to the elements.  But what we can see is that comfort didn’t matter to them in comparison to the presence of Jesus.  They just couldn’t get enough of him.  Now if we were given the same choice today, would we do the same? I’m pretty sure we’ll look after our needs first and make sure we’re comfortable before we’ll even consider looking to Jesus.

But you know what, and I love what happens next! Jesus had “compassion on the crowd” and even considered what would happen if he sent “them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way”.  Wow, how amazing is it to see a glimpse of the compassionate, selfless and caring heart of our Lord? Jesus knew the needs of the crowd before it even became a problem.  And get this, this is the only place of the four Gospels where Jesus directly says “I have compassion” in first-person tense, which means that Jesus’ compassion for the crowd is one that is intimate and personal.  He doesn’t need to be told about their immediate needs.  Church, He cares. He cares about the crowd, and He cares for you. Maybe some of us tonight think that what we’re going through right now is not that big of a deal, I don’t want to bother Jesus with all my unnecessary problems, but these verses tell us that He knows and He cares for you.  Isn’t that comforting? 

So after informing the disciples what deeply moved his heart, “his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven””.  You can’t be serious right. It was only 2 chapters back when the disciples saw Jesus feed the 5,000!  How can they forget such an event?! We’ll have a closer look at the disciple’s later, but what’s important for us to see here is that in his compassion, it is Jesus who intimately knows our needs and it is also Jesus who moves into action to meet our needs.

Jesus then “directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them”.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to see this miracle happen in person? Just like at the beginning of creation, we see the creator at work. Jesus is able to create bread from grain that never grew, and edible fish that never lived.  Jesus was the original all you can eat buffet.  No matter how much the crowd took, the baskets of bread and fish were still full.  Church, this receptive crowd who may have only known Jesus for 3 days, who couldn’t help but follow and listen to him, got to witness his magnificent power in their lives.  They saw what is impossible for man, become possible through Jesus.  But for us who already know this truth, who say “I’m a Christian”, how often do we still doubt him in our lives?  Let me tell you something, our needs and problems are never too impossible or too great to bring to Jesus.  If we truly know this, then Jesus shouldn’t be our second, third, fourth option in our lives but should be our first and only option.  And look what happens next.

8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away”.  The crowd ate until they were satisfied and there were even 7 baskets full of leftovers.  Jesus not only met the needs of the crowd but also provided abundantly more than what was needed!  Now I don’t know what circumstances you’ve come to church with today, maybe you’re at your wits end and are feeling empty, it’s the middle of the year and you haven’t got anything to show for it, or maybe you’ve been trying and are constantly stuck in a cycle of sin and just feel like giving up.  But know there is hope in that when we come to Jesus hungry and in need, no matter our condition, he is able to exceedingly meet those needs.  

2. The Hard Heart

After reading about a people who were receptive of Jesus, let’s look at a group of people who were the exact opposite.  The Pharisees.  “10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha, 11The Pharisees came and began to argue with him”.  So after ministering to the Gentiles, Jesus heads back into Jewish territory and before he could do anything the Pharisees came out of nowhere to confront Jesus.  They just appeared.  Jesus would’ve been gone for a while but as soon as Jesus returns, they came out looking to pick a fight with Jesus.  They’ve been ready and waiting.   

But why were the Pharisees so hostile to Jesus? The Pharisees were the Jewish leaders of Israel, who dedicated their whole lives to reading and learning the scriptures of the Old Testament.  It was their belief that a great Messiah will come in blazing glory to deliver the people of Israel from Roman rule.  So when they came across Jesus, who was a carpenter from the poor part of town, they said “no way Jose!” and did everything to discredit him.   

So when they were “seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him”, what they were saying was “look Jesus, if you are truly who you say you are, do something heavenly to prove it”.  How disbelieving can you be! We know from the early chapters of Mark, the Pharisees were physically present to witness Jesus do miracles, and when they weren’t physically there, they would’ve had first hand reports from all over the countryside of demons being cast out and people being able to see, hear and walk again.  But they still refused to believe in Jesus simply because Jesus didn’t fit what they wanted in the Messiah.  Jesus wasn’t good enough for them and they demanded more before they could believe.  As Christians, every time we read about the Pharisees, we automatically say “Pharisee? yeah, that’s not me!” right? But if we’re honest with ourselves, aren’t we often like the Pharisees in that we find it hard to believe in what is true about Jesus?  If you asked yourself, “why do I believe in Jesus?”, what would your answer be today? Is he just someone you believe in to bless you with good health, money, security or a flourishing relationship? If you don’t know where to start, just take a look at your prayer life, have they been more focused about exalting you or exalting God? What are the stakes for you to really give your life to Jesus? Most often than not we’ll only believe in Jesus when it’s good for us or when it’s convenient for us.  The moment something goes wrong or something unexpected happens, we start to ask God to give us signs so that we can continue to believe in him, “God, if you really love me, please let this happen”, “God, if you give me this job, I’ll know you’re there”, “If you are a good God, please make this relationship work”.  Church, if we’re not careful, what becomes central in our heart is no longer how can I use my life to glorify Christ, but how I can use Christ to glorify my life.  Like the Pharisees, in our self-centred unbelief we’ve come to God seeking to bargain with Him.  And when that fails, it won’t be long before our hardened hearts turn us away from the only one that can save us.

Jesus “12 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””.  I don’t know about you, but when you ask someone a question and they ‘sigh’, It’ll mostly be a negative response.  I mean try think of something positive where the response was a sigh, “Mum Dad, do you think I can get a distinction? – sigh”, “Babe, do you love me? – sigh”, it doesn’t work.  So here, Jesus negatively reacts to the Pharisees’ unbelief.  In fact, it wasn’t just any sigh that Jesus did, but one that was done “deeply in his spirit”.  It was a deep groan from the depths of his heart towards the unbelieving Pharisees.  If Jesus had shown an overwhelming compassion to the believing crowd earlier, Jesus is now overwhelmingly irritated with the unbelieving Pharisees.  In other words, Jesus was at his absolute limit, he’s done with the Pharisees.  His patience to put up with them has run out.  If due to the hardness of their hearts, they weren’t able to believe after seeing Jesus’ miracles, or acknowledge that Jesus was the one all their scriptures were pointing to, they sure wouldn’t believe it even if a miracle was to be done in front of them here.  And what does Jesus do to the Pharisees? “13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side”.  Imagine having the creator of the universe, turn his back on you and sail away.  

Before we move on, Stace and I want to point out the clear message here for those of you either with us physically or tuning in online that have yet to put your faith in Christ.  When we encounter Jesus in our lives, we will always have two options, either to believe in him or not believe in him at all.  There is no middle ground.  Maybe some of you had the opportunity previously but chose not to and by God’s grace are here today listening to this message, or perhaps this is your first time in church hearing about Jesus.  The point is, just like we read in the passage, know that Jesus’ patience is not infinite.  Yes, he can put up with a hard heart for some time, but there will come a time when that patience will run out and when it does, a hard heart will prevent a person from ever looking to Jesus.  And if that happens, it’ll be too late.  

3. Slow Heart

We have seen the heart of the crowd and the Pharisees. Now we will see the heart of the disciples of Jesus. Let’s read verse 14 “Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.”


Here we are back to the topic of bread again. I know a friend who really loves bread and I am sure many of us today also like bread, but back then, bread was not only a nice thing to have, but it was the staple food and it still is for some people. Bread is a symbol of sustenance and nourishment, and that’s why the disciples were discussing that they didn’t have enough bread. They were worried that they wouldn’t have anything to eat and would be hungry. Isn’t it fascinating that they were still worried about having not enough bread even after seeing how Jesus fed the 5,000 men and the 4,000 people. But before we are quick to judge the disciples, Jesus as the good teacher took this opportunity to teach the disciples an important spiritual warning. And this warning is applicable for us as well today.

Let’s see what happens next. Verse 15 says And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

When I first read this verse, I was really confused. The disciples were worried they only had one bread and in response to that, Jesus warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, it almost seems like they were not talking about the same thing. But let’s see what Jesus wanted to teach the disciples.

Leaven is a type of yeast and if you have made bread before, you know yeast is very needed because the small amount of yeast can make or break the bread.  When my sister and I made bread during the lockdown period, we were very surprised by how big our dough rose after we mixed the yeast to the dough and we didn’t even use that much. For comparison, I googled Jamie Oliver’s bread recipe. He uses 30 grams of yeast for 1kgs of flour. If I convert that into percentage, you only need 3% of yeast to make bread dough rise.

My point here is that even a small amount of yeast can radically alter anything into which it is mixed. So what Jesus said here, “Watch out, beware, be very cautious of the small influence of the Pharisees and Herod.” Because that small influence can make or break your faith, that small influence can affect your heart. Remember Pharisees were the religious leaders, they know the scriptures, but their biggest problem is their religion is all external, but their heart is far from God. And Herod, the guy who sort of attracted to the ministry of John the Baptist but ended up murdering him.  So both Pharisee and Herod look like good christians from the outside when in fact their faith is all external.

Paul Tripp puts it this way, “Be very concerned about that externalism that’s not a religion of the heart. Be very concerned about worship that is more penance than repentance. Be very concerned that your world of faith isn’t this public, religious, habitual living of your faith in front of other people in a sort of showy way that has nothing to do with the claim of God on your heart.”

God’s warning is this: “You don’t want the kind of faith that looks amazing from the outside, but weak on the inside.”

I hope this is the warning for all of us tonight, that we don’t grow comfortable with our ministry and our doing, if we are more concerned of what we are doing for God, rather than our heart because it is very possible for us to come to church every Sunday, do ministries, attend MC and yet our heart is far from God. Church, what Jesus wants more than your ministries is your heart. We love the doer of the word, the ones who read the bible and do ministry, but be very careful if we are doing it for the right reason. I am going to say it again: what God wants more than anything is your heart. True godliness comes from the godliness of the heart. I hope tonight we check our heart whether we do the things we do because we love Jesus, treasure Him and trust Him above all else, or we do the things for the sake of doing it.

Let’s see how the disciples responded to this warning in verse 16 “And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. “ The disciples were still talking about having no bread. Even after Jesus’ warning, the disciples still did not get it. They still focus on the bread. It seems like just like the Pharisees, the disciples still did not get who Jesus is. But I want to make a point here that the disciples were not the same with the Pharisees. The Pharisees blatantly denied Jesus and were trying to kill him, but the disciples, they did not deny Jesus or try to kill him, they were doubting yes but they were learning, very slowly. And this is perhaps the reality for some of us or someone we know – it feels like we are not going anywhere with our faith, we keep doubting Jesus over and over again, we keep asking the same question. At times, it can feel very frustrating but the next part of the passage shows how Jesus dealt with the disciples. Jesus did not just leave the disciples on their own and let them figure it out themselves. Jesus helped them to see who He is.

Let’s read verse 17-21:

Jesus jumps in and says, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Have you not perceived or understood? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes, you do not see; and having ears, you do not hear, and you do not remember when I broke the five loaves for the five-thousand. How many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”  


And they answer, “Twelve.”  


“And the seven for the four-thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”  


And they answered Him, “Seven.”  


And He said, “Do you not understand?”

Jesus asks the disciples all these rhetorical questions to reveal their unbelief. Jesus wants them to see that not once, but twice Jesus provided for them, with abundance and satisfied them. The disciples saw and yet they still did not believe. Seeing does not mean believing. Isn’t this kinda scary? We could be looking at Jesus right now and yet we still do not believe. We could be coming to church every week, be the first one to help out if anyone ever needs help, and yet we could be missing the point, we do not believe Jesus is Lord.

How then Jesus responded to the disciples who were very slow in their understanding? I tell you if I was Jesus, I would be very frustrated, probably yelling at them and saying how could you not understand after you saw the things I did and the words I taught or just leaving them on their own so they could figure it out. But praise God that Jesus is not like me. When I read these verses again, all I can imagine is a gentle teacher who is trying to help his students understand. He is patient. A good teacher won’t say you figure it out yourself, but they will guide you to the right path. And Jesus is that good teacher.

Jesus was patient with them and tried to make them understand who He is. He rebukes them gently with these questions. Jesus was making the disciples remember what He has done for them before. He reminded them that He not only fed the crowd, but there were baskets of leftovers from the feeding. He satisfied the crowd and the disciples. He provided more than enough for them. He made the impossible become possible. In remembering what Jesus has done, Jesus wants to show the disciples that He is the only one who could satisfy their heart’s deepest desire.

And this is true for us as well today. If we know someone who is doubting, or we ourselves doubt God, remember Christ. Remember what Jesus has done. Remember how Jesus shows up for you and I again and again, remember how He works in and for you, remember how He makes your impossible become possible. You can trust Him. You can give him your deepest desire. Most of the time, we think that Jesus would be offended with our doubts and fear, but if we are His people, His disciples, our doubts and fears are welcome. He wants you to come to Him not away from Him. So bring your doubts, your fears, your uncertainties to Him and remember what Christ has done.

Dane Ortlund says this, “When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the flow of his own deepest wishes, not against them.”


Jesus wants you to come to him.

I am going to close with this. Can we see how Jesus dealt differently toward the disciples and the Pharisees even though they both did not believe? With the Pharisees, Jesus turned his back and sailed away, but with the disciples, Jesus did not just turn His back on them when He could just do that. He was patient and gentle.

You know the worst thing that you can do for someone you love is to turn your back, walk away and let me do whatever they want to do, even if that means putting themself in harm’s way.

Imagine this, I have my beloved nephew. He’s 2.5 years old and he loves being outside so whenever I stay with my brother, I make every effort to take him to the park for a quick arvo walk. And being the “independent” 2.5 years old, he always wants to do things himself, doesn’t want me to hold his hands anymore and just likes running around. But every time we are about to cross the road, you bet I will yell out, run to him and hold his hand even if he says no. And sometimes I just carry him because I know it will be very dangerous for him to cross the road by himself when he is not aware of his surroundings. You know what the worst thing I could have done to him when he says no to holding my hands, I turn my back and just let him cross the road himself. 

This is the same with God. The worst thing that God can do for us is to turn His back on us and let us do whatever we want to do, just like what He did to the Pharisees. But Church, today we have the assurance that God will not turn His back on us, not on His people because on the cross, God turns his back on Jesus. On the cross, Jesus cried out,  “My Father, My Father, why have you forsaken me” so that you and I will never be forsaken again. On that cross, Jesus bore our doubts and fear, and nailed to the cross so that you and I can have hope and confidence that He is on our side. On the cross, Jesus makes the impossible become possible, He reconciles undeserving sinners, you and I with the Holy God by taking our place, dying on our behalf so the wrath of God can be satisfied. This is the good news. The perfect Son of God took the cross so that we who are slow at heart can believe.

The Pharisees seek for the heavenly sign, but for us today, that sign has been given – the cross. Church, if you have doubts, if you are unsure if Jesus will come through for you, look to the cross where God’s beloved Son took our place so that we can have hope in Him.

Discussion questions:

  1. How do you tell the difference between fake news and real news?
  2. Observe the disciple’s response in the story of the feeding of 4000 people. Why do you think they are slow to believe? Can you see the same problem in you?
  3. The problem with the Pharisees is that they have a hard heart. Give some modern examples of “hard heart”.
  4. What does Jesus mean by the leaven of the Pharisee and Herod? How can we avoid it?
  5. How does the gospel deal with the problem of our slow hearts?

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