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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Mark 8

Verses 1-38

The Compassion of the Christ

Mark 8:1-2

So spake the Christ; so wrote the Holy Spirit; short, simple words, 'I have compassion'; pregnant with strength and with comfort for the toiling and heaving crowds of each succeeding age. There was nothing attractive then, even as there is nothing attractive now, in an eastern crowd. The motive power of the miracle was the eternal love of God manifest in the flesh.

I. Observe how Christ takes the disciples into His confidence. Then, as now, He demanded with a tender urgency the sympathy of His people.

Observe the tender, condescending attention to detail; hour by hour the little store gradually failing; the perplexity creeping over them as to the future. 'They have nothing to eat; they have been with Me three days; I have compassion.'

Very feeble is the faith; very poor oh, there is such comfort in that! very poor is the response of those earth-bound disciples. 'Whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?'

Gently He strengthens their faith; patiently the great Teacher develops their slowly dawning intelligence. He will not dispense with their help. He will not deprive them of the new teaching that they will gain from co-operating with His Divine wisdom. He will not deny to Himself, in His great heart of love, the joy of their cooperation. 'How many loaves have ye? Go and see!'

II. It was not a mere passing emotion by which the heart of Jesus was stirred in that desert place. You find the same compassion all through His life on earth. In the forty days after His resurrection you find it still the same. He is 'the same' in the Acts of the Apostles. When St. Paul was in great perplexity the Lord stood by him and strengthened him.

III. Do you feel that if only you were good if only you had done right all your life, if only you had loved God as you ought to have loved Him that then you could look up to Jesus Christ, and ask Him to have compassion upon you?

Do you understand this: that when Christ died on the Cross, it was God and Man Who was there; and that all your life was known to Him, even then? What has surprised you in your failures does not surprise Him. What weighs down your spirit has weighed on the Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth all through the long ages. He has borne your griefs and carried your sorrows; from the beginning your sins were all present to Him. But He says, 'I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee'. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'

Bishop Howard Wilkinson, The Invisible Glory, p. 38.

References. VIII. 1, 2. H. M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 94. VIII. 1-9. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 293. John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 105. VIII. 1-10. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 307. VIII. 1-30. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2761. VIII. 2. B. Wilberforce, Feeling After Him, p. 94. W. Boyd Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 65. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 58. E. S. Talbot, 'Considerateness,' Sermons, 1828-93.

Mark 8:4

See Keble's lines on 'The Seventh Sunday after Trinity'.

The multiplication of readers is the multiplication of loaves. On the day when Christ created that symbol, He caught a glimpse of printing. His miracle is this marvel. Here is a book; with it I will feed five thousand souls, a hundred thousand souls, a million souls all humanity. In the action of Christ bringing forth the loaves, there is Gutenberg bringing forth books. One sower heralds the other.

Victor Hugo.

Bread in the Wilderness

Mark 8:4

The question of the disciples is one which we often ask, at least in spirit, when we contrast our work with what may seem the nobler work of others, our circumstances with the more favourable circumstances in which they are placed.

I. From Whence can a Man Satisfy these Men with Bread Here in the Wilderness? It appears to us to be impossible to fulfil Christ's commands. The very nature of our work is against us. We would labour much if we might choose our own field, but here the return is uncertain and at best scanty. Whatever lies before us, poor and mean and trivial as it may seem, is the work of God. We dare not weigh in our earthly balance the issues of life. Fame, honour, reputation, eminence are only reflections, or too often shadows, of worth and heroism. Great and small are terms relative to our little world. We can labour honestly and heartily though we know not to what end. When David kept his few sheep in the wilderness he was gaining strength to rule over Israel.

II. From Whence can a Man Satisfy these Men with Bread Here in the Wilderness? Our situation, we think, is peculiarly difficult. The tone of our surroundings is uncongenial to devotion. Temptations are many and powerful. There is no quarter to which we can look for immediate help. If it were otherwise we too should be changed. And yet shall we allow that right has no inalienable power: that truth and purity are mere accidents of outward things. It was in the wilderness that Christ revealed Himself as the supporter of His fainting people. Let us not doubt The sense of our need is the condition of God's help.

III. For let us not be mistaken. If the wilderness is to be crowned for us with the beauty of Eden; if our difficulties and trials are to be changed into blessings, we must first be found waiting upon Christ. He will not remove our wants, but He will satisfy them. He will not take away our temptations, but He will give us strength to conquer them. He will bless the little which we offer Him, and so it will overflow with a rich increase.

B. F. Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 280.

References. VIII. 4. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. ii. p. 100. R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 173. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii No. 1885.

The Veiling From Man of Divine Energy

Mark 8:6

I. Such was Christ's method of distributing the bread among a starving multitude. From a physical point of view it must have been highly satisfactory to them they were hungry. But from a religious point of view it was perhaps a little disconcerting. I think they would have liked better to have been served by His own hand.

II. From a Christian standpoint one is disposed to ask, If Jesus had 'compassion on the multitude,' why did He consult the disciples at all? They certainly had very little compassion; they did all they could to damp His benevolence. Why make use of such miserable agents, such retarding agents? These could only carry His bequest in wagons; He could have borne it Himself on wings. Why did he not use the wings? Why commit an errand so momentous into hands so sluggish when His own hand was burning to fulfil the deed?

III. It was because, great as was His compassion for the multitude, He had a compassion greater still for His own disciples. It was sad the multitude should be hungry; it was sadder still that His followers should be blunted to that hunger. We all know that the Divine mercy could at any time take a short road to the land of Canaan could send showers of manna in a moment and banish want at a word. That would be compassion on the multitude, but not compassion on me. The multitude would have the broken bread; but I should lose the breaking of the bread the greater blessing of the two.

G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 284.

References. VIII. 8. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 214. VIII. 11, 12. R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 209.

The Spontaneity of True Charity

Mark 8:12

I. The Pharisees had asked Christ for a sign from heaven that is to say, a sign from the sky. It was as if they had said, 'We see a great deal of bodily healing by your hand. Yet, after all, there is nothing supernatural in bodily healing. We all know that mind has influence over body that faith can strengthen the physical, that hope can aid health, that love can cure lassitude, that novelty can divert from nerves. All this happens quite naturally. But let us see you arrest a star, let us behold you turn the course of a planet, let us witness you bringing the rain after drought or the sunshine after rain, and then we shall believe in you.'

II. Now, where lay the sting of this to Jesus; what was there in it that made Him sigh in spirit? Was it because men doubted His power to work a sign in heaven? No; it was because they attributed His benevolence to the desire of working a sign upon earth. Such an imputation would make any philanthropist sigh. Imagine a child meeting with an accident when a doctor was passing and that the doctor offered his services. Imagine that the next morning a paragraph appeared in the newspapers stating that he offered his help with a view to manifest his medical skill. Would not this physician feel that he had been misrepresented in character and depreciated in the moral scale.

III. That is an exact parallel. When Jesus saw an accident in the streets of life He offered His services; but He did not offer His services as a proof of His Messianic skill. He offered them because He could not help it He brought succour, not to show that He was master of Divine power, but because the sorrows of human nature mastered Him. He was never more passive than in His acts of healing. Our calamities overwhelmed Him. His charities taught a lesson, but He did not bestow them to teach a lesson. He bestowed them to ease His own pain. Cana's poverty made Him uncomfortable. Bethany's grief bowed Him. The leper's fate lacerated Him. The demoniac's cry disturbed Him. The task of the toilers tired Him. The burdens of the worldly wearied Him. The pain of Dives's thirst parched Him. The remorse of Magdalene marred His visage. He gave because He must.

G. Matheson, Messaged of Hope, p. 226.

References. VIII. 12-25. J. Parker, Wednesday Evenings at Cavendish Chapel, p. 110. VIII. 13-21. J. Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 105.

On Memory

Mark 8:14

Memory is man's link with the past, with his own past and with the past of the world. Further, it is one of the great factors of character. It is our past history which makes us what we are, and every incident as it occurs, before it slips into the past, has a distinct influence on us. It is like the little stroke of the sculptor's chisel on the statue, the little touch of the painter's brush on the canvas. It helps or mars the general effect.

I. All this shows the importance of educating the memory, for all our faculties should be enlisted in the service of Christ, and memory is not always on Christ's side. It is sometimes in active mutiny against Him. How, then, may we best train the memory?

1. One of the best ways of training the memory is to learn good things by heart.

2. But in this, as in all else that concerns the spiritual life, you can have no better aid than prayer. Offer this prayer every morning of your life: 'Grant, I beseech Thee, Lord, that I may forget what I ought to forget, and remember what I ought to remember'. Does this seem to you too small a thing to pray about? It is not small, for is it not memory that gives half their strength to promptings of evil books read which have given us evil suggestions, words spoken which we had better never have heard?

3. That you may forget what you ought to forget! Yes. This is one of the ways in which our memory most needs training. What not to remember!

Forget all injuries, slights, and grounds of offence, all unkindness done to us or hasty words. In nine cases out of ten we have provoked the injury ourselves, magnified the slight, taken offence where none was intended. In such cases forgetfulness is a duty.

4. There is One who remembers. God knows everything, sees everything, and forgets nothing. Our idea of Godhead involves of necessity a wakeful and unerring memory.

5. Forget, also, any unkind story you may have heard about others. If you remember it, you may be tempted to repeat it; even if you refrain from this, the memory is apt to prejudice you against the person, perhaps quite unfairly.

II. Then the second half of the prayer: 'That I may remember what I ought to remember'.

Have you ever reflected on the extraordinary difference it would make in the world's happiness if every one remembered the right thing at the right time? What terrible mischief is sometimes caused by a simple act of forgetfulness!

Pray to remember others. Think how what you say and do will affect them.

III. 'Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.'

C. H. Butcher, The Sound of a Voice that is Still, p. 154.

References. VIII. 15. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 135. VIII. 17, 18. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 302.

Mark 8:18

Vision is essentially personal and individual, involving selection and interpretation.... All our knowledge is affected by our personality, and this really makes it knowledge. The naked reflection of a mirror is not knowledge.

F. J. A. Hort.

'With rich munificence,' says Carlyle of Mirabeau, 'in a most bespectacled, logic-chopping generation, nature has gifted this man with an eye.'

References. VIII. 18. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 310. VIII. 19-21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1822. VIII. 22-25. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 318. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 701; vol. xlviii. No. 2761. VIII. 22-26. John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 268. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 256. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Ministry of Our Lord, p. 296. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2892. VIII. 23. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 115. VIII. 27. W. Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 113. VIII. 27-29. S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 94. VIII. 27; IX. 1. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 330.

The Grief That Implies Glory

Mark 8:31

I. 'He began to teach them.' It was indeed the beginning of a new lesson for humanity. The old lesson for humanity had been that a 'Son of Man' must suffer nothing that the higher the life the more exempt should it be from pain. That belief was embedded deep in the heart both of Gentile and Jew. The Gentile deified massive strength strength on which the woes of the world could make no impression and which was incapable of tears. The Jew exalted the sons of the morning the men who basked in fortune's radiant smile; he deemed that the most dowered must be to God the dearest.

II. Christianity began to paint a fresh ideal of humanity an opposite ideal. It said that the test of a man's height was not his inability, but his capacity, to feel. 'The Son of Man must suffer many things.' It is not merely that He may, but that He must. Suffering is involved in the fact that He is the Son of Man that He is at the top of the hill. If He were lower down, He would be protected. The very elevation of His person has put Him in collision with the full sweep of the blast and the full coldness of the air. Remember, that was the very source of Christ's temptation in the wilderness.

III. And though He stands at the top, the principle is in measure true for those who are climbing. There is a suffering which the good alone can know. There is a furnace which is only heated for the man of God, a den of lions which only awaits the holy. Not every eye can weep over Jerusalem that is a Divine gift of tears. Men said of Jesus, 'Let God deliver Him if He delighted in Him!' if He is good, why is He so burdened! Had He been less good He would have been less burdened. His purity made His pain; His tenderness made His tears; His selflessness made His sorrow; His righteousness made Him restless; His lustre made Him lonely; His kindness made Him kinless; His crown made His cross. It was because He was the Son of Man He had not where to lay His head.

G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 11.

Reference. VIII. 33. C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 267.

Mark 8:34

Compare the following passage from Samuel Rutherford's letters, which curiously resembles the tone of the Theologia Germanica. 'Oh that I were free of that idol which they call myself; and that Christ were for myself; and myself a decourted cypher, and a denied and forsworn thing! But that proud thing, myself will not play, except it ride up side by side with Christ, or rather have place before Him.... Oh, but we have much need to be ransomed and redeemed by Christ from that master-tyrant, that cruel and lawless lord, myself. Nay, when I am seeking Christ, and am out of myself, I have the third part of a squint eye upon that vain, vain thing, myself, myself, and something of mine own.

'O blessed are they that can deny themselves, and put Christ in the room of themselves! Oh, would to the Lord that I had not a myself but Christ; nor a my lust but Christ; nor a my ease but Christ; nor a my honour but Christ!'

Mark 8:34

People who saw only the weaker side of his studies in religion were apt to think of him as diluting Christianity with a kind of sentiment, half philosophic and half poetic. Yet what we find here is that the things most quoted from the Gospels are the things most uniquely and sternly Christian. Those tremendous sayings, which so few of us dare really face, Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; whosoever taketh not up his cross, and cometh after Me, he cannot be My disciple, are just the texts that he set down to have before him again and again. Fortnightly Review, 1903, p. 462, on 'Matthew Arnold's Notebooks'.

References. VIII. 34. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 294. W. J. Butler, The Oxford Sermon Library, Sermons for Working Men, p. 177. W. Scott Page, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 45. H. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 197. VIII. 35. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 261. C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 277. VIII. 35, 36. J. B. Lightfoot, Ordination Addresses, p. 271.

Mark 8:36

An arctic torpor seizes upon men. Although built of nerves, and set adrift in a stimulating world, they develop a tendency to go bodily to sleep; consciousness becomes engrossed among the reflex and mechanical parts of life, and soon loses both the will and the power to look higher considerations in the face. This is ruin; this is the last failure in life; this is temporal damnation, damnation on the spot and without the form of judgment What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself?

R. L. Stevenson, Lay Morals.

That Wrong is not only different from Right, but that it is in strict scientific terms infinitely different; even as the gaining of the whole world set against the losing of one's own soul, or (as Johnson had it) a Heaven set against a Hell; that in all situations out of the Pit of Tophet, wherein a living man has stood or can stand, there is actually a Prize of quite infinite value placed within his reach, namely a Duty for him to do; this highest Gospel, which forms the basis and worth of all other gospels whatsoever, had been revealed to Samuel Johnson; the man had believed it, and laid it faithfully to heart.

Carlyle.

Profit and Loss

Mark 8:36

I shall place side by side the world and the soul, and shortly compare their respective value.

I. What then shall I say of the things of this world, which men appear to think so valuable money, houses, land, clothes, food, drink, learning, honours, titles, pleasures, and the like? I shall say two things. First, they are all really worthless: capable, no doubt, of being turned to a good use (every creature of God, says the Bible, is good if sanctified by the Word of God and prayer), but I mean this, that if you suppose they are in themselves able to make you really happy, you are woefully deceived.

Secondly, I say that all the things of the world are perishable.

II. Such is the world; and now what shall I say of the soul, which people appear to hold so cheap?

1. It is the most valuable part of man, because it is the part in which we differ from the brute creation. It is that wonderful principle by which God made a distinction between ourselves and the other works of His hand, for we read that 'God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,' and then what was the grand conclusion? 'man became a living soul'. It was the soul for which Christ was content to take our nature on Him, and suffer death upon the cross.

2. It is eternal. The soul shall never perish, and when the earth and all that it contains are burning up, the soul shall enter upon a new state of existence, which shall never change, and that state shall be everlasting life or everlasting fire.

III. You wish to be saved. There are few that do not; but unfortunately men generally want to be saved in their own way, and not according to the Bible; they love the crown, although they will seldom take up the cross. You need not be in any uncertainty about it; you may soon know what your state is; it is all to be found in this little book; the marks, the signs, the tokens, the evidences are so clearly recorded, that he who runs may read. And what are they?

1. It is written here: 'All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God'; 'There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not'. Do you know this?

2. Again it is written: 'Except a man be bora again, he cannot see the kingdom of God'; 'Ye must be born again'. Have you gone through that mighty change?

3. Again it is written: 'He that believeth not shall be damned'. 'Without faith it is impossible to please Him.' Have you any of this faith?

4. Lastly, it is written: 'Be ye holy, for I am holy'. 'Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.' What do you know of this holiness?

J. C. Ryle, The Christian Race, p. 231.

Mark 8:36

These words, spoken by Ignatius Loyola, had a deep influence on Francis Xavier. The two were walking one day in the gardens belonging to the University of Paris. 'Francis's thoughts were full of the applause his last lecture had gained him, in which he had even outdone himself. Ignatius was thinking of it too; and as they walked up and down they talked of learning and talents and of the glory which is earned by them,' and then having proved to his companion, by the interest he showed, how fully he entered into his feelings, Ignatius said softly, as if half to himself, 'But what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?'

References. VIII. 36. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 92. VIII. 36, 37. C. Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 161. R. W. Dale, ibid. vol. l. 1896, p. 36. J. R. Wilkin, ibid. vol. liii. 1898, p. 252. N. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 259.

Mark 8:37

It is remarkable that notwithstanding the universal favour with which the New Testament is outwardly received, and even the bigotry with which it in defended, there is no hospitality shown to, then; is no appreciation of, the order of truth with which it deals. I know of no book that has so few readers. There is none so truly strange and heretical and unpopular. To Christians, no less than Greeks and Jews, it is foolishness and a stumb-ling-block. There are, indeed, some things in it which no man should read aloud more than once. Seek first the kingdom of heaven. Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth. If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Think of this, Yankees!... Think of repeating these things to a New England audience!... Who, without cant, can read them aloud? Who, without cant, can hear them and not go out of the meeting-house? They never were read, they never were heard.

From Thoreau's Week on the Concord.

References. IX. 1. A. T. Pierson, The Heights of the Gospel, p. 141. IX. 1-8. A. B. Davidson, Waiting Upon God, p. 139. IX. 2. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part ii. p. 277. W. Ernest Beet, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 396. IX. 2, 3. G. Campbell Morgan, ibid. vol. lix. 1901, p. 365. IX. 2-8. C. S. Macfarland, ibid. vol. lxii. 1902, p. 39. IX. 2-13. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 1. IX. 2-29. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2454; vol. 1. No. 2881. IX. 6. George Tyrrell, Oil and Wine, p. 174.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Mark 8". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/mark-8.html. 1910.