Still Christ is upon motion; now he visits the parts of Dalmanutha, that no corner of the land of Israel might say that they had not had his presence with them. He came thither by ship (Mark 8:10); but, meeting with occasions of dispute there, and not with opportunities of doing good, he entered into the ship again (Mark 8:13), and came back. In these verses, we are told,
I. How he refused to gratify the Pharisees, who challenged him to give them a sign from heaven. They came forth on purpose to question with him; not to propose questions to him, that they might learn of him, but to cross question with him, that they might ensnare him.
1. They demanded of him a sign from heaven, as if the signs he gave them on earth, which were more familiar to them, and were more capable of being examined and enquired into, were not sufficient. There was a sign from heaven at his baptism, in the descent of the dove, and the voice (Matt. 3:16, 17); it was public enough; and if they had attended John’s baptism as they ought to have done, they might themselves have seen it. Afterward, when he was nailed to the cross, they prescribed a new sign; Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him; thus obstinate infidelity will still have something to say, though ever so unreasonable. They demanded this sign, tempting him; not in hopes that he would give it them, that they might be satisfied, but in hopes that he would not, that they might imagine themselves to have a pretence for their infidelity.
2. He denied them their demand; He sighed deeply in his spirit, Mark 8:12. He groaned (so some), being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, and the little influence that his preaching and miracles had had upon them. The infidelity of those that have long enjoyed the means of conviction, is a great grief to the Lord Jesus; it troubles him, that sinners should thus stand in their own light, and put a bar in their own door. (1.) He expostulates with them upon this demand; “Why doth this generation seek after a sign; this generation, that is so unworthy to have the gospel brought to it, and to have any sign accompanying it; this generation, that so greedily swallows the traditions of the elders, without the confirmation of any sign at all; this generation, into which, by the calculating of the times prefixed in the Old Testament, they might easily perceive that the coming of the Messiah must fall; this generation, that has had such plenty of sensible and merciful signs given them in the cure of their sick? What an absurdity is it for them to desire a sign!” (2.) He refuses to answer their demand; Verily, I say unto you, there shall no sign, no such sign, be given to this generation. When God spoke to particular persons in a particular case, out of the road of his common dispensation, they were encouraged to ask a sign, as Gideon and Ahaz; but when he speaks in general to all, as in the law and the gospel, sending each with their own evidence, it is presumption to prescribe other signs than what he has given. Shall any teach God knowledge? He denied them, and then left them, as men not fit to be talked with; if they will not be convinced, they shall not; leave them to their strong delusions.
II. How he warned his disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. Observe here,
1. What the caution was (Mark 8:15); “Take heed, beware, lest ye partake of the leaven of the Pharisees, lest ye embrace the tradition of the elders, which they are so wedded to, lest ye be proud, and hypocritical, and ceremonious, like them.” Matthew adds, and of the Sadducees; Mark adds, and of Herod: whence some gather, that Herod, and his courtiers were generally Sadducees, that is, deists, men of no religion. Others give this sense, The Pharisees demanded a sign from heaven; and Herod was long desirous to see some miracle wrought by Christ (Luke 23:8); such as he should prescribe, so that the leaven of both was the same; they were unsatisfied with the signs they had, and would have others of their own devising; “Take heed of this leaven” (saith Christ), “be convinced by the miracles ye have seen, and covet not to see more.”
2. How they misunderstood this caution. It seems, at their putting to sea this time, they had forgotten to take bread, and had not in their ship more than one loaf, Mark 8:14. When therefore Christ bid them beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, they understood it as an intimation to them, not to apply themselves to any of the Pharisees for relief, when they came to the other side, for they had lately been offended at them for eating with unwashen hands. They reasoned among themselves, what should be the meaning of this caution, and concluded, “It is because we have no bread; he saith this, to reproach us for being so careless as to go to sea, and go among strangers, with but one loaf of bread; he doth, in effect, tell us, we must be brought to short allowance, and must eat our bread by weight.” They reasoned it—dielogizonto, they disputed about it; one said, “It was owing to you;” and the other said, “It was owing to you, that we are so ill provided for this voyage.” Thus distrust of God makes Christ’s disciples quarrel among themselves.
3. The reproof Christ gave them for their uneasiness in this matter, as it argued a disbelief of his power to supply them, notwithstanding the abundant experience they had had of it. The reproof is given with some warmth, for he knew their hearts, and knew they needed to be thus soundly chidden; “Perceive ye not yet, neither understand, that which you have had so many demonstrations of? Have ye your hearts yet hardened, so as that nothing will make any impression upon them, or bring them to compliance with your Master’s designs? Having eyes, see ye not that which is plain before your eyes? Having ears, hear ye not that which you have been so often told? How strangely stupid and senseless are ye! Do ye not remember that which was done but the other day, when I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, and soon after, the seven loaves among the four thousand? Do ye not remember how many baskets full ye took up of the fragments?” Yes, they did remember, and could tell that they took up twelve baskets full one time, and seven another; “Why then,” said he, “how is it that ye do not understand? As if he that multiplied five loaves, and seven, could not multiply one.” They seemed to suspect that the one was not matter enough to work upon, if he should have a mind to entertain his hearers a third time: and if that was their thought, it was indeed a very senseless one, as if it were not all alike to the Lord, to save by many or few, and as easy to make one loaf to feed five thousand as five. It was therefore proper to remind them, not only of the sufficiency, but of the overplus, of the former meals; and justly were they chidden for not understanding what Christ therein designed, and what they from thence might have learned. Note, (1.) The experiences we have had of God’s goodness to us in the way of duty, greatly aggravate our distrust of him, which is therefore very provoking to the Lord Jesus. (2.) Our not understanding of the true intent and meaning of God’s favours to us, is equivalent to our not remembering of them. (3.) We are therefore overwhelmed with present cares and distrusts, because we do not understand, and remember, what we have known and seen of the power and goodness of our Lord Jesus. It would be a great support to us, to consider the days of old, and we are wanting both to God and ourselves if we do not. (4.) When we thus forgot the works of God, and distrust him, we should chide ourselves severely for it, as Christ doth his disciples here; “Amos I thus without understanding? How is it that my heart is thus hardened?”