In Mark 8, Jesus once more fed a crowd—this one numbering 4,000 people—with just seven loaves and a few fish. Again, the disciples took up several baskets of leftovers (see Mark 8:5-8). Yet Christ discerned that the disciples still didn’t accept His miracle-working power, so He asked them, “Have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17).
I picture the disciples after this second feeding, sitting dumbfounded. They must have thought, “This can’t be happening. If Jesus truly is God, why would He choose us to share in such incredible power? We’re just uneducated fishermen. Why would He walk out onto the water to get into our little boat instead of revealing this miracle to a group that’s more worthy?”
You’ve probably wondered the same things at times, about yourself: “There are billions of people on this earth. Why did God speak to me? Why did He choose me?” The reason is that it was an absolute miracle. Your conversion was totally supernatural. It wasn’t just one unexplainable natural event—no, there was nothing natural about it.
Why? Because there is nothing natural about the Christian life. It is all supernatural. It’s a life dependent upon miracles from the very beginning (including your conversion). And it simply can’t be lived without faith in the supernatural.
The power that keeps you in Christ is totally supernatural. The world lives in darkness, but you have the light all because you live in the realm of the supernatural. There’s nothing natural about your body being the temple of the Holy Ghost. Nothing is natural about being the abode of the supernatural God of the universe.
Yet this is often where hardening occurs. People begin to attribute God’s supernatural workings in their lives to the natural. It is dangerous to forget His miracles. It’s frightening to look back at divine wonders and say, “It just happened.” Every time you take the super out of the supernatural, your heart hardens a little more.
Dear saint, you simply must accept this by faith: The same supernatural God who fed crowds of thousands with just a few loaves will work supernaturally in your crises also. His miracle-working power will deliver you from all bondages. It will empower you to walk in freedom. And He’ll use your weakness—indeed, your very lowest state—to show the world His miracles of keeping power.
Hard times are guaranteed to come upon all who follow Jesus. Yet when those times come we’re to say with confidence, “Do it again, Lord. You’ve worked miracles before in my life. You’ve delivered Your servants supernaturally throughout history. Let your strength be made perfect in my weakness.”
God told Israel, “You didn’t believe Me when I said you had nothing to fear, that I would fight for you. You completely forgot that I bore you up like a child and cared for you. You never did trust Me, even though I went before you, gave you a cloud to shelter you from the blazing sun, gave you a fire by night to light your way and bring you comfort in the black night. Instead, you voiced your doubts, slandered Me, and made Me out to be a liar” (see Deuteronomy 1:27-35).
You can be saved, Spirit-filled, and walking holy before God, yet still be guilty of unbelief. You may think, “I don’t have any unbelief.” But do you get upset when things go wrong? Are you fearful of failing God? Are you restless, afraid of the future?
The believer who has unconditional faith in God’s promise enjoys complete rest. What characterizes this rest? A full, complete confidence in God’s Word, and a total dependence on His faithfulness to that Word. Indeed, rest is the evidence of faith.
You may wonder: How does a believer’s heart become hardened in unbelief? We see a shocking illustration in Mark 6. The disciples were in a boat headed for Bethsaida, sailing in the darkness. Suddenly, Jesus appeared, walking on the water. The twelve thought He was a ghost and shook with fear. But Christ assured them, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50). Then He stepped into the boat, and the wind ceased.
The next verse says everything about the disciples’ hearts in that moment: “They were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened” (6:51-52). (The Greek meaning of hardened here indicates “stone-like, blind, stubborn disbelief.”) We are being reminded that these men had just experienced an incredible miracle. They had seen Jesus feed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fishes and He had used the twelve to do it. When Mark tells us the disciples “considered not” this miracle, he means, “They couldn’t put it all together.”
Hardening comes when you take the super out of supernatural. These men didn’t have the faith to believe what they’d just seen Jesus do. Within twenty-four hours, they had dismissed His miraculous feeding as some kind of natural event. They still had doubts about Christ’s supernatural power.
You may remember the Old Testament story of the Israelite spies sent to scout out the Promised Land. They came back saying, “Yes, it’s a land flowing with milk and honey. But it’s also full of giants and walled-up cities. We’re not able to go up against these people. Compared to them, we’re mere grasshoppers” (see Numbers 13).
Now, these men didn’t accuse God. They never said, “God isn’t able. He isn’t strong enough.” They dared not voice such unbelief. Instead, they focused on themselves, saying, “We’re not able. We’re like little bugs in our enemies’ sight.”
Yet that is not humility. And it isn’t innocent, harmless talk. Rather, it’s an affront to the One who is the Light of the world, who commands us to believe, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
You see, when you complain of your inabilities and weaknesses, you’re not putting yourself down. You’re putting down your Lord. How? By refusing to believe or walk in His Word. That is sin against the Light. And it brings on darkness.
The Israelite spies were so focused on their inabilities, they were ready to quit. They even talked about going back to Egypt. What was God’s response to their fears and unbelief? “The Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?” (Numbers 14:11). God charged them with one sin: unbelief.
Today, the Lord is asking His people the same question He asked Israel: “When will you believe what I promised you? I said My strength would come to you in your times of weakness. You’re not to rely on the strength of your flesh. I told you I would use the weak, the poor, the despised of this world to confound the wise. I am Jehovah, everlasting strength. And I’ll make you strong through My might, by My Spirit. So, when will you act on this? When will you trust what I say to you?”
Most sermons on Pentecost focus on the signs and wonders performed by the apostles. Or they emphasize the 3,000 who were saved in one day, or the cloven tongues and fire appearing. But we don't hear about one event that became the greatest wonder of all—and sent multitudes back to their nations with a vivid, unmistakable impression of who Jesus is.
You've heard of signs and wonders. I want to tell you about this story's "wonder signs." Overnight, “For Sale” signs appeared in front of homes throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Scripture says, "All that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35).
Can you imagine the scene in Jerusalem? Multitudes of houses, lots and farmland were suddenly being sold off. Household goods were being sold as well: furniture, clothes, crafts, pots and pans, works of art. On the streets, in the marketplaces, at every city gate, hundreds of signs must have read, "Goods for Sale." It had to be the biggest garage sale in Jerusalem's history.
There is no evidence in Scripture that the homes being sold were the owners' primary dwelling places. And there is no mention of communal living. If that had happened, it would have placed an unbearable burden on the Church. God's Word clearly commanded them to provide for their families and children. These believers couldn't have fulfilled those commands if they didn't have their own homes. Besides, we read that they went to each other's homes in fellowship, "breaking bread from house to house" (2:46). Clearly, these people still owned their homes.
No, the possessions they sold were things they had over and above their needs, things not essential to their survival. In some cases, these probably had put a stranglehold on their owners' hearts. So the goods were sold, turned into cash, and donated to support the church's widows, fatherless and homeless.
Here was the witness of Pentecost. The world saw those empowered believers loving one another, selling their goods, giving to the needy. And that's exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted from them. He desired a living testimony to the world of God's love. They were proclaiming Christ's gospel by their actions.
It was Jesus’ final night with the disciples and He knew His time was short. They had just finished supper and Christ wanted to impart to His friends one last teaching while on earth. He summoned them, “Rise, let us go from here” (John 14:31, ESV) and led them on a walk. Along the way He gave them this analogy:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches” (15:1-5).
What a lovely image summing up our relationship to the Son and the Father. Jesus is the vine and we are branches extending from Him; He is the source of all life flowing into us. Overseeing all of this life-flow is our heavenly Father, the gardener who tends to our growth. Could there be any more serene image of our life in Christ?
There is a lot to unpack in this one passage—and I can assure you, all of it is good. The image of a blade comes to mind, the instrument of an expert gardener—our merciful, compassionate, loving Lord. There is deep beauty contained in this parting message He gave to His church and the first key to understanding this passage is Jesus’ phrase “true vine.”
Christ is telling us He is more than a mere life source to us—He’s the life source. Other “vines” may appear to promise life but none contain true life as He does. Some Christians seek life from other vines, sources that destroy life and aren’t legitimate for any Christian. Others seek life from sources that seem good and legitimate—ambition and drive, success and comfort—but these vines in themselves are lifeless. They can’t produce true life. Jesus wants us grafted firmly into Him so that we may drink deeply of His abundant life every day.