Have you ever misinterpreted what someone is trying to say: Or trying to do? I live in Taiwan and recently I got a call from a taxi-driver demanding money for “our accident.” Apparently, someone who was on the way to the church had an accident with this man. In the discussion they had after the accident, the person mentioned he was on the way to the church. The cab driver apparently misunderstood the man and thought that I was the person with whom he’d had the accident, so he called and demanded money from me and warned me that he had notified the police. Since I had no knowledge of what he was talking about I refused to pay him, thinking it was a scam to get money from me. (These types of things happen sometimes in Taiwan.)
He interpreted my refusal to pay him anything as a sign that I was trying to defraud him. So he became angry and threatening. “I will call the police.” “Go ahead, we’ll straighten it out with them." It was a misunderstanding. The person with whom he’d had the accident paid him and everything worked out.
In the text I want to use for today’s post the disciples misinterpret what Jesus is saying to them. I believe that we often misinterpret what God is doing or trying to do in our lives.
Mark 8:13-21 (NKJV)
8:13 And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. 14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. 15 Then He charged them, saying, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." 16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have no bread." 17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, "Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still 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 fragments did you take up?" They said to Him, "Twelve." 20 "Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?" And they said, "Seven." 21 So He said to them, "How is it you do not understand?"
We Often Miss the Point
Our text here is a classic example of missing the point. Jesus is talking about the leaven of the Pharisees and the disciples are worried that they don’t have enough bread. I think this is a perfect example of why we sometimes miss God’s point. They were so concerned with their own problems that they think that Jesus was pointing that out to them. It’s like the taxi driver story. The taxi driver was so concerned about getting paid that he didn’t even realize I wasn’t the guy who he had the accident with.
In our text, the disciples are so concerned with the fact that they didn’t have bread, that they assume Jesus is criticizing them for that. Jesus, on the other hand never mentions bread, he only mentions one ingredient of bread, Leaven. If I mentioned egg yolks would you automatically assume I was talking about Cakes? Probably not, but that’s what the disciples did, here. “Leaven!” “Augh, He’s criticizing us for forgetting to bring bread." Sometimes we misinterpret what God is saying or doing because we are so focused on our own lives and the problems associated with them.
Think about it for a moment. When we are going through something we often pray, “God help me.” “God get me out of this problem.” But actually we may be experiencing these things because God is working in us. God may be trying to change us in some aspect of our lives. We’re praying, “God deliver me from this evil; this time of struggle,” when the struggle is God trying to deal with the issue.
A good example of this is financial struggle. We’re praying God deliver me from this financial difficulty.” But what God is doing is causing you to struggle in your finances so that you can get a handle on your spending problem, or your reliance on credit cards. The thing is that God isn’t going to wave a magic wand and cause all your troubles to disappear. We think God isn’t connected to hardship, that God is a loving God whgo will fix our problems. God is like that, He does desire to fix your problems, but he fixes them through your decisions. God is faithful to bring the problems to our attention, so we can decide to fix them. We are misinterpreting the move of God for us as the Devil’s move against us.
Isn’t that what the disciples are doing here. Jesus is trying to deal with hypocrisy in their lives and they have misinterpreted it as a rebuke of their forgetfulness. Think about the things you’re praying about; the things you’re struggling with and asking for God’s help with. What are you expecting God to do? Are you thinking God will make the problem disappear without you being involved? More likely, God is trying to show you an area where you need to change.
I want to illustrate this with the story of Cain and Abel. I want you to see two things here. One, how God tries to change us and two, what can happen if we misinterpret God’s intentions.
Abel comes to bring God an offering of the firstborn lamb of his flock and sacrifices it. Cain, after a while brings an offering of vegetables. That saying, after a while, implies that these are not the first fruits. So God respects Abel’s offering and rejects Cain’s. So, Cain has a choice here. He can either say, “Okay I messed up,” or do it right, or he can get angry at God and jealous of Abel. Of course we know what happens, Cain gets angry with God, and jealous of Abel and ends up killing Abel in a field.
But in the course of all this, God says something remarkable to Cain.
Genesis 4:6-7 (NKJV) 6 So the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."
“Why are you angry? If you do well you will be accepted.” In other words God is saying, “Okay, you’ve been rebuked. If you do well it’ll be okay.” So Cain is misinterpreting what God is trying to do. God is trying to show Cain where he’s wrong and what needs to be changed so the problem can be fixed. All Cain has to do is admit he’s wrong and decide to change. But there is a warning there for Cain also. Sin lies at the door, crouches there waiting to spring when we reject what God is trying to do in us. Cain is filtering God’s intentions through his own ideas of the way it should be.
Do you know what I mean by that? How many times have you tried to make someone understand how you want them to do something, only to hear him or her say, “Okay. okay, okay,” but you can see they don’t understand what you’re saying, they’re filtering what you said through what they think is right. This happens to me all the time, and it’s frustrating. I don’t even want to think about how often that must happen to God. The Bible tells us that this leads to sin. Do you know why? Because you begin to rely on yourself and act in your own will, instead of acting in the will of God. That’s where Cain went wrong and look where it led.
What Causes Us to Miss the Point?
I think the reason we filter God’s intention through our own ideas stems from a basic problem in people. The problem is unbelief or a lack of faith. Let’s go back to our text for a moment. Look at what Jesus says to them about their thinking that he’s “hassling” them about the forgotten bread.
Mark 8:17-21 (NKJV)
8:17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, "Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still 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 fragments did you take up?" They said to Him, "Twelve." 20 "Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?" And they said, "Seven." 21 So He said to them, "How is it you do not understand?"
Jesus begins to deal with them about the reason why they don’t understand, and he zeroes in on the problem. He asks them if their hearts are still hard. I want you to think about your own heart here for a moment. When was your heart hardened about the things of God? When was it that you didn’t want to hear about God or from God? Wasn’t it when you didn’t believe?
When did you get mad at people for witnessing to you? Before you believed in God, right? Your heart was hard when you didn’t believe in God. But there’s another time when your heart is hardened, and that’s when you don’t want to hear what God is trying to say about what you’re doing that you don’t want to change: When you don’t have faith that God has your best interest in mind.
“God mde me like this, if he were a good God he wouldn’t be doing this to me.” I’ve even heard people say, “How can I believe in a God who did this to me.” That’s unbelief and hardness of heart isn’t it? That’s how Cain thought, “God’s not trying to work in me, He’s trying to tick me off.”
So after Jesus asks the disciples if their hearts are hard, He reminds them of something that should cause them to have faith. “Were you there when I fed five thousand families? Didn’t you pick up the fragments that were left over? How about the time I fed four thousand families? How much was left over then?” “Do you really think I’m worried about bread? If you saw all of that how can you not understand what I’m saying to you?” The problem was a lack of faith…A lack of faith will cause us to misinterpret God because it will harden our hearts.
I gave some examples of people who are upset at God because God isn’t doing what they want God to do. Through their unbelief they assume that God’s intentions toward them are evil, when God’s intentions are the opposite. Because of their unbelief they can’t believe that God is trying to work in them, or help them, or change them because they don’t believe God wants the best for them or has their best interests in mind.
This is one of our great failings. We do this over and over because we have such short memories. When things are going well, we like God. When things are not, we think God is against us.
This is one of the reasons the Israelites had such a great struggle in the wilderness. Three days after God delivers them from Egypt through the most powerful set of miracles imaginable, they’re asking Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die?” Things got a little hard. God had just moved heaven and earth to rescue them and three days later they’ve forgotten all about it and begin to misinterpret God’s intentions. They do this over and over and because of it God eventually says, “Just wander around the desert for forty years until this unbelieving generation passes away.”
The disciples are no better. They do the same thing in a storm at sea.
Mark 4:36-41 (NKJV)
4:36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"
The disciples had been with Him when He healed multitudes earlier in that day. They had seen the power of God play out through Him. They had witnessed miracles. They’d heard His words; they knew He was the Messiah. They knew His purpose. But they forgot it all when the water got rough. They lost faith.
These were the men who were with Jesus. These are the men who should have had the greatest faith. They saw His power everyday, and they struggled with unbelief the whole time. So do you! How can I know that, because I do, too? When we struggle with unbelief we are in danger of misinterpreting God.
Look at What He’s Done
How does Jesus deal with this in them? He points them to the things He’s already done. Remember the five thousand hungry people and the leftovers? Remember the four thousand fed with just seven loaves.
How do we keep faith? In order to keep faith we need to look at the things God has already done in us and through us. Instead of dwelling on the discomfort of the moment, we need to dwell on the times when God has come through for us. It seems really simple doesn’t it? When I had this issue, God saved me in this way. When that problem happened I remember what God did.
But it isn’t all that simple because we have short memories, just like the Israelites in the desert and the disciples in the storm. When we’re struggling with something, we focus on that instead of all the times God has delivered us in some way.
You know, quite often I struggle with pain. Every time I do I focus on that. I’m not thinking about how God literally saved my life 20 years ago, I’m complaining, “every time we have revival I go through this.” I’m just like the Israelites. I’m just like the disciples. I’m just like you.
But I have to tell you something we have an advantage over the Israelites and the disciples. We have the Bible. We can read it and be reminded about what God has done; we can be reminded of God’s intentions. It’s all right there in the Bible, so we don’t really have an excuse for our unbelief. The problem is that we don’t always read it often enough.
If we read it every day it will help to keep us in remembrance of these things; to see His power regularly; to remind us of His intentions toward us. If God didn’t have our best interest in mine, He never would have sent His Son. Reminding yourself of that will help to keep you from misinterpreting God.