Why I’m Encouraged by the Fact that the Disciples of Jesus Just Didn’t Get It

By Mark D. Roberts

October 17, 2016

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

Mark 8:4


Small steps, like of a child.Mark 8 begins with another large crowd gathered around Jesus to hear his teaching. Jesus had compassion for the people because they were hungry and lacked food. When he told his disciples of his concern, they answered: “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (8:4)

Given the fact that Jesus had already fed over 5,000 people through a miraculous multiplication of food (Mark 6:32-44), the disciples’ question appears foolish, even faithless. Shouldn’t they have known how this story would turn out? Shouldn’t they have had more confidence in Jesus and the power of God at work through him? Yes, this is surely true. But, to be honest, I am encouraged by the reaction of the disciples.

Why encouraged? First, because this is one of many passages in the Gospels that bear witness to basic trustworthiness of the biblical text. Given the leading role of the disciples in the earliest church, it must have been tempting for the first Christians to clean up the story a bit, to make their leaders look better. But, in fact, those who passed on and wrote down the stories of Jesus and his disciples were committed to tell the truth, even when that truth was embarrassing. Thus the folly of the disciples in Mark 8:4 underscores the reliability of the Gospel of Mark.

Second, I am encouraged by the reaction of the disciples to Jesus because I can relate to their lack of vision and faith. I don’t know how many times in my life I have experienced God’s goodness to me, only to doubt him when a new challenge arises. There are more of these times than I would like to admit, I’ll tell you that. Most of us who follow Jesus are rather like the disciples. Thus, when we fail in our faith, we can have confidence that Jesus does not reject us. His grace and patience are solid, even though he surely wants us to grow in faith.

Third, I am encouraged by Mark 8:4 because it provides evidence of some growth in the disciples. Yes, their faith falls short, but at least they share in Jesus’s concern for the people. In the previous situation like this, the disciples counseled Jesus to “Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (6:36). In Mark 8:4, the disciples seem to share in Jesus’ compassion for the people and feel responsible for their wellbeing. This is evidence of spiritual maturation. It reminds us that, for the most part, our growth as disciples of Jesus comes, not in giant leaps forward, but rather in small steps of faithfulness.


Can you remember times when you doubted the Lord, even when he had recently proven his goodness to you?

Can you see evidence of spiritual growth in your life, even if it is of the “small steps” kind?


Lord Jesus, I must admit that my first response to this story is to look down my nose at the disciples . . . as if I am so much better than they were! Forgive me, Lord, for my undue pride. I expect that you can see so many ways in which I am just like your first followers. Though you have showered blessings upon me in my life, I so readily ask questions like, “How are we supposed to find enough food?”

I do note, however, that the disciples were growing ever so slowly. At least they began to have compassion for the people, much as you did. This is surely a step forward. Help me, Lord, to have your heart for those in need. Even when my faith is weak, may my compassion be strong.

But, I pray that my faith will grow as I learn to trust you more and more. Help me, Lord, to have confidence in you. May I live my life with boldness and vision because I know you and your amazing, powerful grace. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Discipleship in Process (Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52; 8:14-21)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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