These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
If you are going to serve God and minister to others you will encounter several types of people in your life. Gordon MacDonald wrote a book called Renewing Your Spiritual Passion. In it he describes the five types of people you will encounter when doing ministry.
- You have the Very Resourceful People (VRP’s): They ignite your spiritual passion. These are mentors, leaders, and others who inspire you in ministry and help you grow in your skill and wisdom.
- You have the Very Important People (VIP’s): They share your ministry and passion. These are teammates, close friends, disciple-makers who labor in ministry alongside you. Together you stir one another up to faithful and fruitful ministry.
- You have the Very Trainable People (VTP’s): They catch your vision for ministry. These people want to grow and serve, and they have a teachable spirit that’s willing to learn. They listen to you and are willing to follow your leadership and authority.
- You have the Very Nice People (VNP’s): They enjoy you and your ministry. These are the ones who benefit from your ministry. They are wonderful to be with and often are encouraging, but they are not always on the serving and growing edge.
- You have the Very Draining People (VDP’s): They sap your spiritual energy. They are usually overly critical and demanding. They can be very frustrating to deal with when you are ministry to others.
The VDP’s (Very Draining People) are the type of people that Jesus encounters in the passage we are looking at today. From it, we are going to learn some characteristics about VDP’s and how to deal with them.
Let’s take a look at Mark 8:11, “When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. 12 When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.’ 13 So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake” (NLT). Let’s take a look at some characteristics of draining people in order to help us honor God and others when we encounter them.
Draining people are argumentative
Number one, draining people are argumentative. Mark says in verse 11, “When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him” (NLT).
- Mark tells us “the Pharisees” came to argue with and test Jesus. Matthew adds that it was both the Pharisees and Sadducees. This is significant because these two groups were normally hostile to one another. Here they see Jesus as their common enemy. This is the first time we see both groups teaming up against Jesus. The intensity of their hatred toward Jesus is increasing.
- Remember, back in Mark 3 these religious leaders accused Jesus of being “possessed by Satan, the prince of demons” and they concluded by saying, “That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons” (Mark 3:22, NLT). They didn’t believe Jesus was from God, but from Satan. From their perspective Jesus was not divine, but demonic. They could not deny the miracles Jesus had done, but they did dispute the source of His power. Even though Jesus had walked on water, calmed a storm, raised the dead, cast out evil spirits, healed the crippled, blind, and deaf the Pharisees did not see God at work, but the devil at work through Jesus. All these miracles did not convince the Pharisees or the Sadducees that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior of mankind, nor the Son of God. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was of the devil.
- I want you to notice two words. Mark says, “When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came….” The two words, “they came” (exelthon) is actually one Greek word. It carries the image of a group of people approaching someone in military fashion. The Pharisees approached Jesus in a rank and file manner. The leading Pharisees upfront, with the other Pharisees walking behind them. This is an official attempt to discredit Jesus.
- When they came to Jesus and approached Him, Mark tells us they “started to argue with him.” The word “argue” (suzeteo) means to dispute, oppose, and question in an aggressive manner. Notice they did not come to learn, but to argue and oppose Jesus. This was not an attempt to understand, but to discredit Jesus.
Argumentative people are draining. As a follower of Jesus who is going to believe God’s Word, serve others, bless others, and stand for truth you are going to encounter people who only want to argue and oppose you about your beliefs, about your convictions, and about your relationship with Jesus. Their goal is to win an argument, not to understand you. Their goal is to discredit you and what you stand for.
Draining people are demanding
Number two, draining people are demanding. You will find them insistent, persistent, and controlling. Mark goes on to say in verse 11, “Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.”
When people don’t believe in you, they will test you. That’s fine at first. If people don’t know you, then they can test you to see if you are the real deal and to see if you are telling the truth. The problem occurs when you have proven yourself over and over and over again, but they still demand more and more and bigger and bigger test to prove you truthful. This is what the Pharisees were doing with Jesus. They came to argue with Him and to “test” Him even after Jesus had walked on water, calmed the storm, cast out demons, healed the blind, healed the lepers, healed those who were crippled or paralyzed, and even raised the dead.
But there is a twist here, the word “testing” (peirazein) does not mean an objective test to discover the merit of something or to see if something is true. This type of “testing” is for the purpose to discredit. It is a test that is a trap. When you have people in your life who are constantly testing you to trap you, you will find it very draining.
Mark says, “testing him, they demanded” (this refers to an attempt to gain control). When people “demand” something from you they are wanting to control you or the situation. The Pharisees wanted to control Jesus.
Marks says, “Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.” So they wanted a “sign from heaven.”
The phrase “sign from heaven” is not some catch phrase. They literally demanding Jesus to give them a “miraculous sign from heaven,” up in the sky that would “prove his authority” is from God.
- Their belief was that demons could imitate earthly miracles, like the signs performed by the magicians in Pharaoh’s court (Exodus 7:11-12, 22). However, the Pharisees also believed that only God could do miracles from heaven, referring to the sky. the Pharisees might have been thinking of such signs as when Moses gave bread from heaven (Psalm 78:23-25; John 6:30-33), Joshua made the sun and moon stand still (Josh. 10:12-13), Samuel brought thunder and rain in time of harvest (1 Sam. 12:17-18), Elijah repeatedly called down fire from heaven ( 2 Kings 1:10-12), and at Isaiah’s word the shadow went back on the dial (Isaiah 38:8). Those are the types of “signs from heaven” they were asking for.
Remember, they are “testing him” in order to disprove Him. They really wanted to disprove the Lord’s claims of being the Messiah. My guess is they were convinced that Jesus couldn’t bring on a heavenly miracle or sign, and by failing such a test would prove Jesus to be a false prophet and not from God. In their minds this was a win-win situation for them.
To me this is an ironic situation. They are demanding a “sign from heaven” that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet, Jesus is God in the flesh, God incarnate who came “from heaven” and this is the One who stands before them. They could not see it, nor did they want to see it. They could not see that Jesus himself was the greatest sign from heaven.
The heavens have been declaring who Jesus is from the start. The heavens have given multiple signs declaring Jesus as the Son of God.
- When Jesus was born Luke tells us that a “vast host of [angels] – the armies of heaven” filled the sky before the shepherds out in the fields declaring the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8-14).
- Later the wise men would arrive and tell Herod they had seen Jesus’ star in the sky leading them to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1-4).
- When Jesus was baptized by John the Bible says, “As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, ‘You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy’” (Mark 1:9-11, NLT).
Whether the Pharisees knew of these things or had heard of these events is unknown, but the heavens have been declaring who Jesus is from the start.
The Pharisees came to Jesus “demanding a miraculous sign from heaven” in order to prove who He was and in order for them to believe. They had already determined not to believe, but they wanted a sign any way. This reminds me of the guy who doesn’t believe and doesn’t want to believe to prove His point that there is no God he stands up and says, “God if you are real strike me down with lightning right now.” When God doesn’t he concludes that God is not real. That is what the Pharisees were doing. What they don’t understand is that God’s non responses are sometimes an act of mercy and grace. Jesus could have given them a sign from heaven in the form of fire and brimstone like that of Sodom and Gamorah. Just because God does not give you the sign or miracle that you want does not impact the reality of His existence or the infinite power He has.
I have a thought here: I do believe that God gives us signs of His power, love, and existence all the time, but people simply refuse to see them for what they are. God is right in front of us blessing us, but we refuse to see it. God is talking to us through His Word and godly people in our lives, but we refuse to listen. Throughout our lives God has given us multiple signs that He is real, that He is listening, that He cares and that He loves us but it is not good enough for us. We want something else. We demand a specific sign from God. God if you love me you will do this thing or that thing. We demand a “sign from heaven” of our choosing and thereby become like the Pharisees.
Let’s talk about the purpose of “signs” for just a moment. A “sign” points to something else. A “sign” is not the real thing, it only points you to the real thing. A sign can let you know about a railroad crossing up ahead. The sign is not the railroad crossing. A sign can let you know about a restaurant two miles down the road. The sign is not the restaurant or the food, it only points you toward it. The signs and miracles that Jesus did were not the real thing you are looking for, the signs pointed to the real thing in Jesus. Some people are seeking signs and miracles when they should be looking for Jesus. If they are not careful, they will fall in love with the sign and not the person the sign points too. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 16, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign” (v.4, NLT). Why would Jesus say that? Because the love you should be giving to Jesus you are giving to signs and miracles. You are having an affair with the miracles. Jesus sees our unhealthy fascination with signs and miracles as adultery.
This is like the husband who loves his wife. He buys her flowers, clothes, takes her out to her favorite restaurants, provides for her, and blesses her with all kinds of wonderful gifts. All these activities and gifts that he gives to her are all signs of His love for her, but somewhere in there she falls in love with the signs of his love rather than him. She starts demanding more and more signs because what she wants are signs and not Him. This is what the Pharisees were doing and this is what we do when we fall in love with what Jesus can do rather than for who He is. Now listen carefully, when the wife demands more and more signs of her husband’s love when he is already showing various signs of love that is an indication that she doesn’t love her husband, but the signs of his love. In the same way, when we keep asking for more and more signs from God that reveals how much we truly don’t believe.
This is why Jesus would often perform a miracle and then deliver teaching that was connected to the sign or miracle. Jesus was more concerned they believe in Him, rather than just believing in the miracle.
- For example, in John 5, the healing of the paralyzed man on the Sabbath opened the way for a message on His deity, “the Lord of the Sabbath.”
- The feeding of the 5,000 (John 6) led naturally into a sermon on the Bread of Life.
- Raising Lazarus from the dead revealed Jesus as the resurrection and the life (John 11).
All those miracles were simply signs that pointed to who Jesus was and to bring your attention to Him and His love for you.
Instead of asking God to give you a sign that He cares or that He is real, pause for a moment and say, “God, help me to see the signs that you have already given.”
Draining people are exhausting
Draining people are argumentative and demanding. Number three, draining people are exhausting. They can emotionally deplete you. They can cause you to feel emotionally fatigued. They wear you out. Mark says in verse 12, “When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit…” (NLT). To “sigh deeply” (anastenazo) means “to draw sighs up from the bottom of your chest.” It is the kind of sigh that comes from pain, hurt, and exhaustion over weary things. It is not a sigh of despair, but of great disappointment. It can be translated groan. Jesus groaned on the inside because of the “spiritual deafness” of the religious leaders. Earlier (Mark 7:34) Jesus gave a deep sigh over the physical deafness of a man, now he gives a deep sigh over the spiritual deafness of the Pharisees and those like them. They refused to hear and see the truth that was before them.
This causes me to think about two things.
- First, following Jesus and serving Jesus can be exhausting. Not so much in what He has us to do or where we may be sent, but the encounters of those who sound religious, can quote the Bible, and are faithful to attend church all the time but they are extremely critical. Always finding fault. You can never be good enough for them. They pick your theology and methodology apart. When you are serving others you will encounter these draining and exhausting people.
- Number two, I wonder how often I make Jesus “sigh deeply”? Am I waiting for Jesus to do something specific and spectacular for me before I truly trust Him?
You don’t want to be that person that causes believers to sigh deeply nor do you want to cause the Lord to sigh deeply either. However, when you are doing ministry you are going to encounter people who are exhausting.
Draining people are dissatisfied
Number four, draining people are dissatisfied. You can never make them happy. You can never do enough for them. They are always going to want more. This is the case with the Pharisees. They have come to Jesus and demanded a sign from heaven in order to test Him and Jesus says in verse 12, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” Why did Jesus say this? Why wouldn’t Jesus give them a “sign from heaven”? Jesus knew that no matter what kind of miracle He performed they were determined to reject Him. He was not going to play to their game. He had already given them multiple signs throughout the hundreds of miracles He had already done in their presence. He knew this was a test to discredit Him and not to understand Him. He would not throw His pearls before swine.
Even though most of the Pharisees were rejecting Him, there were some, not many, but some Pharisees who were getting it. Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee came to Jesus one evening to talk to Him and said, “We all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you” (John 3:2, NLT). Some of them were beginning to see the light and hear the truth. But for most of them they would remain in the darkness, by choice.
When Matthew tells us about this encounter we see an exception when Jesus says, “The only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 16:4, NLT).[i] The “sign of the prophet Jonah” referred to Jonah being swallowed by a great fish for three days and being spewed back onto dry land. This was a foreshadow of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus would be the supreme sign that He was indeed the long expected Messiah! In about a year, Jesus would give them the ultimate sign but they would still reject and refuse Him.[ii]
There are those today who are looking for a sign from heaven that God is real or that Jesus is real. The irony is that one day in the future all those on earth will see a “sign from heaven” when the Son of God returns and everyone will know who He truly is. Matthew 24 says, “At last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (vs.30, NLT).
Draining people are left behind
Number five, draining people are left behind. There comes a point where you have to move on from draining people. Jesus decided He had had enough of these people who were trying to discredit Him and trap Him. Mark says that after Jesus told them “no” to their request “he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake” (NLT). Jesus did not spend a lot of time or energy on those who consistently resisted Him.
The phrase “left them” (aphiemi) describes a definite moving away or departing. It was used in some context to describe a divorce, not a bad picture of what Jesus is doing with the Pharisees. So he leaves them and goes to “the other side” to the Gentiles. That was the sign they got! Sometimes, we have to let people go.
Jesus is doing what He told His disciples to do back in Mark 6:11, “but if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate” (NLT). Even though it was a little different the principle is the same; don’t spend a lot of your time and energy on those who are not truly interested in the truth.
In your life your are going to encounter VDPs (Very Draining People). You want to be truthful and gracious with them, but there are going to be times when you will simply have to move on.
But what we don’t want to be is a VDP for Jesus. We want to be teachable, humble, available, and willing to learn and go and do whatever He would have us to do.
[i] Footnote: Since Mark was writing primarily for Gentile readers, he did not include our Lord’s words concerning the sing of the Prophet Jonah (Matt. 16:4; see also Matt. 12:38-41). What is the sign of Jonah? It’s the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The proof that Jesus is what He claimed to be is the fact of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-26).
[ii] God would give a “sign” from heaven when Jesus was crucified. According to Mark 15, “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock” (v.33, NLT). This “sign from heaven” would be followed by a sing on earth when He gave up His spirit, Mark records that “the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38, NLT).