“Jesus – Powerful Provider”
This morning we enter a couple of very familiar stories. In fact, the feeding of the multitude is included in all of the four Gospels in the New Testament. It is so familiar that I really did not anticipate some of the nuggets to be mined in the text. This is probably because it has often been misunderstood and applied as a lesson on “sharing” in children’s material – referring to somebody providing the bread and fish. I can assure you that this is not what is being communicated in this story. Let’s look at it together. We are in Mark 6.
If you recall from last week, Karl mentioned that within his text there is sort of a parenthetical section that dealt with the death of John the Baptist. In verse 7 of chapter 6, Mark records that Jesus sent out twelve on a mission. Immediately following a brief description of their trip, Mark then talks about King Herod, John the Baptist and the party feast that he had.
When the narrative picks up in our passage, we see a very different feast. Herod put on a party on his birthday in order to bolster his position and invited the nobles, military commanders and leading men of Galilee. His party was for himself. Jesus will have a feast in order to minister to others and is focused on them. Let’s read the text.
Our first point is Appetite Satisfied. Let’s pick up the text in verse 30. The disciples have returned from their mission that was begun in verses 7-13. They relay to Jesus all the details of what they had done and taught. Jesus knows the toll of ministry and the need for rest and refreshment. Ironically, ministry is both exhilarating and exhausting! You can almost visualize the scene. In verses 12 and 13, they were involved in declaring the gospel of repentance. And amidst their preaching, they were also casting out demons and seeing many people healed. You can see them filled with wonder, running up to Jesus telling him excitedly – perhaps out of breath and quite exhausted.
Jesus says to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” He sees the condition of the disciples and the need to get alone and rest and eat. And the text continues and indicates the reason. FOR many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. We were created with a need for rest and food. Why would God create us this way? Wouldn’t you think that if, instead of instituting a Sabbath rest, he should have just given us the ability to work longer and harder? We were created with a built-in dependence on God. God does not expect us to work harder at the expense of rest and the cultivation of our relationship with him.
Many already are in the practice of thanking God for our meals because we know that we are dependent on his provision for our sustenance. And I believe that I’ve said this before. Every time we go to bed, we are reminded that we need sleep and that we are created to be dependent. And this keeps us humble. At least it should.
So the people keep coming and yet Jesus tells them to come away with him and rest. A life of discipleship is characterized by being “with” Jesus. One commentator notes, “the gathering of the disciples to Jesus means that in the midst of business and busyness they are accountable to him alone. And the greater the demands on them, the greater their need to be alone with Jesus.”
Verse 32 indicates that they got into a boat in order to go to this desolate place. In their attempt to attain this privacy, many people saw them going, recognized them and ran ahead of them and got there ahead of the boat! What do you do with that one? Can you imagine? You’ve been ministering all over Galilee, preaching and healing and walking and you come to Jesus exhausted. He then encourages you to take a break and rest and eat. You plop yourself down in the boat to go somewhere to recharge the batteries a while. You just want to disappear for a time. And the people follow you. Not just one or two, but many, from all the towns. What is your response? Anger? Frustration? Exasperation? Or compassion?
It says in verse 34, that when Jesus went ashore and saw the great crowd, he did not express anger or exasperation, but compassion! As we move deeper into this section, there are some questions that may remain unanswered – at least in my mind. So I want you to talk about some of these things in your Growth Groups tonight. Then you can answer them for me! Before we get into the details, here are some of the questions you need to ask. First, we know from here and elsewhere that we are commanded to rest from our labor. We are to work, then rest. The same is true in ministry. If we do not, we will burn out. Jesus even confirmed this in the command to come away to rest. In this passage, one of several things happened. Maybe they experienced the desolate place on the boat after they departed. Did Jesus abandon this opportunity for his disciples? Or did he minister for a while alone? Do you see it here? Our familiarity with the story recalls the disciples in action.
Let’s press on. Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd. This brings with it a wealth of Old Testament background. Numbers 27:17 says, “who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” 1 Kings 22:17 “And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’ ” And 2 Chronicles 18.16 says the same thing almost verbatim. As we know from John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. In Ezekiel, a shepherd is promised for his people. Ezekiel 34:23 “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” David is used metaphorically here because the time when Ezekiel wrote was well after the reign of David. As we continue here, think also of Psalm 23 – particularly the first 3 verses. Psalm 23:1–3 “1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
What does Jesus do for these people on whom he has compassion? He teaches them. His compassion drives him to teach. Why? Recall where the people were spiritually. They were under Roman governance and under the spiritual leadership of the Pharisees and the scribes. Ray Ortlund says this, “Jesus, in his care as shepherd, felt deeply for the human needs he saw around him. Their only spiritual guides were Pharisees. Their only food was man-made tradition. What did he do about it? “He began to teach them.” And not just a handy tip or two but “many things” that made a difference for both time and eternity.” These folks were starving for truth. They were craving solid teaching. Up to this point, we recall that largely the crowds were there for the show – the miracles and healings. It seems as though it is different here because they hung out all day listening to the words of the Good Shepherd.
Do you recall the first time you heard the truth about Jesus? Before trusting in Christ, we were all lost sheep without a Shepherd. Do you remember hanging on the words and how they pierced your heart? I couldn’t help but think that Jesus looks on the lost today in the same way. They are sheep without a shepherd. Remember what just happened. The previous verse says that they were recognized. The multitudes knew something, but not everything about Jesus and his disciples. They were curious and wanted to know more. Maybe something similar brought you here today. Perhaps you know something about spiritual things or God and you came here to hear from him. You came to hear truth. John 10 tells us that his sheep hear his voice. If you hear his voice, follow the Shepherd today. Jesus sees his people and he teaches them spiritual truth. “The Lord is my shepherd... He restores my… soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness.”
They were there most of the day listening to his teaching. Then the hour became late. The disciples then inform Jesus of this because apparently he is unaware. “This is a desolate place and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Now here are my questions: Were they genuinely concerned over the well-being of the masses? Or were they still trying to get their down time? Or did they already get this time? Because it would appear that to this point they really haven’t been asked to do anything. Jesus was teaching. More discussion for your group tonight. And did this come across to Jesus as a command from the disciples? Or maybe they had his best interest in mind.
In any event, Jesus says “you do something about it. Get them something to eat.” So, they are in the middle of the desert and I can just imagine the disciples looking at each other, look around the wasteland (seeing no McDonald’s around) and saying, “umm. How are we supposed to do that? Do you see all these people? Where are we going to find a grocery store and 200 days wages to pay for it if we had it?” Jesus says, “what do you have?”
There is a great nugget of application here. Let me introduce it. We already know that though the disciples at times had a clue as to who Jesus is, they don’t have full understanding yet. In this simple interchange, the disciples focus on what they lack. Jesus focuses on what they possess. Are we susceptible to this as well? This takes many forms. Jealousy and envy often find their source or fuel from focusing on what is lacked. Depression… Would it be fair to say, that for the believer in Jesus Christ, the person suffering from depression is focused on what they lack – whether it be money, possessions, relationships. I’m not saying this is always the case because I am not a medical doctor. But how often do we contemplate the blessings we have in Christ. In such times do we focus on eternal salvation with almighty God and the joys of being in relationship with him? And then to consider the grace upon grace as we walk daily with him. Or do we focus on what we do not have?
How about a task such as the one the disciples face here. Do we often view the salvation of a family member or coworker as impossible? Or even just living out your faith in the workplace? What about carrying out the many responsibilities in ministry? Raising a godly family? Being a godly homemaker? Or salesman? There a tricky one… Do we focus on our inability or God’s ability? Once again the disciples must have forgotten in whose presence they stood. As do we quite often. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not… want.”
Regardless of their understanding, they obey. They at least maintained an element of faith. They track down a very small lunch and then get them in more manageable groups. Do you see more Old Testament allusions here? Green grass? Why is this even mentioned? Why would Mark point to the fact that there is green grass in the desert? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down... in green pastures.”
Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, said a blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to distribute. Sounds a lot like the institution of the Lords’ Supper here. Later when Jesus is with the disciples for the final supper, Mark records these words in 14.22, “And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” This sounds similar.
Look at the result. When the Divine is involved in the needs of men, there is a miracle. Jesus feeds five thousand men. The total would be significantly more including the women and children. At the end of the day, they could take home leftovers. All ate and were satisfied. This would have made for a quite fulfilling day. The multitudes sat at the feet of Jesus drinking in spiritual nourishment that they had desperately lacked under their spiritual leadership. They heard from the Son of God himself and then had the opportunity to commune with him with a meal. And they were satisfied.
Today we miss something in this event. One commentator uses these words, “In multiplying the loaves and fish God did in one moment of time what he does every day with the corn in the fields and the fish in the sea. To us, it is a miracle; to him, it is natural." Appetite Satisfied.
Our second point in the next section is Apparition on the Sea. The next section begins with this curious statement that Jesus compels or forces his disciples to leave while he dismisses the crowd. It could be that he wanted to protect them from further attention and allow them to rest. But he sends them on their way to Bethsaida which is almost directly north of the Sea of Galilee and slightly east. Jesus dismisses the crowd and himself retreats on the mountain to pray. Apparently, Jesus also prioritized this activity as these instances are recorded elsewhere.
Jesus went from being surrounded by thousands of people and a dozen disciples to being completely alone at this point. The boat was on the sea, it was evening, and he was alone on the mountain praying to God the Father. He must have been there for some time because the next indicator we have to the time is the “fourth watch of the night” – which would have been somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 am. I found it quite humorous that one commentator notes at this point that “whenever the disciples are separated from Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, they fall into distress.” And so it is here.
Jesus is able to see out on the sea and notice that the disciples are not doing so well. In fact, if they had been there for a significant amount of time and not reached their destination, they were having much difficulty. The text says that they were making headway painfully. The word means “torture” or “torment.” I’ve had some challenges rowing a boat before but nothing I would consider torture. The disciples are battling the headwind and Jesus’ prayer is interrupted by their difficult circumstances. And what does Jesus do? He acts out of compassion once again. “He came to them” the text indicates. But he didn’t use the means of the day. Jesus walks to them on the sea!
And Mark records “He meant to pass by them.” But he was caught?? I thought Mark just said that he was coming to them on the sea. And he meant to miss?? Hardly. If we allow our understanding of the Old Testament to continue to inform the meaning of this text, there is something here that is powerful! Haven’t we heard the words “pass by” before in Scripture? Exodus 33:18–22 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”
Also on the mountain, Moses experienced God’s special presence when he rewrote the ten commandments on the tablets. Exodus 34 says that the Lord passed before him. And the Lord also came to Elijah in 1 Kings 19.11 “11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.”
Jesus was quite intentional in demonstrating who he is. He meant to “pass by” them and display his glory. The first way he does so is to demonstrate his authority and command over nature. He walks on water! Job records “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea?... Behold he passes by me, and I see him not.” And the disciples missed it as well. They did not have faith, but only fear. They thought they were seeing a ghost. They had just witnessed a tremendous miracle from Jesus and they again forgot. They saw him and were terrified. And Jesus, in his grace and compassion, immediately says to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
To “take heart” is to be courageous, to be firm or resolute in the face of danger or adverse circumstances. He adds, “It is I.” Or better yet, “I am.” ἐγώ εἰμι· Jesus uses these words elsewhere. In John 8, Jesus is being harassed by the Jews. They accuse him of having a demon and ask if he is greater than Abraham. In fact, he responds to his opponents by saying, “truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” And they responded by pick up stones with which to strike him because they knew that this was a claim to be God.” When Jesus was being handed over to death in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was approached by a band of soldiers. Jesus asks, “whom do you seek?” To which they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus responds with ἐγώ εἰμι I am and the fell to the ground.
This identification was first introduced in the times of Moses. Do you remember when God called Moses to free his people from Egyptian slavery? Moses asks God that when he goes to the people of Israel, who should he say sent him. What is his name? What was the response? “I am who I am.”
Jesus not only walks in God’s stead by walking on water, he also takes his name here. Isn’t this brief exchange powerful?? Listen to these words: “But when Jesus “passes by” the disciples on the lake he does something differently from the revelation of God in the Old Testament: he intends to make the mysterious and enigmatic God of Job visible and palpable as it had not been and could not have been to former generations. The God of Israel, majestic and awesome but unknowable face to face, is now “passing by” believers in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ walking on the water to his disciples is a revelation of the glory that he shares with the Father and the compassion that he extends to his followers. It is a divine epiphany in answer to their earlier bafflement when he calmed the storm, “ ‘Who is this?’ ” (4:41). In this respect Mark’s Christology is no less sublime than is John’s, although John has Jesus declaring that he is the Son of God (John 10:36), whereas Mark has him showing that he is the Son of God. In Mark one must, like the disciples, be in the boat with Jesus and enter into the drama in order to behold who Jesus is. The one who calmed the storm is the one who now appears in the storm, the “I Am” of God.”
How often do live in fear because we do not take Jesus seriously? The “storms of life” keep coming. And yet forget the great “I am” in the midst of them. Jesus did not immediately still the storm, but came to them in the midst of it. And he said to them, “Take heart. Be courageous. You know who I am. You know me. Don’t be afraid. I am right here with you.” And he says the same thing to you, O child of God. “It’s not going to be easy. There will be storms. Take heart. I am.”
He got in the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They battled the wind all night. But Jesus simply enters the boat and all is calm. He has complete authority over nature. The disciples were utterly astounded. This has the force of being completely overwhelmed. This tells me that somehow they either missed or forgot what had just happened in the desert. They just witnessed the feeding of thousands with a small lunch. Or did they? Verse 52 indicates they did not understand, but their hearts were hardened. Wow! That is quite the indictment.
When Jesus asked the disciples what food was available and when they distributed the food after Jesus blessed it, did they miss it? How did they not understand about the loaves? Could it be that they were so focused on the task or the details that they missed the miracle? Perhaps this is how it happened. The disciples perhaps were so wrapped up in the duty of distribution, they didn’t recognize what happened. This could have relevance for us today. Do we think about the miracle of somebody embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ when we share it with them? Do we understand that this event has eternal ramifications? Do we grasp the fact that when we extend hospitality to strangers that we entertain angels? Do we understand that when we spend time in prayer we are actually talking to the Creator? Do you get the point? I am not saying that we do these things merely out of duty, but sometimes we do not really understand the eternal significance of these things.
Or perhaps what Mark is trying to get across is that they were focused more on the miracle than the Person. If the disciples had seen in the miracles of the loaves and fish an indication of the identity of Jesus rather than a mere miracle of food, they would have recognized him when he came to them on the water for the purpose of revealing himself. Whatever is the case here, it is clear that they did not yet fully understand who Jesus was.
Our last point: Always Serving. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. Those of you paying attention would cry out, “wait a minute! I thought they were going to Bethsaida??” What are they doing here? I think that the best explanation is that the wind was so strong that night, it completely blew them off the course to Bethsaida and actually took them backwards to Gennesaret which is slightly west of where they started.
And look what happens here. Surprise, surprise. “And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was.” Here we go again. Jesus, for the third time in this brief text, shows tremendous compassion. He does not get frustrated at the amount of need and claim his rights to some privacy or a break. But he graciously and humbly allows the people to be healed of their various diseases. Jesus is powerful over the physical and spiritual realms.
For me, as I view such things as a pastor, I try to discern what is the biblical pattern for ministry? And, by the way, this really pertains to all who profess Christ and not just the “paid” or “professional” Christian. Does this text from Mark suggest that we just keep pushing harder and longer until we collapse? Or does it suggest, like it did at the outset, that we should prioritize and allow time for leisure and refreshment?
I think that once again, we ought to feel a certain tension between two extremes. I don’t think there is a clear articulation of percentage of what we allot to active ministry and passive ministry. In other words, we are to be about the mission of God, but not at the expense of our relationship with him. I think there are many who are too busy, and many who spend too much time in leisure or recreation or vacation. And I think that it takes an honest look at our hearts and our lives to discern where we serve Him faithfully. But always serve for the glory of God and exercise compassion that sees there are many who are sheep without a Shepherd. Let’s pray.