July 10, 2016
Before us this morning lies one of the most familiar stories in the Bible – the feeding of the five thousand. It’s a story we’ve heard from childhood, in just about every Sunday school we’ve ever attended. The challenge before us is to take this familiar story, and make it fresh. Perhaps even strip away what we’ve understood, and learn what it was meant to teach.
This is the only one of Jesus’ miracles told in all four gospels – it’s an important miracle, an incredible story. So unbelievable, it’s prompted some to reinterpret it. The real miracle, some say, is not taking five loaves and two fish and feeding a multitude. No, the real miracle is a little boy willing to share his lunch with the Savior, prompting the crowd to share what they had with everyone around them. Everyone was filled, twelve baskets of leftovers collected, and everyone went away satisfied with changed attitudes, feeling good about themselves and the lesson they had learned about sharing. If only Jesus would have been wearing a cardigan sweater, Mr. Rogers would have been proud.
Others actually suggest Jesus and the disciples set this up – they’d secretly stored provisions in a nearby cave, and the twelve acted as a bucket brigade, passing bread and fish to Jesus from behind – as He deceitfully fed the people. Still others, not wanting to accept the magnitude of the miracle, have said Jesus actually presided over the first Lord’s Supper here – when He blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, it’s the same language as the Lord’s Supper in Mark 14. So, that’s right, He broke the bread into small portions, much like we do, which were then given to everyone. This was just a token meal. To me, then, the incredible thing is how everyone was stuffed with a communion wafer. Isn’t that the way it is for you each month? What do you want for lunch today, honey? Oh, nothing for me, we had communion at church today – I couldn’t eat another bite. Not only that, when the twelve passed the empty baskets to collect the communion cups like we do – it’s amazing how they collected twelve baskets of leftovers. And to top it all off, it’s equally amazing, being the first Lord’s Supper and all, how Jesus changed the fish into wine!
The story before us is indeed a miracle which defies explanation. We’re so familiar, it doesn’t amaze us like it should. But it was so incredible, of all the miracles, it was told in all the gospels. It was so incredible, art in the early church often contained five loaves and two fish. The early believers were amazed at how Jesus could feed so many with so little. In a culture where we can run to McDonald’s for a quick lunch, we’re not as amazed. But in a culture where one meal a day for most was the norm, where bread was the very staple of life, this was a magnificent event. Let’s read it, in Mark 6:30-44. Our outline this morning will go like this:
- The Desire for Rest (30-32)
- The Display of Compassion (33-34)
- The Dullness of the Disciples (35-37)
- The Demonstration of Power (38-44)
I’m simply going to tell the story and weave in the events of the other gospels so we have a good understanding of what happened. And as we make our way through, we’ll look at the lessons to be learned. But I also want to make sure we understand why Mark included it here. What was his purpose? So let’s start by looking at the Desire for Rest in verses 30-32.
Jesus had sent out the twelve, and they had just returned from a prolonged period of ministry. They reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. Back in verses 12 and 13, we learned they were preaching repentance, casting out demons, and healing people. So now, having returned, they needed rest. The plan was a little retreat to recuperate. Make sure you see that, even Jesus and the twelve needed rest from ministry. You see, because of the crowds, He and His disciples were constantly ministering, constantly serving, so much, Mark tells us, they didn’t even have time to eat. It was time for a break. In His humanity, with all the teaching and healing and traveling, Jesus and the twelve were exhausted.
That’s an important point – in order to serve effectively, in order to give, you’ve got to rest every once in awhile. You’ve got to get away to receive, to be restored and retooled for the work. You can’t give what you don’t have. We find Jesus doing that over and over in the gospels – He would pour out and pour out, but there came a time when He needed rest.
So they got into a boat and traveled across the Sea of Galilee, Luke tells us, to Bethsaida. Bethsaida was located on the northeastern shore of the Sea. So, if they were around Capernaum, it was just a few miles travel by boat, a few more by foot. Now, about a mile to the south of Bethsaida were large, grassy meadows – large enough to accommodate the crowds – it fits the account we read in the gospels.
All that brings us to the Display of Compassion in verses 33-34. As Jesus and His disciples approached the shore to find a secluded, deserted place to rest, they were met, again, by the ever present crowds. You see, apparently, when Jesus and the twelve got in the boat, either the crowds overheard where they were going, or they could tell by the direction of the boat. Either way, the crowds hightailed it around the north edge of the Sea to meet the boat when it arrived to the other side.
Now, Mark keeps emphasizing this was a secluded place. Verse 31, Jesus said, let’s go to a secluded place. Verse 32, they went away to a secluded place. Verse 35, the disciples say, this is a desolate place. What’s the point? Most note that God met the Israelites in the wilderness and provided for their needs miraculously, there. Water from a rock. Manna from heaven. Now Jesus will do the same. Mark is continuing to answer the question, who is this man? He is the Son of God. In fact, John will make the connection explicit – He is the bread of life come down from heaven.
Now, Matthew’s notes the crowd followed Jesus on foot. Why would he say that – it’s not like they’d hop into a Jeep Cherokees and drive. What’s his point? They didn’t follow by boat; they didn’t follow by riding horses or chariots or donkeys or whatever other mode of transportation there was. The point? These were poor, needy people – the kind of people Jesus seemed to be drawing to Himself. We’ll find they don’t have food, and the food they do have was the lunch of a poor boy. And we’ll find many of them needed healing. This is a miserable lot of people – just the kind Jesus attracts.
You see, we’re supposed to notice the difference between this feast, and the one before it. The one before was hosted by Herod Antipas – a drunken party of who’s who of Galilean aristocracy. This one was hosted by Jesus, attended by poor people. One host was a would-be imposter king, the other was the King of kings. Herod’s was at a magnificent palace, Jesus’ was on green pastures. Herod’s was filled with sensual dancing. Jesus’ was filled with teaching. Herod’s ended in death and grief, Jesus in healing and hope.
Upon arriving, when Jesus saw the crowds, He forgot all about His needs, the needs of the disciples, and began to minister to them. Which is another good point – sometimes, even when we need rest, we sacrifice for the needs of others. He was trying to get away, but when He saw the crowds, something happened – He felt compassion. And that compassion moved Him to action. You see, when Jesus saw people, He had a knee-jerk reaction – compassion. It just happened – because He saw them for what they were, sheep without a shepherd. The only hope they had is the Shepherd. This should be our response to lost, hopeless, helpless people. Not annoyance, irritation, condemnation, but compassion, and a desire to introduce them to Jesus.
The word compassion comes from a Latin word, compassio, which means, to feel with. But the Greek word is splanchna, which refers to the intestines or the bowels. We talked about this before. To have compassion on someone is to be moved in your bowels for them. Doesn’t sound too nice, does it – when I saw you, I had a movement. But if you think about it, it makes sense. For us, the seat of emotions is the heart – we say things like, “I love you with all my what? heart.” Or, “My heart ached for you.”
But for the Jew, the seat of emotions wasn’t the heart. The heart for them was the center of their being – their mind. “As a man thinks in his what? Heart – so is he.” The heart wasn’t the seat of emotions – the bowels, the stomach, the intestines, were. So, they’d say, I love you with all my colon. And, really, you can understand that. Remember the first time you got up the nerve to call that special girl? You had butterflies in your heart? No – stomach. Sometimes you’ve been so nervous or so upset that you’ve felt sick to your what? Heart? No – sick to your stomach. We speak of a gut reaction, a gut check.
It’s the same idea. To be moved to the very center of your emotions is to be moved in your bowels. Jesus looked at these people and it made Him sick to His stomach. It was a mingling of love and grief for their condition. What moved Him, what motivated Him to be around the broken people of society – the outcasts, the sinners, the lepers, the dying, the dead, the demon-possessed – was His compassion – His love for them, and His gut-wrenching grief for their condition.
By the way, let me suggest something. Compassion is not something you can just muster up. I can’t preach this on compassion that caused Jesus to be moved beyond pity to action, and make you do anything. You can’t leave from here thinking, okay, what I need is more compassion. So today, when I go to lunch, and I look around and see the crowds, I’m going to feel compassion. It doesn’t work that way. Compassion can’t be worked from the outside in. I can’t produce it in you. You must pray for the heart of God. When Jesus saw people, He saw their lost condition, their needs, and was moved. God is the only one who can give you a heart of compassion. It must be the work of the Spirit in your life. And let me tell you something else – compassion produces passion – a passion to do something about the conditions around you. Jesus saw people, He was moved with compassion, and did something. Don’t say you have compassion for people around you unless that compassion produces a passion to do something.
For Jesus, the gospel accounts tell us He did three things:
- First, and Mark focuses on this – He taught them many things. We don’t know what, but Luke tells us He was teaching about the kingdom of God. It’s important we understand that. Jesus could heal all day long, but if they didn’t understand the truth of the kingdom – that they needed to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, then all they’d be is healthy sinners. I’ve said this before. In our caring for people, we’ve got to make sure we don’t just meet physical needs – we’ve got to meet spiritual needs. Meeting physical needs – giving them food and clothing, is a wonderful thing to do. But beyond that, we must share the claims of Christ.
I want you to understand what I’m saying. As a church, we are doing all of kinds of good things. We’re doing, not random acts of kindness, but deliberate acts of kindness for people in our community. Why? To demonstrate the love of Christ for them. Benevolence funds, ministries like Freedom Farm, Special Needs, Chosen Ministry to care for orphans, Green Street to care for hungry people. Lots of great ministries going on.
But here’s my point – will people go to heaven because they’ve learned to say no to drugs, because we had a Joy Prom, because we’ve adopted them, or we’ve fed them? No – we must go beyond that. And in doing so, we’re doing the same thing Jesus did. We’re doing acts of kindness, so that when your neighbor says, do you know what your crazy church did for me? You can say, yeah – know why? Let me tell you about the love of Jesus for you. Jesus cared for their needs, yes, and told them about the kingdom.
- Which leads to the second thing, Jesus healed them. Let that sink in, He healed them, again. He was exhausted. He had traveled to this remote area to get some rest. And when He got there, the crowds were already there. Sick, lame, deaf, blind, lepers, pressing in around Him. And He healed them.
Do you ever get tired of ministry? I do. There are times I need a break. I mean, don’t get me wrong, ministry would be great, if it wasn’t for the people. That’s what ministry is – it’s meeting the constant demands of people. It is what I’m passionate about, but, I get tired. Jesus got tired. I have a feeling if it was me getting off the boat that day, I would have said something like, “What’s wrong with you people? Can’t you see I’m on vacation? Can’t you see I need a break? Can’t you give me a little space?”
You ever get tired of serving? Jesus did – but He never seemed to lose compassion. And His compassion led Him to minister to people in need. Paul said it this way – “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God…” The word strive is agonizomai – from which we get our work, agony. The idea is, we work to the point of exhaustion, agony, for the sake of the gospel. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what Paul did. That’s what we do.
- Not only did He teach them, not only did He heal them, but thirdly, He fed them. He met their physical needs, which brings us to this incredible miracle. But we need to start with the Dullness of the Disciples in verses 35-37.
You have to get the gist of what happened here. As the disciples got off the boat, there was an enormous crowd already there. And so, Jesus began teaching, healing. At some point late in the day, the disciples came to Jesus and said, this place is desolate, and it’s getting late. John adds that Jesus looked over the crowd, and said to Philip, “Where are we gonna buy bread so all these people can eat?” Now, He asked Philip, specifically, for a couple of reasons. First, Philip was from around there – he would have known where the closest Harris Teeter was.
Second, John says, Jesus wanted to test Philip, and frankly the rest of the disciples. You see, Philip was the analyzer – he was the one who had everything figured out – he was the one who could tell you whether ministry could be done or not be done. He was the guy who ran around, abacus in hand, telling you whether this or that ministry fit into the budget, whether or not the budget could afford it – still lots of Philips in the church today.
Philip surveyed the crowd, did a quick calculation, and said, not gonna happen. Based on my calculations it would take more than two hundred denarii, that is, two hundred day’s wages to feed this many people. No way. So, the disciples say to Jesus, look, it’s getting late. The place is deserted, Philip says there are no grocery stores around here. Send them away so they can go buy themselves something to eat. Do you see that? The people had a need, and the disciples’ response was get rid of them, send them away, the need is too great. We can’t do it.
This time, Jesus looks them squarely in the eye, with steel in His own eyes and firmness in His voice, and says, “You give them something to eat.” You is in the emphatic – You do it. And they responded, but, you heard Philip – do you want us to spend 200 denarii to feed them? And Jesus shakes His head and says, you still don’t get it. This was a test, and you failed miserably.
Remember, they’d been with Jesus for awhile now. They’d seen Him heal everybody who needed healing, even that day. They’d seen Him raise the dead, calm storms, turn water into wine. To pass the test, they were supposed to say, “This is gonna be good – we don’t know what you’re gonna do Jesus, but you’ve never let us down before – what do you want us to do?”
Instead, they said, get rid of ‘em, there’s nothing we, or You, can do. Do you understand that? It’d be like standing in front of Niagara Falls and saying, “Anybody around here know where I can get a drink of water?” They were standing right in front of God, who had proven His power over and over, and when faced with a problem, they looked, not to Him, but to their own resources and said, we’re in trouble. We don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough food – this is a serious problem.
You ever done that? God has proven Himself to you over and over. You’ve seen Him prove His power to you. You’re facing a problem – and you begin to exhaust all your puny resources. And once you’ve done a quick inventory – five loaves, two fish – I’m in big trouble. And God’s just waiting, with all the power of the universe, waiting for you to turn to Him and say – I can’t do it, will you? I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do this time, God.
Jesus asks them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” I don’t think this was a gentle command. He’s frustrated – their dullness is coming through again. From the back of the group, you can hear a couple disciples start arguing – “You tell Him.” “I’m not going to tell Him, you tell Him.” “Fine,” Andrew says, “I’ll tell Him.” After searching, all they were able to find was five loaves, two fish. Almost embarrassed, with the little basket behind his back, you can see Andrew say, this is all we got.
The five loaves were actually five barley loaves, John tells us. Barley was the poor man’s grain – this would have been coarse bread. And when you think of loaves, you need to think of pita size pieces of bread, enough for a little boy’s lunch. Not only that, he had two fish. Fish back then were commonly pickled, and spread on bread like relish. Yum, like anchovies on pizza.
Anyway, when they said, “We’ve only got five loaves and two fish,” what did Jesus say? “Bring them to Me.” Don’t miss that – bring what little you have to Me. Mark tells us the people were commanded to sit down in the grass in groups of fifties and hundreds – in fact, they were told to recline in groups – reclining is what you do when you’re getting ready to eat. Notice also, fifties and hundreds – that’s how Moses divided the people. But one greater than Moses was here. So the disciples go through this massive crowd and say, recline in groups – leave some aisles so we can serve you. “What’s on the menu?” We have no idea.
They were commanded to sit on green grass. Jesus had compassion, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He, the Great Shepherd, had them lie down in green pastures.
And that’s when the cool stuff starts – point four, The Demonstration of Power. Jesus took five loaves and two fish. He looked up toward heaven and blessed the food. A common prayer before eating was, “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” And with that, He broke bread and gave it to His disciples along with the fish, who began giving it to the crowds. And they ate, and they ate, and they ate, till they were satisfied. The word in the Greek speaks of animals feeding at the trough until they were full – this was a buffet – they ate till they could eat no more.
And I just want to speculate a little here. You have to go with me a little on this. When Jesus turned the water into wine, it was good wine – the best wine. When He created this bread –you have to understand, it wasn’t there, then it was – He created it – this was good bread – much better than barley loaves – these were Stick Boy sticky buns. The fish was smoked salmon. Jesus created it, this was the best dinner they ever tasted.
How did He do it? I have no idea. He just broke the bread, and every time He broke it, there was more there – and He kept giving it to the disciples, and they kept serving it. They didn’t run out till everyone was served and satisfied. When they collected the leftovers, there were twelve baskets full. And Matthew tells us there were 5,000 men alone, besides women and children. Conservative estimates place the crowd at 15,000 people. This was an incredible miracle. Why’s it here? What does it teach us?
Jesus took the little they had, which He knew all along – remember, it was a test – and performed an unbelievable miracle. He took the little they had, blessed it, broke it, and multiplied it. And I believe He’s waiting to do the same thing in our lives. He’s wanting us to look to Him instead of our own puny resources to make it through the demands and challenges of life.
And He wants you to serve – He wants you to give away what you’ve got, and trust Him for what you need. Notice how many baskets they took up? Twelve. Why? Because there were twelve disciples. They were hungry, too. They had rowed all night, worked all day. They had just served 15,000 people dinner – that’s a serious banquet. Five loaves, two fish – they knew what they started with. Jesus just kept breaking it, multiplying it, and giving it to them to what? Give away. They had given it all away. Then, the leftovers were collected – twelve baskets. You give it away – you serve – and let me take care of you. There’s more than enough where that came from to meet your needs. Don’t worry about whether you’ll have enough to take care of yourself. I will take care of you.
Let me ask one final question before we close. Why is this here? Yes, it’s a great miracle, and recorded in all four gospels, but why does Mark record it, and why here? Remember Mark’s main point – he wants to prove Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And Jesus proves it by His amazing teaching and His amazing miracles – which He does again, here. In fact, this is the first of a pair of nature miracles. He multiplies food, and next week, He’ll walk on water. Mark is proving who Jesus is. You see, the previous story began with people asking, who is this Jesus? Some thought He was John the Baptist, others thought He was Elijah, or one of the prophets. Mark says – He’s much greater than that. He greater than Moses, He’s greater than Elijah, He’s greater than John. He’s the Son of God.
And lastly, this feast reminds us of the one to come – the messianic banquet, for which we long. Listen to the words of Isaiah 25:6-9,
6 The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.
7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken.
9 And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
In the midst of global and national turmoil, we long for Him to return and make all things right.