August 21, 2016
One of the doctrines which we as evangelical believers hold closely is the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy. What that means is we believe the Bible, as originally written in Hebrew and Greek, was inspired by God in such a way that every word is without error and therefore true, faithful and trustworthy. Most of us know that truth expressed in II Timothy 3, “All Scripture is inspired or breathed out by God.” Now, it is true God did not erase the personalities of the authors. What I mean is you can tell the differing writing styles, even personalities, of different biblical authors. For example, I’ve talked a lot about what Mark wrote, how he wrote it, why he wrote. You see, in most cases, God did not verbally dictate what would be written. But by His Spirit, He superintended what would be written such that every word is exactly what He wanted, and therefore trustworthy – to be believed, and obeyed. In fact, our Alliance Bible Fellowship doctrinal statement says it like this in its very first statement:
Concerning the Word of God – “We believe the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. [Further] We believe God has faithfully preserved His Word such that it is fully reliable and trustworthy today.”
Now students, you will be told, in some classrooms and in some churches and in some conversations with other believers that inerrancy is not that big a deal. After all, the Bible was written by fallible men, and therefore contains error. And, it is now our responsibility to determine what is fallible, and what is not. What is truth, and what is error. Of course, then, we become judges of, the authority over the Word of God, self-determining what we will believe and what we will dismiss. Then, the logical questions become, who determines what is right and what is wrong? What is trustworthy, and what is not? Who becomes the authority over the Bible? And what happens when I disagree with you, and you disagree with me? Who’s right? And we’re left in a muddled, uncertain mess. And I believe the whole house of cards eventually comes tumbling down.
Exactly. This is the unintentional, and frankly, sometimes, intentional result of questioning the complete veracity – that is, the truthfulness – of the Word of God – all of it. Why do I bring this up today, besides the fact that we find ourselves in deteriorating biblical confidence? Because, the text before us today has come under much attack – not so much for the miracle it records, although that is also questioned, explained away or altogether dismissed – but because of the way the story is told. Go ahead and turn to Mark chapter 8 in our continuing study of this gospel. Let’s read the first ten verses of this strangely familiar story. Read.
And some of you think, yeah, I remember this story – I’ve heard it before – but, wasn’t it five loaves and two fish? And others of you who’ve been with us think, wait a minute, this is familiar – we just heard this same story a couple of chapters ago – Mark 6 – the feeding of the 5,000. Hmm. And it can’t possibly be that Jesus does the same thing again, right? So, Mark must of made a mistake – he recorded the same story again, but he mixed up the numbers. Which is what some suggest. After all, consider the similarities between the two stories:
- In both stories, told two chapters apart, there’s this large crowd of hungry people.
- In both stories, they had nothing to eat.
- And in both stories, Jesus had compassion on them.
- And in both stories, somebody’s concerned that if they leave without eating, they won’t make it home.
- And in both stories, Jesus has the people recline on the ground.
- And in both stories, Jesus takes some bread and fish, thanks God for them, breaks them up, gives them to the disciples who distribute the food, the people eat until they’re all satisfied, and then a bunch of baskets of leftovers are collected.
It must be the same the same story. Besides, if the disciples had just seen Jesus feed a large crowd a couple of chapters ago, would they ask, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” No, after all, they’re such a bright group. Oh, to be sure, there are some differences between the two stories:
- In the first one, they’re up on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee – and in this one, they’re on the southeastern shore.
- And in the first one, He’s feeding Jews, and the second one, He’s feeding Gentiles.
- Sure, the menu is the same, but in the first one, there are five loaves of bread and two fish; but in this one, there are seven loaves and few fish.
- And in the first one there are 5000 men alone who are fed – besides women and children – probably 15,000 plus; and in this one, there are 4000 fed, Matthew says, besides women and children, so 12,000 plus.
- And in the first one, there are twelve baskets of leftovers, and in the second one, there are seven baskets.
- And in the first one, Jesus sends His disciples away in the boat, in the second one, He goes with them in the boat.
But still, Mark must have made a mistake, and accidentally recorded the same story twice. You know how it is with the telephone game – you whisper something into someone’s ear, who whispers into the next person’s ear, and so on – by the time you get to the end of the line – the story gets mixed up – five loaves become seven loaves, after all – five loaves plus two fish equals seven – and 5000 becomes 4000. It’s the same story – Mark just made a mistake – it’s just a little mistake we have in the Word of God – but it is an error nonetheless.
Oh, but then we have this little conversation between Jesus and His disciples that we’ll look at next week. He tells the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and the disciples mistakenly think – bright group that they are – Jesus is talking about not eating their bread. So Jesus says this in verses 18ff, “‘Don’t you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets you picked up?’ They said, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full did you pick up?’ And they said, ‘Seven.’”
So, if Mark was confused, so was Jesus. If Mark made a mistake, so did Jesus. Jesus thought there were two stories. So what we have is one of the following, 1) Mark and Jesus were both confused and mistaken about how many feeding stories there were. Which reveals a bigger problem, because not only is the Word of God wrong, so is the Son of God. Or, 2) Mark was confused and made up a conversation between Jesus and the Twelve – so not only was he mistaken, he intentionally fabricated. Or, 3) There were two feeding miracles – one outside of Bethsaida up north and another down south in Decapolis.
And since we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and we believe Jesus was the perfect Son of God, we believe there were two big buffets. So the question we really have to ask is not whether there is a mistake in the Word of God – we start from the very reasonable presupposition that there is not – but why is this story here? Remember, without erasing the personality of the author, why does Mark, and Matthew for that matter, record the these two stories so closely together? What was his purpose – what was the ultimate Author’s purpose? To make us scratch our heads? To cause us to be bored with two very similar stories? Or is there something else?
This is where context – the context of Mark’s story within his larger narrative is important, once again. By the way, there are other clues in the stories which make clear they were not, in fact, could not be the same story. For example, when Jesus recounts the two stories, He notes the differences in the number of people fed. He notes the differences in the number of loaves and fish used. He notes the difference in the number of baskets of leftovers collected. Why, He even notes the difference in the baskets used to collect the leftovers. Did you notice when Jesus spoke to the disciples recounting the two stories, in verse 19, He spoke of baskets being used, but in verse 20 He spoke of large baskets? That’s because there are two different words for baskets used here – and the second speaks of large baskets. We’ll talk about that more in a minute. The point is this – these are clearly and obviously two different stories. Don’t be sucked into believing it’s a so-called doublet – that Mark mistakenly or even purposely uses the same story twice, creating something that never happened. That it’s errant. That is not true. Your Bible is fully true, trustworthy and reliable.
Why am I making such a big deal about this today? Because at the end of the discussion of inerrancy, the very truthfulness of the Word of God is at stake, and the very foundation of Christianity weighs in the balance. People opposed to the Christian faith know this – so if they can shake your trust in the Bible, they know they’ve won. They know you will abandon the faith. Even if their arguments are not true.
So let’s briefly make our way through the story since they are quite similar, then ask and answer the question, why is it here? Let’s follow this brief outline:
- The Setting for the Miracle (1-5)
- The Story of the Miracle (6-10)
- The Purpose for the Miracle as we answer the question, why?
Let’s look at the setting – and by that, I mean, let’s remember the context of this section of Mark, where they are geographically, and the events leading to a large crowd of hungry people. So we’ll examine those three contextual settings.
First, let’s remember the context of this section of Mark began back in the last chapter. After Mark’s summary of Jesus healing ministry at the end of chapter 6, at the beginning of chapter 7, a delegation of scribes and Pharisees came to Galilee from Jerusalem. They were there to confront and discredit this would-be rabbi named Jesus. [always been those seeking to discredit Jesus] Upon arriving, the first thing they notice is Jesus’ disciples did not observe the tradition of the elders – namely, they did not wash their hands before they ate. We found this didn’t really have anything to do with personal hygiene – rather, this was a ceremonial, ritualistic washing to cleanse them from defilement – especially from Gentiles.
So, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them about true defilement – that it doesn’t come from outside – that you don’t get defiled by eating unclean food. Why, He said, don’t you know that what you eat goes into your stomach and then is eliminated? And you don’t get defiled by touching Gentiles, either. No, true defilement comes from the inside – from the heart – because out of the heart comes sinful actions – and Jesus gave a list.
But here’s the point – the Pharisees thought they were being holy by these external actions – and Jesus was teaching holiness is an internal issue – a matter of the heart. Nothing to do with out here. So then, He leaves Galilee to live out what He has just taught. That context is incredibly important. He travels northwest to Tyre where He heals the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman – that is, a Gentile. Then, He travels up through Sidon, further into Gentile territory, around the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, into Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile area. That’s the geographical context of this story.
Then, there in Decapolis, last week, we saw Him heal, presumably, a Gentile man of deafness and muteness. And He did it by touching the man – He didn’t become unclean, the man became clean through this healing. And in so doing, Jesus was proving to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 35 – that God had come to provide healing for people – to include Gentiles.
Which brings us to the feeding of the 4,000. Yes, it’s basically the same miracle, but the beneficiaries of the miracle are dramatically different. They’re Gentiles. We’re supposed to notice. The coming of God in the Person of Jesus, the promise of the Gospel, is to more than Jews – it is to the ends of the earth.
Well, that brings us to the miraculous story itself. Now remember, when Matthew records this period of time in Decapolis, he gives one of his summaries of Jesus healing ministry. Remember that? While there in Decapolis, large crowds came to Him, and He healed those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others. And the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, the lame walking, the blind seeing, and they glorified the God of Israel. This healing party became a worship service.
So now, in Mark, we find this large crowd had been there in this worship service for three days – it’s like a Christian Woodstock. Notice, Mark ties the context together with the words, In those days. While Jesus is there in Decapolis, there was again a large crowd, and they had nothing to eat. Notice that word, again. You see, if you trace that back the last time we saw the words, large crowd, was at the feeding of the 5,000. Mark clearly wants us to see this as a separate event.
After this large crowd had been there for three days, they were hungry. And again, they had nothing to eat. Jesus had compassion on them – we’ve seen that word many times before, most often used of Jesus toward people. I feel compassion – He felt for them in the pit of His stomach. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – after all, some of them have come from a long distance. Then He’d have to heal them all over again. So Jesus expresses His compassion for them.
I love that about Jesus. He surely cares about our spiritual, eternal need – that’s why He came –to provide forgiveness and eternal salvation for us. But not only that, He cares about our physical needs – He heals. But not only that, He even cares about daily needs – He feeds us. Give us this day, our daily bread – the big things like salvation and health come from Him – but so do the little things, like daily bread.
Disciples, I’m concerned about these people – I feel compassion for them. The disciples look at one another and say, “Where will anyone [they’re in the presence of God who had proven able before] be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” You would think they would remember the feeding of the 5,000 a couple of chapters ago – we remember. But we also remember Mark is building a case for the dullness of the disciples – these were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. And I’m going to suggest – just like He opened the ears of the deaf man last week, and just like He’ll open the eyes of the blind man in a couple of weeks, so also, He must open our eyes and our ears, or we will never see, we will never hear. So Jesus simply asks, “How many loaves do you have?” Seven.
Which brings us to our second point, the miracle itself. The people were directed to sit on the ground. Jesus gave thanks, broke the bread, gave it to the disciples, and kept on giving it to the disciples, who gave it to the crowds, until they were all filled – they ate till they were satisfied. He also did the same thing with the fish. This is becoming ho-hum by now. He had multiplied bread and fish to feed thousands of Jews – now He does the same thing to feed thousands of Gentiles. They picked up the leftovers, and there were 7 baskets.
You say, wait a minute. Last time, there were 12 baskets – which spoke of Jesus’ provision for the 12 disciples – remember that? You feed them, you serve, you don’t worry about your own needs – you just serve, and I’ll take care of you. But why only 7 baskets this time? Didn’t He like the Gentiles as much? Was He mad at the disciples? Did He make a miscalculation – did they eat more than He thought they would, because they hadn’t eaten for three days? I don’t think so.
There are two words for basket in the Greek – don’t you love that – there are two Greek words for everything. Which is one reason God chose for the New Testament to be written in Greek – because it’s a wonderful language. The word in chapter 6 speaks of a small, lunch basket. The word used here is different – it speaks of a large basket, more like a hamper, used for carrying things on a journey, like a large duffel bag. It wasn’t normally used for food. The same word is used in Acts 9 where Paul was lowered from a window in Damascus in a large basket, same word. The point is, there was lots of leftover food. Even though the number fed was 4,000 – Matthew tells us, 4,000 men besides women and children. The Decapolis National Park Service estimated the crowd gathered at 12-16,000.
Now, there’s something else I don’t want us to miss here. Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people from 7 loaves and a few fish. He could just as easily have fed them right where they were – I mean, He didn’t need the disciples to be waiters. He fed the Israelites in the wilderness with no help – He made manna rain down from heaven – the people just had to pick it up. Here, He could have multiplied the food – it could’ve just showed up in their pockets. He could have turned the stones all over the ground into bread. But He didn’t – why?
I would suggest He was teaching the disciples. Who were these people the Jewish disciples were serving? Gentiles. Unclean Gentiles. They were learning about compassion. But not only compassion. They no doubt had to touch the crowds as they distributed the food. And when they collected the leftovers, those filthy Gentiles had their germs all over the food. You see, Pharisees would never have touched the leftovers, let alone eaten them.
You see, it’s not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, it’s what proceeds out of the mouth that defiles him. This was another object lesson for the disciples and us. Food doesn’t defile – unclean Gentiles do not defile. It’s what comes out. God’s people – truly pure people go beyond physically clean hands – they have pure hearts. Not only that, purity has nothing to do with ethnicity, it goes beyond one nation – it’s for everyone who believes.
You see, that brings to our third point and our conclusion – the purpose of the miracle – that is, why is it here when it’s so similar to chapter 6? Let me suggest a few ideas:
First, and I’ve already mentioned it, but Jesus took His ministry and kingdom beyond the barriers of race and culture. He took His kingdom and His gospel to Gentiles. And the result was they glorified the God of Israel. We participate in worldwide missions, in extending the Gospel beyond race and culture, so all people will glorify the God of Israel. Because the Lamb of God has purchased with His blood people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. They will gather around His throne and worship – and they will, with us, glorify God.
A second thing I believe we’re supposed to see, in both feeding miracles is the language of the meal to come, which we all now participate in together. There can be no overlooking the language of this meal, and the one Mark records in chapter 14. Then, too, Jesus will take bread, give thanks for it, break it, and give it to His disciples. These feeding miracles were not communion meals – but they did prefigure the communion meal we would all enjoy as followers of Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus is the bread of life. After the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6 – He tells them that. I am the bread of life. Eat my flesh, drink my blood. Participate in broken body and shed blood for the forgiveness of sins.
In fact, it’s interesting to note in this story, in verse 6, when Jesus gives thanks – the word is eucharisteo, from which we get our word Eucharist. It’s the same word Mark uses in chapter 14 when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper – in which all believers partake.
Third, beyond the Communion meal, this great feast prefigures the great Messianic feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb, prophesied in Isaiah 25:
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.
This has always been viewed as Messianic prophecy, that is, what the Messiah would do when He came. And Jesus did it. And the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy is found in Revelation 19:
7 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”
8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
9 Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”
Do you see how important it is that two miraculous feeding stories are recorded? Because salvation now is for all who believe. Communion now is for all who believe. And the great Messianic feast to come is for all who believe and participate in the bread of life.