Our church is currently walking through the Gospel of Mark, and I had the privilege of sharing from Mark 6:30-44. What follows is a slightly edited manuscript of my sermon on that day. (listen online here)
There are many miracles recorded in all four gospel accounts but only two miracles (the resurrection and this), that are recorded in all four Gospel accounts. We see it in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6. And it’s little wonder that that’s the case; it’s certainly the grandest-scale miracle that Jesus ever performed. I know a lot of people might be tempted to say “yes, we know. Jesus feeds the 5,000 right? He heals a few sick, teaches them a little, then provides fish and bread for everyone. It’s an amazing miracle, yes, but we already know the story”. But Mark’s motivation behind writing his gospel account wasn’t to point to the miracles, but to answer the question “WHO IS THIS MAN?”. So in these few minutes we’re going to seek to answer that question. We’re going to look at three ways in this passage in which Jesus revealed his divine identity, and how every story Mark told was to dramatically direct people’s focus to Jesus.
The story picks up where the disciples had just returned to Jesus from travelling in pairs around the region proclaiming the good news; Jesus gave them the power to conquer disease, death and demons in his name, and they did that on a grand scale. Now they’ve returned. Jesus, having heard the account of all they had done and taught sees that they were weary from their journey, and encourages them to rest. Many were still coming and going, and so Jesus calls them away from the crowds. They had been ministering for a long time, and now was their time to be ministered to.
Here we come across the first of three ways in which we see Jesus putting himself on display.
1. Who is Jesus? Jesus is our Rest.
Jesus knows what is it to be tired, right? I mean, this is a guy who was on a boat, in the middle of a storm – a storm strong enough that it risks capsizing the boat and shipwrecking everyone – and where was he? Asleep. Jesus knew what it was to be tired. But rest is more than just the act of having a quick nap and feeling better until next time. Did you know that when we rest, we’re actually being like God? Since the beginning of creation God’s design has included rest; God himself rested on the 7th day after his work of creation, God instituted a calendar for the Israelites that included rest (the pattern of a Sabbath) not only as a reminder of who he was and what he had done but because in resting they’re actually doing something that is like him. Genesis 1:26 tells us that we are made in God’s image, in his likeness, and from that point we see through the broader narrative of scripture that God’s desire is for us to return to that image that was broken through the fall. David knew where he found rest, and he told us through Psalms like Psalm 23. Listen to the imagery of ‘rest’ in every line
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Sounds good, doesn’t it. And if you follow that pattern throughout scripture you eventually get to Jesus who, as God incarnate, knew the disciples need, and he desired to grant it. If there was more time, I’d love to follow that theme through scripture some more, but this is the first attribute we see about Jesus that is wonderful for us to hold on to. All of us know what it is to be tired and in the weariness and busy-ness of life, Jesus encourages us to come to him and find rest.
So, they get in the boat.
It becomes clear at this point just how effective the ministry of the apostles had been, and just how much magnetism Jesus carried for drawing a crowd. Although the exact location of the town is not known, commentators tell us that the boat sailed eastward in sight of the northern shoreline of the sea of Galilee, about 6 kilometres journey. Mark tells us that “people from all the cities” ran on foot to arrive there ahead of them. The run would have been roughly double: twelve kilometres. And the crowds got their first. They have seen demonstrations of the kingdom of God, and they run after it, so that there is a huge crowd gathered by the time Jesus and the disciples come ashore.
Upon disembarking, how would you have reacted to seeing the unwanted crowd frustrating your plans for rest?
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Can’t we just sit for a bit and have a quiet meal?”
The response of Jesus to the crowd in this moment illuminates for me what Paul meant when in Colossians 1:15 when he described Jesus as “the image of the invisible God”.
2. Who is Jesus? Jesus is our Shepherd.
Mark 6:34 – “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them,”
You can’t fake a reaction like that. Mark didn’t say “he begrudgingly acknowledged the crowd’s presence”, or that with some kind of defeatist attitude he accepted that they aren’t going away. No. He had genuine compassion on them. Matthew’s account says he welcomed them. This is a wonderful rich word which means to “take fully; to receive gladly”. Jesus saw the crowds and received them gladly.
Jesus’ first response is to teach them. Mark doesn’t tell us exactly what he taught them, although it’s thought likely to be a recounting of the sermon on the mount. He didn’t simply welcome them because he knew he could heal their sick (Mark doesn’t tell us that, but Matthew tells us he healed their sick), satisfy their hunger, and meets their bodily needs; no, he had compassion on them as those who, verse 34b tells us, were like sheep without a shepherd. This is a common attitude of Jesus, we see it in places like Matthew 9:35-38. Jesus went throughout all the villages, teaching, and had compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Here the Gospel writers make the allusion to numerous OT references of Israel’s need of a shepherd, and the promise that God would one day provide one (Ezekiel 34, in particular v23). David and his successors are often portrayed as shepherds of God’s people. It’s no accident that Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that connects Jesus back to David. People would have heard of him, or learned about him through this Gospel account, and said “hey, he’s a descendant of DAVID… you know what THAT might mean”! and now Jesus, the son (descendant) of David “feeds” his people. [side note, in Jewish literature, “feeding” of Israel is often associated with them being taught the Old Testament, hence verse 34 says he had compassion…and began teaching them].
For me, this has echoes of the covenant God made with Abraham all the way back in Genesis 17 “I will be your God, and you will be my people”. This is why Jesus says in John 14 “whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. Can you see how in everything Jesus does he reveals more of the beauty of the Father’s love for us? We haven’t even got to the miracle yet, and Jesus is already the nurturing, feeding shepherd who cares deeply for every sheep.
You know why the image of a shepherd is such a powerful one? Sheep can’t do anything. They need a shepherd to lead them to food, show them water, clean them, guide them, protect them, heck, did you know sheep can’t even turn themselves upright if they fall on their backs? Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way”. We’re all just sheep. And we’re prone to wander. Jesus sees the people, and his heart embraces them.
Once again, it would be great to follow the theme of shepherd through scripture more if time allowed; it’s a wonderful motif that works its way right through the narrative of the story of Israel – particularly with the raising up of Joshua in Numbers 27:17 through to Jesus (whose name is the same word for Joshua) who clearly sees himself as the true and better Joshua in his role as the Good Shepherd in John 10, through to the future promise of God in Revelation 22 where God himself dwells with his people. But time doesn’t allow.
Quick progress check.
So, (1) Jesus is our Rest, and (2) Jesus is our Shepherd.
Mark 6:35 “And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “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.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”
The disciples’ suggestion that Jesus dismiss the crowd so that they can go and buy food seems like a fair and considerate thing to say. BUT Jesus has already demonstrated many times that he has got what it takes to meet people’s needs, hasn’t he? Healing the sick, removing unclean spirits, calming a storm, and let’s not forget the wedding at Cana turning water into wine. BUT Jesus said to them “YOU give them something to eat”.
“What was that, Jesus?”
“Look at where we are. There’s no food here. Imagine how much it would cost. Where would we even BUY it? If we went to get it, how would we even carry it all?”
This is a good point to pause and mention that Matthew’s account tells us that there were 5,000 men, besides women and children. Scholars estimate that if there were 5,000 men, then conservatively there would have been up to that many women, and quite possibly 2 or 3 children per family, so there could have actually been up to 20,000 people in total. Jesus sees just under half of Suncorp Stadium standing around hungry, knows his disciples have no food – and little (if any) money (back in verse 8 Jesus had told them not to take any with them) – and he says “take care of them”. You see, Jesus already sent the disciples out in twos to extend his ministry; to be his hands and feet, and this is no different to him. But the disciples look at the command from the perspective of what they have to offer.
How often do we do the very same thing? How often do we look at a difficult task and think “It can’t be done. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have the resources. I don’t see how this can be done”. The disciples thought that too, but they forgot one very important thing; they were standing in the presence of Jesus; the creating, miracle-working God. In verse 38 and following, Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish given to him, and miraculously provides for this massive crowd in an act of such creation that it could only be performed by God himself. Here the verb “[he] gave” is in the Greek imperfect tense; it indicates that the action occurred in the past, but was ongoing. Jesus gave. And he gave, and he gave, and the disciples kept coming back for more.
The massive nature of this miracle reveals the greatness of Jesus over everyone else that has come before. We see other feeding miracles in scripture; In 1 Kings 17:14, Elijah declares to a woman in poverty, waiting for death “‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’ And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days”. In 2 Kings 4:42, Elisha fed 100 men with twenty loaves of barley and some fresh ears of grain. “And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD to Elisha”.
Only the provision of God himself of manna in the wilderness to the children of Israel surpasses it.
So here we find the third way in which Jesus puts himself and his deity on display:
3. Who is Jesus? Jesus is our Provider.
To create food on this scale was a massive creative miracle. We see the deity of Christ in his desire – and ability – to provide. Jehovah Jireh was the OT name used of God in these events; the Lord our Provider, and Jesus is the incarnation of this God. Further, verse 42 is not insignificant in recounting the miracle. “All ate and were satisfied”. This indicates not only that everyone had more than enough food provided for them, but that even the leftovers were vastly more than the original supply of food.
So, what do we take away from this? I want to offer 3 conclusions.
FIRST, Jesus is our Rest. Ministry is tiring. Being a parent is tiring. Being a student is tiring. Work is tiring…heck, LIFE can be tiring, right? Well Jesus understands the need for rest and rejuvenation. He tells the crowds in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Are you tired? Would you love – like the disciples – to have someone minister to you for a moment? Jesus invites you to come to him tonight. Come, sit, be encouraged by Scripture, recounting stories like this, and be refreshed by his Spirit as you meditate on this promise and encounter the One of whom David said “He restores my soul”.
SECOND, Jesus is our Shepherd. This point could also be called “don’t forget you’re a sheep”. We must remember the role of the shepherd as the one who protects, nurtures, guides, and feeds, BUT we also need to remember that we’re sheep; and if we’re not careful, we’ll wander off on our own and not know where to go, not be properly fed, or worse fall into danger. It is only through our trust and dependence on the Shepherd, in listening for his voice and obeying his call that we remain safely in the flock. Let’s remember to listen for the Shepherd’s voice.
LAST, Jesus is our Provider. I don’t know if it occurred to you in the telling of this event in all four gospels, but when the crowd had journeyed from all the surrounding cities to see Jesus, had stood or sat in the hot sun for hours listening to his teaching, were weary and hungry, and then Jesus miraculously provides a meal for them… I don’t read about anyone saying “Oh, no thanks Jesus, I’ll just take care of myself. I got this”. Nope, it says all ate and were satisfied. Jesus reveals himself as the only one who can truly, abundantly satisfy. First, with bread to fill their stomachs, but in the same chapter of John’s account of this event, we know Jesus declared of himself “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall never hunger” in John 6:25-35 (especially 35).
What was Jesus’ point? Was Jesus talking about the ultimate welfare state where in the place that he’s king, there will be free food for everyone? No. Jesus is referring to a deeper hunger; a spiritual hunger. Sure Jesus can meet our physical needs. But more than that, he alone can truly satisfy the deepest need of every human being who ever lived or will live. In calling himself the “bread of life” (John 6:35), Jesus declares that those who come to him will find in him the fullness of everything that they were ever made to desire; he is their perfect, total provision, and nothing and no-one will ever be more satisfying.
Jesus is our rest, he’s our shepherd, and he’s our provider.