The Feeding of the Five Thousand – Mark 6:30-44
If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. If you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can turn to the Gospel according to Mark, we are going to be looking at Mark 6:30-44, this morning.
Just so you are all aware, this is the last sermon in our sermon series in Mark, until the New Year, because we are entering a season in the Church called Advent, which we are going to be focusing on for the month of December.
If you are not familiar with Advent, if you didn’t grow up celebrating this, it’s simply a time of year when we focus on the coming of Jesus into the world. It’s what the word, “advent,” means, it means, “coming.” It’s a season of waiting for and anticipating the celebration of Jesus’ birth as well as His second coming.
Starting next Sunday, we are beginning a sermon series on Advent, looking at the hope, love, joy and peace that Christ brings, as we reflect on Jesus’ first coming and as we look ahead to when Jesus will come again in glory. And our celebration of Advent will conclude with our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, which will be here at the church at 7:00 pm on Christmas Eve.
I thought I’d put a plug in for that, now. So, this is the last sermon in Mark for the next month. And it’s probably fitting that we pause here, because Mark is essentially wrapping up where we left off.
Two weeks ago, we looked at how Jesus was an offense to the people of His hometown. They didn’t want to hear a word of His message, because they thought they already knew Him, since they grew up with Jesus and knew His family and knew the kind of work that He did as a carpenter.
But what we saw was that Jesus just went elsewhere, where other people had an opportunity to respond to the good news of the kingdom of God. And Jesus sent out His disciples, who preached this same message, and they were seeing God do amazing things wherever they went.
But then, last week, we were confronted with this dreadful interruption in the narrative, that while amazing things were being done in the advancement of the kingdom of God, John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually beheaded for speaking out against the sin of Herod Antipas. And we saw what happens to the one who stands upon their conviction of the Word of God, instead of the preference of the culture.
And what these two instances remind us is that the Christian life is peaks and valleys, right? We aren’t going to be high on life all the time and we aren’t going to be in the pit of despair all the time.
We will experience high points and low points. And that’s alright, because in our text, this morning, we are going to look at three simple things that we can hold on to when we are going through the peaks and valleys of the Christian life.
I’m just going to read our passage, and then we will dive in. Mark 6, beginning in verse 30: “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ 37 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?’ 38 And he said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go and see.’ And when they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”
1. The first thing that we can hold on to when we are going through the peaks and valleys of the Christian life is Jesus’ compassion.
The disciples of Jesus return from their mission trip, and they’re excited about what they had seen and heard. Now, we don’t know how long their trip was. We don’t know if they had heard the news about John the Baptist. But they return from their trip and tell Jesus all about it.
Now, notice, what's the first thing that Jesus gets them to do? Verse 31: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Jesus knows that His disciples have just come back from a trip, where they have experienced some spiritual highs, but now they need to rest.
When I was in my second year of Bible College, I went on a mission trip to Vancouver. And we did all kinds of inner city ministry work. Every day, we had something going on, whether it was helping at a soup kitchen or doing mall ministry or just learning about the other religions in the area.
We had been going strong for two weeks. So, when we finally got back, I slept for hours. I was exhausted. But one of the most important things we did when we got back, aside from sleep, is that we all got together to debrief. Now, we had done this every evening while we were on the trip, but it was so vital that we were able to get together and discuss all the ways in which we saw God at work. We needed that time of rest, but what we needed more was rest with God.
And that’s what I picture happening here. Jesus has compassion upon His disciples. He sees that they are in need of rest after a long, hard period of ministry, so He tells them to come away by themselves to rest.
Now, there is the temptation here to think that Jesus is telling His disciples to have some “me time.” You know, doing something just for me, where I am able to do something that will replenish me and fill my cup.
I’m an introvert, which simply means that being around people is physically draining for me and that I am energized when I am alone. Being an introvert does not mean that I hate people or that I can’t be in social situations. It simply means that I get really tired if I’ve been around people all day.
As an introvert, I can understand the thrust behind “me time.” You feel like you’re running on empty and need to be replenished. I can see how Jesus calling His disciples to rest here could be misconstrued as “me time.” But I don’t think that’s what’s going on, because notice that Jesus isn’t telling His disciples to go away by themselves and rest, but to come away by themselves and rest.
You see, Jesus is inviting His disciples to come with Him and to find rest in Him. That’s a whole lot different than me finding a place to rest by myself and trying to fill my own cup so that I am better able to pour into other people’s cups. This is me finding rest in Jesus and being replenished by Jesus, not by myself.
And this shows Jesus’ compassion. He knows that His disciples won't truly rest on their own, and neither will we. We can take all the time in the world to rest, but are we truly rested? No, because we were never intended to replenish ourselves; we were always intended to be replenished by Jesus.
Listen, taking a nap and having a bath and exercising are all good things for us to do, but they are not what will ultimately replenish us, because when we are in desperate need for renewal, we aren’t going to find it from within or from anything we can create ourselves, we are going to find it from communion with God.
When we are coming down from the spiritual high to the spiritual low, what we need is not to go back up to the spiritual high, but rather, what we need is to go down to the spiritual low with Jesus. That’s what we need. We need Jesus.
And so, the disciples are resting with Jesus. That’s the first thing that Jesus does to show His compassion. But then, they get to the shore, and there's a crowd of people. Verse 44 says that there was “five thousand men,” and that’s just the men. That’s not even counting women and children. There is potentially more than ten thousand people waiting to see Jesus.
And verse 34 says that Jesus saw the great crowd of people and “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Isn’t it comforting to know that Jesus’ compassion doesn’t clock out? Jesus had just been resting with His disciples, but that doesn’t prevent Him from showing compassion. It’s not like Jesus’ office hours are from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, and that if you are outside of business hours, then you need to come back later. No, Jesus is always prepared to handle the cares of His people.
The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 5:6-7, writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
You might be here, this morning, wondering, “Does He care? Does He care about my health? Does He care about my family? Does He care about my financial situation? Does He care about my job? Does He care about my children and my grandchildren? Does He care about the things that keep me up at night?”
And here is Mark telling us that there is a characteristic that runs deep in the Person of Jesus Christ, and that is, that He has compassion.
Jesus sees your situation and my situation, and He has compassion on us. He cares for us. What is of concern to us is of concern to Him, because we are of concern to Him. That’s comforting to us when we are in the valley.
Here is a group of lost sheep, as it were. They don’t have a Shepherd to watch over them. The religious leaders, who were supposed to lead and guide them, had failed to do so. And Jesus is going, “I’ll be their Shepherd. I’ll lead them and guide them and do for them what the religious leaders won’t do.”
Jesus even goes so far as to say, in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” You don’t see the religious leaders doing that. You only see them looking out for their traditions. They aren’t the kind of leaders who would lay down their lives for anyone.
In Ezekiel 34, and you can turn there if you want, Ezekiel is a prophet who is describing the condition of Israel’s religious leaders and the people of God. And in Ezekiel 34:4-5, God tells Ezekiel to say to the religious leaders, “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.”
Ezekiel’s prophecy had come true, in Jesus’ day. Here was a crowd of people who were like a sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus is going, “I will be their Shepherd. I will bring them back to the fold.” And what's the first thing that Jesus does? It says that “He began to teach them many things.”
You see, the most compassionate thing that Jesus does is He gives them the Word of God. He doesn’t give them “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” or “8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner.” Jesus gives them the Word of God. He gives them what their souls needed, not what would tickle many ears.
And church, this is so important for us to remember. When we are going through the peaks and valleys of the Christian life, we need to be reminded of Jesus’ compassion toward us, in giving us the Word of God that will ultimately be what shapes and guides us during these times of highs and lows.
2. And so, that’s the first thing that we can hold on to when we are going through the peaks and valleys of the Christian life. The second thing is Jesus’ power.
In verse 35, we read that it was getting late. Jesus had likely been preaching for hours, and the logical conclusion for the disciples is to send the people “away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
This is how Jesus’ disciples deal with the problem: The people are hungry, the disciples don’t have food, so the people need to leave. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t deal with problems this way. Instead, Jesus turns to His disciples and says to them, in verse 37, “You give them something to eat.”
Now, I don’t think this was quite what the disciples had in mind. And they actually respond to Jesus a little sarcastically, saying, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”
Two hundred denarii would have been about 200 days’ wages for the average worker. That’s a lot of money. But in John’s account of this story, in John 6, one of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, doesn’t even think that will be enough for everyone to get even a little bit of bread to eat.
The disciples are focused on what they don’t have, but look at verse 38. Jesus says, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” The disciples are focused on what they don’t have, but Jesus is focused on what they do have.
And so, they go and found out that they have five loaves of bread and two fish. In John 6, we discover that this is some boy’s lunch. They have some boy’s lunchable—that’s what they’re working with.
But do you see what Jesus is doing? He is making the point that the disciples are completely unable, in their power, to meet the need that is before them. Jesus is making sure they realize that everything in this situation depends on Him to do what they are unable to do.
Can you imagine how much this would have frustrated the disciples who had just got back from a mission trip, where they had cast out many demons and healed many people who were sick? Can you imagine how frustrating it would have been to come down from that spiritual peak to the spiritual valley?
But what Jesus is doing is He’s getting His disciples to rely on His power. The only way this problem was going to be solved was by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus is showing us.
And so, after everyone gets into groups and sits down, look at what Jesus does, in verse 41. It says that Jesus “looked up to heaven and said a blessing.”
Jesus here is acknowledging His Father in heaven as the Source from which all food comes. That’s what we do when we pray at mealtimes. We’re not infusing the food with a special blessing; we’re simply acknowledging that God is the Source of the food we are about to eat.
Jesus is returning thanks to His Father for providing the crowd of people with this food. And then, after He had given thanks, it says that He “broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.” Jesus begins to divide it up and pass it around, and it becomes the never ending bread and fish. Verse 42 says that “they all ate and were satisfied.”
How does that happen? The numbers don’t add up. And it’s because it’s a miracle. There is no other way to explain it. There are those who try to explain away these sorts of things, saying that there must be a logical explanation for how it happened. And the answer to how it happened is Jesus.
The One who created all things out of nothing, the One who fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness for forty years, the One who kept the widow of Zarephath’s flour and oil from running out, is the same One who took five loaves of bread and two fish and multiplied it to feed more than ten thousand people.
All throughout Scripture, we see the sovereign power of Jesus Christ on display. And if the power of Jesus is able to do all of that, then He is able to handle our situation. We are completely unable, in our own power, to meet our needs, but all this does is get us to depend on Jesus for what we are simply unable to do.
3. We’ve see that we can hold on to Jesus’ compassion and Jesus’ power when we are going through the peaks and valleys of the Christian life. The third thing that we can hold on to is Jesus’ provision.
Look at verse 42, again. It says, “And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”
That word “satisfied” means “to be filled to satisfaction.” How many of us have been “filled to satisfaction?” Back in August, Helena and I went to Montana’s, where they were having a deal on for “all-you-can-eat” ribs.
And when there is a deal like that, I almost feel compelled to get more than I would normally eat, so that I can make it worth it. I’m paying this much for one rack of ribs as I would for two or three racks of ribs, so I might as well eat as many ribs as I can.
And so, we order our meals and the guy brings our order to us, and immediately, I tell him to start cooking another rack of ribs, because this one won't take long. And this doesn’t faze him. It’s like he’s seen people like me before, and he gladly wants to see me go at it. So, he goes and puts in the order.
Well, by the time I’m finished my first rack of ribs and the baked beans and whatever else was on my plate, I’m getting a pretty full. And the guy comes over with my second rack of ribs, and he puts it in front of me, and he says to me, “Would you like me to start on another rack of ribs for you?”
Well, now, he’s practically begging me to continue, but I tell him that I will finish this second rack of ribs and see how things go from there. But as I'm eating, I’m getting so full that I'm beginning to feel unwell. And a little while later, he comes over and asks me again if I want another rack of ribs, and I tell him that I just can’t do another one. I could barely handle the rack that I was currently finishing.
And so, we finish up, and I concede to the “all-you-can-eat” ribs. Apparently, I wasn’t able to eat what I thought I was able to eat. But the problem for me was on the way home. My internal organs felt like they were shutting down. I was in pain. I was whimpering. Helena was wondering if I was going to survive this. And it’s all because I had more than my fill of ribs. I had gorged on meat.
Now, to get back to our text, Mark is using the word that means, “to be satisfied,” to show us that the people had their fill. They ate to the point where they were comfortably full, which was about one rack of ribs ago, and they were satisfied.
Matthew records Jesus using this word in the well-known Beatitudes. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
It’s the provision of Jesus. They start off with five loaves of bread and two fish, but what do they end up with once everyone has had their fill? Twelve baskets full of bread and fish. Jesus had multiplied this boy’s lunchable to the point where they had leftovers. What we’re seeing is a Saviour who generously provides for His people.
We see this most clearly in the cross. You see, God would create a good world and a lush Garden in this good world, for His Creation to dwell in and to enjoy. But mankind would undermine God’s provision, desiring more than what God had generously provided for them, and this brings the problem of sin into the world.
But in the greatest expression of His provision, God provides a solution to mankind’s problem of sin, by sending His one and only into the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.
Romans 8:32 says that this God, who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, if God would make the ultimate provision for us in this way, “how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
We’re talking about a God who, according to James 1:5, generously gives wisdom to any who ask Him for it. We’re talking about a God from whom every good and perfect gift comes, James 1:17 says. We’re talking about a God who loved us so much that He made a way for us to be called children of God, and so we are, according 1 John 3:1. This is the provision of Jesus.
Our natural tendency is still to undermine God’s provision, desiring more than what God has generously provided for us, such as, over-indulging on “all-you-can-eat” ribs. But God has given us more than we deserve, by providing us with His perfect Son, so that we can know what it means to be satisfied.
You see, we are just as needy for the Good Shepherd of the sheep, as the crowd of people in our text. We are hungry and thirsty for that which will ultimately satisfy us, but everything the world offers only leaves us feeling bloated and sick.
And the good news is that we can know the compassion and power and provision of Jesus Christ, today. If Jesus is not your Lord, you have the opportunity, today, to confess His Lordship and find that satisfaction in Jesus.
And if you are here this morning, and Jesus is your Lord, whether you are on a spiritual peak or in a spiritual valley, the good news is that we can grab hold of the One who has compassion on us, who has the power that we don’t, and who has provided the means for us to live forever with Him in glory.
The Jesus who multiplied the bread and the fish to feed a multitude is the Jesus who gives us everything we need, so that we can be truly satisfied. May we be found in Him, today. Let’s pray…