Feeding the 5,000
Main Idea: Jesus is a compassionate shepherd who fulfills God’s Old Testament Promises
I. The Messiah’s Compassion (Mark 6:30–34)
II. The Disciples’ Faithless Frustration (Mark 6:35–38)
III. The Messiah’s Miraculous Provision (Mark 6:39–44)
Have you ever noticed that the hardest time to love, serve, and have compassion on other people is when you feel like they are intruding into your personal down-time? Husbands, fathers, wives and mothers. Just think about it, how often does conflict, bitterness, and self-pity flare up in your life especially between 5 and 10 PM? Yes, we love our spouse and our children. But by the end of the day, our attitudes expose the reality that love, compassion, and service are relatively easy as long as we are able to set the parameters. We often live by the motto, “Service is fine as long as nobody interrupts my personal down time.”
But, what we see throughout the Gospel of Mark and our text this morning is that Jesus constantly responds in compassion to people in need. If anyone in the history of mankind had the right to establish person boundaries and demand personal-care time, it was Jesus! Jesus is mobbed by needy crowds everywhere he goes. And whenever he gets alone with his disciples, he is generally dealing with their personal issues and misunderstandings.
So on one hand, we could spend our time identifying the numerous ways we should have compassion like Jesus. And while this would not be wasted time, it would completely miss the main point of the encounter today. Mark isn’t necessarily asking us to imitate Jesus, rather he is telling us something about Jesus.
Main Idea:Jesus is a compassionate Shepherd who fulfills God’s OT promises.
The Messiah’s Compassion (Mark 6:30–34)
The Disciples’ Faithless Frustration (Mark 6:35–37)
The Messiah’s Miraculous Provision (Mark 6:38–44)
The Messiah’s Compassion (Mark 6:30–34)
For his disciples
Now Mark doesn’t tell us how long the disciples have been traveling around Galilee but their ministry must have had significant impact because the crowds have followed the disciples back to Jesus. The scene is so chaotic that they are unable to fully debrief their journeys, in fact, they cannot even find time to sit down and eat. Yet, it is in this moment we see Jesus compassion for his disciples before we see his compassion on the crowds.
Jesus isn’t driven to sustain his ever-expanding crowd, he is determined to support his 12 chosen men. He knows that his disciples need time with him so that they can process and recover from their first missionary journey. Yet, as they get into the boat to find a desolate place to be alone, they could not escape the crowds!
Mark 6:33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
I’m rather sure that most mothers can relate this scene far better than fathers. Especially mothers of babies and toddlers. You love your children with all of your heart, but their constant neediness and persistent obliviousness to your need for personal space is beyond exhausting. You wonder if it will ever end as you wish for just 30 minutes of solitude a day.
Now, imagine your husband saved up to send you to a weekend spa get-away all by yourself while he watches the kids. You’ve been anticipating this weekend for over two months. But, the night before your trip your husband comes down with a horrible case of the flu forcing you to postpone your trip. How are you going to feel? Angry? Cheated? Bitter? Or compassionate?
Mark 6:34 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.
For the crowds
Let’s slow down for a minute to unpack this word “compassion” because compassion is so much more than sadness or empathy. The Greek root word behind the verb “compassion,” (splangnizesthai), actually refers to human entrails, organs, or in modern English our “guts.” Therefore, in Koine Greek “compassion” is more than sad thoughts, it’s deep seated sympathy. It’s the kind of feeling you actually feel deep in the pit of your stomach when you visit a close friend in the hospital after a car serious wreck or medical procedure. And when this happens you cannot just sit on the sidelines, you are driven to help.
In fact, throughout the entire NT, this word for compassion is only used in reference to Jesusand when Jesus is broken by the needs of his people nothing in heaven or earth can restrain him from acting. Jesus sees and feels the crowds needs so deeply, so passionately that he embraces them instead of sending them away.
Finally, notice here that Jesus is not driven by their need for healing or even demonic deliverance, he is driven by their need for a shepherd… But, what does this really mean?
For modern Christians, we probably envision pictures of Jesus helping weak and helpless sheep, like the pictures we saw in Sunday School growing up. But, in its OT context, the term shepherd was a metaphor for Israel’s leaders; godly leaders that walk in the faithfulness of Moses (Isa 63:11). Listen to Moses’ request shortly before his death:
Numbers 27:16–18 Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 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 Lordmay not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” 18 So the Lordsaid to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.
Psalm 78:70–72 He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; 71from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. 72With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.
See, Jesus’ insight that the people of Israel are “like sheep without a shepherd” is, in fact, an indictment on the present leadership of Israel. Leadership who are neglecting and exploiting the sheep rather than caring for them, just like the faithless leaders before them.
Jeremiah 10:21 For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.
Ezekiel 34:5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered.
But, notice that, Jesus’ compassion overflows first in teaching and instruction because the religious leaders are utterly failing at their task. The shepherds are not feeding the sheep, they are feeding on the sheep. They are not caring for the sheep they are caring for themselves. Which ultimately means that the shepherds and people alike are destined for God’s wrath unless someone intervenes. And God promised Israel that he would do just that!
Ezekiel 34:11 For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.
Ezekiel 34:14–15 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.
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.
The Point: Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s OT promises! Jesus is God and he is gathering and feeding his sheep. Jesus is the son of David and as such he is their rightful shepherd king! And just like the faithful shepherds before Jesus teaches God’s people so that they might walk in a right relationship with him.
But, at the moment all of this imagery and fulfillment is completely lost on the disciples who just want to have a day off.
The Disciples’ Faithless Frustration (Mark 6:35–38)
An Exhausted Appeal
On the surface, the disciples’ appeal in verse 36 seems entirely reasonable and even compassionate. It is late afternoon and the massive crowd has to be getting hungry. In fact, it seems like the are truly concerned for the people’s needs but they may be more concerned about themselves at the moment. The whole reason that they got in the boat in the first place is because they didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 6:33)!
In addition to this, the disciples don’t have anything on hand because they just returned from a journey where they were not allowed to bring spending money or simple daily provisions; which makes his command to purchase food seem utterly ludicrous.
An Unexpected Command
Just take a moment to put yourselves in their shoes. What is your first impulse in moments like this? It’s probably the same as mine! I instantly look at my available resources and reply that’s impossible.
See a denarius was how much a laborer would receive for one days work; which means that 200 denarii is 8 months of pay apart from any personal expenses. Who carries 2/3 of their yearly salary around in their back pocket? No one and that’s the point! Jesus is challenging them to even greater faith.But, when the disciples miss the point he tells them to find how much food they have access to.
Now, Mark simply tells us that they return with five loaves of bread and two fish. The five loaves would likely have been pita-sized flatbread about eight inches across and one inch thick, and the two fish either were likely simple small dried fish… Bread and fish that doesn’t come from their lunchboxes but a small boy in the crowd.
John 6:6–9 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Notice Jesus is not frustrated with the 5 loaves and 2 fish, he is in complete control, he knows exactly what he is going to do.
The Messiah’s Miraculous Provision (Mark 6:39–44)
It’s interesting that Jesus does not set up a buffet table or carefully portion food out to the crowd in tiny bits but seats them in groups of 100’s and 50’s, like a host might seat his guests at a large dinner while the disciples serve as waiters.
And here is the amazing thing, everyone ate and they were satisfied (Mark 6:42). They didn’t just get a tiny morsel or a light snack. They ate and ate and ate and ate until they had their fill. And even more, there was enough food left over to fill a basket for each and every disciple.
So what does Mark want us to see in this miracle? I believe that he wants us to see that Jesus is fulfilling God’s promise to send a prophet like Moses to the people of Israel.
The Prophet Like Moses
Remember that when Jesus was rejected from his hometown he said, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household” (Mark 6:4). And later in chapter 6 many people were wondering if he was a like a prophet of old, the prophet Elijah, or the resurrected prophet John the Baptist (Mark 6:14–16).
But, in this miraculous feeding Mark wants us to see that Jesus is the promised prophet like Moses. A promise recorded 1,400 years before Jesus came to earth.
Deuteronomy 18:18–19 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
- This prophet will be an Israelite.
- And when he comes Israel is required to listen and respond to him because he will be speaking God’s words.
- And if anyone refuses, they will be under the judgment of God himself.
Here is the connection between Moses and Jesus in this passage:
- Just as Moses performed miracles in Egypt and the desert, Jesus is performing countless miracles all over Israel.
- Just as Moses taught God’s commands to Israel in the desert, so also Jesus is teaching the gospel of God to his audience in the wilderness.
- Just as Moses asked God, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” (Numbers 11:21—22). So also the disciples asked, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37).
- Just as Moses organized Israel into divisions in the desert, so also Jesus now divides up over 5,000 people into divisions for lunch.
- Just as God fed Israel in the wilderness with manna through Moses, so now Jesus feeds the people of God in a “desert” place through his disciples.
- Just as Moses delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, so also Jesus will deliver mankind from slavery to sin through his death on the cross.
Two Problems Christians often face when teaching and applying this passage.
First, Christians can focus so much on Jesus’ compassion for the crowd and their feeding that they completely miss the fact that Jesus taught them for hours before he fed them. Yes, Jesus addressed their physical need. But, his compassion was motivated by their spiritual need not their physical hunger.
Christians, we have to care for the physical and emotional needs of our neighbors and the nations. But, we must be careful that we do not begin to substitute physical and emotional support for gospel proclamation. Because we can rescue a person in this life in such a way that they still lose their soul.
John Piper puts it well in his book, Let the Nations be Glad, “Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” Therefore, let us always preach the gospel as we perform good works.
Second, Christians love to moralize this miracle and make it all about the boy who shares his lunch.
The Gospel of John is the only one who records the boy’s actions but it is merely to identify the source of the food. Jesus does not enshrine the boys actions as an perpetual example for us to follow or promise that he will multiply our resources when we give sacrificially. Yes, God can multiply even the smallest gifts if they are made available to him…
The four Gospel’s tell us this story because they want us to see Jesus is the fulfillment of God’ OT promises.
God always fulfills his promises (2 Peter 3:1–4; 8–10)
If 2,000 years of Christianity and roughly 1,400 years of Judaism before that have taught us anything, it’s that humans are prone to drift away from an ultimately reject God’s clear revelation in Scripture.
- We begin think that our lives are so long and significant.
- We begin think that God just doesn’t care about us or his commands like he used to.
- We begin think that cultural relevance is more important than Biblical fidelity.
- And over time countless professing Christians simply stop believing that God has ever or will ever intervene in human history.
2 Peter 3:1–4 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
God’s not coming back. In fact, I have no reason to believe he is there at all. Science is clear, the universe is the result of random chance and hard-won survival. The same natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day have always operated in the universe from the very beginning.
But, what does Peter have to say about this line of reasoning?
2 Peter 3:8–10 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Don’t misunderstand God’s apparent lack of action in the world today. Don’t be duped by the world or frustrated by the long wait, it’s part of God’s plan from the very beginning.
In fact, God’s slowness is not evidence of his ambivalence toward evil or lack of commitment to his promises. Rather, it is evidence of his compassion—the same compassion that drove Jesus to drop everything and minister to the crowd in the wilderness. To put it another way, the merciful love of God is holding back the justice of God up until the very moment of God’ return.
Christian, don’t lose your commitment to the gospel and don’t substitute physical care or political causes for the gospel itself.
For those who do not know Jesus. Notice, God does not delight in judgment of the wicked. He is not biding his time like a sycophantic murderer. He is calling out in the gospel to the entire human race through his disciples, “repent and believe the gospel.” Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day of forgiveness. Please do not wait too long because God has set his calendar and when he returns it will be too late because God always fulfills his promises. Promises of forgiveness and eternal life all who believe. And promises of perfect justice for all who refuse his free and compassionate offer of salvation and eternal joy.