Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Nineteen
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 8, 2018
We’re coming back to our study of Mark’s Gospel - The Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself being the good news. God with us. As we come before God’s word this morning - would you stand with me - if you are able - and read with me out text for this morning: Mark 6:30-44
The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. 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. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
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. 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?”
And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”
Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 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.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
This morning we’re looking at two perspectives of the same situation.
Perspective is a point of view. Depending on our point of view - two people or groups of people can both be looking at the same thing and seeing and experiencing two very different things. Been there?
(photo) On one hand - literally - this looks extremely perilous.
(photo) Until we change the perspective.
(photo) How can a dog walk on a wall?
(photo) Unless the wall is really a sidewalk.
(cartoon) One more: “Four” “No Three” Don’t you love these?
In what we’ve just read - which is probably a very familiar account - as we walk through this account - there are two perspectives that we want to pay attention to - Jesus’ perspective and the perspective of the disciples.
Two different perspectives of the same situation.
Verses 30 to 32 are The Setting - the when and why and where all this takes place.
When is when the apostles return from the missions trip that Jesus sent them on and they’re reporting to Jesus about all that they had done and taught.
This is the first time in Mark that Mark calls the disciples “apostles.” We know that the apostles were not the husbands of the Epistles. Old joke.
An apostles - the Greek word is “Apostolos” - an apostle was a messenger. Someone who was sent on a mission with a message.
Which we saw Jesus do when we looked at the first part of chapter 6. After Jesus is rejected in His home town of Nazareth, Jesus sends His disciples out two-by-two, under His authority, in imitation of Jesus’ ministry, to call proclaim the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom and the need to repent.
Which apparently the disciples - now apostles - were very successful at. Under Jesus’ authority they had cast out demons - anointed people with oil - healed the sick. So successful that now they’ve got crowds of people following them.
Why is because - with all these crowds that now were following the disciples around - coming and going - that Jesus being able to debrief His apostles and disciple them isn’t happening. They’re not even getting a break to have a meal together.
Why? Because we just need to get away. You guys are tired and have some much needed R&R coming and we need to spend quality - discipler disciplee - time together.
So Jesus takes them on a retreat - by boat to a desolate place - probably just to the east and north of the town of Bethsaida. To what is the plain of Bethsaida. Which is pretty remote and pretty desolate - at least not a lot of people living there. Looks like this today.
Which is the where all this takes place.
The way Mark records this - as they’re traveling along in the boat - the crowd that’s been following the disciples - probably from Bethsaida and the other places they’ve been following along from - they recognized them and the paparazzi runs out ahead of them - and these thousands of people are there to welcome Jesus and the disciples to their time of seclusion and retreat.
Ever been there? We settle in for a nice quiet evening and then we get “the text” or there’s a knock on the door. We just needing to detox. Just to get away. Maybe to Starbucks. Or maybe a quiet dinner with our wife or husband. Maybe a quiet weekend away. And you plan it and do it. And someone else or a group of people shows up.
That’s the when and why and where.
Verses 34 to 38 open up to us the Two Contrasting Perspectives. One divine. One human.
Mark opens up Jesus’ divine perspective in verse 34. Jesus goes ashore. Sees the great crowd. And Jesus had compassion on them.
Compassion translates the Greek verb “spalgchnizomai.” Which is about Jesus’ guts.
The Greeks understood that our deepest emotions are felt at the gut level. The Hebrews talked about our deepest affections - like kindness and tenderness and compassion - that all came from - gut level - deep within us.
The verb “splagchnizomai” “compassion” is in the passive meaning that the crowd - as Jesus is looking at them - they all had that effect on Him.
In other words “Their condition hit Jesus at the gut level.” His response to them was from that deep within Jesus. With that depth of compassion - tenderness - sympathy - for them.
Why? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Maybe they looked that way. Dressed maybe in white or lighter colors. A crowd on the hillside - in the field.
More so - Jesus feels their spiritual need.
In a very real sense their own shepherds had failed them. The spiritual leadership of Israel had failed to shepherd them. Failed to lead them towards the God Who loves them and to shepherd them in following after God - to lead them in the richness of a relationship with the living God.
Instead the people were striving to fulfill impossible burdensome rules and regulations that offered no real answers to what plagued them - no hope - only and endless realization of their own failure. What they were trying to live up to because of all the wrong teaching that their supposed shepherds had dumped on them.
Jesus had wanted to get away with the disciples. He needed the retreat time. They needed the retreat time. And this crowd of paparazzi with all their needs and issues has interrupted that - ruined their plans - His plans.
But Jesus doesn’t respond with anger or frustration or try to disappear from the crowd. “And lo He passeth through them and went unto another desolate place.” Jesus doesn’t send the crowd away or order the boat back out to sea.
Jesus has compassion on them. He steps into the crowd. He begins to teach them what it really means to be God’s sheep. The message of the Kingdom of God - God’s love for His people.
Jesus - with the divine perspective of the situation - Jesus demonstrates God’s priorities with His people. Which is why Jesus is there. This is an opportunity for Jesus to love on the people. To lead them closer to God.
Which we need to grab on to for ourselves. How God - how Jesus - looks at us as His sheep. With compassion. God is never too busy to be interrupted by His sheep. Good to hang on to. Yes?
In contrast - verse 35 - is the human perspective of the disciples. How they’re looking at the crowd and what’s coming down.
“It grew late” means “it grew late.” “Jesus, check your sundial.”
While Jesus is focused on the spiritual needs of the people and loving on the people - the disciples are focused on the physical needs. Not that Jesus isn’t aware of the physical needs. It’s just not what He needs to be about doing at that moment.
Probably the disciples had reached their limit. Which is understandable.
They’d come back from a missions trip where Jesus had sent them out with instructions to basically take nothing with them. So they went with bare minimum and probably they’d come back with bare minimum. Meaning no snacks for the retreat.
The missions trip with the crowds with all that involved was understandably exhausting. If they were tired and needing R&R before they headed out in the boat they’re certainly needing to crash now.
They’re tired. They’re hungry. The hour is late.
Maybe the disciples - like us - they cared about the spiritual condition of the people. They had compassion on them. Maybe - like us - they wanted them to know Jesus and the abundant life that Jesus offers to each of us. But, they’ve reached their limits. And as they’re thinking about what may happen next - the need for all those people to eat - they can’t help them with all that. Feeding all those people.
The disciples - seeing what’s going on - the disciples urge Jesus to send the crowd away before hunger becomes an issue. Which is a reasonable request because they don’t know what’s coming next - they haven’t read what we’ve read - and hunger is about to become an issue.
That’s the human perspective. Limited by our understanding.
Verse 37 - Jesus responds “You give them something to eat.”
The verb is in the command form. Emphasis “You.”
Which sounds harsh because it’s a command that’s impossible for the disciples to fulfill. And Jesus knows it’s an unreasonable command.
But Jesus is coming at this from the divine perspective. He knows what He’s going to do next even if the disciples are clueless.
The disciples respond from their human perspective. They’re focused on the logistics pointing out the overwhelming reasons why it’s impossible for them to obey.
200 denarii was about what a blue collar worker would earn in 8 months of working. Not chump change. And these disciples - fresh back from Jesus’ “take nothing with you” missions trip probably didn’t have 2 denarii between them. Let alone 200.
And, even if they had 200 denarii - and assuming they could go into Bethsaida or anyplace else nearby which was there really wasn’t a whole lot else nearby - they’re on the plain of Bethsaida - desolate. Assuming they could go and buy food those 200 denarii would only provide bare minimum sustenance for all those people… maybe.
Verse 38 - Jesus on a roll - divine perspective - Jesus sends the disciples out on a scavenger hunt. “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”
Which the disciples do. They go out looking to see what’s available.
Which is strange. If we think about it. Strange but understandable.
Strange because the disciples have just returned from what? Jesus’ under My authority - take nothing for the journey - missions trip.
Which was hugely successful - not because of the disciples’ obedience and faith and amazing ability at being apostles. The missions trip was hugely successful because they were apostles sent out by Jesus - according to Jesus’ divine instructions - under Jesus’ divine authority - a missions trip hugely blessed by God - accomplishing the humanly impossible demon casting outs and the miraculous healing of diseases.
Strange - because after all that they’d just experienced God doing in them and through them - nobody stops to ask Jesus for help to fulfill Jesus’ impossible to fulfill divine command. What should have been a light bulb coming on moment.
“Jesus. You’re the bread of life. There’s nothing You can’t do. We should be trusting You with this one.”
Understandable because we’d be out there scavenging for food along with the disciples. We are really good with the human perspective trying to do the impossible with our own working, whit, and wisdom.
The disciples come back with five loaves and two fishes.
John records that the bread was barley bread. Poor man’s bread. Not the good stuff. Probably it was the size of a person’s fist. Not big. Small and flat. Most people could eat several in one meal. The fish were probably dried with salt. Yum.
The results of the scavenger hunt are totally pathetic. Totally inadequate for a crowd that Mark tells us had 5,000 men - and by extension women and children - maybe close to 10,000 people. From a human perspective it’s a total bust. Epic failure.
Verses 39 to 44 are The Object Lesson. An object lesson is a lesson using… objects. Jesus using bread and fish and baskets to help His disciples gain some perspective on their circumstances.
Jesus instructs the crowd to sit down in groups on the green grass.
The word for “group” is the word we get our English word “symposium” from. Originally it had the idea of a drinking party. Later in history that becomes the idea of a group of people getting together for a particular purpose - a symposium - a gathering for a presentation. But in Jesus’ day the idea was still a group of people who partied together - eating and drinking with music and songs.
Jesus commands the people to sit down in their party groups.
Why 100’s and 50’s? Ultimately we don’t know. There’s a practically for counting numbers of people and for distributing food. But ultimately these are groups of people who came together and are looking forward to socializing around a meal together.
Party on. Jesus is in the field.
Mark goes out of his way to tell us they sat on green grass.
Which was probably a pretty colorful arrangement of people - sitting in groups - various colors of clothing - reclining under the blue vault of heaven - on green grass. Reclining on green grass being more comfortable than reclining on dry brown grass. And green grass being a whole lot fresher and better tasting than brown grass.
Emphasis green grass - green pastures - pasteurized sheep.
If someplace in that we’re hearing the words to Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want, He makes me lie down in green pastures…” (Psalm 23:1,2a)
If someplace in that we’re hearing the words to Psalm 23 then we’re in the moment with Jesus. We’re getting the divine perspective that Mark is helping us to see.
There’s a whole lot of shepherding going on here. Jesus shepherding spiritually. Jesus shepherding physically. Jesus - God - the Good Shepherd is compassionately caring for His people regardless of how impossible the circumstances might seem from the disciples’ point of view.
God is in the field. Party on.
Jesus takes the five loaves of bread and the two fishes and says a blessing. Which was the custom of the Jews - as it is ours - to thank God before a meal. Is Jesus - God - blessing the meal Himself or is Jesus praising and thanking God for the meal? Probably both.
Mark’s use of “blessing” is sufficiently ambiguous to keep us focused on the divine.
Then Jesus begins to break the loaves of bread into pieces and to divide the fish into fish parts. How big were the pieces? How was the fish divided? How long did it take to distribute the food to upwards of 10,000 people?
How did that work? Did a disciple take a basket and distribute the food and then come back and go out again with a full basket? Did some of them just deal with the fish? Did the disciples have help with the distribution?
Did anyone peak to see how Jesus was accomplishing all that breaking and dividing? Wouldn’t we?
We don’t know. Obviously that’s not important.
What is important for us to grab onto is that Jesus takes what are inadequate fragments of food - insufficient by our ability - and supplies more than enough food so that the disciples could do what Jesus had commanded them to do - commanded them when He full well knew that they couldn’t. Which was… “You give them something to eat.”
Mark tells us that they all ate and they all were satisfied.
“All” meaning… “all” - everyone there.
“Satisfied” in Greek is a word they used to describe fattening up animals for the slaughter. Pigs at a trough getting fat oblivious to the reality that they’re literally eating themselves to death. They just keep eating until they can’t eat no more.
To satisfy means to satisfy to full extent of what brings satisfaction.
Mark isn’t describing people politely eating a few crumbs of bread and a small piece of fish and smiling at each other and politely pretending that it’s a wonderful meal. These people are partying and pigging out.
The word in verse 43 for basket is the word “kophinos” which was a special kind of basket - like a man bag or a purse. Not that those are the same things.
A Jew used a “kophinos” basket to take food and whatever essentials they needed along with them so that as they traveled they could avoid contact with Gentiles and defiling Gentile food. They could eat kosher on the journey because they had their food and essentials in their “kophinos.”
12 “kophinos” of bread are left over for the disciples for their journey - to keep them satisfied. Everyone is satisfied - even the disciples - who came with nothing and now have bread for what comes next.
The bottom line of Jesus’ object lesson - Jesus challenging His disciples with the impossible and then providing the means to accomplish it. The bottom line of the object lesson is getting the disciples to see beyond themselves and their circumstances to glimpse what’s possible with God.
Processing all that…
Three takeaways for what Jesus is teaching can look like in our lives.
First take away: Our problems are never too large or two many for God to handle.
We all have situations in our lives that can easily seem like trying to feed 10,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. We have demands that we cannot meet and problems that we cannot solve and challenges that we cannot surmount and issues that we cannot process. Impossibilities that will not go away and cannot be tolerated indefinitely.
From our limited human perspective - we’re looking at a situation as impossible. We’re tempted to stay focused on our limited resources and the obstacles in front of us and the kinds of people we’re surrounded by - to focus on our failures and weaknesses and limitations and wounds and hurts and wallow in guilt and doubt and fear and what others may think of us and on and on focusing on ourselves.
And as time goes on it is easy to be consumed by all that. Our stomachs churn and our minds go there. We loose sleep - struggle to concentrate - and depending on our bent we either start eating too much or not eating enough. Or some other addictive behavior. In fear we try to somehow control our lives and our circumstances.
Anyone else relate? If you can’t… you will. Most of us can think of at least one situation we’re in that we have no reasonable clue how to move through. One reason why this account resonates with us is that we can identify with the disciples. It doesn’t take much to see ourselves in this account.
Do you remember the man who came to Jesus who had the question about how to inherit eternal life? How to get for himself what it is that Jesus is teaching about.
Do you remember the discussion they had about the law of Moses? Jesus rattling off commandments and the man coming back with “Yep. Kept those.” Which he had since he was a young man. The man was a legit seeker after God. Except he was trying to do the being right with God thing by his own working, whit, and wisdom.
Jesus looking on the man with love and trying to help him with all that - Jesus tells him to sell all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor. Which the man balked at because what Jesus was asking him to do rocked his carefully constructed religious world. It meant giving up - at the heart level - giving up what he was hanging on to for security.
As the man is walking away Jesus turns to the disciples and comments about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Which rocked their world because the disciples - common assumption of the time - people thought that the more rich you were the more blessed by God you were. So - ergo - rich people had it made already getting into the kingdom.
The disciples - astonished - ask Jesus, “If a rich person can’t get in then who can?” Meaning: It’s impossible.
We’re hearing the perspective? If we can’t get in by our working or wealth then it’s impossible.
Jesus - divine perspective: “With man it is... impossible, but not with God. For all things are... possible with God.” (Mark 10:17-31)
Let’s be careful. Because this verse gets applied in all kinds of situations and ways that are way different that what the verse here in context is talking about.
Let’s grab Jesus’ divine perspective of salvation: For man - by our own whit, wisdom, and working, salvation is impossible. We cannot save ourselves. But God can.
God alone can save us. And He does. The impossible. When we stop trying to save ourselves and trust Him for what He’s already done for us on through Christ’s work on the cross.
Despite all the obstacles that we throw up against God. Despite all the ways that we try to hang on to our supposed control of our lives. Despite all the ways that we resist His love while we’re trying to do what is impossible for us.
Despite all that God sacrificially enters our humanity and dies on the cross - redeeming and rescuing and restoring and reconciling us to Himself. God - since before creation - using time and the events of history - God has been purposely and relentlessly - reckless - because of His love towards us - God has been working and accomplishing what is an impossibility for us and doing the impossible because He alone is God.
Here’s the application of what Jesus says to the problems of our day-to-day. If God can do the impossible and save us - as undeserved and astounding and unimaginable and miraculous and beyond our ability to perceive as that is - then there is nothing else that is too large or too many for God to do in our lives today - in us and through us and around us - for His glory alone.
You can’t. I can. Trust Me.
Take away number two: God will obliterate our limited expectations if we’ll let Him.
While Jesus could have snapped His fingers or just commanded all that bread and fish into existence. But He didn’t. He chose to engage the disciples who are looking at a few loaves and a couple of fish and thinking there’s no way.
Jesus commands them to do what He knows is impossible for them to do. And then Jesus leads them through the steps of doing what they can do - find food - distribute food - so that they are able to do what He enables them to do following after what Jesus does do which is breaking bread and dividing fish.
Imagine the disciples collecting the man bags of bread afterwards. What goes through their minds?
You can’t. I can. Trust Me.
Take away number three: We need to make the choice to trust God.
From our perspective we can’t see the opportunity that God is laying out in front us. Not really. Even if we understand that God is calling us to move forward in faith trusting Him.
But if we really believe that God is God and that nothing is impossible with God then we need to trust Him even when we see only what is impossible. We need to choose to get our focus off of ourselves and on to God. To focus on Who He is and trust Him for what He is more than able to do.
As a suggestion. That means prayer. Honest. Open. Conversation with God about how you’re feeling in the midst of the impossible.
Maybe something like: “God I need your perspective on this. I’m giving up my trying to control and work through all this. I’m giving that up to you for whatever you want to do. Help me to look at this like you want me to look at this and to follow you through it.”
Because we can’t. But He can. And we need to trust Him.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.