In the first 6 chapters of Mark what we see is Jesus coming, calling His disciples, preaching, leading, calming storms and raising the dead. Then something began to change with His ministry. Up to this point He had brought His disciples along, but now He was going to make them participants.
In Mark 6:7-13 Jesus called them to a mission trip. So they went out proclaiming the good news, healing the sick and casting out demons. Then they returned to Him. Jesus had brought them into the process of kingdom making. The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand is a great example of this.
Jesus was not only feeding hungry people, but He was also calling His disciples, His followers, into being a part of His ministry. He used them as the means by which He grew and expanded the kingdom. These twelve men would soon be entrusted with building the church and expanding the kingdom after Jesus was gone.
The disciples went out on a really successful mission trip. Their friend John the Baptist had just been beheaded by cruel King Herod. They were mourning and needed rest. Jesus said they should break away for a minute, to take a breath and get their wits about them. They were so busy they didn’t even have the leisure to eat. The demands of the people were so insatiable; their work was never ending. So they got in a boat, went across the sea to a place in the middle of nowhere to rest. What happened next was comical.
The people they just left began to run around the shores to the other side and beat them there. Imagine if you will, they’re on the boat. The boat is going across the sea and they’re seeing thousands of people running along side the shore to get around to where they’re going.
Maybe you’re holier than me, but have you ever just said you needed to get away for the weekend? Imagine you get in the car and drive down to the coast, get out of your car and the people from your office, and your dorm are there. How would you respond? How did the disciples respond?
It was getting late; they still haven’t had the leisure to eat. The disciples asked Jesus if he would send the people away. Send them back, let every man, woman and child fend for themselves, to buy themselves something to eat. They were done.
Jesus doesn’t respond in the same way. He looked at the people and had compassion on them. The word compassion in the Greek means a deep down feeling in the gut. He didn’t look on them and just see greedy people. He saw their needs; they were people whom God had made and loved. His compassion moved Him towards action. He began to teach and heal them. His compassion gave Him eyes to see them in a new way.
When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34).
They were leaderless people, defenseless. They couldn’t even feed themselves. So He had compassion on them. The phrase, “sheep without a shepherd” is used purposefully. It’s designed to send us back to where it’s used previously in the Old Testament: in Numbers, 1 Kings and Ezekiel 34.
Ezekiel is talking to the leaders of Israel and they have walked out on their leadership responsibilities. God was speaking through Ezekiel and rebuking them.
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. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them (Ezekiel 34:4-6).
God saw the people and their needs. He didn’t see them as greedy, but as needy. So He stepped in; His compassion moved him to action. God said, I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:15-16…). God had compassion on the people. His compassion wasn’t empty; it moved Him to action, to become the shepherd of His people.
Jesus looked out on this multitude of people and saw their need. He said not to send them away, but to draw them near. He was going to do a work in their lives.
I wonder if when we see people, if we respond the way the disciples did, by wanting to send them away? Or if we see people the way Jesus saw people, as image bearers, created in God’s image, for God’s glory.
Each face has a story. All those people you drive by on the highway, they are not your enemy. They are created by God and for God’s good purposes. This begins to change the way we see people. No longer do we see people there to fulfill our own desires and greed. We don’t look at pornography, because it demeans those people and derails our mission. We don’t see people as potential sales, walking around with dollar signs hanging over their head. We don’t use them to propel ourselves.
Doing the Impossible
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.”(Mark 6:36-37…).
In the original language, the emphasis is on the you. You give them something to eat. Jesus was going to use the disciples to feed the people.
Now, if you’re a disciple, the thing you might be thinking is similar to what they were thinking. They say, “ok Jesus, great plan, I like your enthusiasm. A couple of things, it would take eight months salary to buy that much bread, and we’re in a desolate place with no stores nearby, we can’t run over to the corner market to buy bread for thousands of people. Even if we could, there’s no way for us to get all that bread back here. So what are we really going to do with all this?” Jesus put them in an impossible scenario. They can’t possibly feed that many people, the need is way too big.
That’s the point. Jesus was calling them to do something they couldn’t do apart from Him. He was calling them to Himself to accomplish the ministry He had called them to be a part of.
Jesus could have done this in a hundred different ways. He could have provided bread by making it rain from heaven. He could have made bread pop up out of the ground. But He chose to use the disciples to do it.
What the disciples had was insufficient. But Jesus wanted to take their insufficiency and transform it into satisfaction for thousands of people. So they took their little amount and gave it to Jesus. When we take our little amount and give it to Jesus, it’s Him that gets the glory for the miracle and not ourselves. God is not limited by our capacity to do things. He calls us to do things that we can’t possibly do.
If you think you can accomplish eternally significant things because you’re smart or gifted, you are insane. God is the only one that will do eternally significant things. We can’t do it; we can only offer five loaves and two sardines. We can only say, this is all I have, will you take this and bring me into the process of seeing you use my limited things for your unlimited things, my weakness for your strength, my insufficiency to create sufficiency.
Being Faithful in the Next Step
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 (Mark 6:38-40).
Jesus was sitting people down into banqueting groups of fifties and hundreds. He was creating in them an expectation there was a meal coming.
Jesus looked at what the disciples had and then asks them to get the people ready to eat. Jesus didn’t call them to the big thing; He called them to the next thing. He didn’t show them the whole story; He just asked them to be faithful to follow His word and do the next step.
I think so much of our lives we want to see God do big, whole things. But He asks us to be faithful in doing the little things; asking us if we’re simply willing to take the next step. It’s often the way God works, He doesn’t show us the next, next, next step, but rather the very next step.
A few years ago, I was doing ministry in Dallas. We were ready to move on and do something else. We asked God what He wanted us to do and began interviewing at different places. We sold our house and moved into an apartment. We were ready to go whenever He called us. That was the next step for us. We were getting to the point where all my leads had dried up. No more contacts to call. I specifically prayed, “Lord I know that you have led me and my family here. I don’t think you want to leave me here. Would you do something that’s beyond my mind, that I can’t imagine?” I went home and told my wife I had the sense there would be a miracle phone call. Something was going to happen. We were going down to San Antonio and we were on IH-35. I got a phone call from one of the guys that had previously interviewed me and responded by saying they were going in a different direction. He said that my name just wouldn’t escape his mind. Random people kept emailing him and asking him if he’d heard of me. So he asked if I would be willing to come through Austin and sit down to have a conversation. He said it’d be great if it were in the next couple of days. I responded by saying, “Weird, I’m on IH-35, I’ll be there very shortly!” They offered me the job and we moved to Austin. I remember hanging up the phone and looking at my wife feeling shocked. God leads us that way. He didn’t show us the whole thing; He just showed us the next thing.
For some of us we get stuck not knowing what to do. The need is too big. Maybe we just need to pray we have eyes to see like Jesus sees. Asking Him to have compassion like He does. Maybe it’s that you want to see your neighborhood change, but it’s such a big idea. Maybe the answer is to just have a conversation with your neighbor or starting a Missional Community that will pray for your neighbors. God is not going to show you the next, next step, but just ask you to be faithful with the first step.
The disciples sat everybody down, and then hoped Jesus would come through. If you step out in faith, hoping that Jesus will come through, you are in a great place. Jesus will come through. He came through with the disciples and showed them His provision.
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 (Mark 6:41).
Invited Into Ministry
Jesus was bringing His disciples into His ministry. He could have gone directly to the people, but instead called the disciples and asked them to help. He took their bread, blessed it and gave it back, asking them to distribute it among the groups of 50 and 100. Each time they had to come back to Him to receive that provision. He didn’t tell the disciples to take what they had and try really hard to make it enough to feed the people. He wanted them to let Him be their provision.
If we’re not doing anything that requires us to come to Jesus, then we are not doing eternally significant things. If there’s nothing you can point to and say God has to show up in this or else, then we are not doing eternally significant things. Apart from Him, you can do nothing.
There were five thousand men. That means up to ten to twenty thousand people, including women and children. Each disciple had to go back to Jesus thirty three times to get another basket of bread and then back to another group. I wonder if at any point in this process they thought to themselves, “Surely He’s got to be done. There must be limits on His provision.” But God’s supply is limitless. He never runs out.
There are no limits to God. His love doesn’t run out. We cannot out-sin God. How arrogant of us to think we can be worse than God can be good.
A.W. Tozer says, “God is infinite, perfect, all knowing, all wise, all loving, infinitely boundless and perfect.” After providing bread for hungry souls there were twelve baskets left over, one for each of the twelve disciples. Jesus provided in abundance. When God has compassion that moves Him to provide, that provision turns to abundance and satisfaction.
And they all ate and were satisfied (Mark 6:42). Here comes Jesus and He satisfies hungry stomachs. You might argue that is not eternally significant, they’re going to get hungry again.
If you read this same story in John 6, Jesus says He feeds the people, but then they come back. He says, “I recognize that you’ve eaten and want more food, because you’ve become hungry again. But let me tell you that I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger.” There is a satisfaction that comes when we come to Christ. Yes, it’s satisfaction that fills our stomach for the day, but there’s a satisfaction that comes for eternity when He fills our souls with good things, mainly Himself. Jesus says we are going to be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.
For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things (Psalm 107:9). There are so many things we try to satisfy our souls with that are insufficient. We try to fill our lives and our souls with food, money, sex, jobs, religion, education and hobbies. We assume that a collection of these things, with a little bit of Jesus (added for good measure), will eventually gives us satisfaction and fullness. That isn’t true. Christ alone is the all-sufficient satisfying one. We come to Him and when He provides for us, our satisfaction is found in Him. There will be a day when we find ultimate satisfaction as our eyes see the King and get to walk with Him for eternity.
What do we do with all of this? A lot of us go to church and bible study. At the end of the day we feel stagnant in our faith, like we’re walking through mud and can’t seem to move forward. It may be that if that’s the reality of your life, it’s because you’re not following Jesus as a disciple. It may be that we need to pray, “God will you let us see people the way You see people? Let us have compassion like You do. Will you lead that compassionate heart to be someone who will do what I can with my feeble efforts and watch You transform them into eternally significant things. I want to watch You provide. Help me to grow in trusting that You are the sole satisfaction in my life.”
May we walk as disciples in that way. May the Lord feed us so that we might have the joy of feeding others. May the Lord bless us so that we have the privilege of being a blessing. Let us follow Jesus as he makes us into the disciples that He’s called us to be.