Today we have come in our study of Mark to a story that I’m sure is familiar to anyone who has been to church for any length of time or to Sunday school. It’s one of the favorite stories of the Bible that is often taught to children. It’s the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.
And there is plenty to consider and learn about Jesus even if the story is told in a straightforward, simple retelling. On just a rudimentary level, even a child can understand that the Lord is compassionate and is able to do miracles.
But this morning I hope to help you gain more insight to this story and what Mark is teaching us through it. You see, Mark is not writing a biography here, though there are biographical elements to his book. He is not writing history, though the story does give us historical facts. Mark is writing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ, which is that God has sent His Son to earth, in the form of a man, to tell us the truth about God, and to provide the sacrifice for our sins, so that they who believe in Him and accept Him as their Lord might have everlasting life.
So this story then, looked at through that prism, is much more than a simple story about taking 5 loaves and two fish and feeding 5000. This event is no less than a living parable which illustrates for us several aspects of the gospel.
The story starts with the apostles coming back from their mission trip, where they had gone out two by two throughout the region of Galilee as emissaries of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is the expression of the kingdom of God, and Christ is the King, who sent His emissaries out to spread the good news of the kingdom. As the authorized representatives of the King, they were given the news of the gospel which they were to proclaim in every town, and they were given the power and authority to heal the sick and cast out demons in His name. They were living on the road for probably a couple of months, and then they came back most likely to Capernaum to reunite with Jesus and the other apostles.
And so Mark says in vs30, The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many [people] coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
The apostles had great success on their journeys. We read back in vs 12 They went out and preached that [men] should repent. They had been casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.” They had been given a foretaste of what their mission would be like once the Lord Jesus would be taken away from them. Upon the foundation of the apostles, the church would be built. So I’m sure it was exciting stuff that they reported to Jesus, but He recognized that they needed some rest. In Capernaum there were so many people constantly coming and going, so that they didn’t even have time to eat. And so they went away by boat to a secluded place to get away from the crowds and find some much needed rest.
But the crowds weren’t about to let them get away that easily. Mark says that they ran around the lake and got there before Jesus and the disciples crossed over on the boat. Vs.33 [The people] saw them going, and many recognized [them] and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them.
From what I understand, that would have been an eight to 10 mile trip around the lake on foot, or a four mile crossing on water. That’s pretty amazing isn’t it? To think that people wanted to see Jesus so badly that they ran about 10 miles around the lake to beat his boat to the other side. I suppose the disciples were rowing their boat, and perhaps the wind was contrary like it is today. That can make for slow going. And where they ended up is near the town of Bethsaida, which was really a small village. The disciples and Jesus must have landed somewhere near the outskirts of that town. It was an out of the way place. Not any Holiday Inns there, or fast food restaurants or convenience stores. Just a small fishing village.
But when they got out of the boat, they see that the crowd is already there waiting for them. Vs34 “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”
I think this is one of the most significant verses in this story. Because it reveals a principle that is so fundamental to our salvation. And that principle is revealed by the phrase “He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus sees these people as sheep without a shepherd. Without a shepherd, a domesticated sheep is an animal that is prone to becoming lost, disoriented, an easy prey for wolves and succumbing to disease. They simply cannot survive for very long without a shepherd. They can’t even find water without a shepherd, and neither can they find good pasture.
What’s interesting is that the Lord correlates humans to being like sheep without a shepherd. And I think that indicates that man was created for God, to be guided and cared for by God, and without God, man is lost, he is doomed to succumb to difficulties in life. He cannot provide for his ultimate welfare.
And yet the greatest fallacy of humankind persists in thinking that we are independent, self sufficient, that we have life and vitality, and somewhere in our subconscious we are oblivious to our mortality. I heard a quote the other day from the 19th century poet William Earnest Hensley, from his poem Inviticus, which in Latin means unconquered. It’s quite a motivational speech. The poet says, ““Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
I guess after hearing that we’re all supposed to yell hooyah! And charge up the mountain. That sounds coureageous, brave and bold. And we like to think that if you are strong and brave enough you can conquer life and bend it to your will. To the victor belongs the spoils. That mindset says only the weak have a need for God, the strong are their own god. But the fact is that is a lie from hell. Satan has deceived men into thinking that they are the master of their fate, the captain of their soul. They can somehow wrest fulfillment and even immortality from this life if they just believe in themselves. But it’s a lie.
Man was made to live with God and for God. He was designed to live with God as His shepherd, and to be under the care of the shepherd. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question is what is the chief end of man? And the answer is; Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. But sin broke that fellowship man had with God. Sin made man independent from God, estranged from God, and thus without truth, without life, without guidance, without protection. And that fragile, fleeting, tenuous existence is like being a sheep without a shepherd. Man is in constant peril and has been marked for death. His life is fleeting, and in his dumbness, like a sheep lost and alone in the wilderness, he is mostly unaware of the danger that he is in.
So the Savior, seeing these people like sheep without a shepherd, has compassion on them. That’s the gospel in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Lord having compassion on them, seeing their desperate condition, goes to them and begins to teach them the truth about the gospel of the kingdom. How they can be made right with God, and receive life from God, and have forgiveness of their sin, and have the Spirit of God to guide them and lead them into the path of life.
At a later time, Peter will respond to the Lord Jesus saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” The gospel is the words of life. It is the means which by believing, the condemnation of death is taken away, and you are given everlasting life. And so Jesus gives them these words of life. And His teaching goes on until late in the day.
But when evening approaches, the apostles get hungry. They were already hungry before they got in the boat. They hadn’t had the time to even eat. And now after they rowed across the lake, and they have been all day with the Lord as He is teaching the people, they are hungry and tired. But they manage to tell Jesus in such a way as to make it seem they are concerned about the people eating.
Vs.35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Now maybe they were really concerned about the people being able to find something to eat. But I think that they might have been hungry themselves. And there is nothing wrong with being hungry. That’s natural, and we all need to eat. But I think the disciples tendency was to be more concerned about physical needs than spiritual needs.
So Jesus said in vs 37 “You give them something to eat!” And they *said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” I can’t help but wonder if Jesus wasn’t telling them to provide food for the people through miraculous means. After all, they have just got back from this long mission trip in which they were given the authority to do miracles, to heal, to cast out demons. And so Jesus might have been extending them the authority to miraculously feed the people. But the disciples don’t seem to see it that way.
Instead, the disciples respond to Jesus with what I think was a sarcastic question. “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” A denarius was considered a day’s wage in those days. So they are saying should we take 200 days worth of wages and buy food so they can eat? To them that was the only possible answer, but it was ludicrous. It’s doubtful on the one hand that they even had 200 denarii. That’s why they asked it that way, because it made the point that they could somehow feed the people was ludicrous. But I don’t think Jesus was joking around by saying “you give them something to eat.” I think He really wanted the disciples to feed the people. They just didn’t see how it could be done. Even if they had the money, there was no where to buy such a huge quantity of food necessary to feed this multitude.
So Jesus teaches them by example. He says in vs 38 “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” The account in John 6 vs 8 tells us that it was Andrew who found the lad who had five loaves and two fish. It might have taken the 12 disciples awhile to canvas the crowd to see what kind of food was available. And out of 5000 plus people, there is only one boy’s dinner that is available.
Most Sunday school lessons and Bible studies focus on this aspect of the story. They say that the moral of the story is that if we bring our little bit to the Lord, then He can multiply it and make it useful far beyond it’s original limit. Maybe they are trying to make it a sermon about tithing or something, I don’t know.
But I think what Jesus is really teaching here is that the apostles are to be the means by which God supplies the spiritual needs of the people. Their meager supply, when blessed by God and used for the glory of God, will supply the bread of life to those who are hungry for the truth. God will use the weakness of man, the foolishness of preaching, to provide salvation for the lost and hungry sheep.
So to further illustrate this fact, Jesus has the crowd sit down in companies of 100. Vs39 “And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.” I know I might be criticized as grasping at straws here, but I believe this is an illustration of the conduct of the church, that everything will be done decently and in order. God is not the author of confusion. When it comes to the gifts God has given to the church, if He is orchestrating them, then they will be marked by being decent and in order. God is not in charge of a melee. The Spirit of God does not oversee confusion and chaos. The outpouring of the gifts of God is not a feeding frenzy. And when you see that sort of frenzy in the church I think it should be met by a great degree of skepticism on our part, that the Lord is in such a thing at all.
When everyone then was seated on the grass in order and according to groups of 100, Jesus blessed the food. He gave thanks for the food. God is the provider of our daily bread. God feeds the deer, the birds of the air. He certainly cares more about His sheep than He cares about the birds. Jesus said, You are of more value than many sparrows.
Vs 41 “And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed [the food] and broke the loaves and He kept giving [them] to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all.” The point that shouldn’t be missed is that Jesus kept giving the broken pieces to the disciples to set before them. Jesus is using the disciples to give them something to eat. This is a lesson for the apostles. There is also a lesson here for the 5000 that Jesus is the bread of life that came down out of heaven. But the apostles are the ones to which has been given the authority and commission to take the gospel to the world, to build the church. And Jesus is using the passing out of the bread and fish to teach the disciples how they are to do that.
I can’t help but wish though I could have seen the hands of Jesus breaking the fish and bread. I imagine it’s kind of like watching a magician do a trick and you try to watch his hands carefully to see how it is done. Of course, Jesus wasn’t doing a card trick. He was creating food in his hands. He was creating cooked fish in His hands. Baked bread appeared in His hands as He broke it and gave it to the apostles. I can’t help but correlate this to another incident where Jesus broke bread at the Lord’s Supper on the night before His crucifixion.
1 Cor. 11:23 says, the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Perhaps that very act of sacrifice was being symbolized in Jesus’s breaking of the bread and then giving it to the disciples to give to the multitude.
In John’s gospel we read that the next morning after this miraculous event, the people seek Christ out again hoping to get breakfast. And Jesus says on that occasion, in John 6:32-35 “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” That was the lesson that Jesus intended for the multitudes, that His body would be broken so that they might have life.
Well, back to the story of the feeding of the 5000, Mark says everyone ate until full. Vs 42 “They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.” Mark says there were 5000 men, but Matthew says that didn’t include women and children. So there were very likely at least 15000 people that were fed dinner that night. Amazing. 15000 sheep that were fed by the providence and power of God. We should certainly not question if God can meet our needs, if we believe that He was able to feed 15000 people.
But again, the significant point to notice in that passage is that there were 12 baskets of food left over. One commentator I read said that was a lesson about the importance of not littering. I hardly think that’s what is being taught there. The real lesson is again having to do with the apostles. There are 12 apostles, and 12 baskets of food left over. Someone has said the original language is speaking of a something like a lunch basket. But the point is that the apostles were fed in their feeding of the multitude. As they served the church, the Lord provided for their needs as well.
So in summary, I think the whole miracle of the feeding of the 5000 or 15000 was intended to be a living parable about the ministry of the gospel. Jesus is the bread of life, which God gave to man. But it is also a teaching moment for the apostles and the role that they were to take in the ministry of the gospel. The training that they had practiced on their mission trip was continued in the feeding of the 5000. The gospel was entrusted to them, to serve to the world, that they might build the church of Jesus Christ, that they might be shepherds, which is the source of the word pastors, to the church. And by their ministry, the kingdom of God would be expanded, and souls would be added to the church.
We are not commissioned or called to be apostles today. But we are commissioned to go into the world and proclaim the gospel. God wants to use us to manifest His gospel to a lost and dying world. Let us be willing and eager to serve the Lord, presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people in our world. We don’t have to have a seminary degree to be witnesses. We don’t have to have the gift of preaching or teaching. But take the truth of the gospel, which everyone who has been saved knows, and simply giving that to our friends and neighbors. And trust that the Lord will multiply your seed into a fruitful harvest.
2Cor. 9:10-11 “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.”