It is little wonder to me anymore as to why we fail to see miracles. It is little wonder to me anymore as to why the church continues to decline in the U.S. It is little wonder to me anymore as to why there is a rise of those who call themselves spiritual but not religious or the “nones.” When you believe that everything hinges upon what you do, things will fall apart. When you fail to trust in Jesus, everyone walks away hungry. I hope that caught your attention. Let’s see why.
Today we have the only miracle story other than the resurrection that is recorded in all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each record this tremendous act of Jesus, and each add certain details that flesh out the whole story. Today, we focus on Mark’s version, but we will refer to the others as well as we walk through this event.
It is important to note that the feeding of the 5000 men comes right after Mark tells us of the beheading of John the Baptist. In that snippet, the events play out at a banquet full of depravity: drunkenness, gluttony, power, prestige, status, empty promises, child porn, premeditated murder, and disobeying God’s commands darken that story and lead to a horrible conclusion–a conclusion that leaves everyone empty.
And then we arrive at the beginning of our text today as the disciples return from a mission Jesus had given them. The disciples had been charged with going out in to the community and healing the sick, preaching the Word, and casting out demons. They return and begin giving their reports to Jesus. However, the disciples aren’t the only ones around. There are many people gathering around as well. Many are coming to be healed and to hear the preaching. They know they are witnessing something tremendous, and they want to be a part of it. This keeps Jesus and the disciples busy. Very busy. How busy? So busy they do not have time to eat. They are empty.
This raises some very important points as it addresses life. First, no matter how hard you work in helping people out, there will always be a need. There will always be those clamoring for your services. There will always be those clamoring for your attention. As the singer for Confederate Railroad once sang in the song, “Daddy Never was the Cadillac Kind,” “It took a while but now I’m grown. Settled down with kids of my own. The more I give them, the more they want.” That is not only true of kids. It’s true of humanity. That’s point one. Point two is this: if you try to satisfy everyone, you will run yourself ragged and be completely empty. You can work to heal everyone and care for everyone, but in the long run, you will run out of time and energy. The disciples had become so busy trying to meet everyone’s demands that they were not able to eat.
Jesus assesses this situation and says, “Okay everyone, time for a rest. Let’s go to a deserted place.” Jesus and His disciples get into their boat and head across the lake to find a place of seclusion. Jesus knows His closest friends desperately need some time away. He knows they need a break, but they are not going to get it–at least not yet.
People see Jesus and the disciples going around the lake. They know what Jesus is capable of. They want to continue to be a part of this ministry, so they begin spreading the word. People run around the lake. They tell others in the surrounding villages. People begin gathering. A crowd builds as they expectantly wait for Jesus. And as the boat approaches the shore, Jesus sees that crowd. I can see the disciples’ eyes grow wide at this point. I can see them in the midst of their exhaustion thinking to themselves, “Didn’t we just leave this crew? Not only that, did they go out and bring all their friends? How are we ever going to take care of them? Will we ever get any rest? Will we ever get any food? Will we ever be filled ourselves?”
Jesus could have had the same reaction, but He didn’t. He looked upon that crowd and thought, “They are like sheep without a shepherd.” Now, this phrase is very important. It’s not just an agricultural term. It’s not just about how sheep desperately need a shepherd–which they do. There are some Kingdom of God principles coming into play. Throughout the Old Testament, there are many references to God sending His promised King who will shepherd the people. Let that sink in for a moment. Remember, Mark has just told us about Herod’s banquet–Herod, the puppet king who was supposedly ruling over the people–dare I say supposed to be shepherding them? He’s obviously not doing a very good job. As Jesus looks at the crowd, He sees them as members of the Kingdom who do not have a King. They need a King. They need one who will shepherd them; who will lead them in paths of righteousness; who will lead them to green pastures; who will let them sit down beside still waters. Do you hear a little bit of Psalm 23 there? You should. You should also hear Ezekiel 34:23 which is a lesser known passage, but still rings loudly here. That passage reads, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”
Mark is drawing a stark contrast here between the supposed king of Galilee who is seeking power and prestige and wealth and status, and Jesus who will feed His people. There is a contrast between Herod who only thinks of those who will help him further his ambitions and Jesus who has compassion on the multitude. There is a sharp division.
And the first thing Jesus feeds is their soul. He begins by feeding them with the Word of God. He
begins teaching. For those of you who might complain about my sermons, please take note, Jesus preaches all day–well into the evening. Aren’t you glad I am not like Jesus? The hour begins getting late, and the disciples begin to wonder about provision. The people will be getting hungry. They need food. There’s a lot of people. So, they come to Jesus and think of the most compassionate thing that comes to mind, “Jesus, send them away to the surrounding villages so that they can get something to eat.” In other words, let them fend for themselves.
This indeed is the easy way out. Indeed, this is the path of least resistance. Wash your hands of responsibility. We will take care of our needs. Let each person take care of his or her own needs. We do the same thing today. Let’s not fool ourselves. Every time we point at someone who we think should be working instead of asking for help, we are doing exactly what the disciples are doing here. Let everyone fend for themselves. We have our own problems to worry about.
But Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook. He looks at the disciples and says, “You give them something to eat.”
Now, here is a very interesting response. Let’s dwell on it for a moment. Philip responds, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” Now, this was just over half a year’s wages. John records that this would barely give everyone gathered a bite of food–surely not enough to satisfy them. And whether or not the disciples actually had 200 denarii is questionable as well. For we are about to find out just how much food the disciples really had. For Jesus brushes aside the question of paying for the food by asking, “How many loaves do you have?”
They respond, “Five loaves and two little fish.” Now, if you remember the parallel account from the book of John, where did these five barley loaves and two fish come from? Were they the property of the disciples? No, they were not. There was a little boy who was among those gathered whose mom had sent a lunch. The food didn’t even belong to the disciples. It was someone else’s! Which means this: the disciples had nothing. They had no food at all. And what they had appropriated wasn’t even enough to satisfy one of them. For you see, the five loaves of bread were essentially flat biscuits. Several could be eaten in one setting. Five loaves of these and two fish were enough to satisfy one boy. The disciples were young men, and this would barely touch their appetites.
Which means this: Jesus had given the disciples an impossible command. Jesus had told them to give the crowd something to eat. The disciples did not have the resources to do this. The disciples did not have enough food to do this. They didn’t even have enough food to feed themselves. Remember the very beginning of the story? They were hungry and tired themselves, and now Jesus is commanding–not asking–commanding them to do the impossible. It’s not printed in Mark, but I am quite sure the disciples were saying to themselves, “We can’t do this. It is beyond us.”
And it is. It was. It was beyond anything any of them could do. Remember, Mark records that this crowd is composed of 5000 men. Matthew says, this excludes women and children. This crowd could easily have been 17 to 20 thousand. There is no way 12 men could feed that multitude. No way at all...if they trust themselves to do it. Let me say that again: if they trust themselves with the task.
Jesus orders His disciples to tell the crowd to sit down into groups of fifties and hundreds. This detail is more important than you think, for it hearkens back to the Exodus when Moses divided the people into such groups. It hearkens back to the promises that the Messiah would so divide the people of Israel in His Kingdom. Jesus is presenting Himself as the Shepherd of the sheep: the King in the Kingdom of God as the people are divided into these groups.
Then Jesus looks up, blesses the loaves and fish, and keeps breaking them. I use the term breaking purposely because there are some who say that the real miracle is that when Jesus started sharing the food, everyone else broke out their own food and shared with one another. The text does not say that. The text here indicates that Jesus kept breaking the bread and dividing the fish and the disciples kept distributing it. Jesus broke and broke and broke and the disciples gave and gave and gave. All were satisfied. 17 to 20 thousand people were completely satisfied.
But that is not the end. Mark records one more small detail. The remains were gathered, and it was enough to fill 12 baskets. Now, these baskets were essentially traveling baskets that one carried upon one’s person. They were like lunch kits, and there were exactly 12 of them filled up. For who? Remember the one’s who had nothing at the beginning of this story? Remember the ones who were hungry and had no time to eat? Remember the ones who had to take a little boy’s lunch just to have a meager supply? Yes, that’s right. The disciples now also were filled. They now had provision. Jesus didn’t just provide for those gathered on the hillside; He provided for those closest to Him. ALL were now satisfied and provision was now made–not by anything that the disciples had done, but through the work and person of Jesus.
My question to you this morning is this: when you look at the world and everything that is in it; when you see the need of people who are hungry, who are homeless, who need clean drinking water, who live in poverty, who experience oppression and racism and sexism; when you see a church declining and hurting, who do you trust to bring healing and satisfaction? Who do you trust to bring fullness and healing?
Be careful here, because I am not suggesting that we simply put all the responsibility with Jesus. No. His command to the disciples is His command to us: you take care of it. You feed the hungry. You provide clean drinking water. You clothe the naked. You heal society’s wounds of racism, sexism, and the like. This is His command to you and me. We are not off the hook. We are on it and cannot get off, but here is the deal. Do you arrogantly think that you can fix the problem? Do you look at things and say, “We can do it!”? Or do you admit, “We can’t do it. It is beyond us and our capability. It is beyond the scope of any person or human entity.”
It has become the unfortunate tendency that we look only to ourselves to fix the world’s problems. It has become the unfortunate tendency of the church to believe everything hinges upon what we do. Now, why would I say this? Because of the truth of the human condition. We do not have a hunger problem. Let me say that again. We do not have a hunger problem. We have a distribution problem. We produce more than enough food for everyone in the world to have something to eat, but it doesn’t get to those in need. Why? Because some believe they need more than others. We don’t have a homeless problem. There are so many deserted houses and buildings that we could house every person without trouble, but we fail to send the resources that direction and make provision. We don’t have a poverty problem. There are ample resources in this world to give everyone a sustainable life, but we tend hoard our wealth and fail to share. These are not problems that can be completely solved by law. These are not problems that can be solved by people lobbying the government to change the way things are handled because governments are easily corrupted by that same power and wealth.
What must change is the heart. What must change is the selfish nature of humanity. What must change is the understanding that our hearts are never satisfied with wealth, status, privilege, possessions, or any earthly thing. What must change is our own sinful nature. And God’s command to us; Jesus command to us is “Change it!!”
Now, are we so arrogant to think that we can? Are we so arrogant to think that we can change our very nature to make ourselves do the right thing? Are we so arrogant to think that it is within our power and capability to change our own hearts? I say arrogant because history has shown that we are sorely incapable of achieving this. No matter how hard we work to be good, oftentimes we look with contempt upon others who do not do as good as us. Our hearts may be compassionate toward those in need, but they are hardened and contemptuous of those we think should be doing more. We still are selfish. No matter how hard we try, our selfish; self-centered; self-righteous nature will rear itself. What can break us out of it?
Not what. Who. Jesus. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.
You see, when Jesus looked at that crowd, He had compassion on them. When Jesus looks at us in our selfishness, He has compassion on us. He knows the hardness of our hearts, and He knows that breaking that hardness cannot be done by command. Only love can break such a hard heart. And so, He allowed His body to be broken as He paid the price of our Sin. He became the bread of life which was broken and given out to each and every one of us despite our sinfulness.
And He says to us, stop trying to change yourself. Stop trying to overcome your selfishness. Trust in my work. Trust in what I have accomplished on your behalf by dying for you. Place your hope in me, and you will see something marvelous happen. You will find yourself being satisfied. You will find yourself being full. To the extent you put your trust in me, your selfish nature will be overthrown, and you will find that you have in abundance.
It is my firm belief that if we admit our inability to accomplish such change on our own–whether in our personal lives; our church life; or in society–if we accept our failure and turn to Jesus, then and only then will the world’s hunger be satisfied, and our baskets will be full as well. Amen.