SERVICE VIDEO: LINK
TEXT: Mark 6:33-44; Psalm 105:1-2,40-43
Jesus and the disciples had just heard about the death of John the Baptist. It was a horrible thing, arranged by some in Herod’s household. John had been preaching repentance and going after Herod and his family for their wicked acts, and it resulted in his brutal death. You can read about that in the verses just before where we pick up today. Having heard about John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples went away by boat to a secluded place. Maybe it was to grieve the death of Jesus’ cousin who had “prepared the way” for him. Or maybe it was to lay low from those who had killed John. Or maybe some of both.
But as we pick up in Mark 6:33 some of the crowd following Jesus sees them leaving by boat and follows around the shore on foot, finally catching up to them in that deserted place. And as we’ve seen several times already, Jesus’ heart goes out to them, he does a miracle, and it points toward God’s provision and the Kingdom of God.
Today is our consecration or commitment Sunday, where we’ve asked you to bring or communicate your pledges for the coming year. While I’m not going to focus on that, I do see some striking parallels between today’s text and how God has provided for us THIS year and after walking through the passage with you I’d like to point out some of those parallels as a way to encourage you that God has been providing and will continue to provide for us as we keep our eyes on Him.
COMPASSIONATE SHEPHERD (v.34)
34 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.
When Jesus and the disciples reached the deserted place by boat, they saw the large crowd that had traveled on foot. But rather than continue on in search of seclusion, we read that Jesus “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.” (v.34)
Mark’s choice of language here is not accidental. It draws directly on two Old Testament prophets who described the lost state of God’s people.
6 “My people have become lost sheep;
Their shepherds have led them astray.
They have made them turn aside on the mountains;
They have gone along from mountain to hill
And have forgotten their resting place.
Ezekiel proclaims a lengthy condemnation from the Lord against the shepherds of Israel who care more for themselves than for the people who are their flock. Finally, in response, God says:
11 For thus says the Lord God,
“Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.
15 I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,”
declares the Lord God.
Elsewhere Jesus will refer to himself as the Good Shepherd. Indeed, the religious leaders or shepherds of Israel had led God’s people astray. And as we will see, there is Jesus teaching and then literally feeding the crowds in a remarkable fulfillment of these verses.
FOOD SHORTAGE (vv.35-38)
35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “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?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”
Jesus taught the crowds and then “when it was already quite late” (v.35) the disciples came to him to send the crowds away so they can go eat. Remember, they were in a deserted, secluded place.
Jesus answers them by saying, “You give them something to eat!” (v.37)
Let me paraphrase their response: “That’s going to cost a fortune!” Remember that a denarius is a standard worker’s daily wage, so this is 8-9 months worth of wages. Let me make that even more real for you: Let’s say we have an outdoor event and all of Old Providence and surrounding neighborhoods show up… standing room only through our whole property. And one of the elders says, “I think we should feed everybody!” Our finance elder does a quick calculation for pizza and says, “That’s going to cost us thirty or forty thousand dollars!” Read between the lines: Jesus, we don’t have that kind of money… do you really think we should spend it on this even if we somehow did have it?
Jesus doesn’t seem to bat an eyelash, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” (Hey, let’s see if we have anything in the church freezer!) And they come back with about what you might find in the church freezer: five loaves of bread and two fish.
You’ve probably heard that set up before. This is one of the few stories other than the crucifixion that is in all four Gospels.
What will they do?
FEEDING IN FAITH (vv.39-44)
39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 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. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.
The disciples may not have had the vision for feeding everyone with a little bit of food, but I’ll give them credit for being obedient. Jesus told them to sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties. This also echoed a scene in the scriptures where Moses organized and shepherded the ancient Israelites in a similar fashion in the desert. (see Exodus 18:21)
In fact the whole scene will become more than a miracle – which is amazing enough – it becomes a call-back to one of the most well-known and ongoing miracles in ancient Israel. Just as Jesus is compassionately teaching and shepherding the crowds in this deserted place, Moses also shepherded God’s people in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. In that deserted place God would also provide bread from heaven (manna) and quail so that the people would have enough to eat. Our call to worship briefly tells that story:
Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
40 They asked, and He brought quail,
And satisfied them with the bread of heaven.
41 He opened the rock and water flowed out;
It ran in the dry places like a river.
42 For He remembered His holy word
With Abraham His servant;
43 And He brought forth His people with joy,
His chosen ones with a joyful shout.
And so Jesus blessed the bread and fish and kept giving it out to the disciples to give to the crowd. And all “ate and were satisfied” that day. There were five thousand men and presumably additional women and children. Even the twelve full baskets left over hearkened back to the twelve tribes of Israel.
So many parallels to ancient times, God’s faithfulness, and ancient promises. God’s people no longer being fed by their shepherds, wandered to a deserted place, hungry with little to no food available, organized as Moses once had done before going up Mt. Sinai, miraculous provision of bread and fish, all satisfied with a symbolic twelve baskets left over. God must be up to something. When all that happened before God was delivering His people from slavery to the Promised Land. And God had promised to send one to once again deliver and once again establish a Kingdom.
The miracles of Jesus always taught, always pointed to something else, whether the forgiveness of sins, the coming of God’s Kingdom, or God’s authority over all things. This was no exception; as the Psalm says, this was making known God’s deeds among the peoples. (105:1b)
OBEDIENCE MULTIPLIED (short application)
This is one more example of what we’ve seen time and again in the past weeks of this series. Jesus is announcing the Kingdom, teaching and doing miracles. Along the way he is also taking time away to rest and to pray. But this seems to be taking things up a notch. This is a very public miracle; no more “don’t tell anyone about this.” And Jesus will become increasingly public as time goes on.
Broadly the application for us is similar to what it has been in previous weeks. Jesus invites and calls us to be a part of this work just as he did the disciples. He asked them to feed the people; he asked them what resources were on hand; he involved them in organizing the crowd and distributing the food. And they responded obediently even if they couldn’t see what he intended. In fact, in the very next story they are again caught in a storm in the boat. This time Jesus walked on the water and the storm calmed when he got into the boat. But then we read that they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves. (Mark 6:51-52)
I don’t want it to be said of me – or us – that we’ve seen God work but have not gained any insight from what God has done among us.
As I worked through this text a very particular work of God came to mind. Perhaps it is because this is our consecration/commitment Sunday and we are receiving the pledges for next year. But I didn’t come into this sermon planning to talk about that. Rather, what God brought to mind were several parallels over the past year or more and I’d like to name some of those to you with the intent that we DO gain insight from what God has done!
With two years of COVID we had curtailed most of our ministries other than worship, and it had to be done remotely and then with limitations for a long time. It very much felt like a desert or deserted kind of place. We lost some members to death and a number of others stopped participating and did not return. It felt diminished… it WAS diminished and smaller. And that had implications for our finances, our staffing, and our ministries. We were down to just a handful of youth and very few children and we had not met together for fellowship or reached out in outward ministry for two years.
From a purely financial perspective, we should have reduced programs and staff and made sure our expenses did not exceed our reduced income. But the elders and deacons of the church believed God was still calling us to effective ministry. We believed that God intended to use us in the world as He had in the past. And so we prayed, listened, discerned, and for two years in a row had a bigger vision than what we could afford… by a lot. In fact, in this year (2022) we stretched even further to add youth and outreach ministries and re-engage in multiple fellowship events, outreach and service projects, and more.
We had very few meetings where we sat around and said “How are we going to pay for that?” Rather, we had a lot of gatherings where we asked, “Where is God leading us and how can we be obedient and faithful?”
It felt like we had five loaves and two fish and God was asking us to feed 5,000. It didn’t add up, but we also didn’t give up. Like the disciples, without knowing how it would work out, we’ve tried to listen to God and do and go and be who He asks us to.
At our session meeting this past week we received a financial report that was so surprising I took it home and double-checked all the cells in the Excel chart. Surely someone mis-calculated. Even with things going well, we had thought we’d be about $25,000 behind at this time. That would have been better than projected. But we’ve been slowly making up ground. Folks have been giving generously and faithfully. We’ve welcomed some new members and some new regular participants into the life of the church. Groups that have used our building and grounds for some time have willingly – gladly! – agreed to cover costs and more than one has offered us more than we asked. I believe that underneath and over all that is the story that God is providing. God is providing! As of the end of October we are only short by about $12,000 and seem to be on pace to break even by the end of the year.
Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Yes, but I’m telling you we only had five loaves and two fish these past few years and we planned for a significant loss believing that we were investing faithfully in the future God was calling us to. And I’m telling you that I am as dumfounded as one of those disciples watching basket after basket go by and feeding those in the crowd. It is humbling and I don’t want us to miss it.
This isn’t a prosperity gospel where I say God is going to give us cars and boats and millions if we have enough faith. That’s not what was going on that day with the crowd and it’s not what I see going on here. What I do see is that when we keep our eyes focused on God and are careful to be obedient, God has always provided what we needed to be faithful. And that’s amazing. You are a part of that! You are like disciples handing out baskets of bread and fish.
Keep doing what you are doing! Keep showing up and participating in the work God is calling us to, that we might sing with the Psalmist:
Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples.
Some Music Used
- The Blessing
- Draw Me Nearer (I am Thine, O Lord) – Rick Bean, jazz piano
- How Great is Our God/How Great Thou Art
- We Will Feast in the House of Zion (McCracken)
- CHOIR: Just a Closer Walk
- Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah