Today we’re in Mark 6:33-45 looking at the feeding of the 5,000. This is a really important story. In fact it’s the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Think about that, of all that Jesus did.
I want us to look at it in two parts – first today, what Jesus did, that is, the miracle itself, and then next time what this miracle tells us about who Jesus is and the salvation he brings.
And we begin with setting the scene: vs. 33-34. Last we heard, the 12 had just come back from being sent out by Jesus. And they were overwhelmed by the crowds, so much so that they couldn’t even eat. So Jesus said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” – Mark 6:31. Now a desolate place doesn’t mean here a desert, it means a place where there aren’t any people. But this plan get derailed –
33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When he went ashore he saw a great crowd . . .
So Jesus and the 12 are in the boat, but the crowd on land is especially eager and run by foot ahead of them. Jesus and the 12 must not have gone a great distance because the crowd greets them when they land.
Now where they land is disputed, that is, where Jesus feeds the 5,000. Here’s my understanding. Luke 9:10 tells us that they land near Bethsaida, which is just East of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee. And John tells us that they cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side, that is, to the eastern shore. So it seems best to say that they’re somewhere East of Bethsaida, where there are no villages or towns – the yellow circle on the map below.
. . . and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Certainly there would’ve been the temptation for Jesus and the 12 to be angry that their attempt at rest has been thwarted. But instead of this our verse tells us that Jesus “had compassion on them.” It can also be translated as he had pity on them or felt sympathy for them.
Why? “Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The shepherd image is a common one in the Old Testament for leaders among God’s people (Numbers 27:17). If sheep don’t have a shepherd, they don’t know where to go; they have no one to guide them to food or to protect them from dangers. So this is a serious critique of the current leaders of Israel. They have failed at their job.
Jesus’ response is simple –
And he began to teach them many things.
They don’t have proper guidance and so he gives this to them. He teaches them about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). [Pastors/elders are called shepherds (Acts 20:17-35; 1 Peter 5:1-4). And certainly in the New Testament shepherding is closely connected to teaching (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:7; Titus 1:9).]
We saw before that we need to have times of rest away from our work for the kingdom. But here we also see that sometimes, out of love, we must interrupt our times of rest from kingdom work to meet a real need.
There is also another lesson, we too should have compassion towards those who don’t know the way. Not hatred towards unbelievers or even Christians we strongly disagree with. Not disgust. Not anger. We should have mercy and try to help them understand.
This brings us to the feeding of the crowd
35And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
So the disciples are thinking very practically here. Let’s let them get back to civilization before dark – so they can get some food for themselves. It was probably late afternoon.
But Jesus has a different idea –
37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”
Practical thinking is fine, except when it goes against what Jesus wants to do – which is a miracle here.
The first part of Jesus’ statement can be translated, “you yourselves give them something to eat.” The emphasis is on you the 12, not the crowd. They are being stretched here.
And this is a lesson for us. God will stretch us as well. As we go through our lives as followers of Jesus we too will experience times when we need to move beyond merely practical thinking; what seems sensible to do what God wants to do, which is often counter-intuitive and seems all upside down and out of whack. So with all our practical sense and wisdom we need to be careful to discern when God is asking us to set this aside to do something crazy for him.
And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”
They’re still thinking practically here and they raise two problems.
1. Shall we go? But this involves the same problem that the crowd would have – they’re in a desolate place, far away from anywhere to get food. And 2. the cost is prohibitive. 200 denarii is the equivalent of 200 hundred days wages for a common worker (Matthew 20:2). That’s about 8 month’s wages. And this is an amount they most certainly don’t have.
They don’t yet get what Jesus is up to. Jesus is their greatest resource and he is right there with them and he doesn’t charge any money. Since they are clueless, Jesus helps them.
38And 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.”
Jesus gives his practical thinking disciples a practical task, “go and see” what we have. When he says “you” it means the crowd also. As we learn in John, what they find comes from a boy in the crowd (John 6). They report back that they have five loaves of bread and two fish, which were probably dried.
39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.
That there’s green grass tells us that it’s Spring time. And John tells us that it was during Passover, which would have been sometime during March/April.
Jesus gets the crowd organized to facilitate the distribution of food.
41And 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.
After the blessing the miracle begins. Now, just how the multiplication actually happened is unclear. It says he “broke the loaves” and “divided the two fish.” Does this mean that he kept breaking the loaves and more appeared each time some was taken. Or does it mean that the loaves and fish themselves multiplied so that there was a pile of each Such details weren’t preserved. The fact is simply that the amount of food increased.
Notice how it was the disciples who gave the crowd food, just as Jesus said to them, “you yourselves give them something to eat.”
42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
We have three things in these verses that highlight the magnitude of this miracle.
1. All ate and were satisfied. To eat till you’re full was not something that could be taken for granted in the ancient world. This was a feast of bread and fish.
2. There was an abundance of leftovers. Twelve baskets full.
3. And the crowd was large, 5,000 men. And as Matthew tells us there were also some women and children there (14:21).
Just an observation – no one in the crowd is recorded as being amazed by this miracle. Did they know the full story of how the food was multiplied?
Also, notice the contrast with Herod’s feast a few verses back, where all the big wigs were together and John the Baptist was murdered. Notice the contrast between this and Jesus meeting the needs of common people.
Here’s a lesson for us from this story God takes what little we have and makes it more than enough. Any time God uses us we are inadequate. But he can take who we are and the gifts we have and multiply them to accomplish his purposes.
The story ends by noting that the disciples and the crowd leave.
45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
The word “made” can also be translated “compelled.” This may reflect what John says about how the crowd sought to make Jesus their king. He didn’t want them getting caught up in this. More likely it’s that the disciples would have been very reluctant to leave Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were always together and they were the ones who took care of his needs and also kept the crowds away from him at times.
The phrase “to the other side, to Bethsaida” is a little strange. Since we learn in v. 53 that they’re heading West to Gennesaret, he must mean they are to go West “towards” Bethsaida over to the other side.
Earlier the disciples had wanted to dismiss the crowd so they could get food. Jesus here dismisses them having himself met their need.
Let me end by saying –
Jesus is amazing!
What a miracle! What power! What ability to do things that go beyond human understanding. No one even asked him to do this . It was pure grace. Jesus is amazing!