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The Priority of People
with the Provision of Christ
The feeding of the 5,000–Mark 6:30 to 44
It was our first full day in Oahu, Hawaii to see our kids. We were meeting our daughter on the beach, and had arrived first. It was beautiful, yet the weather was gloomy and cold. We were wondering if we were seeing the Marine base off in the distance, so I asked a local lady who was walking by, and instantly I sensed she was lonely. We continued to talk. I shared who I was–a teaching pastor, and also how I was related to Christ.
It was at this point she opened up a flood gate of information–the recent death of her husband, that he was Japanese, that certain things could not be said at the funeral about him that might be perceived as honoring him because of his culture, how her kids were dealing with all this. Then how she was an artist and designed things.
As the discussion continued, all kinds of thoughts were going through my mind–can you guess what they were? I wonder how I can best help this woman? Is there something I can say or do that would really minister to her? I wonder if she genuinely knows Christ? Wow, I wish she went to a good Bible-teaching church so she had a better view of who God is. Then as she continued talking, I remember thoughts like, I wonder how long she is going to keep talking? Oh no, she’s gonna tell me about her modern artwork–gag me. I hope she doesn’t stick around much longer cause I want to spend time with my kids.
I wanted to love her, tried to care for her, but after awhile I struggled with listening to her as the time approached for my kids to arrive. I battled with the priority of people–anyone else? Ministry to people is difficult, even people you know. Some of you know that it’s easier to plan a camp then disciple teens. It can be more fun to organize an event than to shepherd people with problems. It’s easier to teach a class, than it is to counsel struggling saints. Ministry to people is messy.
I believe that’s why God commands all who love Him first to love people second. The greatest command, love the Lord–the second greatest command, love people. Not the love of emotions, but the biblical love of sacrifice–the genuine love of obedience, faithfulness and service. Without that love, Paul says we’re just a loud obnoxious noise.
John makes the priority of loving people just as pointed when he says, 1 John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.’” If we truly love God, then we are to make people a priority over things, events, activities, duties, and routines.
Right now, ladies, picture your house in your mind–got it? Men, think through where you work. Students, get your school fixed clearly in your mind. Kids, think about your room and all your things—got it? All of that is going to burn–it will be toast with God’s judgment of this planet. None of it is going to last. The only thing that will last eternally is the people. Are people your priority, over pets, projects, and your profession?
In His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, taught and demonstrated how important it was for us to love people. And you will see Christ’s incredible heart for people in a surprising way in Mark 6:30 to 44 with the feeding of the 5,000. Open your Bibles and follow along with your outline.
The disciples were just sent out two-by-two to proclaim the Gospel, teach God’s Word, display Christ’s compassion, and point to Christ’s authority by healing the sick and casting out demons. But now John the Baptist has just been killed by Herod Antipas, and because of the close connection between John and Christ, His death might actually have put an end to the disciples’ two-by-two ministry.
They all return, weary from their labors and burdened by the death of John. Jesus calls for some R and R–rest and refreshment. As they get away to a remote place, they’re followed by a huge crowd of people. The disciples just finished a long ministry to people, and they tell Jesus to send them all away–enough with people. But Jesus looks at the crowd and is gut-wrenchingly moved with compassion for them, calling them sheep without a shepherd.
And this crowd is not merely filled with loving followers, but people merely looking for a free meal. Many are unbelievers who’ll later call for Christ to be crucified–yet Christ has compassion for them. Things don’t matter–my comfort doesn’t matter, my wants don’t matter, my preferences don’t matter–only people matter, only people are eternal.
As we exposit the truths of this passage, allow the Lord to mold you to be more like Christ, and grow to love people the way He does. If you love Christ, you will love people. Your heart will break for people–you will care where people are at with Christ, and especially where they will spend eternity, heaven or hell.
This passage will also show you the importance of rest, compassion, obeying when you can’t see what God is doing, and to give without measure. You’ll see God shows His power through our weakness, and little things can be used by God in great ways. You will see Christ as your Creator, with all power and authority over everything in the universe, including everything in your life. But I also hope you’ll grow in compassion for people like Christ.
I have found nine fast-moving points that all start with the letter “R” to help us walk through Christ’s priority of people while He provides food for thousands. This incredible event is the only miracle described in all four gospels, with Mark giving us some unique eyewitness details from Peter, starting with . . .
#1 Rigorous Service for Christ Verses 30 to 32
The incredible Galilean ministry is wrapping up—it’s spring AD29 and Christ is incredibly popular. Everyone is talking about Jesus and His supernatural abilities. In the midst of this momentum, John the Baptist is killed and the apostles return from their two-by-two.
First Service to People Verse 30
“The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught.” Do you see what Mark calls them? The men were sent out to represent Christ, to preach the good news–that God has provided a way for forgiveness from sins, and to prove they were from Christ, they had the same power and authority of Christ to cast out demons and heal.
Mark 6:12 to 13 reminds us what they were doing, “They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.” This authority to represent Christ caused Mark to call them by their official name, the only time he calls the twelve apostles.
They “gathered together”–back together with Jesus after ministering throughout the entire region in pairs, and they gave Jesus a complete report of the entire ministry trip. It had cost them nothing in money or supplies since they trusted the Lord to supply all their needs along the way. But it did cost them in other ways. So Jesus suggests a . . .
Second Sabbath from People Verses 31 to 32
Working without resting, being busy without ever taking a break, serving without some retreat for reflection, quiet, rest and prayer can be dangerous. Even Jesus, in his human nature, needed periods of rest. These men were walking from town to town, staying in the homes of strangers, all the while healing, casting out demons, and teaching God’s Word–all of it totally exciting.
Seeing people’s lives radically changed for Christ, seeing men trained for ministry, seeing people understand and obey God’s Word is awesome. But it is also emotionally tiring, mentally taxing, physically exhausting, and spiritually wearing. So Verse 31, “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.)”
Come apart, or you will come apart–the twelve needed to get away, and Mark makes it clear they needed to get away by themselves to a secluded locale–a desert wilderness place. Secluded describes an empty place, an abandoned spot, or thinly populated locale. Why?–to get a little rest . . . literally a rest of small duration.
Like a cup of cold water in the midst of the marathon race, the boys needed a little down time to take a breath and relax a little. Matthew’s gospel lets us know it wasn’t merely rest from the two-by-two ministry trip that motivated the getaway, but also John’s recent death. You get it, don’t you? The crowds would want to know how Christ was reacting to John’s death by the hands of Herod Antipas, since possibly Christ’s reaction might actually stimulate a revolt against Herod Antipas, because Herod murdered John.
So Jesus deliberately withdraws from the territory of Antipas. So rest is a good idea. Elijah takes on hundreds of false prophets, kills them all, but freaks out when one woman, Jezebel, threatens him–why? One big factor was Elijah was worn out/exhausted. For the disciples it was so busy, verse 31 says there were many people coming and going. Meaning as soon as one crowd left, another one took their place–making it so demanding, there was no time to eat or to rest. So what do they do? Verse 32, “They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.”
Jesus and His twelve privately set sail in the morning in a boat, the boat traveling about four miles on the water to a lonely region–near, the other gospels tell us, Bethsaida. So they travel from Capernaum to Bethsaida. But their . . .
#2 Rest Curtailed by the Crowds Verse 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.” They got away alone, but did not escape notice. Today we have cameras on every phone and paparazzi. Back then Jesus was so popular, He was watched by everyone. Recognized means they knew Him personally–it was His friends who started this mad rush.
Mark says many recognized the Lord leaving with His crew, so the people began to run about 8 to 10 miles on foot (twice as far) in order to follow Christ–to get to where He was going. Not only are they running along the shore, there are some hills to climb, and they had to cross the Jordan River as it enters the Sea of Galilee in order to get to where the Lord and His men are. Oh, if the church today were as zealous to be with Christ!
Look at verse 33—“from all the cities, and got there ahead of them.” All the gospel accounts together tell us many are running together, some are walking fast, but as they go through each fishing village, they keep picking up more and more people–a long string of people. Some of the young and LA Fitness members arrive as the boat pulls to shore, yet the Lord takes His men to a secluded spot.
But as more and more people arrive, the gospel of John tells us, John 6:3 and 5, “Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. 5 Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him.” This results in . . .
#3 Righteous Compassion of Christ Verse 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.” Now at their rest stop, Jesus sees the massive mob that’s gathered. So what do Jesus and His weary men do? They announce, “Hey folks, we’re tired, beat, it’s been a long day. Please don’t bother us today, come back tomorrow.” Nope.
At this elevated position up the hill in the Bethsaida region, the Lord sees this massive unorganized throng that’s collected below them, and it affects Him. The Lord reacts—it moves Him. Verse 34, “and He felt compassion for them.” Instead of being annoyed or agitated, He’s brokenhearted for them. Jesus looks at a crowd of 8 to 25 thousand people, some who were genuine followers, others external fans, many shallow thrill seekers, and self-centered freeloaders.
Yet Christ strongly reacts to their need. The Lord has an emotional response that affects Him physically in the gut. Mark makes it clear–our God cares for people. Jesus is deeply moved by the suffering, confusion, despair and spiritual lost-ness of this vast crowd. And even though He is now glorified, the Lord still is moved to care–even for you.
The Greek word compassion is used nine times in the New Testament, only of Christ or of those in parables who resemble Christ–it is His heart. Sometimes in the New Testament, it was used toward someone who was sick, other times it is used toward a person suffering the effects of sin. You ask, is this compassion an isolated event in the New Testament? No. Compassion is at the very core of who Christ is.
Mark 8:1 to 2–felt compassion for the multitude
Matthew 20:29 to 34–two blind men sitting by the road, Jesus moved with compassion touched their eyes
Mark 1:40 to 41–moved with compassion for the leper
Luke 7:11 to 13–Christ showed compassion to the widowed woman who’d lost her only son
Jesus was wrenched in His midsection over the crowds. Far from being a healing machine, or displaying power to amaze the crowd, Christ feels their misery. It is our God who has compassion–it is God’s way of describing our Lord’s tender mercies and sympathetic emotion. It’s a word that comes from the Greek word vicera, the stomach. The Lord has a gut-wrenching reaction for this crowd of people. Jesus just lost John the Baptist–His men are weary, yet our Lord is always willing to forget His own needs, sorrows and weariness to care for the burdens and sorrows of people.
Why did Jesus react this way? Mark alone tells us what Jesus sees–verse 34, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Oh if we could see like Christ sees! What did Christ actually see? Sheep without a shepherd–He saw them as sheep, which in this case are animals who are defenseless, lost, unable to feed themselves, and in danger. Sheep without true shepherds become easy prey for predators.
Matthew 9:36 tells us Christ saw people as “distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.” The root word of distressed means flaying or skinning–the idea is battered, bullied, mangled, ripped apart and exhausted . . . the flock had been fleeced. They’re bewildered and unable to rescue themselves. Downcast means to prostrate oneself from either drunkenness or a mortal wound.
The leaders of Israel were evil shepherds providing no help. They were not shepherding God’s people, providing an example, nor teaching them God’s Word. So Jesus immediately acts. The Lord’s compassion is more than feeling and seeing–at the end of verse 34, “and He began to teach them many things.” Jesus immediately began shepherding the crowd by feeding them. Their greatest need was to be taught God’s Word–and the other gospels tell us the Lord also healed some in this massive crowd.
Matthew says Jesus taught them the Kingdom of God–where you come to Christ like a child and God transforms you. Do you see people the way Jesus does, with compassion? Are you moved with compassion for those without Christ? Are you moved with compassion for your brothers and sisters in Christ who are untaught, suffering or struggling in life? If not, let me tell you why, young or old . . .
as yet you have not been gripped by the Gospel in your own life
or you have not been crushed by the frailty of life, where someone very close to you has died
or pounded by the reality of people going to Hell forever
or struck by the incredible love, mercy and grace of Christ for you
or devastated by the reality of your own sinfulness, and are overwhelmed by a God who could actually forgive you
or you have not experienced enough of the harshness of life to really know what really matters—people matter
Well, in the midst of feeding His sheep God’s Word, the crowd became . . .
#4 Ready to Eat Verses 35 to 36
“When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, ‘This place is desolate and it is already quite late’” (verse 35). The tired and hungry twelve come to Christ and confess they’re peopled out–it’s late. The Jews had two evenings–one was measured from 3 to 6 pm, and the other from 6 to 9 pm. Verse 35 was the first evening, just prior to sunset at about 4 to 5 pm, since it’ll get dark around 6 pm at this time of year.
They realize they’re out in the middle of nowhere, and time is running out for everyone to be able to eat. So what is their compassionate solution? Hey Jesus, they ran here–so they can run back. Verse 36, “Send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Jesus, you send them away so they can get their dinner.
Surrounding countryside are the Greek words for around fields. It can be describing the countryside, but also could be referring to going to fields in that area, and by Jewish law people are able to eat the grain that’s accessible along the outside pathways of fields. Or option two, they’ll have to go back through the villages they just ran through in order to buy some food to eat.
They’re expressing blunt and common sense concern for people. They’re thinking, “We’ve got to take care of this–this is a big problem.” They want people to meet their own need, not to look to Christ. And they can’t wait any longer, because it will get too late to see. So the disciples actually command Christ here, “Send them away.” The Lord’s in charge, but they want to remind Jesus of His responsibilities.” Then Jesus turns the tables on them with the . . .
#5 Requirement of Christ Verse 37a
“But He answered them, ‘You give them something to eat!’” This shocked them–but it shouldn’t have. The Lord had just commanded the disciples in verse 8 to take nothing with them–no bread, no bag, no money for their two-by-two ministry trip and God would supply all their needs. And He did. God supplied all the bread, money and needs they had.
Now Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat!” In Greek, this is a very strong statement–first it’s an imperative command, and second the word “you” is also emphatic, meaning it’s emphasized. It should read, “You yourselves.” It’s the strongest form of the Greek command there is–“I command you yourselves to give them something to eat.” Three of the gospels record this identical startling command, telling us it was an unforgettable memory on the part of the disciples. They’re shocked.
Matthew tells us Jesus added, they need not depart, firmly overruling their proposal to send the people all away. Why would Jesus say that? Why would Jesus tell the disciples, “You yourselves give them something to eat?” Jesus could see they didn’t have enough food, and Jesus knew they’d not get enough food now, even if they went into the field edges or nearby towns.
Why does He tell them this? I think it’s clear–Jesus wants them to come to the end of themselves. That’s why–the end of self. To admit they couldn’t do it–their ideas were not going to work, nor did they have the resources to take care of these people. But they were not there yet. The idea of looking to Christ in order to feed them supernaturally did not enter their mind. They’re still thinking about their own resources.
#6 Rattled Disciples, over Christ’s command to feed the crowd Verse 37b
“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?’” Looking back from a 2,000-year vantage point, we can see this clearly. I want to shout at the disciples, “Just ask Jesus, guys!” Here they are, standing in front of Niagara Falls and asking, “I wonder where can we get a drink of water?” The disciples are standing in front the Creator of the universe, the Lord who made the world, designed them and created grain, and they are asking, “Where can we get some bread?”
Philip thinks he’s clever by doing the math. And they’re all there agreeing with Philip. One day’s wage is a denarius, so 200 working days of money, eight months of salary just maybe will buy enough bread for everyone to eat a little. They’re thinking, “We have inadequate resources to meet an impossible request, and no one’s considering how they’ll get to the places that may have bread and how they might carry it all back to everyone.”
Plus their tone here is disrespectful—it’s almost as if they’re saying, “This is too much, Lord, even if you are our Master–over the top!” Any bean counter could see the foolishness of what Jesus is asking. This doesn’t make practical sense, Jesus–are you serious? Had anyone asked them whether Jesus could supply bread for all, they would have answered with a unanimous, “Of course He can.” But at this moment, with the Lord prodding them to try to come to an end of themselves and trust Him, they couldn’t see it.
I wonder how many times that is true of me? How about you? Are there things you’re hanging on to, trying to fix, but it seems impossible or impractical, yet the Lord wants you to trust Him with it? The problem with the disciples is they’re looking at the need, the crowd, the problem–and they are not looking at who? Christ! Do you trust Jesus, or do you trust yourself? Do you trust Him for your current trial, for your children, your health, your baby, your ministry, your future, and your yet-to-be-discovered spouse? You say you trust Jesus, but you live like Mr. & Mrs. Self-Sufficient. The Lord knows He’s not breaking through their thick skulls, so He gives His . . .
#7 Redirection by Christ, preparation for the miracle Verses 38 to 40
The disciples had seen Christ heal every kind of disease, calm a storm, cast out an army of demons and raise the dead. But when facing an overwhelming crisis and insurmountable problem, they failed to depend on the Lord’s power–like you sometimes? So the Lord presses His men and . . .
First Orders for supplies Verse 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 asks, “Since you guys are so concerned with resources, what kind of supplies do we actually have?” And to press the issue, and probably with a heart of sadness, Jesus commands His men to be going, and commands them to look! Matthew’s gospel in 14:17 records the disciples saying, “We have ‘only’ five loaves and two fish.” We don’t have anything here except seven small items.
John’s gospel records the five loaves and two fish came from a boy who apparently offered his lunch to Andrew. But the disciples still only see the impossibility of the situation, since Andrew adds, “But what are these for so many people?” Mark tells us in verse 38, “And when they found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’” They had only five small barley cakes and two salted sardine-like fish—two filet o’ fish sandwiches for over 5,000. The impossibility of the situation was now firmly established, and every one of the apostles knew it. The demand was too high, and the supply too low. But I wonder what they were thinking when Jesus gave the . . .
Second Order in Serving Verses 39 to 40
“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.” This seating arrangement is a lot like the order and arrangement of the people of Israel in the wilderness. There are some similarities like, they are now also in a desert place, about to receive some bread from heaven, arranged in large groups. Like then, the goal is to trust God to supply their needs. The Greek word for groups is literally garden plot–it paints a beautiful picture . . . clusters of colorfully clad people sitting in orderly groups, like flower beds on a cut green lawn, like a quilt.
It was garden bed by garden bed in groups, allowing for paths in between them for the disciples to walk, in order to serve them. It was the early spring, so the grass was still green. And regardless of their frustration, the disciples still obey the Lord’s command to get everyone to recline, sit down in groups, which is the proper posture to eat in this culture, especially outside. Plus, had they remained standing, they may have crowded, pushed and shoved the disciples to get at the food. The people have no idea what is about to happen, though the disciples may have guessed by now.
#8 Rations Reproduced, the miracle feeding of 5,000 Verses 41 to 42
“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.” Once the people are seated, the Lord takes the boy’s lunch, raises His eyes up toward heaven and gives thanks to His Heavenly Father.
We are not told the exact moment the miracle took place. Apparently it was a continuous multiplication that occurred as the disciples walked among the groups distributing the food. The men could not possibly have carried containers large enough to hold all the food, even with it divided into twelve parts. God used creative power at the molecular level to make more food. He just kept breaking the loaves and dividing up the fish into pieces. The verb “kept giving” is imperfect, meaning Jesus kept on giving, giving and giving. There was no fanfare and no dramatic change from little fish to mega tuna–the miracle was all but invisible, its magnitude being evident only as thousands of people ate it all down.
Verse 42 says, “They all ate and were satisfied.” Satisfied is a word used of animals who stayed at the feed trough until they wanted nothing more to eat. The gospel of John adds they ate as much as they could. This is a Thanksgiving meal-type experience. It’s my favorite holiday–super thankful for all that God has done and given, while enjoying fellowship, the best food and as much as you can eat. It doesn’t get any better than that on earth. Have you ever asked, “Could it be that this food was perfect, not tainted by the fall and its consequent corruption of all the earth through sin?”
I had a filet mignon once–I thought it was heavenly. I had bread in Venezuela that actually tasted supernatural. I ate lobster tail once in Hawaii that’s never been matched. And I ate an éclair in France that had no equal anywhere. But I believe I’d trade all of that for this bread and fish. It was the best food ever served on this planet–all were satisfied. And there were leftovers.
#9 Residual Remains, the message of miracle leftovers Verses 43 to 44
“And they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish.” There was more than enough food to fully satisfy everyone and uneaten leftovers. These were not scraps of bread and fish with small bites taken out of them, like there might be in our homes, but the food the crowd couldn’t eat because they were so full. So each disciple had plenty to eat himself, and could share what they had with Christ and any others.
Can you picture this crucial moment? Don’t miss this–each of you just told Christ to send everyone away to get food, and the entire time Christ is trying to bring you to a place to trust Him for His supply, His power and His ability. And now you stand there holding a basket overflowing with supernaturally created bread and fish leftovers–mmmm! You sure hope you would have gotten the point, don’t you? Sadly we’ll see the disciples were slow getting it, even after this.
Here He is, the Lord of the atom, the Creator of the genetic code, the one who can bypass all the usual means whereby loaves and fishes are made and do the impossible, create food. He created the world, made the moon, sun and stars. He raised the dead, made the blind see, cleansed a leper, calmed the waves after a storm, and cast out an army of demons. What else should you expect from God? Was this an immense, almighty miracle? Absolutely!
Verse 44, there were five thousand men who ate the loaves. Matthew tells us they didn’t count the women and children, so there could have been up to 25,000 people there. John’s gospel tells us the people were so awed by Jesus’ power, they immediately tried to force Him to become their earthly king. But the Lord is not looking to change things externally. His desire is to transform your heart internally–are you ready? Jesus is worthy of your trust, as He not only shows us what He is able to do, but why He does it–He cares for people.
ONE Seek to grow a more COMPASSIONATE heart toward people
Parents, it’s not the homework, but the student doing the homework
Men, it’s not the guys you compete with on the job, but men who need Christ or need encouragement from the Word
Ladies, stop looking at their hair and clothes, and start praying for the hearts of women who need the Gospel and God’s Word
First Thessalonians 5:14, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
Ask the Lord to give you His heart to care, His eyes to see, His mercy to share to that difficult child, uncaring spouse, rude neighbor, that bully at school, that strange teacher–be willing to give, sacrifice, love, serve, share, listen and express His compassion.
TWO Be willing to OFFER your weakness
Stop saying you can’t talk, or give, or share, or be faithful, or you have too many problems, or you’re not ready, too busy, or have nothing. God is not interested in strong people with lots of resources, ideas, and abilities. He’s interested in weak people to be dependent upon Him. He is looking for a kid’s lunch–weak things.
Second Corinthians 12:10, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Trust Him with your trial–serve Him.
THREE Turn to Christ as Creator and Savior
Jesus made it clear today, that He is the one who has all power. He is the one who created you and designed you for a purpose, but we blew it—every one of us chose to go our own way. We rebelled against our Creator and lived life our way, called sin. But He loved you enough to provide a way to deal with your sin. Christ became a man, died on the cross for your sins, rose from the dead, and if you surrender to Him, He can forgive you and give you an entirely new life. You will look the same, but you won’t be.