We are in the second week of Lent, the time of year set aside to remember the sacrifices of Jesus. Of course the sacrifice of His body that culminated in His crucifixion, but also other sacrifices. Sacrifices of time and energy, for instance. And the sharing of His power.
The theme of this year’s season of Lent is Walking With Jesus. The word “walking” is used rather than “walk” because walk, at least to me, indicates something we should do, whereas walking, at least to me, celebrates what we are doing.
Each Sunday of this Lenten season, we will be walking with Jesus as we discuss some of the things that happened to Him and some of the things He did during His ministry. The hope and prayer and challenge is that between each of the Sundays our actions toward Jesus and toward others will display that we are indeed walking with Him, doing all we can to show appreciation for all His sacrifices, using His shared power to represent Him well.
For this message, a wonderful example of Jesus’ power. Let’s consider Mark 6:30-44.
To set the stage, let’s consider some of what happened right before today’s passage, specifically verses 7 through 13.
In verse 7, Jesus sent His disciples out two by two. He sent them out to do ministry.
Isn’t that interesting? And encouraging? Jesus was all-powerful. He was all-knowing - He had been displaying both those qualities. His reputation for each was wide-spread. But He gave His disciples the opportunity to join in His ministry. Their role was to learn, but they were also given the opportunity to put what they learned into action.
That is interesting, and it is encouraging for us to know we, too, have opportunities to do ministry. What a privilege it is to work for the all-powerful, all-knowing Lord.
Jesus sent His disciples out. He sent them two by two, I assume so they could build up one another. He sent them out with authority over unclean spirits. Jesus had that authority. He had shown that in many miracles. He would continue to show it. Now He shared that authority with His disciples.
Verses 8 and 9. Jesus sent them out with only that authority, and one set of clothes and shoes and a staff for each of them. That was it. Jesus forbade them from taking anything else. No food, no bag, no money, no extra clothes, which I think means they had nothing to rely on other than the authority of Jesus.
In addition - verse 10 - they were to go to wherever they were sent, find a place to stay, and stay there. They were not to shop around for nicer places.
And they were to remain in that town or city for as long as Jesus directed unless the people there would not listen to their message about Jesus. If that happened - verse 11 - the disciples were to go to the boundary of the town or city and shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against those who would not listen.
Verses 12 and 13. The disciples went out. They preached, teaching that men should repent. They anointed many who were sick. Those they anointed were healed. And, with the authority shared by Jesus, they cast out many demons.
It was a wonderful time of ministry for the disciples. They enjoyed great successes. Apparently they faced little or no opposition or other difficulties. At least, none are recorded. What a wonderful gift that was from Jesus, making sure the first ministry adventure for the disciples was positive.
The disciples enjoyed great successes, which, when they returned to Jesus in verse 30, which begins the main passage for this message, they were eager to report. They quickly and excitedly told Jesus all they had done and taught.
Then, in another encouraging act, Jesus taught the disciples the need, not only to work, even when the work is ministering in His name, but also to rest. Verse 31. Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves.” I know Jesus rejoiced with the disciples, but He added, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.” According to the passage, it was not just resting from their recent adventure. As they reported their successes to Jesus, there were many other people around. So many they did not have time even to eat. They needed rest from that as well.
Jesus instructed the disciples to rest. Verse 32. They obeyed. They got into a boat to sail to a lonely place along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus went with them.
The goal was a quiet time of rest. However, that turned out to not be what happened. It seems the boat Jesus and His disciples were on was not too far off shore. It could be seen quite easily. And it seems the distance the boat went was not too far. Verse 33. Many people who had been with Jesus and the disciples saw them going. They ran along the shore and actually made it to the landing spot before the boat arrived. That is how eager the people were to hear more from Jesus.
Verses 35 and 36. Eventually, it grew late in the day. The disciples went to Jesus with a problem. “It is late,” they reminded Jesus. “The people are getting hungry. It is time to wrap this up. Send the people away so they can go and buy themselves something to eat.”
That sounds like a good plan. But verse 37. Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”
“Us,” they said. “You expect us to go buy enough bread for all the people. The crowd is huge - 5000 men, plus women and children. We don’t have enough money to buy that much bread. What do You mean that we are to give them something to eat?”
Verse 38. Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Which they did. According to the Gospel of John, one of the disciples - Andrew - found a boy with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Andrew went with the boy back to Jesus, where the Lord was shown what was available.
The suggestion is that the boy was willing to share his food. Isn’t that interesting? The boy had to have been hungry, just like everybody else, and it was not his fault no one else had food. Yet he was willing to let it be known what he had. What a wonderful sense of generosity that boy had.
The disciples reported to Jesus that the only food in the entire crowd was five loaves of bread and two fish.
The disciples were discouraged by that. But not Jesus. Verse 39. He commanded the people to sit down in groups in an organized manner.
The first miracle - that is how I word it - is in verse 40. The people obeyed. They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.
Why do I call that a miracle? The people were hungry. Do you ever get grouchy when hunger pangs start? This was late in the day, which means the people were tired. Do you ever get a bit surly when you are tired? The people still had to get home. Do you ever get irritable when a trip is in the offing?
The people were hungry. They were tired. They were away from home. Yet when Jesus told them to sit in an organized way, that is what the people did. What a miracle that was over the emotions of those people.
But another miracle came next. Verse 41. Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish. He looked up to Heaven. He blessed the food. He then broke the loaves, giving pieces to the disciples to serve to the people. He then divided the fish among the disciples to serve to the people.
By the way, this was another example of Jesus giving His disciples the opportunity to serve. They worked with Jesus in this miracle.
Verses 42 and 43. Everyone - all 5000 men, plus the women and children - ate. And they were satisfied. This was not just a taste they each received. Not just a tiny crumb for each person. Each person in the crowd was satisfied. Each had enough to eat.
Plus, there was food left over. After everyone was done with the meal, the disciples collected what was left. They took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces of bread and fish, which means the disciples were able to eat as well.
What a miracle. A very little bit of food was transformed by Jesus - multiplied by Jesus - into enough to feed thousands of people.
How did He do it? I have not a clue. I guess if I did know, it would not be a miracle. But what a miracle. A miracle of Jesus. The only miracle that is recorded in all four of the Gospel accounts of Jesus and His ministry.
Because we are told of this miracle four times, God must have some things He really wants us to get. In addition to what has already been mentioned - that it is a privilege to work for Jesus and that rest is important.
Let’s think about what God wants us to understand, along with some questions for us to think about. We will do this before we get to one more passage for this message.
Beginning with this question. At the time of the miracle of the feeding of the thousands, which of the two groups would you have been more comfortable in - the group being served or the group doing the serving?
I suspect there are times for both. If nothing else, you and I cannot serve unless someone is willing to be served. There are times we have to receive instead of give.
However, one the teachings of Jesus is that serving others with and in the name of Jesus is important. In fact, there are other times the disciples were called on to serve. For instance, thinking of the season we are in, it was the disciples who got and prepared the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It was the disciples who prepared a place for them and Jesus to celebrate the Last Supper. It was the disciples who were told by Jesus they were to go to all the world, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.
Yes, the disciples often sat and listened to Jesus. Those times were critical then. They are critical now. However, the disciples also served. We are to do the same. One of the challenges of this season is to pray for God’s guidance for how He wants each of us to serve. All the way from worshiping Him on Sunday mornings to using whatever spiritual gifts He has given us.
Are you serving? Am I. The fact we should be serving is one thing to be learned from the miracle of feeding thousands of people.
Another question. Are you also willing to rest? Remember after their ministry assignment, Jesus instructed the disciples to rest. As discussed, it did not work out for them to rest, but other times it did. Are you willing to rest so, it might be worded, your physical and spiritual batteries can be recharged?
Resting can be difficult to do. I will tell this one on myself. About a month ago, I sustained a finger injury. I thought it would take care of itself, but the finger got an infection. I went to our family doctor, who sent me to an orthopedic center, which checked me in to the surgery center next door, where the finger was taken care of. I took the next day off and worked about half the day after that.
In a way, it was easy to do that because I knew rest would help the healing process. Plus, it is a difficult to do keyboard work with a massive dressing on a finger. But it also had a difficult feel to it because I felt like I ought to be doing something constructive.
According to today’s passage, rest is important. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself displayed that. Many places in the Bible we are told of Jesus spending time alone. Time spent praying and otherwise recharging His physical and spiritual batteries. The point is a serious one. If Jesus needed time to rest, how much more do we need time to rest?
It is a privilege to work for Jesus. Rest is important as well. Another teaching is how eager Jesus was to serve others.
Remember Jesus had wanted to get away from the crowds. He wanted some alone time with His disciples. When that did not happen, He did not become angry or snippy. He did not even get discouraged. Instead, He served the people who met Him.
I read this in an article on today’s passage. Next time you are in a crowd, use your eyes and ears to observe. You may notice some pushing and shoving. There may be some angry words or glances. You might notice some people with bloodshot eyes. You will see a lot of people using their mobile devices. There may be some disobedient kids and desperate parents.
The article suggests this. Do not be one of the crowd, and do not get annoyed by all the bad or rude things going on around you. Instead, see those around you as people who need the Lord. No doubt some around you already know the Lord, maybe including those having a difficult time. But see others as those who need the Lord, and have compassion on them. Compassion displayed with a smile or a kind word. Maybe pray for those around you. Whether they know of your prayers or not, your prayers will be important.
The question. Do you - will you - will I - see people with needs as people who need the miracles of Jesus? Perhaps the miracle of extending the food supply to meet the demand. Perhaps some other kind of miracle, but will we see people as needing Jesus, either for first time or to develop a deeper relationship with Him. Tying that to an earlier point, are we willing to serve to help accomplish that?
Another teaching relates to the boy who offered his bread and fish. What a sacrifice he made. As it turned out, he ended up with a whole lot bigger meal, but he did not know that at the time he showed Andrew what food he had.
The question. Do we have that same kind of generosity? Even if it does not extend to all we have, are we willing to share some of what we have for the good of others?
I am pretty sure the answer is that we do share, but let’s keep it up. Indeed, let’s go even deeper into generosity as the Lord directs. The benefits were stupendous for the people in the crowd in today’s passage. Think how many people can be affected by our generosity now.
It is a privilege to serve. Rest is important. Jesus was and is eager to serve others. Our generosity is a good thing. When what we have is given to Jesus, it can be multiplied by Jesus to help many, many others. All those are important teachings for us to know, understand, and add to our faith.
Which, sadly, was apparently not the case for the disciples, which brings us to one more passage.
The feeding of the thousands - 5000 men, plus women and children - is recorded in in middle part of Mark 6. In the first part of Mark 8 - just one-and-a-half chapters later - Jesus and His disciples were once again surrounded by a huge crowd of people. This time Jesus brought up a problem to His disciples. “The people are away from home. It has been a while since the people have eaten. I cannot just send them away. They would faint from hunger. The people need food.”
That is all Jesus said. He simply stated the problem. Whereupon I suppose He expected to hear the disciples say, “No problem, Jesus. Remember how You fed all those people a chapter-and-a-half ago. Do it again and the problem is solved.”
That might have been what Jesus expected to hear. He must have hoped His earlier miracle would be applied to chapter 8. Instead, the disciples answered, “Yep. That is a problem. One we do not know what to do about. How can anyone feed this many people here in the desert?”
How amazing that is. Shortly after a great miracle, even when faced with the very same problem, the disciples had no idea what to do. What short memories. What little faith the disciples had at that time.
Jesus must have been disappointed. However, there was a need, and Jesus once again took care of it.
Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” was the answer. Jesus then again had the people sit in orderly fashion. There were about 4000 in the crowd that day. He took the seven loaves. He gave thanks for the bread, then broke it before giving it to His disciples. The disciples served the bread - the greatly multiplied bread - to the people in the crowd. Jesus did the same with some fish that had been found.
The amount of food that day satisfied all the people in that crowd. The disciples were satisfied later with the amount of bread and fish left over - seven baskets full that day.
Once again a great miracle. A great display of Jesus’ power. Power used to help those in need. Power He allowed the disciples to be part of. I wonder if the disciples got it that time. I wonder if they then understood the power of Jesus and His willingness to help those in need.
One more question. Do we get it? Do we understand the power of Jesus? Will we remember it whenever we have a need - a physical need or a financial need or an emotional need or a spiritual need.
Today’s closing song is Leaning On the Everlasting Arms. We will sing verses 1 and 3.
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Throughout Lent, we are reminded about the journey Jesus made. A journey of coming, and teaching by word and example, and doing miracles, including the feeding of thousands of people with what at first were very small amounts of food. A journey that ended with His death.
Actually, the journey did not end then. On the third day after His death, Jesus rose from the dead.
But for now, let’s remember the call and the privilege of walking with Jesus. May we keep walking with Him now and beyond. Amen.