20230416 GIVE THEM SOMETHING
Mark 6:35-44 NET.
35 When it was already late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place and it is already very late. 36 Send them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “Should we go and buy bread for two hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” 38 He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five — and two fish.” 39 Then he directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up the broken pieces and fish that were left over, twelve baskets full. 44 Now there were five thousand men who ate the bread.
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is a very familiar story to most of us. If you are like me, you heard this story many times as a child growing up. If I recall my Sunday School lessons correctly, the purpose for this story is to teach us to be like the little boy who surrendered his lunch to the disciples. It teaches generosity. I think there are a lot of lessons about generosity in Scripture.
But I want us to step back and take another look at this story today. We have been studying the commands of Christ in the Gospels, and our chronological study leads us to this text today. If we scan the words of today’s text as given to us by Mark, we find that the little boy is not even mentioned. Nothing Jesus says to the crowds is mentioned. The only conversation is between Jesus and his disciples. He has a lesson for them.
Now, Jesus had already taught his disciples the key elements of the gospel message. He had already also taught them how to preach the gospel and had sent them out on their own evangelistic campaigns. When he had sent them out, he empowered them to preach, heal the sick and deliver people from demons. Now he has returned to preaching and his disciples had returned to assisting him. In fact, what we see in today’s text came about because the disciples were seeking to assist Jesus in his ministry. Let’s walk through the story phase by phase and try to understand what Jesus is teaching his disciples through this event.
Phase 1 – the preacher runs a little late (35).
It appears that Jesus and his disciples were on a regular schedule for their ministry at this time. They would probably have regular times where Jesus would preach, then possible times for the disciples to go through the crowds talking and praying with the crowds, then if they found anyone needing healing, they could bring them to the Master. It appears that by late afternoon Jesus would wind things up with a final message for the day. Only, today Jesus’ final message just went on an on.
The book of Acts tells us that the Apostle Paul did that once. His final message of the day in Troas went until midnight. He probably would have kept on preaching, but a certain young man named Eutychus interrupted things by falling asleep and falling from the third loft, dead on arrival. Paul stopped preaching and gave the young man a hug, and he came to life again. We preachers tell these stories because chances are we are going to get long-winded someday, so we want you to know we are in good company.
Jesus was doing that. He was preaching late, and apparently had lost track of time. Sometimes we pray as if we are accusing Jesus of having lost track of time.
Phase 2 – The disciples say it’s quitting time (36).
That’s what the disciples are doing. They are essentially saying Lord (points at watch). Now, to be fair, the disciples knew that Jesus had asked them to join him at that isolated place so that they could rest and regroup. Earlier in the chapter we read that “the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for many were coming and going, and there was no time to eat). So, they went away by themselves in a boat to some remote place.” So, it makes sense that they would come to Jesus and remind him that they were running out of time to rest. Today was not supposed to be a typical day of ministry. They had gone to a remote spot for a retreat so they could talk over their experiences in their own evangelistic campaigns. But “many saw them leaving and recognized them, and they hurried on foot from all the towns and arrived there ahead of them.” When the disciples and Jesus arrived, they had found a huge crowd waiting with their Bibles and notebooks open, and ballpoint pens in hand. So, Jesus commenced to teach them many things.
But when it got late, the disciples said it’s time for us now. So, they reminded Jesus that it was getting dark, and the crowd had not come with enough provisions, so he should dismiss them so they could go where they could find food. It’s quitting time, Lord.
Phase 3 – “Y’all give them something to eat” (37a).
That’s a literal rendering of the Greek because unlike Yankee English, koine Greek has a second person plural pronoun. He told them “Y’all give them something to eat.” This is the command. I think this command relates to all of us just as it did to those disciples that day. I think we are often too quick reduce our ministry to the things that we normally do for practical reasons. All the rest is off limits. We figure out our budget for the year, putting in all our pet projects and traditions. We set our calendar. We do what we have done. When we come across a need that we haven’t ever met, we pray about it, and leave it there. What Jesus was doing that day was challenging his disciples to go beyond their own limits. He told them to do something that they could not do. It was impossible.
Phase 4 – no money (37b).
The disciple pulled their pockets inside out. They said, “Should we go and buy bread for two hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” Now the silver coin they were talking about was a denarius. A denarius was a day’s wage for a hired worker. The disciples had done the math. They figured that to feed that crowd of five thousand men, they would have to have worked over half a year – two hundred days. They did not have that kind of money. The disciples were pointing out that what Jesus had called them to do was not practical because they did not have the resources. We should not be too hard on the disciples for coming to this conclusion. Jesus didn’t berate them for what they said. He knew they would come to that conclusion. That just set them up for the next lesson.
Phase 5 – check your supplies (38).
Jesus told his disciples to make an inventory of their lunch boxes. This is where the little boy in the crowd comes in. The first miracle was not the feeding of the five thousand. The first miracle was that of all the crowds that gathered, only this little boy had thought to pack a lunch. So, this is what they had. Five biscuits and two fish. They might could have stretched those rations to feed one family, but it was way too little to feed a crowd of thousands.
Here is where the disciples would be thinking “See what we mean?” Jesus, you need to let these people go get some food elsewhere, because we don’t have enough.
This is where the miracle begins to happen, because Jesus intentionally let the situation get to this point. He is teaching his disciples that when it comes to ministry to others, he is ready to step in with his miraculous power, but he will often allow us to get to the point where we cannot do what we need to do. Remember, the command was “Y’all give them something to eat.” Their excuse was “We don’t have enough.” But Jesus did not command them to first check and see if they had enough. He wanted them to take what little they could scrounge up and start to feed the crowd.
He told them to check for what they had, not to determine whether they had enough. They all knew already that they did not have enough. The question for the disciples was whether they were willing to start something that they knew only Jesus could finish.
Phase 6 – the miracle happens (39-42).
Jesus “directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So, they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.” Jesus did what only Jesus could do but the disciples did the rest. He literally did not feed a single person that day. He only blessed the meal and distributed it to his disciples. They passed out the bread and fish to all the groups of hundreds and fifties. When a disciple emptied one basket, he would go back for more where that came from. Their resources had given out for a very long time, but Jesus’ resources kept coming.
Phase 7 – leftovers (43).
In fact, Jesus kept giving long after all the people were satisfied. By the time everybody put their napkins over their plates and said “no more” each disciple was left with a basket full for himself. The final lesson the disciples learned that day was that God has power to do all that needs to be done, and more. The Apostle Paul said that God “is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think.” But he also said the power available for such miracles is “the power that is working within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
I want us to think about how we as a congregation can apply the lessons that the disciples learned that day. One way we can do that is to look around us and discover needs within our community that are not being met by anyone else. Then let’s brainstorm. We should not ask ourselves whether we have the practical resources to meet all those needs in our budget. No, we should ask this question: “Do we have the resources and personnel to start this ministry and the faith to let Jesus finish it?”
Jesus performed his miracles as demonstration to prove the truthfulness of his proclamation. He still wants to do that. He has called us to be his witnesses and has empowered us with his Holy Spirit to share his gospel. The disciples learned to demonstrate their care for others and in so doing they proved the power of Jesus Christ. There is a community outside these walls, and it is waiting to see us prove that Jesus is who we say he is. Let’s get our baskets ready!