Now if you would take a Bible in hand or turn in one of the church Bibles and look with me at Mark’s gospel, chapter 6; Mark chapter 6. We have been working our way in fits and starts really over the last year or so on Sunday evenings through the gospel according to Mark. And we pick up the reading in verse 30 of the sixth chapter; you’ll find that on page 841 of the church Bibles. Before we read it together, let’s bow our heads and pray once again. Let’s pray together.
O Lord Jesus, our Shepherd King, Your needy flock are gathered now before You. Please, will You feed us. Lead us, by the Scriptures and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to green pastures and quiet waters. And tonight would You restore our souls, for Jesus’ sake, amen.
Mark chapter 6 at the thirtieth verse. This is the inerrant Word of God:
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ And they said to him, ‘Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?’ And 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.’ Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So, they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And 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. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.
When I was a kid in the UK, I used to watch “Doctor Who” every week. “Doctor Who” – is that something you know about? Some of you are looking at me blankly. I suppose not! I think there’s a reboot of “Dr. Who” that’s still available. When I was a kid, it was a very popular British sci-fi show in which the doctor, he traveled through time, he was a Time Lord after all, and he traveled on his ship, the Tardis, averting catastrophes and defeating various time traveling baddies. And the Tardis was made to look like an old British blue police box. Have you ever seen one of those things, a British police box? They’re no longer in use anymore in the United Kingdom but you can still sometimes see them here and there in some of our bigger cities. They’ve become sort of icons of the landscape. The key thing to know about those British police box, they were sort of like miniature police stations for a policeman to use on his beat. The key thing to know is that they are really very small. Only one or two people can fit into them. And the shtick in “Doctor Who” was that the Tardis, on the outside, was an ordinary, blue police box – not very large at all – but on the inside it was enormous with room for all.
The story before us in this part of Mark chapter 6 is really designed to teach us about the true dimensions of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It reminds us that to those who view it from the outside, as it were, from a distance, it’s easy to think that God’s grace is small and constraining, suitable perhaps for two or three here or there. “For you maybe, but certainly not for me.” But once you see it from the other side, once you come inside, as it were, once you’ve entered into the grace of Jesus for yourself you discover that it’s endlessly vast and accommodating with room for all. That was certainly the experience of the disciples and the crowds who thronged to Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in our passage for tonight. Would you look at it with me please – Mark 6:30-44.
And the first thing that I want you to see is the theme of Christ’s compassion, Jesus’ compassion. It’s really not hard to spot in the story, is it, and yet it is easy to lose sight of Christ’s compassion for ourselves. Wouldn’t you agree? The compassion of Jesus is one of the major themes here. It comes out first of all in verses 30 and 31. Look there. Verse 30 and 31. You will remember the disciples, they had been sent by Jesus on a short-term mission trip, not unlike the two teams we are sending this evening. Back in verses 7 through 14, they were sent with instructions about the mission that Jesus had given them. In verse 30 now, they’ve come back to Christ and they are reporting to Jesus all that they did and taught. Back in verse 12, we are told what they taught. They went out and proclaimed that people should repent. Verse 13 tells us what they did. They cast out many demons and anointed people with oil and many who were sick were healed by them. Their ministry echoed the ministry of Jesus. In fact, their ministry was really an extension of the ministry of Jesus and apparently it had a huge impact on the region. And so, verse 14 reports King Herod heard about it, for Jesus’ name had become known.
So just as a little aside – mission teams, here is really the heart and character of faithful ministry. Not that you get a reputation or that you make a name or that people will never forget your presence in Peru or in Indonesia, but that Jesus’ name is heard, that people remember Christ whom you serve and whom you proclaim. That was certainly the effect of the disciples’ ministry. In verse 31, the disciples’ ministry has had such an effect that people are pressing in upon them from every direction, demanding still more and more of their time so that they could get no rest. So it’s been quite an impactful mission trip. They’ve created quite a stir. They’ve made a difference. And so now we imagine here in verse 30 coming back to Jesus, weary perhaps. Those of you who were participating in Vacation Bible School this past week know all about weariness in the service of Jesus. They’re weary but they’re happy. Perhaps they are bubbling over with excitement, ready to tell Jesus of all that God did in their Savior’s name through them.
But Jesus understands, He identifies very quickly, that now they need some rest. It’s time for some respite. So verse 31, He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.” Now we know the rest of the story; we just read it together. We know that the only rest they actually get as it turns out is maybe the hour or two they have with Jesus on the boat making the crossing because once they get to the shore, everyone has beaten them to it and they’re all there waiting for them, demanding still more of their attention and some more of Jesus.
But at the point that Jesus made this invitation, we really do have to insist that neither He nor they knew what was about to happen when they reached the shore. Jesus, you will remember, is a man after all, with a true body and a reasonable soul. He is God, of course He is, but that He is also a man is a fact we mustn’t overlook. And as a man, He has a finite mind. He doesn’t know all things so He’s not setting them up here when He invites them to come away for a rest. He’s genuine in His invitation to them. He sees their need. He recognizes rest is important for them right now. He offers them some distance, some time to reflect and to recharge.
Some of us, I rather suspect, think that admitting to feeling stress is unspiritual. Some of us think that being a workaholic is the same thing as being faithful. Well let me simply point out to you that Jesus Christ does not agree. He just doesn’t agree. Bodies and brains have limits. Jesus saw their need and in His great care for His disciples He makes provision and He invites them to take some rest. We ought not to overlook that little fact. Rest is godly. Do you hear me? Some of us need to hear that, don’t we? Rest is godly and Jesus commands us to take it. Maybe tonight the thing you really need to hear Jesus saying to you is the same thing He said to the disciples when they came back after their mission trip. You need to hear Jesus saying to you in holy Scripture, “Come apart by yourself to a desolate place for a while and rest.”
Of course His compassion – He’s full of compassion for His disciples – His compassion comes out even more clearly, doesn’t it, in what happens next with the crowds at the end of a long day of ministry. You can imagine, I suppose, the disappointment of the disciples in the boat. They’re finally going to get some respite, some time alone to recover, and as they near the shore – “What’s that in the distance?” And as they get closer and closer there’s a huge crowd of at least 5,000 people waiting for them, all clamoring for their attention. So much for a few days R&R. And I guess if it had been me at this moment, I would have lost my patience and climbed a rock and said, “Sorry folks, we’re closed! I mean really, there is a limit. These folks are so entitled!” But look at verse 34. “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a great crowd and He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Compassion for them fills His heart.
Let me say to you now that Jesus’ heart beats with compassion for you as surely as it did if you’d been among that crowd that day at the beach. Perhaps you doubt it. But please will you not judge Jesus’ attitude toward you by the way you feel about yourself. Jesus is full of compassion for you. He loves you. He loves you.
And you’ll notice in verse 34 the first expression of His compassion – “He began to teach them many things.” He will go on to feed them, to be sure, but don’t skip this. “This,” Jesus said, “is why He came” – to preach the Word. His first concern, His great priority was that they grasp the Gospel of the kingdom. And then even when He did feed their bellies, you’ll notice He did not do it because of necessity, as if the desolate place that they were in was 100 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart and there was really nothing to eat. No, the disciples know that actually there are towns and villages close enough by, within a few miles, and the crowds could easily find provision enough there. And so verse 36, their plan is to wrap things up for the evening and send everyone to the towns and the villages for dinner. That’s a pretty sensible plan. It makes good sense and responds to the situation wisely.
But as it turns out, Jesus has a different idea. And we really do need to get this if we’re going to understand what’s going on in the story and what happens next. The issue here is not that the disciples are indifferent to the need and so they want to send everyone away while Jesus is full of compassion and so He feeds them. That’s not what’s happening. Remember, it is the disciples’ initiative, after all, to bring up the whole question of dinner. I rather imagine Jesus so invested and involved in teaching them that the disciples have to sort of – I wonder if they send Peter, you know, they delegate Peter, “You go and interrupt Him. I think He’s forgotten but the sun is setting and nobody’s had anything to eat yet.” I wonder if you felt that way this morning when I rambled on and on and on and you were thinking about lunch! They need to eat. The disciples are attentive to the need of the people. It’s not that there’s any lack of care among the disciples; they have compassion for the crowd aplenty.
So when Jesus decides to feed them right there, miraculously multiplying the five loaves and the two fish that the disciples found, there’s something else going on. This is not an emergency provision of basic necessities by Jesus who is the one who really cares for them while the disciples just don’t. That’s not Mark’s point. Like all of His miracles, Jesus’ work here is a sign. It’s a way to drive home the truth that He had been teaching them verbally about Himself, about who He is and why He came on the hearts and on the consciences of the people. In other words, the compassion of Jesus led Him in both His message and in the miraculous sign that He performs to communicate to them the Gospel, that He might bring them to a saving knowledge of Himself. That’s what motivates Jesus’ heart toward the crowd that day.
That’s what motivates Jesus’ heart toward the world in our day too. He wants us, He wants all men everywhere, to repent and come to a saving knowledge of the truth about who He is and why He came and what it means to follow Him. That is, after all, our most pressing need. Isn’t it? Not just for bodily sustenance but for spiritual life. That’s what Jesus gives – life. And Mark says you can find it today, you can find it today in the compassionate heart of Jesus Christ. It beats with concern for us. Jesus’ compassion.
Then secondly, notice in the story Jesus’ kingship. It’s another theme that Mark is concerned to emphasize. The thing, notice the thing that moves Jesus’ so, according to verse 34, is that “the crowds were like sheep without a shepherd.” It’s a picturesque phrase, to be sure, but it has an important Old Testament backstory and we need to trace it out for a few moments if we’re going to understand what we’re really being told here. It’s first used in the Scriptures in Numbers 27:17. It’s found on the lips of Moses who is praying for the Lord to appoint Joshua as his successor to lead the people, for otherwise the people of Israel would “be like sheep without a shepherd.” Then it’s used later in 1 Kings 22:17 and 2 Chronicles 18:16, the same story told two slightly different ways, where God tells Ahab through the prophet Micaiah, that “the people will be scattered like sheep without a shepherd” because of his wickedness as a king. And then later still, the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 34:5, God explained that His people were “scattered in the exile like sheep who have no shepherd.” And yet, 34:23, “The time will come, God says, when I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.”
So when Mark uses this expression to see what is moving the heart of the Lord Jesus, that they’re “like sheep without a shepherd,” and then He feeds them, you see what Mark is telling us. The shepherd of the sheep is technical language for Israel’s great king, without whom the people are scattered. The priests of Jesus’ day, they ought to have shepherded the people. Instead, they placed a dreadful burden of needless legalism upon them. King Herod, he should have been a shepherd to the people. Instead, he was busy with his debauchery and his parties and beheaded John the Baptist; a wicked man. But now at last, Mark is saying, now the Good Shepherd Himself has finally come in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true Joshua. That’s what His names means – Yeshua, Jesus, Joshua – the prophet like Moses who would lead the people that they might not be scattered. He’s the greater than David who will feed the Lord’s sheep.
That’s probably also part of what lies behind some of the odd little details that Mark is at pains that we do not miss. He includes them in the recounting of the story. For example, the green grass on which Jesus has everyone sit, that doesn’t seem remarkable to us unless you remember the kind of landscape in Palestine. Green grass only grew occasionally in certain seasons and in certain locations. Mark remarks upon it perhaps in order to evoke for us the Shepherd psalm, Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” That’s Jesus. That’s Jesus!
Or what about the odd little note in verse 40. Do you see it? Jesus has everyone sit down “in groups, by hundreds and fifties.” Possibly that’s meant to evoke the organization of Israel during the exodus in the wilderness. They were organized into companies of thousands and hundreds and fifties and tens. Jesus is renewing the people of God. He’s reconstituting Israel as their true King under His rule.
We don’t do well with authority in our culture. Do we? Not usually. We tend to look in suspicion at those who wield authority. We often equate power with control, which we view as the enemy of freedom, understood as personal autonomy. And so we’re a little uncomfortable with the idea of rule and governance and authority. And you might find your own heart resisting this emphasis in this part of Mark’s gospel on the kingship of Jesus for those very reasons. But please understand, the Biblical portrayal of life without a shepherd, that’s not freedom. It is, rather, a picture of exposure to the terrifying predations of the wilderness. A sheep wandering in the wilderness is a target for predators. That’s what life is like if you don’t have the Shepherd King to rule over you. You are at risk, but now He’s come and there is no sheep that needs wander lost and alone. You can’t survive in the spiritual wilderness without Him. That’s Mark’s point.
Maybe you’ve been busy telling yourself it matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll – “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” That’s how our society says you should think of yourself. It is a lie. Radical independence isn’t freedom; it’s danger. It’s danger. Mark wants you to see that Jesus is the Shepherd King. His sheep know His voice. He calls them by name. He goes after the one who is lost from His flock and bears him home on His shoulders, safely back to the fold. He is the Good Shepherd who lays His own life down for the sheep. He’s the one King in whose rule we can have perfect confidence and in whose governance alone we can have absolute security. Trust Him. You can trust Him. That’s Mark’s message. Trust yourself completely to Him.
The compassion of Jesus. The kingship of Jesus. Finally, notice the sufficiency of Jesus. I love the moment in verse 37 – look at verse 37. The disciples have come to Jesus with their well-thought-out plan to take care of the situation, provide for the people. Maybe the groups of fifties and tens were originally organized by the disciples so the crowd could be deployed into the towns and villages in a reasonable order, for provision. They have a plan; they’ve thought it through. They don’t want to burden Jesus, and this is a good solution. And so they come with the plan to Jesus and Jesus turns to them and said, “No, you feed them.” And the nice little scheme that they’ve concocted comes tumbling down around their ears all at once. “What do you mean, you give them something to eat? Are you crazy! Have you any idea how much money feeding his lot is going to require, Jesus? Two hundred denarii – that’s a lot of money!” One denarius is about a day’s wage. That’s a lot of money.
Now perhaps they ought not to have been quite so astonished. After all, they just returned from a mission trip in which they themselves had been the agents of Christ’s supernatural power. Like their Master, they had themselves cast out demons and healed the sick. Is this really so different? Or maybe they had forgotten how, during the exodus, the exodus with which this story is replete with echoes, the Lord had provided for Israel manna from heaven. Couldn’t He do it again? Well whatever they thought in this moment, none of that came to mind apparently. Instead, all Jesus’ question to them did is expose their tragic inadequacy, which I rather suspect was entirely the point. Whatever past successes they had enjoyed, He wants to remind them that their sufficiency for the work, their adequacy for the task, doesn’t lie with themselves but only and always with Him. “You give them something to eat.” It’s entirely beyond them. And then He provides the meal for the vast crowd, as though to say to them, “Please don’t forget. Of course you’re not up to the task, but I am. Of course you’re not adequate for the ministry to which I’ve called you, but I am. Of course you don’t have strength enough, but I do.”
Sometimes Jesus does that to us, doesn’t He? He brings us to a place, calls us to serve, and we know we are way out of our depth. I suspect that some of you one these teams are going to find that very same experience, more than once perhaps – way out of your depth. Why does He do that to us? Because He wants to remind us of our weakness and His strength. He wants us to look back on those moments and see written over them, even when we reacted with dismay at the prospect, His triumph, His victory, His grace, that all the glory might be His. “Our sufficiency,” 2 Corinthians 3:4, “is not from ourselves to think of anything as coming from ourselves. Our sufficiency is from God who has made us sufficient.” That was very much the lesson Jesus was teaching the disciples that night. I dare say it’s a lesson we need to learn too. I certainly do.
And so Jesus blesses God for the five loaves and the two fish and as the apparently meager provision is broken and distributed, despite the skeptical looks of the disciples, it turns out there is enough for the first group of ten, and then a group of fifty – they seem to have more than enough. And then another and still another and another – more than 5,000 eat their fill and there are twelve baskets full left over. There is an abundance, do you see? More than enough for their need. That too is a lesson we mustn’t forget. Jesus’ grace never runs out. Sometimes when we panic, we wonder. Actually what we’re sensing is that our strength is running out, but Jesus’ grace never runs out. Your need – listen – your need will never exceed His grace. The Puritan, Richard Sibbes, I think it was, famously said, “There is more grace in Christ than need in us.”
And that is the message here, isn’t it? Twelve baskets left over. Christ, your compassionate King, has love upon love, grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy for you. Your sin is no barrier, your past no limitation, your fears no hindrance to His steadfast love. He has more than enough for your heart. You never will exhaust His grace. Your need never will exceed the allotment of mercy He has for you. The well will not run dry. Enough will never be enough. You see here the compassion of Jesus, how His heart beats here with tenderness and love?
And then there’s the kingship of Christ. His is a rule not to be resisted but trusted in, welcomed, surrendered to. Without it you are a lost sheep, exposed to the terrible dangers of the wilderness, but under His lordship alone you are safe.
And then there’s the sufficiency of Jesus. What need do you have for which He is not more than enough? There is no need that you may have for which He is not adequate. Trust Him. Trust Him as you go to Peru, as you go to Indonesia, as you face demanding, scary circumstances and situations well beyond you. Trust Him. Rest in His care and provision when He says to you, “You give them something to eat,” and you think, “How are we going to do this?” See what the Lord will do when you trust your Shepherd King. He never will steer you wrong. He never will. And He never will let you down.
Jesus’ compassionate heart. Jesus, our great Shepherd King. Jesus, an all sufficient Savior. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, how we praise You for Christ. His mercy is more than a match for our heart and so we bless Your great name. We pray for anybody here who has not yet come to bend their knee to King Jesus, come under the watchcare of the Shepherd King. Please would You grant that they might today hear His voice and come to Him and find in His care provision, more than enough for our heart’s need. We ask Your forgiveness on our resistance to His rule, His authority, and we ask You please to be willing servants who believe in Your grace, Your adequacy, Your sufficiency for every trial, every challenge – that our sufficiency is from God who makes us ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter that kills but of the Spirit that gives life. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are leaving to go share the good news in Peru and in Indonesia. We ask that You would pour out Your Spirit upon them and that as You call them, as You say to them, “You give them something to eat,” would You help them to depend on Jesus and not on themselves and may there be an abundance, more than enough in Your provision. So we look to You. We pray for Your blessing upon us, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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