Food and Water audio (5MB)
It’s good to be back, after our little trip to Queensland. We had a great time away, visiting family and enjoying lots of fantastic weather. I can’t say we’ve returned well rested, as Micah & Joshua decided that since the sun rises sometime around 5am, that would be a good time for them to start the day too. And our last 24 hours were something of a disaster, with two trips to the hospital. So it’s good to be home, back into regular routines and it’s especially good to be back with our church family.
Just as we’ve returned, our passage today starts with the disciples returning. You might recall from last week, that Jesus has just sent them out on a short-term mission trip. He gave them power over the unclean spirits and sent them out in pairs. They went out and cast out demons, healed the sick and proclaimed the good news about Jesus, calling people to repent. Jesus trusted them to join in his mission, his work and he even shared his power with them so they could do so. By all accounts they’ve been successful. Now, in verse 30 they’ve come back. There’s a lot of energy and excitement as they gather around Jesus. You can imagine them all pumped up, eager to tell him everything that they’ve done, all that they accomplished in his name. But they can’t quite do this. Mark says there were so many people around them, the crowd is so large the disciples couldn’t even sit down to share a meal with Jesus.
Well, Jesus recognises their need for some time out. He knows they need to be careful not to burn out, they need some rest and rejuvenation. So he says to them, ‘Come on let’s get out of here.’ Jesus intends to take them off on a retreat, so they can properly debrief and to get some well-deserved rest. So they jump in their boat and set sail for a deserted place on the Lake of Galilee.
As they say, ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.’ Seems even Jesus’ plans don’t work out. He intended to take the disciples away from the crowd, but when they arrive at their deserted place they find the crowd’s beaten them there! By now Jesus has become pretty popular. Verse 14 says that Jesus’ name had become quite well known. It’s not surprising really as he’s done some amazing miracles, healing people, casting out demons, raising the dead. Even King Herod is wondering who is this man? Everyone’s talking about him and everyone wants to catch a glimpse of him. It’s a bit like when Justin Beiber, or One Direction, who ever they are, turn up in town. The first sighting is all it takes for the crowd to come flocking in hoping to see Jesus. And by now it’s not just Jesus who would have been recognised. The disciples too had probably gathered quite a following after their successful mission. Verse 33 says, many saw ‘them’ and recognised ‘them’. The crowd’s spotted them and rush from all the surrounding towns to be there when Jesus and the disciples touch down.
So much for their quiet time! You can imagine how disappointed the disciples must’ve felt have felt. This was meant to be their time alone with Jesus, their time to have a break, to rest and recharge. Instead what they find another great crowd waiting for them! This means more demands, more conversations, more pressures upon them just when they’re meant to be having a break.
There’s nothing worse than having your work follow you on holidays! During our stay with my Dad, we went out for a picnic one day. My dad and his partner took the day off to join us. But my Dad’s phone rang at least half a dozen times! Even though this was meant to be a day of rest and family, he spent ages on the phone. Not that I can be too quick to judge as my phone went off twice with messages I had to reply to! And I’m sure I’m now the only one who checks emails on their day off. But there’s nothing worse than when you really want some time alone and finding a whole bunch of people waiting for you. I’m sure the disciples felt like jumping back in the boat and trying to find somewhere else to go! Or telling the crowd that’s waiting for them, where they could go.
But Jesus has a very different response. He cares for his disciples, yes. He’s the one who suggested this little break. But when he sees the crowd, Mark says he was filled with compassion. His heart was moved through concern for them. They were like sheep without a shepherd. The bible uses this image frequently when it talks about God’s people suffering from a lack of care and leadership. When their leaders, those who are meant to be caring for them are too busy looking after themselves. This is exactly what God spoke against through the prophet Ezekiel:
1The word of the LORD came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. Ezek. 34:1-6
This is exactly the situation Jesus sees in this crowd. They haven’t been cared for, strengthened, healed or kept in the fold. As the Great Shepherd that God promised to send, he begins to tend to the crowd. And he does so by teaching them. He knows their greatest need is to be taught about God’s Kingdom. They need to hear the gospel and to turn and repent. So he spends the time he was going to devote to the disciples teaching the crowd.
As the day wears on, the reality of the situation begins to dawn on the disciples. There’s a lot of people here! Before there were so many people coming and going the disciples had no time to eat, now there’s not going to be enough to eat! Here’s a good excuse to get the crowds to move on, so the disciples can have their alone time with Jesus. They come to him and say, ‘Teacher, look it’s getting late. Don’t you think it’s time we sent these people home? Or at least out to where they can get their own food?’
Jesus’ reply is pretty confronting. “You do it,” he says. If you’re really concerned for this crowds needs, ‘you give them something to eat.’ The disciples can hardly have been expecting this. It’s an impossible order. And they’re quick to point that out to Jesus. Their response is not just ironical, it’s almost snide and disrespectful. They point out there’s at least 5000 people there. It would take 200 Denarii, almost a year’s salary to buy that much bread for the people. They don’t have that kind of money, let alone a handy bakery nearby to buy the bread from. And even if they did have the money, why should they spend it on a crowd of strangers? Let alone a crowd that’s preventing them from spending quality time with Jesus? The disciples make it clear that they consider Jesus’ demand impossible. There’s just no way this crowd can be fed.
Undeterred, Jesus asks what they do have. The disciples do a quick search that reveals their inventory numbers just five loaves and two fish. They’ve barely enough food for themselves, let alone the crowd.
Five loaves for five thousand people means, each loaf would have to feed 1000 people! Half a loaf has to feed 500 people, a quarter of a loaf 250, and so on and so on. Each person would only get a crumb, if that!
There’s no money, there’s not enough bread, there’s nothing the disciples can do. They seem to be right in saying there’s nothing that can be done. There’s no way they can provide for the crowds.
But the disciples seem to have forgotten who they’re talking to. Jesus has already demonstrated to them time and time again that he’s the one who has power over life and death, power over demons, power over sickness. He’s shown them he has power over the wind and the waves, over nature itself. Now he’s going to show them that he’s the one who can provide for all our needs, even the most basic like bread and water.
Jesus gets the crowds to sit down, to organize themselves into groups ready for a nice picnic. Then he does what any good Jewish father or Rabbi would do before a meal. He takes the bread, and looking to heaven, he blesses it. Then Jesus breaks it and begins giving it to the disciples to distribute. Without telling us how, Mark makes it clear that Jesus performs a miracle as those five loaves and two fish were turned into enough food for everyone to eat, to eat their full and even for there to be leftovers!
We don’t see the response of the crowd to this miraculous provision. It’s possible that they didn’t even know what had gone on. The disciples knew though. They’d not only seen first hand what Jesus had done, but he’d even gotten them involved. But we don’t see their response straight away, because immediately Jesus sends them away. He hasn’t forgotten the disciples’ needs, their need for rest, and so he sends them off first. Jesus tells the disciples to get going while he farewells the crowd. They quite happily jump in their boat and set sail. Being fishermen, I’m sure they were happy to be back out on the water. Here’s the rest they were looking for.
Jesus too takes some time out from the crowds. He doesn’t join the disciples straight away, but heads up onto a mountain. As he so often does in the gospels, Jesus retreats to spend time in prayer with the Father.
Early in the morning, Jesus can see the disciples struggling on the lake. A strong wind had risen against them, so that they were having trouble getting anywhere. This isn’t like the violent storm that struck in chapter 4. There’s no hint that the disciples are in any danger of being capsized or drowned. They’re just facing some tough going. The wind’s so strong that they have to strain at the oars, and even then aren’t getting anywhere. Rather than dangerous, it would’ve just been draining and tiring. If you’ve ever rowed a boat, paddled a canoe or just used one of those rowing machines at the gym you’ll know how quickly it gets tiring. The disciples would’ve been exhausted.
Then, all of sudden, in the dim early morning light, amongst the spray of the wind and the waves, they look up and see a figure walking on the water. It looks to them like this apparition is gong to pass right by them. You can understand why they were terrified and thought it must be a ghost. They don’t recognized Jesus as he walks towards them.
Just as he dealt kindly with the crowds, Jesus deals kindly with the disciples. He’s quick to call out to them, to speak so they know it’s him. He provides an abundance of reassurance, “Take heart, it is I: do not be afraid.” And as he steps into the boat the winds are stilled, just as the disciples fear. Instead, they’re utterly astounded. They can’t believe what they’ve just seen.
Mark’s quick to criticize them for this response. By now they should know better. They’ve seen Jesus do amazing things. They’ve seen him demonstrate his power over and over again, but they still didn’t get it. And while the crowds might not have seen, or realised the miracle that took place the previous day, the disciples did. They’d seen first hand what Jesus had done with the bread and fish. But just like they’d failed to see that he’s the one who has power to provide for our needs, they failed to see the Sovereign Lord walking towards them. They didn’t see God working in the small things, so they had trouble understanding the big things.
If the disciples could get it wrong, so can we. We can fail to trust in God to provide for our needs. It’s so easy to do in our world. The disciples knew they couldn’t provide a meal for the crowd that had gathered. They thought it as impossible, and so they couldn’t trust Jesus to provide for their needs.
We face the opposite problem! I did some quick sums yesterday and worked out that providing a Vegemite sandwich for 5000 people isn’t impossible. In fact, Sarah & I could afford to do it a few times over! We live in a world with such abundance, that trusting in God to provide our daily bread is hard to do. Trusting in God for the small things is hard to do when we’ve been blessed with so much abundance. Sure, we’re quick to cry out for help when we face difficult situations, when we’re struggling at the oars. I mentioned at the start of the sermon that on the last day of our holiday we had two trips to the hospital. On the last night of our stay, when Joshua slid off a couch and twisted his ankle. The next morning, four hours before we were due to fly home. Micah pulled a cup of freshly made tea onto himself and burned his arm. You can be sure that we were praying, praying hard and fervently that God would heal and protect. That he’d provide safe recovery and speedily resolution. We’re quick to pray, asking for God’s provision for the big things. But one of the challenges this passage lays upon us is to trust in God to provide for the little things. To pray just as earnestly that God would ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ And we’re to look out for God working in little ways in our lives, lest we miss him walking towards us!