Now do turn with me to Mark chapter 6 please. If you're a visitor, we have been going through Mark's gospel now for many weeks, and we have now reached the famous parable of the feeding of the 5,000. I've entitled my message this morning: 'The Servant's Unlimited Supplies' - and you can put the apostrophe wherever you like there in the word 'servants', because it could speak of the Servant of the Lord here who provided the unlimited supplies, or it could speak of the disciples who received them and distributed them among the crowd. In the same way, we have the ability to do that also - so put the apostrophe wherever you like - 'The Servant's Unlimited Supplies'.
We read from verse 30 please, these verses we dealt with last week - verse 30 to 34 - but they do lead up to this great miracle. Verse 30: "And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert", or deserted, "place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men" - and we'll end our reading there at verse 44.
Now, as I said to you last week, this incident takes place around the beginning of the third year of the ministry of our Lord. This miracle in particular is recorded in all four Gospels. Now that, right away, would tell us that it is of great importance. I think a series could be taken on this parable on its own, and yet we've only got this morning. It was spring time, we know that because the grass is green only at spring time in Palestine, and it was getting late - almost dark - and around that time of the year the sun sets about 6 p.m. So because it was nearing dark, it was probably between 4 and 6 in the afternoon. The crowd that had followed Him - we read about that in verses 30 to 34 - is the crowd on which He had compassion and taught, even though He was going for a rest with His disciples, He interrupted that rest to teach them. Now that same crowd that He had compassion on and taught, are hungry.
The apostles, I imagine, must have been even hungrier than they - because, as you look at verse 31, you will see that the reason why they took a retreat to that particular place was because with 'many coming and going', at the end of verse 31, 'they had no leisure so much as to eat'. So the likelihood is they were the hungriest of them all. Now I don't know what happens to you when you get tired and hungry, but the tendency is that we become irritable - at least my wife does...no, I shouldn't say that! We all do, don't we? The same crowd that drew compassion out of the Lord Jesus brought indignation from the disciples, isn't that interesting? They annoyed them. They were tired, hungry, they just wanted a break - it wasn't that they didn't want to serve the Lord, and they didn't want to serve the people, but too much of a good thing - well, they were having it, and they needed time out.
Now at times we can be like that, as we saw last week, people at times can be viewed by us as an intrusion on us - and we need to learn to have compassion like our Lord Jesus. Perhaps we have not yet learned, and I myself have not yet learned to look with the Lord's eyes upon the people who are as sheep without a shepherd. But the disciples viewed them as a bit of a problem, an annoyance, and we must never view people in the world like that - it's so easy to do it, but we must learn to be like our Lord.
There's a lovely story concerning D.L. Moody, the great evangelist, who ministered of course in Moody Memorial in Chicago. He set up a great Sunday School in that city, and children came to it from everywhere, and they often passed by other churches to get to his Sunday School. When asked why he walked so far to attend Moody's, one boy replied: 'Because they love a fellow over there'. Children can tell the difference, can't they? The unsaved can tell the difference with Christians who say they love the lost, and Christians who really do love the lost. Well, one of the greatest miracles that was ever performed would not have happened if the disciples had stuck to their plan to rest. Think about that.
Now I want you to note, please, the dialogue between the disciples and the Lord, because it really is very informative and there are so many lessons that we're going to be able to take from it just now. Look at verse 36, we see the disciples' words to the Lord: 'Send them away', send the crowd away that they may 'buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat'. Send them all away to get bread, because they're hungry. Now, if you look down to verse 37 you see the Lord's dialogue with the disciples, the Lord said to them: 'You give them bread to eat'. They say to the Lord: 'Send them all away, because they're hungry'; the Lord says to them: 'You buy them bread to eat'. Now they say again to Him: 'Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth', or two hundred denarii, 'of bread, and give them to eat?'. Now I'm only asking a question: was there a tone of sarcasm there? 'Do You think we've got 200 pennies to go and buy a crowd like this all the bread that they need to satisfy their hunger?'.
Now we know from later on in this passage, if you look at verse 52, in the next miracle - that we'll look at, God willing, next week - where the Lord walks upon the water, that when they marvelled at that miracle Mark makes this very informative remark at the end of the verse: 'their hearts were hardened'. Their hearts were hardened when they considered the miracle of the loaves. So the miracle before the walking upon the water is the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, and the disciples didn't get it because their hearts were hardened! Their hearts were hardened to those who were like sheep without a shepherd, and their hearts were hardened to the spiritual illumination the Lord Jesus was trying to shine upon them. 'Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? Ridiculous!'.
Then look finally at the Lord's dialogue again with the disciples, He says: 'How many loaves have ye? go and see'. We'll see the implication of that in a moment or two, but what I want you to see is, first of all: the disciples' problem. This was their problem, now don't forget this: they thought that the crowd had to leave the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be fed. That was their problem: 'They need to go away to get bread somewhere, because they're not going to get it here'. Now here is the lesson that the Lord Jesus taught them, and He's going to teach us now: He can miraculously provide the need, and with more to spare.
Now let's look at what He taught them, and how He taught them it. Several lessons they were taught in a progression: the first thing He wanted them to face was their own inability to meet the need. I believe that's why the Lord said to them: 'Give ye them bread' - do you see it? 'You do it!' - I don't want to put words in the mouth of our Lord Jesus, but I think the thought is: 'Well, you clever guys who think that people need to go out from my presence to have their needs met, you meet their needs, you devise a plan, you supply their necessity. Can you do it?'. They had to face their own helplessness - now, what a lesson there is there! All of us, whoever you are here today, whether you're a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ or not, both categories of people need to face their own helplessness.
Just say, for instance, that you're not a Christian, you've never trusted Christ, you've never been born again - well, there's a great gospel aspect to this parable, because it's a picture of how the Saviour, the Lord Jesus has given Himself to the world as the Bread of Life. The world is starving spiritually, they need a Saviour, their sin is destroying them - and He is given to the world by God, that His body might be broken that men and women and boys and girls might have eternal life. In fact, the words that are used in this miracle are highly suggestive of the Lord's Supper, which of course commemorates His death. If you look at verse 41, look at the words: He had taken the bread, He blessed, He broke, He gave - very similar, isn't it? Now, in a sense, it hasn't any relation to the Lord's Table, but it certainly alludes to what Christ was doing at the cross.
Now I want to ask you: have you realised your own helplessness? Like Toplady, when he said in his hymn:
'Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die'.
Well, you need to get to that place if you've never been. There's no other place you can go to find eternal life, to be fed, than the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. But Christians need to face this lesson as well, particularly in their service for the Lord - we are helpless! Now the money that would have been necessary to feed all these people was 200 pennyworth of bread, some people think that's 200 denarii, and some scholars say that 200 denarii - a denarii being a day's wage - would mean 200 days wages. Others believe it actually comprised a year's wage for the average worker. Now think about this - what's an average wage for a year in our country? That's what was going to be needed to feed all these people in relative terms! So you can see how ridiculous it looked to the disciples.
Well, not only that, but they were in a deserted place, there were no markets there and it was too late to go into the villages to find any. So the Lord says to them - that they would realise their helplessness - 'Give ye them', and when they couldn't give, He said: 'Well, how many loaves have you then among this great company?'. Now John chapter 6 tells us that it was Andrew who found the lad with the five loaves and two fish - huh, it's laughable, isn't it? That was nowhere near what was needed to meet the necessity! Looking at this predicament from a human standpoint, this was an impossible situation - but looking at it through the eyes of faith, this was an opportunity to bring glory to God. Now here's a lesson that we all need to learn: man extremity is always God's opportunity, but man's extremity must be the acknowledgement of our own helplessness.
How do we look at things in our lives that seem to be impossible? Maybe you're in a situation just like that now, maybe you're not saved and you think it's impossible for you to be saved because of all the knots you've put in a tangle in your past, things you have sown and you feel you're going to reap, or just hurdles you have of intellect or faith that you just don't think can be reconciled. Or maybe you're a Christian, and you're serving the Lord, and there seems to be impossible situations for you. Or maybe you're experiencing an impossible situation in health, or with your business, or family or something - I don't know what it is, but like Moses, you feel, standing at the Red Sea, that the armies are coming from behind you, there's no option of going right or left, and forward is in absolute impossibility! Well, those are the situations God loves to manifest Himself in.
Annie Johnson Flint has written many, many beautiful poems. One of her poems goes like this:
'Have you come to the Red Sea place in your life,
Where, in spite of all you can do,
There is no way out, there is no way back,
There is no other way but through?
Then wait on the Lord with a trust serene
Till the night of your fear is gone;
He will send the wind, He will heap the floods,
When He says to your soul, 'Go on''.
He wanted them to face their own inability to meet the need. Secondly, He wanted them to offer up their weaknesses to Him. He took their five loaves and two fish, and He made something out of them - but He took their insufficiency, and He still takes our insufficiencies and weaknesses that He might manifest His strength. It's not enough to say: 'Well, I've just nothing to give, so I'll not give it' - no, He wants us to give our weakness, and to offer up what we have to Him: 'Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are' - why? Why is this God's economy, to take our weaknesses and to do something with it? Paul tells us: 'That no flesh should glory in his sight'. Again he says: 'We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us'.
Paul, in his own personal experience, was told: 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong'. F. F. Bruce paraphrased that last statement this way: 'My power is most fully displayed when my people are weak'. My power is most fully displayed when my people are weak. He wanted them to offer up their weaknesses to Him: five loaves. If you're into numerology, five can mean at times 'life', the number of life. Two, for the two fish, often means 'the opposite', or 'another'. So when you put these two together, what you have is five, 'life'; and two, 'the other' to life, which is death. When our resources die the Christ of God has the ability to bring life, even from death itself.
'When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun'.
That's the way God works, and they had to learn it. If we will only give to the Lord what we have in our weakness, He can use it for Himself and for His own glory. Think of the book of Judges, all of them had weaknesses - broken men, Ehud, for example, was handicapped as far as the civilisation in his day was concerned, he was left-handed and that was seen to be a handicap. Yet he slew Eglon, and he delivered the people and overcame the Moabites. Gideon was similar - in Judges 7 verse 2: 'The LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me'. So Gideon had to be disadvantaged, and his troops were taken from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300 - why? So that it would be seen that God had done this great thing! They were armed with nothing but pitchers, lamps and trumpets, and they trounced the Midianites. David stood before the giant, what did he have? Five stones and a sling.
I read this many years ago, and it's wonderful: 'The Lord said to Abel: 'What is in thy hand?', 'Nothing but a wee lamb', and he offered it to God, and a sweet smelling savour came to God's nostrils. 'Moses, what is in thy hand?', said the Lord; 'Nothing but a staff, Lord, to tend my flock'. 'Take it and use it for me', said the Lord - and with that he wrought more things than great Egypt had ever seen. 'Mary, what is in your hand?'. 'Nothing but a pot of sweet smelling ointment', and with it she anointed the Holy One of God, and the fragrance filled the house and the world, for the story is recounted wherever the gospel is preached. 'Poor widow, what is in thy hand?'. 'Only two mites, Lord', but all she had, she gave it - and her story has prompted the humblest soul in giving all that they have. 'What is in thy hand, Dorcas?'. 'Only a needle, Lord'. 'Take it and use it for me', and so she did - warming the poor and the needy of Joppa. 'Little lad, what is in your hand?'. 'Just my lunch, Lord'. 'Give it to me, and I will feed more than 5000 with it, and to spare'.
Would you believe this? That what you give to the Lord He blesses, and no matter how little you give to the Lord and can give to Him, He multiplies and He can even use the hand with nothing in it! Maybe that's you. It was Hudson Taylor, the father of China Inland Mission, when asked why God chose to do a great work through him he said: 'God chose me because I was weak enough'. Are you weak enough? Am I weak enough for the Lord to use? Someone has said: 'The Lord sends no one away empty but those who are full of themselves'. That's often our problem: we're too strong, too confident, we're too self-sufficient, we're too smart for God to use - but as the song puts it, this lesson was teaching the disciples that little is much when God is in it!
He wanted them to face their own inability to meet the need. He wanted them to offer up their weakness to Him. Thirdly, He required them to do His will in His way. In verses 39 and 40 we read this - the Lord had the people sit down in organised groups on the green grass. Now the multitude have already been described as sheep without a shepherd, and if that's how they were viewed, now we are seeing the Lord as the Shepherd among the sheep - what a depiction of Psalm 23 verse 2! 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. I will lack nothing, I will have no need. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters'. Isaiah 40 is being fulfilled: 'He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young'.
Like the first miracle the Lord performed in His ministry, when Mary said to those who were over the wedding at Cana: 'Whatsoever he saith unto thee, do it', they had to do His will in His way. So they are arranged by 50s and 100s, and what the Lord is teaching is a lesson: God's work must be done in God's way, and God's work done in God's way will never lack God's provision. It was Hudson Taylor who said: 'God pays for what He orders'. In 50s and 100s they were ranked, that is the word used in English, but do you know what the original Greek word really literally means? 'Flower beds', they were put in flower beds of 50 and 100. Now I'm only surmising, I imagine that this great crowd in all their colourful dress, reclining on the spring green grass in the light of the declining evening sun on the hillside by the still water of the Lake, must have looked like flower beds of beautiful blooms. I just wonder did anyone there remember the words of our Lord Jesus when He said: 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?'. It might have also reminded them of the encampments of Israel in the wilderness, and all the tribes laid out in order - and what happened there? God miraculously fed them every day with the bread from heaven by the power of the Lord, who was in their midst. Do you see it?
He's teaching them that His will must be done His way, but He's teaching them something else. Fourthly, He is teaching them to look to their heavenly Father in prayer for their need. He wants them to realise: 'You're saying send this crowd away that they'll find bread, but you need to know that their supply will not come from earth, it must come from heaven'. It was in the Lord Jesus Christ that the Heavenly Father was revealed to them in all His sufficiency: 'No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him'. Go away from His presence to have their needs supplied? No! They were going to leave His presence to provide for the crowd, He's teaching them: Christ reveals the Father to us, and brings us to the Father, and 'your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him'. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.
We read that He blessed these loaves, and the blessing He probably used was the traditional one: 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Earth, who brings forth bread from the earth' - and that would have been followed by a 5,000 strong 'Amen'. Now if that bread had remained unblessed and unbroken, it would never have fulfilled its purpose - and so we must be broken in our own helplessness, and we must be blessed as we come to the Lord for His provision. Someone has said the reason we are not more freely given to men is that we are not yet properly broken.
He wanted them to face their own inability to meet the need. He wanted them to offer up their weakness to Him. He required them to do His will His way. He taught them to look to their heavenly Father in prayer for their need. Fifthly, He wanted them to see that the lowly Servant before them was the Christ of the impossible - a miracle was being done, more than 5,000! Note that it only says 5,000 men, excepting women and children - feeding them with five loaves and two fish! He's still doing miracles today! I thought there might have been one 'Amen'.
This lowly Servant standing before them was the Christ of the impossible, and the lesson He's teaching is: 'You don't need to go away from Me, you need to look to Me'. When we look to Jesus in faith, we trust His word and He meets our supply. Didn't the children of Israel say in the desert: 'Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?' - can God? The God of Moses fed them in the wilderness, because of their murmuring He fed them until the food came out of their nostrils, until they were sick of it. The God of Elijah lives today, the God who multiplied the oil and the meal for the widow of Zarephath. The God of Elisha, who increased the pot of oil and fed 100 men with 20 loaves of barley - that God is alive! The Galileans were to realise that before them stood the embodiment of Jehovah God. Psalm 145 was being fulfilled: 'Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing'; Psalm 132:15, 'I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread'. The Lord was in their midst, imagine telling them to go away and find bread, when He was in their midst!
Sixthly, He wanted them to be confident in His power to serve others. Look at verse 41, we see that He didn't distribute the bread Himself, very instructive - He gave the bread to the disciples and they distributed it. His plan is that He should feed the world with the gospel and all sorts of other provision through His own people. Now mark this: going out of His presence to find bread, they were powerless to meet the need; but going from His presence, out from Him, they would have the Spirit's power to serve the sheep. Someone has said: 'Those who minister to the needs of others must fill their hands from the hands of Christ, He alone is the source of supply'.
I wonder, in verse 37, and again I'm only surmising, I wonder when He said to them: 'Give ye them to eat', is that what He was already challenging them to do? They needed to realise first and foremost, as we do, without Him we can do nothing - but now they're starting to be taught: we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. So He wanted them to be confident in the power to serve others, but finally - number seven - He wanted them to be satisfied in Him, who provides for every need in superabundance. He wanted His servants to be fully satisfied in Him, who could provide their needs in superabundance. Verses 42 to 44, 5,000 men was an immense gathering - now take into account that a village like Capernaum or Bethsaida had only about 2,000 to 3,000 people resident in them, and this is 5,000 men on their own! These verses tell us that they were all fed full, and there were twelve baskets full left over. Twelve in the Bible is the number of perfect administration of power in man - 12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples - and what the Lord's saying here is: 'Do you see this service you are embarking on for me? I have perfect provision for you to operate and serve in my behalf'. A sufficient Saviour for them all, with power to meet all the need.
Of course John tells us of the sermon that our Lord Jesus then preached after this miracle, where He talked of Himself as the Bread of Life come down from heaven. So He didn't just perform this miracle to meet human needs, but ultimately to reveal Himself. Can I ask you: have you seen Him this morning in this miracle, in these lessons? Miracles are sermons in action, you know. Do you see that He wants you to face your own inability to meet your need? You can't do it. Have you seen that you need to offer up to Him your weaknesses, whatever they are, even if all you've got to offer are your empty hands. Do you see that God requires you to do His will in His way? The end does not justify the means, you've got to do it God's way or no way at all. Do you see that we can look to our Heavenly Father in prayer for any needs that we have? Do you see that your Saviour is the Christ of the impossible? Do you see that He gives you sufficient confidence to serve others, because He gives you His power? Do you be satisfied in Him, He who provides every need in superabundance?
The Lord Jesus was revealing Himself as Jehovah, who had superabundance to meet all the needs of mankind. What a wonderful Saviour! It's no wonder Bernard of Clairvaux wrote:
'We taste of Thee, Thou Living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead
And Thirst our souls for Thee to fill'.
Oh Father, we thank Thee for such a lesson that Saviour not only taught His early disciples, but we - that we in and of ourselves are hopeless and helpless for salvation or for service. Through our own ingenuity and means we cannot supply the needs that are so great around us. Yet Father, if we would just give You our all, all that we have and all that we are, You could make something of nothing. We believe You will, Lord, if we would just take that step of faith, believe that we don't need to go out of Your presence, but if we go out from Your presence what a blessing we will be to others. Lord, let us see in Christ the One who meets the impossible needs, let us see in our Lord Jesus God Himself the Son feeding the sheep that are starving. Lord, may we look to Him and Him alone, for You have promised our God shall supply all our need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Lord, if there's a soul here this morning who is not satisfied with Christ, make them satisfied to feed on Him now and evermore. Feed them, Bread of Heaven, till they lack no more. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirty-third recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Servant's Unlimited Supplies" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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