This sermon is number 38 in a series of 57
Studies in Mark - Part 38
"Rote Learning Of Multiplication"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2008 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Mark chapter 8 then, beginning to read at verse 1 - the miracle of the feeding of the 4000. Mark 8 and verse 1: "In those days the multitude being very great" - let me just pause there, do remember where we were the last time. Let me remind you: the Lord healed a deaf and dumb man in a rather unusual manner, and yet obviously this had created a bit of a stir, and people were attracted to see who this Man was who performed such a miracle. So this is obviously the reason for this multitude being very great.
So they have gathered, and verse 1 says they have nothing to eat: "Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude". Let me pause there also: this is the only occasion where you find the Lord Jesus saying: 'I have compassion'. The other time is the same record of this event in Matthew chapter 15, but any other time compassion is mentioned concerning our Lord Jesus it is spoken of Him that He had compassion on the multitudes - but here we have the Lord in His own words saying: "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away. And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha" - we end our reading there at verse 10.
Now if you were at the prayer meeting on Thursday evening, you will remember that I gave a rather obscure title to my study this morning, and it was this: 'Rote Learning Of Multiplication'. Maybe you thought you were going to get a maths lesson from the pulpit today, but there is a purpose to that title. Rote learning, some of you will remember, was a very effective means of learning such things as your times tables and even your multiplication tables. The idea, if you look it up in the dictionary anyway, of rote learning is that you learn without understanding initially - just learn off the tables - with the view that when you remember them, understanding will break upon your conscience. So you learn the sums, the tables, you may not understand everything to do with them, but eventually by learning them over and over again, the understanding kicks in. I don't know whether that happened for you, it certainly didn't for me - but that's the point behind rote learning.
Now this particular miracle has been entitled by many as 'the forgotten miracle', the forgotten miracle! You probably can imagine why, because many people have just viewed this as a duplication of the feeding of the 5000 - and maybe Mark and Matthew got their figures a wee bit wrong! Of course, we've already studied in chapter 6 that great miracle of the Lord feeding the 5000 - and this is very, very similar, it has to be said. But I want you to note before we go on any further why this is a miracle that is separate and distinct from the feeding of the 5000 that we've already seen in chapter 6. It is very similar, but it is very different.
There are about seven - there are probably more reasons why these are different, but I'm just going to give you seven just now. The first is: the feeding of the 5000 is found in all four of the gospels, but the feeding of the 4000 is only found in Matthew's gospel and Mark's here. The second reason is that the multitude in the feeding of the 5000 were said to have been with the Lord Jesus one whole day, but here we can see clearly that this crowd - verse 2 - had been with the Lord Jesus three days, there's a difference. Something else: in the feeding of the 5000 the Lord Jesus uses five loaves and two fish, but here we see it's recorded that in this feeding of the 4000 the Lord Jesus used seven loaves and a few fish - a few being three or more. Some more differences: we see obviously in the feeding of the 5000 that 5000 men were fed, and additional to that was an unknown number of women and children; here it is the same, not from Mark's account, but from Matthew's in chapter 15 we see there were 4000 men, not including women and children. Something more: in the feeding of the 5000 we have it recorded that our Lord Jesus, when He blessed the bread and the fishes, He prayed one prayer; but here in the feeding of the 4000 He prays before he blesses the bread, and then He prays separately before He blesses the fish. Now the blessing of the bread through one prayer was a normal Jewish custom, but it wasn't their custom to pray a second time over the fish. It may well have been that, because the Lord was in a Gentile area here performing this miracle among Gentile people, He was wanting to teach them that they ought to be thankful to God for their daily bread - something that the Jew took for granted, did every time that he ate, these Gentiles needed to learn the lesson.
Out of that we see that there is something else significant in the fact that the Lord Jesus here is ministering, it would seem, to Gentiles. After the feeding of the 5000, who were 5000 Jews, their response to this great miracle - we know from John chapter 6 and verse 15 - was that they wanted to crown the Lord Jesus as the King, they recognized that there was something unique about Him. We don't find such a reaction from the people who saw the miracle of the feeding of the 4000 because they were Gentiles, and they had no messianic hope the way the Jews had. One more difference: the remainder of loaves, the surplus that remained after the feeding of the 5000, was contained, you remember, in 12 baskets - 12 handbaskets the Greek word is 'kophenos' (sp?), it's the little lunchboxes that you would have carried with you on a day's outing. Here we see in the feeding of the 4000 that the surplus filled seven wicker baskets, the Greek word is 'spures' (sp?) which is speaking of big hampers, big enough to hold a man - so here's another difference. In fact, this word is used of the basket that was used to let down Paul the apostle over the wall in Damascus in Acts chapter 9.
One final difference, and this perhaps is the most telling and obvious of all: if you look at our portion this morning, chapter 8 and verses 19 and 20, we have from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ how He refers to each of these miracles as distinct and separate. Look at the verses, verse 19 of chapter 8: 'When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?'.
This miracle has been forgotten because many - maybe even you - have confounded this as being some other account of the feeding of the 5000, and obviously it is not. But I would have to say that, equally so, the distinct message of the feeding of the 4000 can be missed because we assume that it must be identical to the message that the Lord Jesus was giving in the feeding of the 5000. Now here's a wee lesson before we go on any further: there is no insignificant Scripture in this holy book, none! There is no pointless duplication of truth - as Paul taught Timothy: 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable'. Now even if you can't understand what the point is behind a particular passage, there is one! The problem is not with the passage, the problem is with your understanding - and maybe what is needed is more patience, persistence, and prayer in the reading and studying of God's holy word.
So we need to probe deeper: what is the meaning that is distinctive in this feeding of the 4000, aside from the feeding of the 5000 and its message. So, as we probe deeper and longer, we must conclude - now bear with me - that the reason for a seeming repetition of a similar miracle is in fact in the repetition of the miracle itself - are you with me? The actual point behind this miracle is in the Lord repeating something similar to what He did before. I've already said that rote learning is a very effective means, it's a tried and tested method of teaching - though we have disposed of it largely today. So it appears that whatever, if anything, that the disciples learned from the feeding of the 5000 - the first miracle - they still had more to learn, that's why the Lord did this miracle of the feeding of the 4000.
Here is another interesting lesson for us all, particularly those who have been on the road longer than the rest of us: no matter how intimate your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ might seem to be, there is always more for us to learn! I think Mark's point is that he wants us to learn that the Lord desired His disciples to grow, to learn more, to have a greater spiritual understanding - and once they had gotten that, to nurture it, and maintain it to their spiritual good. Now let's not be too hard on them: obviously they missed some of the truths in the feeding of the 5000 - but let's face it, which of us learn all there is to learn from our experiences that the Lord allows us to go through? It's true, isn't it? It may be, as some people think, that they have learned something from the feeding of the 5000 - some people interpret the words of the disciples in verse 4, when they said: 'From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?', it didn't seem to be as sceptical as the words in chapter 6 and versed 37 and 38, and some suppose that they had got to the position of realising that no man could provide for this need, human strength and ingenuity could not satisfy this great debt. Therefore they may have been looking to the Lord for some help, and the Lord doesn't seem to rebuke them the way that He rebuked them in the feeding of the 5000. But I'm not sure about that interpretation, because when you read verses 17 to 21 you can see clearly that they had missed some fundamental point even in the feeding of the 5000, as the Lord compares the two miracles there.
Now whilst they may, granted, have come to the point of realising their own inability, they failed this repeat test - that's what it was. It was a resit of an earlier examination, and they came out of it a miserable failure! Now there were two reasons: they failed, one, to recognize the identity of the Lord Jesus; and they failed, two, to recognize the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus for every situation. Now let me pause there and make this very personal to you: are you going through some kind of situation now in your life that you have passed through before? You've been right where you are now before. Now I'm not saying it definitely is the case, that's between you and God, but it could be that the Lord is allowing you to pass through it again because there are lessons that you didn't learn the first time. Could it be that you are failing to recognize the identity of the Lord Jesus in the midst of your experience? Or could it be, probably more so, that you're failing to recognize His sufficiency for your particular predicament?
Let's look at these two aspects that they had failed to see the first time and now, it seems, the second. Let's look first at the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now these were Jews, and as Jews they - I beg your pardon, the disciples now I'm talking about - these were Jews, they were present at the feeding of the 5000 among Jews, and they are present at the feeding of the 4000 among Gentiles. In their minds, with the biblical knowledge they had, they should have immediately equated what the Lord Jesus was doing there beside Galilee with what God did toward the children of Israel in the wilderness. Let me remind you of a number of verses from Exodus. The children of Israel had been delivered from bondage in Egypt, and God had taken them into the desert - promising them a land that would be Canaan - but they are to be there 40 years, and God has promised that He would feed them and look after them. We read that 'the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat'. Further on: 'And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey'.
Now when our Lord performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, John in his gospel tells us that He began to teach this great truth, this Old Testament type, to the disciples as to His own identity as the Bread of God come down from heaven. He said: 'I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world'. Now some Jews didn't understand that, to such an extent that we find in that same passage of John 6 that they thought He was advocating cannibalism. 'The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?', they didn't understand, as Jesus would later say, that the words He was speaking, they were spiritual words, they were words of spiritual life.
He was teaching them in the feeding of the 5000 that He was the Bread of God sent down from heaven, that which was pictured in the manna in the wilderness among the children of Israel - but the disciples missed it, not just the first time, but the second time! Sure from the very beginning to the end of His ministry, it was obvious that He was the Bread of God came down from heaven. Where was He born? Bethlehem - 'house of bread' - God sent the manna to Bethlehem. Then at the end of His life, what do we find? The night on which He was betrayed, He took bread, and He broke it, and He said: 'This is my body given for you'. So at the beginning and the ending of His life down here on earth, He powerfully underscored this great fact: 'I am the Bread of life come down from heaven' - and clearly the disciples hadn't understood it.
The miraculous multiplication of the 5000 and the 4000 - they missed it! This was a display of His omnipotence: God come down to be among men, God manifest in flesh - and the metaphor of the bread that He is now using to break in the Last Supper and share among His disciples to prove that His suffering, His dying on the cross, would spiritually feed the whole world, like it fed the 5000, like it fed the 4000 - they missed the whole point. One of Jehovah's names in the Old Testament was 'El Shaddai', it means 'God All-Sufficient'. Here the Lord Jesus, in both of these great miracles, was manifesting as the incarnate God that He is abundantly able to meet every need, His supplies are unlimited in salvation, and all we need is faith to draw from it!
I wonder are you saved today? Are you born again? Are your sins forgiven? Are you on your way to heaven? Do you have a relationship with God day by day? Do you have the assurance of peace with God in your heart, the guilt of sin vanished? This is possible if you feed upon the Bread of God, Jesus Christ - that means put your faith and trust in Him! That's what He wanted folk to do, indeed the Lord Jesus said to the crowd here in the 5000 feeding in John 6: 'This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom God hath sent'. Later on we read in verse 30 of John 6: 'They said unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?' - and He had done the sign, one of the signs in John's gospel is the feeding of the 5000, and this was the sign of His identity. He is God's Son come down from heaven to feed men's deepest needs, to save their souls. Have you seen that? It's wonderful, isn't it?
The multitude had gathered, and here the Lord is expressing compassion upon them - from His own lips He speaks it, godlike mercy, but praise God: not only has He the compassion and the mercy, but He has the wherewithal to meet the need, and He still does. Verse 4, look at the words of the disciples: 'How can one satisfy these people with bread?' - here was the One who could do it! No other could do it! This was the same One who furnished the table in the wilderness - 'Can God', the children of Israel asked in their wandering and their doubt, 'Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?' - yes! This is His identity!
Now perhaps their problem was that they just couldn't imagine the Lord duplicating a miracle all over again, but the fact of the matter is: because He is God come in human flesh, He is able to do miracles twice! Hallelujah! You might be being tested twice - He is able to do miracles twice. He won't always do it, but He is able because He is God come down from heaven to meet man's needs.
Second thing, and they missed this one surely: not only did they not see His identity, but they missed His sufficiency for the need. In verses 5 to 7 we see that the procedure of handing out the bread and the fish was the same as the miracle of the 5000 fed. He commanded them to recline on the ground, though they weren't in ranks; He took the loaves, He gave thanks, He broke them, He began to pass them to His disciples first, then His disciples imparted them to the multitude - and the same He did with the few small fishes. He provided, and the disciples dispensed. Now friends, that is a spiritual lesson that ought to be obvious to us: Christ, as we have seen, is the Bread of God come down from heaven; and He is to be given for the world - but that Bread has come to our hands as the disciples of Christ today, and it must be distributed among the nations. You have a responsibility, I have, and it is the challenge that is before us: the Bread of Christ must be passed to the hungry - are we doing it? We're not!
His sufficiency was seen in two ways: first of all, they failed to see His sufficiency to meet the universal need of salvation. Now listen, this is clear here: the Lord wanted these Jews, these disciples, to understand that He would not just be the Bread of God come down from heaven to the Jew, but to the Gentile also. These were 4000 Gentiles, they lived near Decapolis where this miracle is being performed, which was a Gentile area. The fact, as we've said, that the Lord said grace twice indicates that they were Gentiles - they didn't understand that they needed to thank God for their daily bread. What a lesson this was in itself to this Gentile world that Christ was performing the miracle to. He was saying to them: 'Pagans, man shall not live by bread alone!', that's what He's teaching, 'You must be fed from the Bread of God which comes down from heaven'. Do you know something? That is the message that our Gentile world needs to hear today, particularly in the West - intoxicated by materialism and sensuality, they think that all they need to live is bread. They need to realise that there is a food for the soul, and they don't have it if they do not have Christ.
Something else indicates that these were Gentiles, verse 8, they took up seven baskets full after the 4000 were fed. Now, presumably these seven baskets came from each of these seven loaves, original loaves. Now you have to be careful with numerology, the study of numbers, in the Bible - but often they glean much spiritual light if you look at them. The number 12 in the Bible is very similar to the number 7, did you know that? 12 often means completeness and perfection in the same way as 7 does, but with one very subtle difference: 12 is used of administrative completeness, God's government, God's ruling; and seven is used in a more spiritual sense, of spiritual perfection and spiritual completeness. Now there is no doubt about it that when the Lord did this miracle among 5000 Jews, the 12 baskets was indicating that one day on the earth Jesus Christ would supply the needs of the world through the Jewish administration of the people of Israel. Also, of course, there were 12 disciples, and there were 12 tribes of Israel, and so in feeding these 5000 Jews it is clear that the Lord was showing that He was the same Bread of God that came to the Jewish people in the wilderness, and He was coming to the Jewish people now at this new time.
Why the seven then for the Gentiles? Well, seven is the number of spiritual perfection and spiritual blessing - and what He was wanting these Gentile people, who had no claim over the covenants of Israel, no claim over the land, to realise that only in Christ is there a spiritual satisfaction, spiritual fulfilment. It's wonderful, isn't it? Christ is more than sufficient for the whole world, that is the message to the Jew in the feeding of the 5000, to the Gentile in the feeding of the 4000. Remember in chapter 7, by the way, we saw the crumbs of bread falling down from the table of a Gentile woman - she hoped to just eat of the crumbs - but here we're seeing that the gate is open wide, there's a multitude of Gentiles abundantly fed! That Syrophoenician woman just hoped that perhaps a crumb of bread might fall, and now the Lord is indicating that though His own people have rejected Him as the Bread of God come down from heaven, His life is being given for the world, for all nations.
The disciples were missing the point, not only of the identity of the Lord Jesus, but of His sufficiency to meet the universal need of salvation - as Paul said, and he had got it, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and then to the Greek', to the Gentile. Now this is all elementary to a lot of you folk, I know that - but we ought to be challenged in these days: do we really, in our heart of hearts, practically believe that the gospel is the answer for this world? They missed the sufficiency of the Lord to meet the universal need of salvation.
Finally, another aspect to His sufficiency they missed was to meet the individual need of supply. Verse 8, if you look at it, chapter 8 verse 8: 'So they did eat, and were filled'. What was the outcome of this miracle? Everybody ate, and they ate to their full - they were satisfied, for He filleth the hungry with good things. Now the mathematics - and I'm no mathematician as I've already said - the mathematics of this miracle are very interesting, and there is a great lesson in this for all of us, but particularly for those who serve the Lord in a full-time capacity. Now listen carefully: the less the Lord had to work with, the more He accomplished. The feeding of the 5000 - how many loaves? Five, and two fish. The feeding of the 4000 - how many loaves? Seven, and a few fish. But He fed the more at the 5000, didn't He, with less? The less the Lord has, He accomplishes more - and, incidentally, there's more left over! Twelve baskets full - we're not thinking of the quantity, we're thinking of the numbers now - but only seven left over with the feeding of the 4000.
So our Lord fed fewer with the greater provisions, and a larger number with less at hand. The lesson is that the less you have to give to God, the more He'll do for you and through you if you're depending on Him alone. Don't be depending on the loaves and the fishes, depend on Him! The less you have the more you'll have, and the more you'll do for Him. What the lesson is here concerning the Lord sufficiency to meet the individual need is that with Him the supply always exceeds the demand - have you got it? The supply always exceeds the demand, and further to that please do notice that there's something lurking here in the Greek language that we don't see very clearly. Christ did not, when He fed the 4000, break the bread suddenly and there were huge piles of bread and fish all around - no. The Greek sense is that He kept breaking the bread and handing it out bit by bit, as it was needed. As the people came, He handed out more to the disciples, they handed it out to the people - and the lesson is: if we are to know the sufficiency of Christ to meet individual needs supplied, we need to be constantly bringing our needs to the Lord, and He will constantly break the bread and give us what we need bit by bit.
It's wonderful, isn't it? They failed to see, though they had seen it before - maybe you have seen it before - the identity of the Lord whom you serve and love, He is the God of heaven, He is the Bread of Heaven! Do you see Him as sufficient to meet the universal need of salvation? Do you see Him, personally, as sufficient to meet your individual need of supply, whatever that may be? Oh, see it please this morning, don't miss it like the disciples. These people came to Christ famished, they were so hungry the Lord Jesus thought they might expire and collapse on their way home; but when their power to eat bread and fish was exhausted, Christ's power to feed was not! Whatever the Lord has given us, there's still far more for Him to give us. The wee hymn puts it:
'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!'
Do you know that your soul is like your stomach? Not big, like some of you, but elastic! Your stomach is elastic - that's why, when you fast or don't eat so much, it shrinks; and then when you go back to eating again, you just don't seem to be able to eat as much. It shrinks when you don't eat, and expands when you do you eat. Your soul is like that: the more you eat, the more it expands; the more you feed upon Christ, the more capacity you have to feed upon Him; and the more your soul expands, the more you are able to feed upon Him, the more you can know of Him. Here's the wonderful lesson of both of these great miracles: none of us have ever eaten as much as we really need of Him, and none of us could ever get to full capacity of our need of Him. None of us, surely, have eaten as much as He wants to give us of Himself. You see, we're meant to hunger, we're meant to thirst after Him. We're meant to want to eat, and eat, and eat - as the Psalmist says: 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God'. The Lord Himself said: 'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled'.
This was rote learning of multiplication. They missed the point of it all the first time, did they get it the second time? Maybe you have missed these lessons in experiences that you have gone through once, twice, more before? You're going through them again: will you learn the lessons and feed upon Christ who is sufficient for every need? It was Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century who said:
'We taste Thee, O thou living Bread,
And long to feed upon Thee still;
We drink of thee, the fountainhead,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill'.
May that be the longing, the cry, and the learning of every heart here this morning today.
'Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Where'er our changeful lot is cast;
Glad, when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blest, when our faith can hold Thee fast.
O Jesus, ever with us stay!
Make all our moments calm and bright!
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed o'er the world Thy holy light!'.
Father help us to see, in the gift of Your Son to us, the Bread of God. Feed us, feed us more and more on Him. Let us find our sufficiency in every aspect of our lives in Him. Thank You for a glimpse of Him today, but may we have more, may we have His life imparted to our souls to an extent that we have never known before, and that gives us an insatiable desire to know Him 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-eighth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "Rote Learning Of Multiplication" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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