The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King who delivers his people from their sin and misery and brings them into his own kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom which will never end. And through the parables he told and through the miracles he performed, he revealed the kingdom and what it is like. And so, we were thinking recently about the four parables of the sower and his seed; and of the hidden lamp; and of the seed growing in the field; and of the mustard seed. And taken together, they teach us that despite the opposition of the Devil, and the hardness of the human heart, and despite the cares of the world, and the desire for other things, Christ’s kingdom will grow in the world through the preaching of God’s word; and it will keep growing until the time of the harvest arrives when the Lord Jesus comes with his angels to gather his people in to eternal life.
And then we were thinking of the four miracles of the stilling of the storm; and of the healing of the demon-possessed man; and of the healing of the woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years; and of the raising of Jairus’s twelve-year old daughter who had died. Taken together, these four miracles reveal that Jesus Christ possesses the power and authority to destroy the Devil and all who belong to him and to deliver his people from death and to give them everlasting life in the new creation when he comes again.
And then last week we learned that there will always be those who oppose his kingdom. And so, when the Lord went to his hometown to preach, the people took offence at him. When he sent the disciples out to preach, he warned them that there would be places where they would not be welcomed. And then there was the story of John the Baptist, who was hated by Herodias and killed by Herod because he preached God’s word. Christ’s kingdom will grow throughout the world until he comes again; but we can always expect there to be opposition to his kingdom and there will always be those who oppose the preaching of his word and who oppose those who are called to preach it.
And so we come to today’s passage which contains the story of how the Lord fed the 5,000; and it contains the story of how the Lord walked on water; and it contains a summary account of how the Lord healed all those who were brought to him. So, more miracles. And these miracles, like the others, are designed to reveal the kingdom to us.
Verses 30 to 44
And so we read in verse 30 that the apostles gathered round the Lord Jesus. Back in verse 7 we read how he called the Twelve Disciples to him and sent them out two by two to preach his word and to drive out demons and to heal the sick. And in verse 30, they’ve returned to the Lord and they tell him all that they had done and what they had taught. Well, since the crowds were still coming to the Lord and giving him no rest, he invited the Twelve Disciples to come with him to a quiet spot in order to get some rest. And so, according to verse 32, they found a solitary place. But it didn’t remain solitary for very long, because the people saw where they were headed and ran on ahead to meet them there. They would give him no peace or rest, but were continually looking to him for help.
Nevertheless, when the Lord arrived and saw the large crowd, he was not angry with them or impatient with them. He was not exasperated with them, the way we are when the break we were longing for at the end of the day is interrupted. No, when the Lord saw them, he had compassion on them, because they seemed to him like sheep without a shepherd. They were like sheep, wandering over the hillside, without a shepherd to guide them and to protect them. And so, the Lord began to teach them, because he was their shepherd who would feed them on God’s word and who would guide them along paths of righteousness in the direction of his Father’s house in heaven.
But, of course, time passed and it was now late in the day. The people were hungry and needed food. So, ‘send them away’, the disciples said. Send them away to buy food for themselves. But the Lord answered them:
No, you give them something to eat.
And the disciples were puzzled, because there’s no way they could afford to feed such a crowd of people. It would take at least eight-months of a man’s wage to feed them all. Well, you know the story and how the Lord sent them to go and see what food they had; they came back with the news that all they could gather was five loaves of bread and two fish. And the Lord directed them all to sit down on the grass; he then took the loaves and fish and looked up to heaven and gave thanks to his heavenly Father. He broke the loaves and the fish and gave the pieces to the disciples who distributed them to the people. And though they began with only five loaves and two fish the Lord was able to multiple them miraculously so that, according to verse 42, they all ate and were satisfied. In other words, they ate until they were full; and no one, at the end of the meal, complained that they didn’t get enough. In fact, there was so much food, that there were even leftovers: twelve basketfuls. And Mark tells us in verse 44 that the number of men who had eaten was five thousand; and Matthew, in his account of the same parable, tells us that there were women and children as well. It was a great crowd and they were fed by a great miracle.
What did it mean? In order to understand this miracle properly, we need to see the connection it has with the Old Testament, because what God reveals to us in the New Testament about his kingdom grows out of what God has revealed about his kingdom in the Old Testament. And in the Old Testament, we read how the Lord God — the King of his people — fought against Pharaoh the King of Egypt and rescued his people from their captivity in Egypt so that he could bring them at last to the Promised Land of Canaan, where God would rule over them as their King and they would serve him as his people. Do you remember? Pharaoh refused to let them go. And so, the Lord sent plague after plague against them — ten plagues in all — in order to break the power of Pharaoh and to bend his will so that he gave the order to let the people go.
And then, when Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his soldiers to recapture the Israelites, the Lord opened up a way for his people through the Red Sea so that they crossed the sea to safety on dry land, whereas the Egyptians, when they tried to follow them, were drowned in the same sea. And afterwards, God’s people became a pilgrim people, because having left Egypt, there were to travel through the wilderness to the Promised Land. But their life as a pilgrim people was a time of testing, wasn’t it? It was a time of testing, when the Lord tested their faith to see whether or not they would trust in him, or whether they would moan and complain and whether they would despise the Promised Land by wanting to return to Egypt. So, what tests did they face?
Well, there were enemies to face, weren’t there? Amalekites came against them with swords and spears. They were experienced soldiers, whereas the Israelites were only farmers and labourers who did not know how to fight. But the Lord rescued them from their enemies.
What other tests did they face? WSometimes there was no water. What would they drink? How could they survive? The people began to complain. But the Lord heard them and answered them and he made water come from a rock so that they had plenty to drink.
And what else? What other tests did they face? Their food ran out. So what would they eat? What would this great crowd of people eat in the wilderness? Well, you know the story and how the Lord provided them with manna. Every morning, there it was on the ground, waiting for them to pick up and to cook and to eat. And those who gathered much did not have too much; those who gathered little did not have too little. In other words, there was enough for everyone.
That’s what we read in the book of Exodus. Now, jump back to the gospel of Mark and here’s the Lord Jesus, God’s Anointed King, and what’s he doing? He’s feeding his people in the wilderness. Just as the Lord God fed that great crowd of Israelites in the wilderness in the days of Moses, so the Lord Jesus fed this great crowd of Israelites in this wilderness where he had gone with his disciples. The Lord Jesus was doing for this crowd what the Lord God had done for the Israelites. And he did this to reveal to us something vitally important about his kingdom. And it’s this: Just as the Israelites were a pilgrim people who were on the way to the Promised Land of Canaan, so the Lord’s people today are a pilgrim people who are on the way to the Promised Land of Eternal Life. We’re on the way to the new creation — the new heaven and the new earth — where we will dwell with the Lord for ever and where we will have all that we need and will enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever. We’re a pilgrim people, who through faith have been delivered from Satan’s tyranny and from the penalty and power of sin and from the power of death and we’re on our way to glory.
But there are many tests on the way, aren’t there? There are many trials and troubles and dangers on the way which test our faith to see whether we will trust in the Lord or whether we will doubt him and complain and moan and despise the Promised Land by wanting to go back to our old life of sin and unbelief. There are many trials on the way to test our faith. But look: we can trust in Christ our King to help us. When he saw this crowd, which seemed to him like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them. And when they were hungry, he fed them.
And by feeding them in this miraculous way he was revealing to us that he’s our Shepherd-King, who cares for us; and who knows what we need; and he’s able to provide us with all we need so that we don’t need to be afraid no matter what trials and troubles we encounter on the way. We don’t need to be afraid. And we don’t need to moan and complain as if God did not care for us. We don’t need to be afraid and we don’t need to moan. Instead we can trust Christ our King to help us and to provide us with everything we need to cope with the trials of this troubled life while we make our way to our final destination in the new creation. That’s the point of this parable and that’s what he was revealing to us by this miraculous sign. Just as the Lord God fed the Israelites with manna on the way to the Promised Land, and just as the Lord Jesus fed the 5,000 with loaves and fish, so we today can trust in him to provide us, his pilgrim people, with all that we need as we make our way to the Promised Land of Eternal Life in his presence.
Verses 45 to 52
What about the second miracle? We read in verse 45 that the Lord made his disciples go ahead of him in a boat to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd and went up on the mountainside to pray. When evening came, he saw that the boat his disciples were in was still in the middle of the lake and they were straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. So, they weren’t in a storm, but they were struggling to make progress because the wind was against them. If you’ve ever been in a canoe or a rowing boat, and the wind and tide is against you, you know it’s hard work. Well, on this occasion, the Lord went out to them. It was the fourth watch of the night; that’s between 3am and 6am. And we’re told he went out to them by walking on the lake. It was a miracle.
Mark tells us that he was about to walk by, which seems odd to us. Surely he had come to help them? So why walk by? But the Bible scholars are helpful here, because they suggest that the expression ‘pass by’ is almost a technical term in the Bible to describe those occasions when God appears to his people. For instance, in Exodus 33 Moses asked to see God’s glory. And the Lord replied that he would let his goodness ‘pass by’ in front of Moses. He also said he would cover Moses with his hand until ‘I have passed by’. One more example: in 1 Kings 19, the Lord announced to Elijah that he was going to appear to him. He said:
Go and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.
So, when God appeared to his people in the Old Testament, we’re told he ‘passed by’ them. And so, here in Mark 6, when Mark tells us that the Lord Jesus was going to ‘pass by’ his disciples, he saying to us that this man is the Lord God who was about to appear to them in order to help them.
When the disciples saw them, they were afraid. At first they thought he was a ghost. And so they cried out in fear, because they were terrified, Mark tells us in verse 50. But immediately the Lord spoke to them to reassure them and to comfort them. He said:
Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.
Now, a more literal translation of what he said is this:
Take courage. I am. Don’t be afraid. I am.
Why did he say, ‘I am’? That’s God’s special covenant name, isn’t it? When God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush, Moses asked him for his name. And the Lord replied that his name is ‘I am’. In the Old Testament, that special name usually appears as ‘LORD’ in capital letters. So, in the Old Testament God revealed himself by the name ‘I am’. And here in the new Testament, the Lord Jesus revealed himself to his disciples by the name ‘I am’. The Lord God had come out to them, walking on the water. And when he climbed into the boat, the wind — which they were struggling against — died down.
In Isaiah 43 we read these words:
But now, this is what the Lord [I AM] says — he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
That’s what the Lord God promised his people in the Old Testament. And that’s what the Lord Jesus did for his people here in Mark 6. They were struggling in the waters, because the wind was against them. But the Lord came to them in order to help them.
By this miraculous sign the Lord was revealing that he is Almighty God who is mighty and powerful and able to help us. And so, as we make our way each day as God’s pilgrim people, on our way to the Promised Land of Eternal Life, we’ll face troubles and trials on the way; and our faith will be tested. The Devil will come at us. The unbelieving world will try to force us to conform to its sinful and unbelieving ways. People will mock us and they will hurt us. There will be sickness for us to face; and there will be trouble in the family and trouble at work and trouble wherever we go. Our life as God’s pilgrim people will not be easy.
But we should remember and believe that we can look to the Lord Jesus for the help we need. He provided the crowd of 5,000 with what they needed in the wilderness. He came out to help the disciples who were struggling against the wind. And whatever we may face in this troubled life as we make our way towards the new creation, we need to remember and believe that our Shepherd-King will help us. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. And even though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Why not? Because you — my Shepherd-King, Jesus Christ — are with me. And so, with the King’s help, we can rely on his goodness and mercy to follow us every day, and we can look forward to coming one day into his house to dwell with him forever.
Do you believe this? That’s the question. Do you believe this so that you’re looking to him and relying on him every day for the help and strength and comfort and peace you need? The great danger is that we’ll do what the disciples did, and we’ll let our hearts become hard. Do you see that in verse 54? They were amazed, because they didn’t understand the significance of the miraculous sign of the loaves. And instead of believing, their hearts were hardened. Well, that picks up what we learned about the parable of the seed, where some of the seed fell on the hard ground. Our hearts can be hardened by unbelief so that God’s word when he hear it does us no good. It also picks up the warning in Psalm 95. Do you remember that Psalm? The Psalmist refers back to the days of Israel in the wilderness when the Israelites doubted the Lord’s faithfulness and when they complained about having no water. And the Psalmist says to God’s people in every generation:
Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did in that day at Massah in the desert when your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.
You’ve seen what the Lord did when his disciples were struggling in that boat and how he came to helped them. You’ve seen what the Lord did when the crowd was hungry and how he fed them. You’ve seen what the Lord did when he performed these miraculous signs to reveal his kingdom. Having seen what he did, and having heard his word to you today, do not harden your heart. It’s so easy for us to do. Even the members of the church can come to church and they can harden their hearts to God’s word, so that it does them no good. So, do not harden your heart, but believe what you have heard and know that you can look to the Lord Jesus for the help you need as your make your way to the Promised Land above. The life of God’s pilgrim people is hard. There are trials on the way and obstacles. And we can be tempted to doubt his goodness and faithfulness. And we can moan and complain. We can become bitter and resentful. We can let our hearts grow cold so that God’s word does us no good. Or we can come to church with humble, believing hearts, ready to receive his word and to believe his promises and look to him for the help we need each day. So, today, now that you have heard God’s word, do not harden your heart, but believe and trust in him.