>The following was preached at Veedersburg UMC on Sunday, May 30, 2010. The text for this week’s message is Mark 6:30-44.

Last week, we wrapped up our series on the Holy Spirit by looking at spiritual gifts, and I feel like we have covered what we need to cover on spiritual gifts for now. Some time down the road, we’ll go a little more into what your particular gifts means, so don’t forget about them. Make sure you have them written down somewhere so you can refer back to them. I do want to remind you to take some time to fill out your spiritual gifts inventory, write down your top three and get those analysis sheets back to me. If you did not get a copy last week, or lost your copy, you can pick them up after worship today. I still have a few copies left, and can make some more if necessary.
This week, I want to take a little detour from where we have been to look at a story that is very rich in its meaning. There are several things going on in today’s passage, and I’ll do my best to hit the highlights so we can hear what God is saying to us today. But, before we jump right into the passage, let’s take a look at how we got where we are.
At the very beginning of Mark 6, we come to the story where Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth, teaching in the synagogue and the people reject the message that he has brought them. It had to have been a frustrating and disappointing visit for Jesus. He goes in with high expectations, and leaves with people saying, “Hey, isn’t this Mary’s son, the carpenter? Who does he think he is?”
As soon as they leave Nazareth, Jesus sends out the disciples in pairs to do ministry in the area. It was one of the first mission assignments given to the disciples, and just before they come back, no doubt filled with excitement about what they had been doing, Jesus gets news that his cousin, John the Baptist, was killed by Herod. It is almost like there was just one thing after another. As a way to get away and recover from all this, Jesus and the disciples plan to go to a desolate place for a period of recovery.
Here is an important lesson for us to learn already: in the good times and in the bad times, it is necessary for us to get away for a little while. As we read through Scripture, we see that the desolate places, also referred to as the wilderness, have a significant impact on the key leaders throughout.
Moses leaves Egypt and goes through the wilderness to Midian. After leaving Egypt, the people of Israel wander the wilderness for over 40 years. David spends a significant portion of the book of 1 Samuel hiding from Saul in the wilderness before he becomes king. In a story that we’ll look at in a few weeks, Elijah fears for his life because Jezebel wants to kill him, and he heads out to the wilderness.
John the Baptist is baptizing in the Jordan River, which is in the wilderness. After his baptism, Jesus is cast out into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and nights and is tempted by Satan. After his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, the apostle Paul went to Arabia, which was composed of modern-day Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, areas that were also part of the wilderness.
These are just a handful of stories where the wilderness plays a significant role in what happens over the course of Scripture. And one of the first things we learn as we approach this morning’s passage is that they are going to a desolate place. They are going to the wilderness. That should be a clue that something significant is going to happen.
Mark continues the story by telling us that Jesus and the disciples got in a boat and started to head out to a desolate place to get some rest. But some people recognize Jesus, see where he is going, and run ahead to wait for him. And what does Jesus do? He rolls his eyes, covers his face, looks at his disciples, and says, “Hey guys, let’s go somewhere else. I’m so tired of these people.” That’s not what he says, is it? No, not at all.
In spite of the need for rest, Jesus looks at the people and he doesn’t see a burden. He sees an opportunity. And do you know where the difference between a burden and an opportunity is? It’s in your perspective. You see, the problem that we often have is not that we don’t see opportunities, it’s that when we do see them, we think they are burdens; we cover our faces and try to avoid them. We see the masses that are in need of Jesus and we want to run the other way. But that’s not what we see in Jesus. We see Jesus go towards the people, not away.
Who are these people that are chasing after Jesus and the disciples? Well, I can probably tell you who they are not. They are probably not the people with steady jobs. People with steady jobs don’t chase after Jesus into the wilderness because they have better things to do with their time. They aren’t the people who are happy with the current religious establishment. Those people, we call them Pharisees, would listen to Jesus if he was around, but they didn’t seek him out.
These are the people who lost hope and were looking for something to believe in. These are the people who are at the end of their rope. These are the disillusioned, the tired, the worn out, the ones who really need a break from the rules and regulations of the religious system that were constantly beating them into submission. Sound like anybody you know? I imagine it does. Are they a burden or an opportunity?
Jesus sees an opportunity. Mark tells us that he has compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were people wandering to and fro with no direction in their lives, and nobody to take the time to give them that direction. And Jesus does something a little unexpected, he teaches them.
They were probably chasing after Jesus because they heard about the miracles that he performed, about the healings that he did and about the demons that he drove out. Sure, they probably heard that he had a few good things to say every once in a while, but that wasn’t why they were going to see him. And here’s the thing, people care more about what we do, than what we say. We can say all the right things, but if we don’t do anything to back it up – nobody cares. But if we are active in helping those around us, we earn an audience. People don’t just walk through the door; we have to give them a reason.
And here’s the kicker: we don’t hear any stories of people leaving once Jesus began to teach. People knew that there was something different about Jesus because of the things that he did. By doing those things, he gained an audience with the people. He teaches them, not because that is what they wanted, but because it was what they needed and he had earned the right to speak truth into their lives.
We come to Jesus with so many things going on in our lives and we pray about the stuff that we need him to take care of, but how often do we just stop to listen to what he is saying to us? There are things that we want from Jesus, and then there are things that we need. The problem is that we have a difficult time discerning between the two because we live in a society that muddies the waters between needs and wants. Here’s a nauseating number to consider. I saw a figure this week that said companies spend $412 billion, that’s BILLION, on advertising every year.
There is a general rule that I’ve picked up on by watching a lot of television; you don’t see advertisements for things you need. You’ll see advertisements for cars, movies, video games, restaurants and beer, but I’ve never seen an advertisement for water. Yes, there are ads for flavored water, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about straight up, right out of the tap, water. You know, the stuff that you literally cannot live without. It is something that we need to survive, but nobody seems to go out of there way to tell us about it – because wants are the focus, not needs.
Jesus knows the difference between what we want and what we need, and he gives us what we need. In this case, the people didn’t necessarily need to be healed or to see miracles. They needed to hear the good news of the gospel. And that’s what he gives them.
As the day goes on, Jesus continues to teach, and the disciples notice that they are going to have a problem. One thing that we pick up on the disciples throughout the gospels is that they are masters of stating the obvious. They come up to Jesus and say, “We’re in a desolate place.” No kidding. Jesus was the one that told them to go there. He knows it’s a desolate place. He can look around. But it gets better.
They say, “We’re in a desolate place, and it’s getting late.” Really? Is that what it means when the sun starts to sink below the horizon? Of course, they are in a desolate place. Of course it’s getting late. Jesus is not concerned about these things. The disciples are concerning themselves with the obvious and, if they aren’t careful, they are going to miss what happens next.
Again, this reflects where we are more often than we would like to admit. Too often we get caught up in the details that aren’t that important. For instance, last week when the doors were open in the back, did that distract anybody? How many people get distracted by a change in the mundane, unimportant circumstances of the environment around us? I had somebody talk to me one week about how many times I put my hands in my pocket while I was preaching. I’m not saying that this person was not listening to what I was saying, but on some level, he was distracted by an environmental factor that had no bearing on what was going on.
If we let the obvious distract us, we can miss out on the important. Do you know where our biggest distractions really are? They are in our heads; the things that we allow to take over our thoughts are more distracting than anything environmental around us. The disciples get distracted, and something incredible is about to happen.
As I read over this passage time and time again, it dawned on me. What is about to happen is not for the benefit of the crowd. I think this grand scale miracle had nothing to do with the crowd, and everything to do with the disciples. Think about it, the disciples needed a break and weren’t getting it. The disciples probably weren’t crazy about there being a crowd in the first place. The disciples were getting distracted with the mundane, obvious details. In the context of the passage to this point, it’s all about the disciples.
When the disciples notice that it’s getting late and that they are in a desolate place, they realize that there is going to be a problem. They realize that the crowd is going to need something to eat. They’re looking at their surroundings, watching the sun go down and wondering when Jesus is going to be done so they can get something to eat. So, they tell Jesus, “Hey, let’s wrap it up so we can get out of here. These people are going to be getting hungry soon.”
And then Jesus looks at them and says, “You feed them.” Um, excuse me, Jesus? “You feed them.” Can you imagine what is going through the disciples’ minds? “You want us to feed this crowd? You do see the crowd that’s here right? Are you kidding? It would take 8 months wages to feed this many people. Jesus, we left everything to follow you. We don’t have that kind of income right now. We can’t do it. Look, we found this kid who has five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, but good luck getting that to stretch with all these people.” What does Jesus do?
Jesus tells the disciples to sit the people down in groups of 50 and 100. Why would he do that? Why would Jesus care what size groups these people were sitting in? Why does Mark specify the green grass? Perhaps we should start with that last question, and deep down, you already know the answer. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down… [where?]… in green pastures.”
Jesus saw the people, and they looked like sheep without a shepherd, and he had compassion on them. Jesus is fulfilling the role of the shepherd that we see in Psalm 23. He is fulfilling a role that implies care, direction and leadership. And, in a sense, he is giving his disciples an opportunity to take part in that role.
Secondly, when he tells the disciples to sit the people down in groups of 50 and 100, it reminds us of what we read in Exodus 18. Moses divided the people up, and he put key leaders in charge of them. Leaders were in charge of people in groups of 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s. From that point forward, Moses didn’t have to make all the decisions for the nation of Israel. There were other people sharing the burden of leadership. That’s exactly what is going on throughout this chapter in Jesus’ interactions with the disciples. He is giving them more responsibility. He is preparing them to lead with the heart of a shepherd.
Jesus is shaping and preparing his disciples. The reason I say that this miracle isn’t really for the benefit of the crowd, but for the disciples, is because the disciples are the ones who are being molded by what is going on. They are starting to see that their responsibility in leadership is about to be expanded. They are the ones who are seeing what Jesus is doing when he takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives it to his disciples, which is something he will do again in another setting.
I don’t think the crowd necessarily knows what is going on. All they know is that they are sitting down and Jesus is going to feed them. I don’t know if they actually know that Jesus only has five loaves of bread. When we read Mark’s account, we don’t have any indication that the people realize what is happening at the time, but the disciples do. They are the ones seeing it unfold right before their very eyes.
They bring to Jesus five loaves and two fish, and basically say, “Here’s all we have, but what can you possibly do with so many people?” They doubt that Jesus can do anything with this. They wanted to send the people away. It was the disciples who doubted Jesus could do anything with so little. And in the end, what happens?
Jesus has the disciples collect the leftovers. And he didn’t have them gather up a few crumbs either. They gathered up twelve baskets. The food they started with wouldn’t have even filled twelve baskets, but the leftovers did. Anybody ever have more leftover than what you started with? Of course not, the math doesn’t add up. But the disciples saw firsthand what God can do with so little. Because here’s the thing – God doesn’t need enough food to feed 5000, he needs a handful of people willing to trust him to feed the 5000.
It’s astounding what God can do when we give him all we have, no matter how little that is. God can multiply our work so that there is more fruit than what we even started with, and that’s what we need to walk away with today. God can do so much more with what we have if we simply give it to him and trust him to take care of the details.
Okay, so what is the walk-away from this morning’s passage? We’ve covered a lot of ground, but what do we really need to take with us as we go about our week? Let’s put ourselves in the disciples’ sandals for a minute.
First off, we need to take a break from time to time. We need to open ourselves up to those times in our lives when we are going through the wilderness. It’s not always a bad thing to step away for a while. Even the disciples, who were coming back from a successful mission trip. needed to take a break.
Second, we need to develop the heart of a shepherd. A shepherd cares for the flock. A shepherd doesn’t see the needs of the crowd as a burden, but as an opportunity. Do we have hearts of compassion, hearts that are focused on others instead of our selfish needs and preferred methods? It doesn’t matter what we think about a given situation. God has compassion and is able to multiply His blessings.
Finally, God can multiply what we bring to Him. We don’t have to come to God with everything that we are going to need and have Him to put it together. We come to God with what we have and trust in Him to multiply it to fulfill His purposes. Look around, we don’t have much, but if we give it all to Him, He will accomplish more than we ever thought possible.
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