The Bible records that Jesus did nearly 40 different miracles during his time on earth – but of those 40 different miracles, (with the exception of his resurrection) there is only one miracle that is recorded in each of the four Gospels.
Now I found that to be pretty surprising! Of all those miracles that Jesus did – only one was so important and so significant that each of the Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – all decided that they need to include it in their Gospel.
And so, as we journey through the life and ministry of Jesus in our current message series, it seems only fitting to include this miracle as one of the milestones that we’ll stop and take a look at along the way.
Now before we get to today’s passage – I do want to point out roughly where we are on the timeline. Last week we saw that Jesus just starting out his public ministry – calling his disciples to follow him. Specifically we looked at how he called Peter and Levi, but by the time of today’s story, Jesus had called all 12 of his disciples and had commissioned them as his apostles. Over the next little while as they followed Jesus, Jesus began to teach them and to prepare them for ministry. This meant watching and listening to Jesus as he taught the crowds, cast out demons, and did miracles such as healing the sick and even raising the dead.
Then after that initial period of learning from Jesus – Jesus sent them out on what we might consider a short-term mission trip. It seems that Jesus would agree with the old 4H moto – “Learn to do by doing!” And so the disciples were sent out two-by-by into the surrounding towns and villages to preach the Word of God – calling people to repent of their sins and turn to God. And as they preached, Jesus also gave them the authority to cast out demons and heal the sick as he had been doing.
And so, as we begin our passage today, we’re going to see that the disciples had just returned from their missionary tour and were ready to debrief with Jesus regarding everything they had just experienced.
Of course, while they had been gone, Jesus had continued his ministry of preaching and teaching, performing miracles and casting out demons – and so by now, Jesus could hardly go anywhere without huge crowds of people following him. And that’s about where our story today begins.
As I mentioned earlier, this story is recorded in all four Gospels, and I may jump back and forth a little bit to see some of the unique details in each Gospels, but I’ve chosen Mark’s Gospel as our main text today. So if you want to follow along, you can turn to Mark chapter 6 and we’re going to start at verse 30.
30 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. 31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
32 So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.
And I’ll just pause here for a moment to point out one little principle. This is one of the many places where we see that Jesus made it a priority to rest and to be alone on a regular basis. And I think that’s very significant.
This was a very busy season for Jesus and the disciples – it seems someone always needed something from them. In fact, it says there were so many people coming and going that they didn’t even have time to eat! That’s pretty busy!
And many of us can probably relate. We live today in a culture where busyness is an unspoken virtue. It’s almost a bit of a status symbol. If you’re constantly busy, then you must be a pretty important person. Being stressed and overwhelmed is almost expected of anyone trying to be successful.
And so a lot of us have a really hard time making it a priority in our lives just to stop – to rest and to be alone for a while. But we need that. God never design us to be constantly on the go. I think that’s part of the reason why God gave us the gift of the Sabbath! It’s a whole day every week just to stop and rest.
But you know, even outside of the Sabbath, we see that Jesus made it a priority to take time away from the busyness – to rest, to be alone, and perhaps most importantly – to spend time with His Heavenly Father. In Luke 5:15 we read how…
“…Vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:15b-16
Even at the height of Jesus’ incredibly successful ministry, he often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. He didn’t get himself stuck in the busyness. He knew that it was a priority for him to withdrawn for a time, to rest, to be refreshed, and to spend time with his Heavenly Father.
And I would just encourage you to consider, when is the last time you withdrew to the wilderness, or to the local park, or at least to a quiet place in your house, for an extended time of prayer?
Or when was the last time you said to your spouse and family, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile”?
If that was a constant priority for Jesus – don’t you think that might be important for us?
And this topic could easily be a sermon series in itself, but I’ll leave it here for today. However, I do think it’s something worth thinking about. Don’t get stuck in the busyness – make it a priority to rest, to be refreshed, and to spend time with your Heavenly Father!
But to get back to our story, Jesus and his disciples load up in a boat and head off for a quiet place to rest. Verse 33 continues…
33 But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. 34 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
This is a great scene! Jesus is tired. He’s worn out. He’s ‘peopled’ out! He just wants to get away with his disciples for some rest and some time alone. But lo and behold, a huge crowd of people have followed him to the other side of the lake and they are all standing there waiting for him as he steps out of the boat.
Now if I were in Jesus’ place – I think I’d be entirely exasperated! I might not say this outloud, but in my heart, I’d be yelling at them “I came here to get away from you guys! Why can’t you just leave me alone for minute!”
But of course, that’s not what Jesus says at all. From what we read here – He’s not exasperated. He’s not frustrated. He’s not angry. But rather, all we see from Jesus is compassion. He sees them as sheep without a shepherd. Lost, hungry sheep who just need someone to care for them. And so Jesus does exactly that – and he begins to teach them – feeding them and guiding them by the Word of God.
And I find that to be such an encouragement for me. So many times I imagine that God is exasperated with me. Frustrated with my failures. Angry that I just don’t seem to get it!
I know that’s how I feel about me sometimes! But that’s not really the picture of God that we see in the Bible. Certainly God expresses His anger at rebellion and sin – but God describes Himself primarily as a God of compassion and mercy. Take a look at Exodus 34:6 where God describes Himself to Moses… He says that his name is….
“Yahweh! The Lord!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
7 I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
Again, I don’t want to diminish the holiness and the justice of God that invokes His wrath against sin, but I also don’t want us to forget that God is a God of compassion and mercy! Those things are all core to His being! That’s who he is!
In fact, it was the combination of his wrath against sin and his compassion for us that led Him to send His Son Jesus to die on a cross in our place so that God could execute judgement for our sin while at the same time offering us forgiveness and life.
So please don’t think that God hates you! Or that He merely puts up with you! Cuz that’s just not true! You are not a hassle to God or frustration for him. He is not exasperated with you. But rather, He loves you more than you can imagine. So much so that He was willing to die for you! That’s a God of compassion and mercy!
And that’s the same kind of compassion that we see here with Jesus as he steps from the boat – and see the crowds of people – as sheep without a shepherd – and so he begins to teach them many things!
The story continues in verse 35.
35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
38 “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
As we see in these verses, Jesus continues to show compassion for the crowds of people. As the day gets late, and everyone begins to get hungry, the disciples are ready to send everyone away to go find some supper – but Jesus says to the disciples “That’s not necessary – you guys feed them!”
Now of course, this would be no small task. As we will see in just a little while, there are roughly 5,000 men who had gathered that day – and that number doesn’t include women and children. So really, there could’ve been 10-15- maybe even 20,000 people there. That’s a lot of food to feed that many people.
So you can understand the disciple’s objections! I mean, just to buy everyone a single cheeseburger from McDonalds – without fries or drink – would be well over $15,000! Bump that up to a happy meal and you’re looking at 50-Grand!
Now of course, there were no McDonald’s back then – but the disciples made very similar calculations – they’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for everyone!
And so Jesus has them take a little inventory. Exactly how much food did they have?
Well, the report comes back – five loaves of bread and two fish. Now the Gospel of John clarifies for us that a little boy in the crowd had brought those – apparently for his own lunch. So I’m sure these weren’t even Costco sized loaves of bread – probably more like little dinner rolls. Actually, Bible scholars say these likely would have been a flatbread of some sort – probably like a thick pita bread or something along those lines. So probably a generous lunch for a little boy, but still basically nothing for a crowd of 10,000 people!
So what’s Jesus gonna do with that? Well, verse 39 tells us…
39 Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.
41 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share.
So again I remind you, that Jesus has just five loaves of bread and two fish that he is breaking into pieces and giving it to the disciples so that they can distribute it to all the people. And I just wonder, exactly how small are these pieces that Jesus is breaking off? I mean, is there even enough for one crumb each? I don’t know – but as Jesus keeps giving out the bread and giving out the fish, something amazing happens! Verse 42 says…
42 They all ate as much as they wanted, 43 and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. 44 A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.
What an incredible miracle! Somehow God multiplied that fish and bread so that everyone had more than enough to feed themselves and their families. That is an astonishing miracle!
A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ first miracle – where he turned ordinary water into wine – but at least then, he had all those jugs of water to start with! He changed them from one thing into another. But here it seems, that Jesus somehow created something out of nothing! It’s like He was creating food out of thin air! I mean, who but God can create something out of nothing?!?
Well, that’s exactly the question! Who but God could create something out of nothing?!? No one – only God Himself! And that’s exactly the point.
Through this miracle, Jesus was clearly showing that He was indeed the Creator! He is the one who has always provided for all of our needs. Whether it was all the different fruit on the trees back in Eden, or mana on the ground during their time in the wilderness, or even if it was bread and fish pulled out of thin air – Jesus has always been the One who has provided for our needs. He is our Creator and sustainer!
What’s more, Jesus is not interested only in providing for our physical needs – but he wants to provide for all of our needs – especially our deepest needs – our need for salvation and true, eternal life!
If we skip over to the Gospel of John, we see that, the very next day, Jesus uses this miracle as an illustration of his true purpose in coming to earth. As the crowds gather once again to be with this man who miraculously fed them bread and fish – Jesus explains that He didn’t come just to provide for their daily needs – he came to provide for their eternal needs! Look at what Jesus says in John 6:48….
48 Yes, I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”
52 Then the people began arguing with each other about what he meant. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked.
53 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day.
Now at first glance, this all seems very strange and bizarre! This guy who just fed thousands of people with bread and fish out of thin air – is now telling them that if they truly want to have eternal life and be raised from the dead on the last day – then they need to eat the bread of life – which Jesus says is Himself – it’s his own flesh and blood! That’s really weird! Why would Jesus say that?
Well, of course, Jesus is not speaking literally, but he’s referring to his ultimate sacrifice – where he would die on a cross in our place – for our sin! His body (his flesh) would be beaten and bruised, nailed to a cross, and left to die. His blood would be poured out from the nail wounds on his hands and his feet, from the whipped gashes on his back, from the crown of thorns on his head, and from the spear wound in his side.
And so Jesus isn’t saying that we need to physically consume his flesh and blood to have eternal life, but rather, we need to fully believe and accept his sacrifice for us.
Just as fish and bread sustains our physical life, it’s Jesus’ sacrificed flesh and blood that gives gives us spiritual life.
This is exactly what we remember when we celebrate communion. If we jump way down on our timeline, to the night before Jesus was crucified, we see him sharing a meal with this disciples. And it’s during this meal that we read in Matthew 26:26….
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.
And again, Jesus wasn’t literally feeding them his flesh and blood. What Jesus is saying here, is exactly what he had explained way back in John chapter 6 and what he had vividly illustrated as he fed the 5000. That He was the bread of life – our ultimate and only real source of eternal life – and we that we may have that life only by accepting Christ as the sacrifice for us.
Just as we need to accept food for our bodies to have physical life, we also need to accept Christ’s sacrifice for our souls to have eternal life. As each of his disciples ate that bread and drank that wine – they were symbolically acknowledging that they believed and accepted Christ’s sacrifice for them.
And that’s what we want to do here this morning. This morning we want to share communion by eating this little bit of bread and drinking this little cup of juice. And while this small portion of food isn’t really intended to feed and sustain our physical bodies, none-the-less it serves as a vivid symbolic reminder that Christ’s broken body and His spilled blood is the only thing that gives us true life!
And so this little meal – this bread and this cup – reminds us of the entirely sufficient and completely abundant gift that Jesus freely gave to us so that we could have forgiveness and eternal life! Through his death and resurrection, Jesus provided for the needs of not just 5000 men, but for the world – including you and me.
And so this morning, I’d like to invite you to partake with me in sharing this bread and this cup. If you have put your trust in Jesus – believing in his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sin – then you are most welcome to share this symbolic meal with us. And if you haven’t done that – I’d really encourage you to consider doing that this morning.
As we mentioned earlier, our God is a God of compassion and mercy – and he loves you more than you can imagine! But at the same time, He is also a holy and just God – and he will punish sin. And so as sinful men and women, our only hope – our only way to forgiveness and life – is through faith in Christ Jesus. And so I would surely encourage you to put your trust in Jesus today!