You Give Them Something To Eat (Mark 6:30-56)

Written by admin on Nov 24, 2013 in - No Comments


I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 6:30–56. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, I encourage you to make use of one the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 871.

In this morning’s sermon I want to accomplish two things. First, I want to continue to lift the veil that Mark has in place with regard to the identity of Jesus. He is slowly lifting it for us and I just want to keep lifting it with him. So I want us to continue down that path this morning.

But also, I think there is a really powerful take away from this passage for us as a church this morning. I was so encouraged by it this week in my preparations and I want to pass that encouragement on to you today.

So without an extended introduction this morning, let’s begin by looking at our passage for today from Mark 6:30–56. Follow along with me in your Bibles as a I read.

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. 53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Mark 6:30–56 ESV)

This morning I am going to have to focus in on just a portion of what I have read to you. I would like to be able to spend more time on this passage and cover every verse in detail, but for the sake of time I am going to focus only on verses 30–44 this morning. In these verses we see Jesus feeding at least 5,000 people (possibly more if there were women and children present) with just five loaves of bread and two fish. This is certainly one of Jesus’ most well recognized miracles. It is one that children love from a very young age and one that boggles the minds of adults who often try to explain it away as something less than a miracle.

The Scene

Mark begins this account in verse 30 by telling us that Jesus’ apostles returned to him and told him all that they had done and taught. If you remember last week, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth with his disciples and could not get a hearing there. Instead he was mocked and rejected. His response to this was to send out the Twelve disciples, referred to here as Apostles, into the surrounding villages to preach the good news about the coming kingdom of God. Mark’s use of the word “Apostles” here is a good one. The verb form of this word in Greek, apostello, means “to send.” When used as a noun, as it is here, the word translated “Apostle” refers to messengers or ambassadors who are sent out as envoys with a specific commission. So here, having been sent out on a mission by Jesus, having been sent out as his ambassadors or emissaries, Mark refers to them as Apostles.

Well, the Apostles have returned from their mission, and they have reported to Jesus “all that they had done and taught.” I want you to notice here that their mission, the mission of these Apostles included both doing and teaching. Many times mission work gravitates to one of these two areas while neglecting the other. There are some who go and the focus of their mission is on doing. And they go and do many good things like provide water, food, and healthcare. But they neglect to teach anything, or anything significant about Jesus. They are the ones who cling to that phrase “preach the gospel always and when necessary use words.”

But there are others who want to just go and beat people over the head with the Bible. Their only concern is to preach and teach. They will let other groups like the Red Cross care for the physical needs these people have. And they miss the boat too. Jesus was about both. He is about healing the sick. He is about casting out demons. He is about feeding the poor. And he is about teaching the good news. And that is what his disciples come back and report. They come back and report “all that they had done and taught.”

And for those who think this type of work is easy, know that Jesus would disagree with you. They come back from their mission and Jesus immediately wants to give them some rest. He says in verse 31, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest for a while.” The news about Jesus and his mission is spreading so much so that none of them can have a minute’s worth of peace. We see at the end of verse 31 that they cannot even eat. And so Mark tells us in verse 32 that Jesus and his disciples “went away in a boat to a desolate place by themselves.”

But… their rest was not meant to be. We see in verse 33 that many saw them departing in the boat and making their way to this place of rest and this large crowd made their way by foot and were waiting on the boat loaded down with the exhausted disciples when it arrived. If the weary disciples were frustrated by the presence of the crowds, Jesus certainly was not. Instead we see in verse 34 that when we saw the crowd “he had compassion on them.” And Mark tells us why he had compassion on them: “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

On Wednesday night we looked at Psalm 23 which begins with the familiar words: “The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” And as we will soon see in this story, Jesus begins to fill the role of the Great Shepherd for these people. When Jesus said these crowds were “like sheep without a shepherd” his frustration was with the Jewish religious leaders who were neglecting their responsibilities to guide and lead these people toward God. Jesus had come as God in the flesh and where were the religious leaders? They were certainly not pointing people to Jesus. While the crowds were chasing Jesus around the religious leaders were plotting to kill him. We will talk some more about this in a few minutes.

But first I want you to notice where Jesus begins. We see at the end of verse 34 that Jesus “began to teach them many things.” And apparently he taught for a while because Mark tells us in verse 35 that it had become late in the day and the disciples had to come and interrupt Jesus because there was a small crisis brewing. At the end of verse 35 into verse 36 they say to him, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

This was not an unreasonable request. There was a genuine problem. Remember they were out in a desolate place. There was nothing around. No Publix or Walmart. No fast-food even. And as we will learn at the end of this story there were 5,000 men present and most likely there were women and children there too. This was a very large crowd. They had followed Jesus and the disciples and the fact that the disciples were concerned for the crowd’s welfare is to be respected.

But their solution is not what Jesus had in mind. Jesus had no intention of meeting these people’s spiritual needs while neglecting their physical needs. So what does Jesus do? Does he tell the disciples to sit down and watch him handle the situation? Does he do what he could have done and make Manna fall from heaven? No, he is teaching the disciples a lesson here. And he is teaching us a lesson here too. What he does is look at the disciples and say, “You give them something to eat.” Do you see that in verse 37?

Now the disciples were still struggling with Jesus’ identity. But, they had seen a lot and they were starting to understand that there was something really different about Jesus. They had seen him cast out demons, they had seen him forgive sin, they had seen him heal the sick, they had seen him calm a storm. And it would have been one thing for Jesus to say, “I’ll give them something to eat. Just step back and watch.” But that is not what he said. He said, “You give them something to eat.”

And there is a very important message for us here. For reasons we cannot know, God chooses to use us as his instruments of mercy and compassion and blessing upon other people. And please hear that word “chooses.” I hate it when people say things like, “God has this big mission and he needs our help. He has done so much for you. Won’t you please help him?” Or things like: “God is begging for people to help him. He needs us.” News Flash: God is not a beggar. God doesn’t need anything from us. He is doing just fine.

But God, in his divine wisdom, has decided to involve us in his mission of redeeming the world. He has decided to give us a role to play, not because he needs us, but because he has decided to do it that way. And here, Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

Now I don’t know how to take the disciples’ response. I think I would have needed to see their faces to understand their sentiments. They respond at the end of verse 37 by saying, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat.” Now, just to give you some perspective on this, two hundred denarii was about 8 months pay for the average worker. This was a large chunk of change. And so, the disciples might have been serious in their question. Or they might have meant it in a less than sincere way or a sarcastic way. Like I said, we probably would have had to have been there to know how they meant it. Either way it doesn’t change anything. The point is that there were a lot of people. There was no food. And the man-devised solution was to send the people away and let them fend for themselves.

But Jesus doesn’t like manmade solutions. And he is not going to let the disciples off the hook. He asks them in verse 38, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And after some research the disciples determine that they have five loaves and two fish. That’s about enough to feed me when I am hungry. Five loaves and two fish are as good as nothing when you have this many people to feed. Probably well over 10,000 people.

But Jesus is unfazed by the answer. Like always he is in complete control of the situation. He commands the great multitude to sit down in groups on the green grass. Notice that word “green.” We will come back to it. And we see in verse 40 that the crowd complied with his request.

And what Jesus does next is the miraculous part. Don’t you wish Mark would have explained exactly what took place? The fact that he didn’t probably means that Peter, the one providing Mark with these details, still, years later, had no clue what had happened on that day. Mark says in verse 41 that Jesus took “the five loaves and the two fish and ”looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.” Short and sweet. All in a day’s work.

And there was plenty to go around. In verse 42 we see that all the people ate, and were satisfied. This was not passing around a crumb to each person. This was an abundance of food. So much that at the end the disciples collected twelve baskets full of the leftovers.

The Symbolism

Now if we just let this story stand on its own it is an amazing story. But there is more to this story. And I want to connect some of the dots for you. It is important that we see God’s overarching plan of redemption being carried out whenever we read and study the Bible. The words contained in this book are one unified story about God’s plan of redemption. So there is more going on here than just a miraculous story. Jesus is inserting himself right into the middle of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and symbolism. There are parts of this story that would have cried out for attention to any Jew who was observing what was taking place.

First of all, look with me at Numbers 27:15–17. To find Numbers turn to the beginning of your Bible to Genesis. Turn past Genesis and Exodus and Leviticus and then you will find Numbers. Look with me in Numbers 27:15–17. Follow along as I read:

15 Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, 16 “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” (Numbers 27:15–17 ESV)

Did you catch those words at the end? Moses is praying that the people of God will “not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” And remember that we have already seen this morning that Jesus had compassion on the crowd because “they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). In these verses Moses, knowing he is approaching the end of his life and will need a successor, prays that the Lord will appoint someone to take his place. He is concerned that without a leader the people of Israel will “be as sheep that have no shepherd.” Who does God appoint? God appoints a man name Joshua. And here, in Mark 6, there is a new Joshua, a new Yeshua, a new Jesus fulfilling that role. The name Joshua and Jesus are the same name, both translated the same in Greek and both meaning “to save.” Jesus has become the successor Moses longed for. He is the Great Shepherd who will watch over God’s sheep for eternity.

Look with me also in Ezekiel 34:1–5. If you find the Psalms and keep turning toward the New Testament, you will pass Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and then Ezekiel. Look with me at Ezekiel 34:1–5.

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. (Ezekiel 34:1–5 ESV)

In Ezekiel 34 the problem is that the people of Israel have no shepherd. They have no one caring for them like a shepherd cares for his sheep. The shepherds (i.e. the spiritual leaders of Israel) neglected their responsibility to care for God’s people. They used their position for their own gain and neglected the good of the people. And so, the people were scattered like sheep chased by wild beasts. But later in the chapter God promises the coming of a faithful shepherd, a Great Shepherd in the line of David, who will establish a covenant of peace between him and his people. This Shepherd will remedy the situation with this covenant of peace and will make the people “dwell securely in the wilderness” (Ezekiel 34:25).

And the picture in Mark 6:30–56 is of Jesus having led these people out to a desolate place. Turn back with me to Mark 6. Jesus has led these lost sheep out into the wilderness. And Just like in the Exodus event, where the people of Israel were led out from Egypt into the wilderness and in desperate need of food, God once again makes provision for his people. Jesus gives them the equivalent of manna from Heaven. Mark wants us to see this event as sort of a second Exodus with Jesus as the one leading the sheep. Like Moses, Jesus is leading the people out of their bondage and into the wilderness and, like the Shepherd in Psalm 23, Jesus has made them to sit down in “green” pastures to partake of the food he has provided to them.

And brothers and sisters I could go on and on. I have pointed out these things for you to see the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. I have pointed out these things to further lift the veil over Jesus’ identity in the book of Mark. That is why Mark included all these details. When I first saw the words “green grass” in verse 39 this week, I wondered why in the world Mark included that little detail. I thought that it would have changed nothing about the story if he would have left it out. But boy was I wrong. He did it for a purpose. Always stop and think on details like that. They are there for a reason. Had we not covered Psalm 23 this week I might have missed it. In Psalm 23 the LORD is the Great Shepherd. In Mark 6, Jesus is the Great Shepherd.

So now that I have pointed out some of the important connections Mark has made for us in this story, I want to move on to some very specific applications for us as a church and for us as individuals.


If there is one thing I want you to take away from this sermon. It is that God is in the business of taking what is not enough and making it more than enough.

What does this mean for us as a church? It means that we can be confident in our ability, even as a small church, to play an important role in God’s redemptive plan for the world. And so, as easy as it might be to respond like the disciples, to respond in a manner that doubts whether we have the capability of feeding the people around us with the gospel, we can’t do that.

I don’t want to stretch this too far, but I firmly believe that God is bringing families to our church right now. God is filling up our activity building on Wednesday nights with children. And it is easy for us to think we cannot meet those needs. It is easy for us to say that we are not able to pull something like this off. It is easy for us to think like the disciples and believe these children and their families might be better served at other churches who have more resources. At other churches who are better equipped to “feed” such a large group of people. Or we can listen to Jesus when he says, “You give them something to eat.”

The reason the disciples wanted to send the people away is because they were only thinking in terms of what they were able to do as twelve men. They were not thinking in terms of what they were capable of doing as twelve men empowered by Jesus. In the hands of Jesus, lifted up before the Father, the limited resources we have become more than enough to accomplish our mission to feed the sheep in this city who are wandering around without a shepherd. If God was done with this church… it would no longer exist. He is not done here. There is still work for us to do. And by “work” I mean kingdom work. God has work for us to do. And he can take what we deem as not enough and make it more than enough.

I don’t remember who to attribute this to, but one time I heard of a man who asked a stinging question for the church in this country (seems like it was a missionary or pastor from South Korea or China who had visited the United States). After visiting many churches and seeing all the things they did he began to ask: “What is your church planning or doing that it could not accomplish apart from the work of the Holy Spirit?” His point being that, from his observation, most churches in this country are not relying on the Holy Spirit to accomplish things for the kingdom of God, but are relying on their own resources and capabilities and talents. And because we live in a country full of talented people and overflowing with resources, we are able to accomplish a lot of really good stuff. But the things we are accomplishing are not supernatural, they are not empowered by God, they are just things that human beings can accomplish through their own effort and intuition.

And the result of this mindset for a church like ours, one that is smaller and doesn’t have a ton of resources, is that when we are faced with a challenge, instead of looking at it from a perspective that takes the power of the Holy Spirit into account, we often look at it solely from the perspective of what we can do on our own. And so we say with the disciples: “Send them away! This task is too big. The need is too great for us. We are too few. Our church is too small. We can never provide enough ‘food’ to satisfy and nourish this many people. We do not have the people or resources. We only have a 5 loaves and two fish. They are going to have to go somewhere else to be fed. We do not have enough to offer them.” Brothers and sisters, this story encourages us beyond believing things like this.

In this story Jesus meets the need, but he uses the disciples to do so. That is an important lesson for us. When we look at what seems like an impossible situation we must ask whether or not we are we looking at it from the perspective of it being too big for us or are we looking at it from the perspective that nothing is too big for Jesus? That is the lesson for the church.

And for us as individuals, we learn in this passage that God can take a little bit and do a lot with it. This is the principle behind things like the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lottie Moon offering. Never believe that what you have to offer is not enough. In this story Jesus takes the small offering of five loaves and two fish and does a great deal with it. And so, when I encourage you to prayerfully consider how God would have you contribute to the Lottie Moon offering, or when I encourage you to prayerfully consider how you could help by serving in this church, I mean it. Don’t simply look at it as, “How much extra cash do I have to offer this month?” Or, “Do I really have enough time and energy for that?” But look at it as an opportunity to answer Jesus’ when he says to you: “You give them something to eat.”

Offer up your five loaves and two fish and trust Jesus to do the rest. That is all he asks. He will multiply beyond measure everything we offer up to him in faith. So go ahead, “You give them something to eat.”