They All Ate and Were Satisfied!
One statement that I want to advance in your hearts and lives tonight: Jesus is the all-sufficient, all-satisfying Shepherd of God’s sheepfold. And as we take in and digest all the Scriptures, we know that that is not a light statement of fact. It means that Jesus is:
1] not just a new and greater Moses, but a new and greater Joshua. One who will accomplish or complete the New Exodus, Who will lead God’s people into the eternal Promised Land (Num 27.17). It means that Jesus is:
2] the Son of David, the Messianic King with a reign of eternal peace and justice–”I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and He shall feed them: He shall feed them and be their Shepherd” (Ezk 34.23). It means that Jesus is:
3] David’s Lord. Jesus is God–so David sings, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psa 23.1). It means that Jesus is:
4] A Warrior for God’s people–”He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace” (Mic 5.4-5a). And it means that Jesus is, paradoxically:
5] The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world–”Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53.4-6).
We hear in this those words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn 10.11).
So again, Jesus is the all-sufficient, all-satisfying Shepherd of God’s sheepfold.
Now how does Mark bring this massive reality into focus for us? 4 observations.
First Observation:Seeing the masses, Jesus sees one thing–shepherd-less sheep,
Mark 6:30-34,”The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 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. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 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.”
Let me set the stage for a moment. Jesus sent the disciples out in His authority, 6.7. And in 6.12-13 and our verse 30, it appears that they have, by that authority, done and taught many things for the sake of the kingdom. And Jesus, ever purposeful, invites them to come away and rest in a desolate place, a place away from what has been the constant press of ministry. We read in verse 31 that they had “leisure even to eat.” And they were, as we might imagine, agreeable to Christ’s instruction. But as they went, Mark tells us (6.33), “Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and”–in fact–”got there ahead of them.” And I think we are to see, again, the mass hysteria surrounding Jesus and, now for a time, the disciples (it is going to be a very stark contrast with the end of the Gospel where Jesus is utterly forsaken!) They are running–on foot–from all the towns–fast enough to beat the boat. So that we read in verse 34, “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them”–why?–”because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Consider for a moment the possible makeup of the crowd, regardless of whether it was just men or men, women and children. There must have been a considerable distinctiveness amongst the individuals. Jew. Gentile proselytes. Gender. Age. Town affiliation–Newton, Watertown, Cambridge, Boston. North. South. East. West. Socio-economy. Political leanings. Education levels. Occupation. Traditional family. Single-parent home. Short. Tall. Thin. Overweight. Pharisee. Sinner. Meticulously variegated life experiences. This is how man sees. But God doesn’t see as man sees. What does Jesus see? One thing. Sheep without a shepherd!
And in our passage, I think that means three things–three things that Jesus resolves to remedy.
a] To be a sheep without a shepherd is to be one who despises the Word of God. The first sin was believing the word of the serpent rather than the Word of God, a lie instead of the truth. And that is why, at the end of verse 34, the first thing that Jesus undertakes is to teach them many things.
b] To be a sheep without a shepherd is to be one alienated from God Himself. No one seeks for God. And that is why, in verses 35-44, Jesus takes opportunity to do what only God can do. In the miracle that Jesus performs, these will all witness the work of the God whom they have rejected. Jesus makes God known.
c] To be a sheep without a shepherd is to be one at enmity with God. The sinner has no peace with God. He is doomed to perish in his sins. And that is why this miracle points to the paradoxical truth that the Good Shepherd is the Lamb of God. That is why Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
So observation #1 is that when Jesus sees the crowd, ultimately, He sees sheep gone astray. Now the next 3 observations are unpacking the way in which Jesus seeks after straying sheep.
Second Observation: Jesus shepherds the sheep by His Word–
Mark 6:34, “And He began to teach them many things”
I will never regret emphasizing what Christ emphasizes. I do not believe, as some have suggested, that Mark mentions this in passing. He could have said nothing about it. Matthew and John say nothing about His teaching here. Luke mentions that He taught on the kingdom of God. But Mark says He taught them many things. And this is in keeping with the emphasis we have seen in Mark–Jesus came into the world to be and teach the Word. The main problem for sinners is a heart that loves lies and despises the truth. So chief among Christ’s strategies for sifting the lost and finding His sheep is teaching the Word. Jesus is impassioned to flood them with the Word. We haven’t budged from Mark 4.14, “The sower sows the Word.” And we have plenty of soundbites—
a] What is the kingdom of God all about? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1.15).
b] What is my deepest problem? “He said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven’” (2.5).
c] Who can forgive sins? “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (2.10).
d] Who is right with God? “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (2.17).
e] What you are doing is not lawful on the Sabbath–”The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2.27-28).
f] You are possessed by Beelzebul–”No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed He may plunder His house” (3.27).
g] Your mother and brothers are outside, seeking you–”Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (3.34-35).
h] That woman is unclean and in violation of the law–”Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (5.34).
i] Your daughter is dead, don’t bother the Teacher anymore–”Do not fear, only believe” (5.36).
He shepherds sinners by His Word. And this is according to divine wisdom because not all the sheep are Christ’s sheep. There is a functionality to Christ’s teaching and to ours–this is how Christ’s sheep are found!–”My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10.27). Therefore, He taught them many things.
Now what backing can Jesus give to His Word?
Third Observation: Jesus shepherds the sheep by displaying the bounty of His divine nature,
Mark 6.35-44, “And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “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.” 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?” 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.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 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. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”
Two things come together for this display of His infinite generosity as God.
a] The human impossibility of the provision. We are dealing with at least three things that make this a humanly impossible event.
First, the place is absolutely desolate. Mark emphasizes this fact three times, verse 31, 32, 35. It is a desolate place. As the disciples survey the situation, they realize that this is the sort of place that you send people out of in order that they might survive–”This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something for themselves to eat” (6.35-36). But not only is the place without resource,
Secondly, the gathering is enormous. When Jesus calls His disciples to feed them, they survey the situation, and they come back in 6.37 and say, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” In other words, the crowd is so massive that the disciples estimate a banquet cost of roughly eight months wages–two-thirds of your yearly salary. So the crowd is great and the cost is incredibly high. The expense is too great–but, perhaps, it is not yet impossible.
So thirdly, Jesus asks them about the resources they presently have at their disposal, 6.38–”How many loaves do you have? Go and see.’ And when they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’” Now it is impossible because Jesus has intentionally narrowed it to human impossibility in order to display His divine power and glory. This place is desolate, send them away? “No. Stay here.” How will they be fed? “You give them something to eat.” A crowd this size will require 8 months salary. “What do you have with you?” Five loaves, two fish. “Perfect.” You know what else they had with them? Jesus! So along with the human impossibility of the event,—
b] We are confronted, secondly, with the divine Person and power and glory and sufficiency of Jesus. He provides for this immense material need. At the turn of verse 39, we understand that this is His banquet.
He commands the crowd to be seated–literally, to recline at table–on the green grass and they do, 6.39-40. And I think we are meant to hear an allusion to Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
He, then, takes what they have, the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven, blesses it. He connects what is about to happen with heaven, with the working of God (6.41). When what is about to happen happens, make no mistake about it, it is a divine work. This provision for your temporal sustenance is a mercy, a grace from God.
And then very significantly, He breaks the loaves (6.41). This is the means of the provision and it signifies a provision of much greater significance–as we are about to see.
The broken loaves are then given to the disciples and the disciples set the bread and fish before the people (6.41), and it keeps going and going and going and going. To what end?
Verses 42-44, “And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.” He walks all the peoples of Nonantum, Newtonville, Newton Corner and Newton Center out into the desert, takes a single small pizza from Bill’s Pizzeria and, not just feeds some but satisfies all and gives each of us an extra large pizza to take home.
Anyone familiar with the Exodus narrative knows that this provision has been made by God. Jesus is an all-sufficient, all-satisfying oasis for sinners in the wilderness. We are supposed to step back from this event and ask, “Who is this?” And the answer is God the Son, come into the world to be an all-sufficient, all-satisfying Savior for sinners. It is by the narrating of such events that the Gospel writers convey what Paul simply states in 2 Corinthians 4.6, that the light which God gives in the new birth is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The support that Jesus gives to the Word of God is the lesson, “I am God.”
Fourth Observation: Jesus shepherds His sheep by laying down His life for them (Mark 14.22, 26-27; John 6).
We might say that, as the Good Shepherd, He is the Lamb of God. Or to mix metaphors, He is the true Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life. This incredible provision in the wilderness is, at the end of the day, a sign pointing to a far greater provision. This is how Jesus interprets the sign in John 6, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6.47-51), which is just another way of saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn 10.11). And Mark teaches the same.
You’ll remember that I said that the breaking of the bread was very significant. That is because that Greek word for “break” used twice, once in verse 41 and again in verse 43, is used at another event in which Jesus broke bread, the Lord’s Supper. So I want us to turn to Mark 14.22 and read through verse 28. And I think you will hear the deeper meaning, if you will, in the breaking of the bread, and see these two gospel metaphors, the Shepherd-Lamb and the Bread of Life, come together—”And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’”
These two metaphors are getting at one great reality—the mission of Jesus was to die that we might live to God, and He has accomplished that mission. It was to make perfect provision for perishing sinners. And all who believe in Him, have received full pardon of all their sins and a perfect righteousness with which to stand before God. It was to lead His people through the wilderness to glory, and no temptation, no cross, no grave, nothing kept Him back from procuring for you all your righteousness, sanctification, redemption, joy and glory.
So Jesus is the all-sufficient, all-satisfying Shepherd of God’s sheepfold, and I want to let this address us at a few levels.
1] There is a call to faith. Friend, whether here or listening, now or thirty years from now, if you are persisting in unbelief, hear two things—a] Just as all the people are deserting their towns, leaving their homes, forgetting Jerusalem, forsaking practical comforts, functional gods and running on foot into a desolate place to be with Jesus, so you must forsake all and run to the most God-forsaken and, yet, God-besotted, God-blessed place that ever has been–the cross of Christ. If you go there, you will doubtless see His broken body, the Shepherd struck by God for sinners like you and know–there is God’s eternal provision and satisfaction for me. You must believe that today! b] But know this, if you persist in unbelief, if you will not be led by Christ, Christ is not fooled. He knows His sheep. Here, then, His words in Matthew 25.32, “Before (Me) will be gathered all the nations, and (I) will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And (I) will place the sheep on (My) right, but the goats on the left,” to whom He says in the same passage, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and His angels” (12.41). Friends, Christ now extends His mercy to you if you would now take hold of Him by faith.
2] There is a call to the under-shepherds of Christ Community Church. We have two inseparable and glorious obligations to God and His people—to feed this flock the Word of God and, in everything, to direct them to the all-sufficient, all-satisfying Christ, the Chief Shepherd. Let us not forget this.
3] There is a call to love being led by Christ. This is for us all, brothers and sisters. If you are familiar with the letter to the Hebrews, the writer conceives of the Christian life as a pilgrimage through the wilderness. Christ has redeemed us out of sin-enslavement and is leading us, now, through the wilderness to the Promised Land. It is no coincidence that, while every book of the Bible is Christ-exalting, Hebrews is perhaps the most Christ-concentrated book of them all. It is a clarion call to look to Christ again and again and again–that is how we will survive the wilderness. Look to the Chief Shepherd! So much of our Christianity is second-hand Christianity. And that is unhealthy Christianity! We leach on to great Christian preachers, great Christian missionaries, great Christian scholars, great Christian bloggers, great Christian fathers and mothers and others. We share with one another what they preached, traversed, thought, wrote, and practiced. But we struggle to say the first thing about our daily communion with Christ. What makes them all great Christians is that they live off of Christ. Love your leaders, brothers and sisters. But don’t live off of them. Live off of Christ and love to be led, chiefly, by Him.
4] Last thing–There is a call to faith-full gospel ministry. It is beautifully pictured in our passage. Jesus, we read in verse 41, took what they had, blessed it and “broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people.” Jesus has entrusted to you the distribution of the gospel, to take the message of His broken body from one person to the next as long as you live. This is the only message that can effect the sinner’s eternal satisfaction, and you are a servant of it. So the simple exhortation is to take what you have–no matter how small, how seemingly inadequate for the situation, no matter how revelatory of your weakness and want, no matter the role–and faithfully bring it to Christ to bless and multiply for the satisfaction of others in Him, and know that no matter what Christ calls you to give up in service of the gospel, you will never find lack from His super-abundant and gracious hand. They came with five loaves and two fish. They served. They left, each with his own basket full of broken pieces and of the fish. Remember this, brothers and sisters, it will free you to lose all in service of the Lord our Shepherd.