God’s Word for You
Mark 8:1-5 Four thousand hungry
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 16, 2020
For the remainder of Lent this year, we will turn to the Gospel of Mark to remember some of the ministry of our Savior Jesus during the final year of his preaching.
Jesus Feeds More Than Four Thousand
8 There was a crowd in those days that once again had nothing to eat. Jesus called his disciples and said to them, 2 “I feel compassion for this crowd of people because they have already stayed with me three days and do not have anything to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse along the way. Some of them have come from a long distance.”
Jesus and his disciples had traveled from Sidon eastward back to the Sea of Galilee, but from there they had continued into the Decapolis (Mark 7:31). Both the coastal region around Sidon and the Decapolis were home to many Gentiles. Here to the east of Israel, Jesus was once again surrounded by a large crowd of people. Where did the crowd come from?
We should remember that not long before this, perhaps two months or so, Jesus had been surrounded by another large crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when he fed them with just a few fish and loaves of bread. That was the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mark 6:30-44). The point of view of the crowds, Jesus had preached a sermon to them and then he and his disciples headed away to the east while a storm came up on the lake. Some people had seen the Lord at Gennesaret, but he and his disciples left there, heading toward Lebanon (Mark 7:24). Several weeks had gone by, but now Jesus was back, and the crowds once again sought him out. Matthew tells us that as Jesus passed through Galilee people began to bring this sick to him, along with their lame, blind, mute, crippled, and others who were sick, and Jesus healed them (Matthew 15:30).
Although Mark does not mention the healings, it was probably the large number of people that came to be healed that caused Jesus to remain where he was, away from any village or town, for three days. He spent his time there seeing person after person, comforting them with the gospel of forgiveness and healing them of whatever ailments they had.
The Lord was concerned about them. Nobody had brought food in large quantities, and no one would be able to make the trip home once again. Jesus said, “They will collapse along the way.” His choice of wording was the archery term eklyomai, “they will become unstrung,” like a bow with the string slipped off. They would be powerless, weak, and unable to go on.
Why did Jesus wait this long to bring up the problem of food? To go without food for a day is not really a difficulty, even in our privileged culture. To go without food for a second day was something that the poor and needy of Jesus’ day would have been used to. But a third day without food tests the endurance of anyone, and with a long walk home of many miles, perhaps more than ten or even twenty miles in some cases, would “unstring” them. They would be on the verge of collapse.
God delights to show his glory and his power when man is powerless. For him, the right moment to help us is when we realize that we cannot help ourselves. This lets us see his power and his compassion in other things apart from the needs of the moment. When do I need a Savior from my sin? Always. But when will I know that? God will show me that without him I am powerless to do anything about my sin, when I am completely unstrung and lying limp and helpless.
4 His disciples said, “Where can anyone get enough bread to feed these people here in this deserted place?” 5 Then he asked them, “How many loaves of bread do you have?” “Seven,” they said.
The ability of man, even a Christian man, to forget God’s grace is the sermon that is preached in the little word tis (τις), “anyone,” in verse 4. Hadn’t the disciples, just two or three months in the past, seen Jesus feed more than 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish? Even the leftover food from that miracle was more than what they started with. Natural laws and possibilities bow before the power of God’s word, yet the disciples forgot all that. Their question, “Where can anyone…?” also included the question: “Where could even Jesus…?”
A few days ago, my son Peter preached his first chapel devotion at his high school. One of his excellent points was that God’s word is not subject to truth as if truth is supreme, but that when God speaks, his word establishes truth, even above the laws of nature (he illustrated this with a little bit of humor and an imaginary rock on the floor): “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus has the power to do whatever needs to be done, whether that need might be to create the world from nothing, to heal a sick child, or to feed people with less food than one might think is adequate.
In the Old Testament, this kind of miracle happened several times. God fed Israel for forty years—perhaps two million people or more—with daily bread (manna) that fell from heaven with the dew each morning (Exodus 16:35). Later, God fed the prophet Elijah during a famine by having ravens bring him bread and meat every evening and morning (1 Kings 17:6). Not long after, God fed a widow and her son with “a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” during a shortage that lasted months or years (1 Kings 17:12-16). And the prophet Elisha fed a hundred men with twenty small barley loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44).
Now, Jesus simply asks the disciples how many loaves of bread they had. Between then, the twelve disciples had seven loaves. Normally, this would not have been enough even for Jesus and his disciples. Would it be enough for the hungry crowd eager for Jesus to heal them of their wounds and illnesses?
We must say (faith has no choice but to confess) that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). And if the Christian confesses that God could and would feed these crowds with a little bread, cannot the Lord also cure me of the disease of my sin with nothing but his promise, a bite of bread and a sip of wine? Faith must shout Yes! Only unbelief can dare to say no. Holy Father, spare us from all doubt and unbelief, and urge us to open our throats to shout Yes to whatever questions confront us. We believe that God can do everything through Jesus, and especially that he will bring each one of us home to heaven in everlasting peace.
Pastor Timothy Smith