God’s Word for You
Mark 8:6-9a Four thousand fed
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 17, 2020
6 He passed the order to the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, gave thanks, and broke them. He kept giving the pieces to his disciples to distribute, and they gave them to the crowd. 7 They also had a few small fish. He asked God to bless those, and he said that they should keep distributing those as well. 8 The people ate and were satisfied. They picked up the broken pieces that were left over: seven basketfuls. 9 There were about four thousand men there.
After a little doubt from the disciples, Jesus had asked them how many loaves (probably flat cakes) of bread they had. Once they answered, “Seven,” there is no more hint of any doubt from them. They were ready for whatever he had in mind.
Jesus ordered the crowd to sit; an order that would have to be passed along in a group this large. People at that time ate at low tables on dining couches except for nomads and shepherds who would have been used to eating in tents on pillows arranged in a similar fashion. The people arranged themselves on the ground as best they could, probably in groups. Jesus said something before he broke or tore the bread apart to distribute it. He gave thanks for it. This was something the disciples were used to; something they learned from their parents. But for the largely Gentile crowd, it may have been something entirely new. Jesus was teaching them without lecturing about it that it is altogether fitting and proper to give thanks to God for his gifts, especially before a meal, no matter how sumptuous or how humble. The prayer does not need to be spontaneous or invented. It can be a memorized prayer, as long as it does not become something so habitual that its meaning disappears. Many families find it best to alternate between two or three such table prayers.
The tense of the Greek verb “kept giving” is imperfect, which tells us that within the sentence the action is not completed but continues. So: Jesus gave the bread, and he gave it, and he gave it, and he gave some more, and so on. The disciples, we can guess, acted as waiters for the crowd, coming back again and again, and Jesus had bread for them each to distribute. It was a miracle. Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread so that there was enough for everyone. Those preachers who try to say that Jesus’ question, “How many loaves of bread do you have?” merely inspired people to share what they had or promoted loving stewardship and spontaneous giving have missed the point entirely. In fact, they lead their people away from believing in the miracles of Jesus, and therefore they deny that Jesus is really the Christ, the Son of God. “The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ; such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
While Jesus was distributing the bread, it was remembered or discovered that there were “a few small fish.” These were probably dried, what some of us might think of as jerky. Jesus did nothing with these except give thanks for them, too. The Greek term is different than the one in verse 6, but the difference between “give thanks” and “ask God to bless” is very slight. A table prayer might consist of either of these, or both. But he passed this out, too, and the disciples started handing out fish as well as bread.
The miracle is presented with the barest of words. Everyone ate. Everyone was satisfied. There had been seven flat cakes and a few small fish, but four thousand men had full bellies. And more than that: Seven baskets were picked up with leftovers. The word here for “baskets” is spyridas (from spyris). This is the basket that was used to lower Paul down from the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25), and therefore there is no way to tell whether these were small baskets or large ones. If, in fact, they were large baskets, big enough to hold a man, then perhaps Jesus was providing additional food for the trip home for those people who lived far away. On the other hand, who would have brought seven large and empty baskets to this place? Maybe the baskets had held large amounts of food, now all gone (and one of the reasons for the need of the miracle). Or maybe that’s a point we don’t need to dwell upon. The essence of the miracle lies in the fact that there was more food left over than they began with. When God does a thing, he does it, and there is no rule, law, or constant in the universe that will prevent God from doing what he says he will do. If God says he will forgive my sins through Jesus, there is nothing to prevent that from happening. If God says that he will raise me and my loved ones from the grave, then we have nothing to fear, not even death or destruction. We will rise in the flesh on the Last Day and stand together before God’s judgment seat and be welcomed into Paradise.
When God first placed mankind into the Garden, there were only two. But there will be far more than that in the end; many more than he started with. And you and I will be pieces of those eternal leftovers, gathered by the angels as if in baskets and brought home forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith