Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 6
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
105. Amazing Teaching
Mk 6:1,2 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
A couple of verses packed with information. The first thing we see is that Jesus had been teaching and healing in Capernaum and, presumably, senses the leading of his Father and decides to move on, in fact back to his home town which we know was Nazareth. We'll see more about the significance of it being his home town later on.
Second, he takes his disciples with him. This was twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, on-the-job training for these men. Without realising it their role was the learn to follow Jesus and continue to do the same things he had been doing (see Jn 14:12), AND in later years to remember what had happened and what Jesus had said and pass it on to the new church. These men were to become the pillars of the church in the years ahead.
How easy it is to read Scripture with no thought: “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue.” We saw this from the outset in chapter 1. Jesus has obviously been invited to teach. He is recognised as an itinerant preacher and so they give him the space in the synagogue to do just that. In some ways this is very ordinary – a local man being invited to teach – and yet in others it is quite remarkable. There are obviously some religious leaders there who are open minded enough to allow Jesus space to teach in their locals synagogue.
But then we come on to the quality of his teaching. We'll look at this more in the next meditation but for now we just note that the listeners were amazed at the quality of what they were hearing. Now we're going to see some convoluted thinking going on shortly, but note their initial reaction at least was to be amazed at the quality of what they were hearing. Don't look at what follows yet, simply note that they initial reaction is one of amazement. Jesus' teaching is worthy of comment.
We're going to see that this soon changes but note first of all that people's initial reactions often reveal the truth. Whatever they say about Jesus in the ‘discussions' that follow, their initial reactions are the ones to be noted because they are the ones that reveal the quality of Jesus' teaching – and it is good!
Mk 6:1,2 "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!
Human, intellectual thinking looks at qualifications and background. We see it all around us in the world. When applying for a job, a person is asked for their CV – the long list of things they have done, education they have received, colleges they have been to, people they have worked for, papers they have written, and so on. We hold great store by where people have come from, and we measure them by the college they have been to. In Anglican circles in England , not long back, you were only credible as a vicar if you had been to Oxford or Cambridge . Intellect and not spirituality was the key issue (although some would say that spirituality was checked).
So when Jesus sits to teach in the synagogue, suddenly there is an alertness in the room for they recognise that the quality of what they are hearing has an Oxford or Cambridge quality about it (that's how we might think of it). This is quality! They hear Jesus saying things and they have to acknowledge that this is good stuff.
We just thought he was a casual itinerant preacher tickling the fancy of the crowds and we'd given him the space to show himself up in our erudite presence! But now… now this is something else. There is a wisdom here that suggests that he's been with a top teacher, he's obviously sat at the feet of a really wise teacher. Who could it have been? Has he been to Jerusalem and sat at the feet of the great men there? How come he's now here speaking in our lowly synagogue? What did we do to deserve this? This is amazing!
But there is something more. You feel at this point you want to tell off the gospel writers for they obviously haven't told us the full story, for the listeners also comment on the fact that he does miracles – but we aren't told what they refer to. Did something happen in the synagogue itself that constituted a miracle or were they referring to the things that they had been told about him in his travelling ministry. The former would be more likely.
This man knows how to do stuff. They link the miracles with his wisdom. Now of course wisdom is simply the knowledge of how to do things properly and well. They link his wisdom to the fact that he is able to perform apparent miracles. This raises further questions in their minds and that's going to cause trouble.
Mk 6:3 Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
So those in the synagogue have listened to Jesus teaching and have been amazed at the wisdom with which he spoke. That had been their first response. Their second response was to wonder where this wisdom had come from, for that is always our tendency, to check out background, learning etc.
But now comes a third response, to look at who he was, and at this point they come unstuck! Remember, this was Jesus' home town so the people in the synagogue thought they knew all about Jesus. They had watched him grow up and they had seen him become a local carpenter – and now this carpenter stands in the synagogue and teaches? Hold on! A minute ago you were simply amazed at the goodness of what he was saying! What has his background got to do with it?
The answer, of course, is that many of us are snobs and we hold these class distinctions that blur our thinking. Why can't a carpenter become Arch-bishop of Canterbury ? It says something about the Anglican Church that that is very, very unlikely!!! We pigeon hole people and don't believe they can jump classes – or at least what we think different classes are capable of.
But it's not only that he is a carpenter, we know his humble lineage, we know his family and (implied) they are not anything to write home about. This is one of those rare places where the family is revealed. Mary has clearly had five boys and at least two girls (and it may be more). At least seven children! Some family!
But, as far as the occupants of the synagogue are concerned, every one of that family make Jesus that much more ordinary. We have watched this family grow over this last thirty years. We know them, every one of them; they are very ordinary. So where does this teaching come from.
When it is our own family, it is very easy to miss what God is doing in them. They are familiar to us, and we've watched them grow up and we know all their foibles. The fact that God may be doing a deep work in our children is easily missed. Do not let familiarity blind you to what God is doing.
Mk 6:4-6 Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
We have just been observing the reactions of the people in the local synagogue to Jesus' teaching. First it had been amazement at the wisdom they were hearing. Then they started wondering where he had got such teaching from and finally, they considered the fact that they knew him from childhood and they knew his family and at that point their amazement turned into upset.
There are two follow on things from this. First, there is Jesus' comment. He actually addresses their unbelief. He doesn't wait until he's just alone with his disciples. He's not afraid to confront unbelief. He simply points out the old adage that a prophet is not honoured in his home town. He will be recognised and honoured everywhere else, but not in his home town.
Why is that? Doesn't it boil down to that simple phrase, familiarity breeds contempt. The person who is familiar to us, the person we have got used to, is a person who has become ordinary to us. We lose the sense of God's activity through them and no longer see the wonder of the word of God through them. Such is the danger for families of men in ministry. Also when you know the very human side of such a person, it is very easy just to focus on their human failings and forget the wonder of God's expression through them. In such ways we can lose out and miss the goodness of God through the one we think we know so well.
But there is a second thing here. This familiarity with Jesus means that the people of his hometown have little or no expectation of God's moving through him. Thus they don't come to him for healing and thus there are very few healed in that town, not because there was less need there, but because there was less belief there.
I have often read this passage and considered that Jesus' power was hindered there, but I don't believe on reflection that Jesus' power ever diminished. The recent incident with the woman touching him, demonstrated it was there. No, what we have are few people coming to Jesus for healing. And why don't they come? They don't come for healing because, after all, he is merely just the local carpenter. Who lost out? It wasn't Jesus!
109. Called & Sent
Mk 6:6,7 Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits
So we leave the unbelief in Jesus' home town of Nazareth and move on. Note that Jesus just carries on doing what he's done before, what he's called to do by his Father. Note that he wasn't put off by that period of unbelief. That was the experience of just one place but there are plenty more where he will be received. So he continues his teaching ministry.
One of the things we recently said was that Jesus' task was not only to preach and teach God's word to whoever came, it was also to train up the disciples so that they would carry on doing what Jesus had been doing. Thus we must see what follows as part of the way Jesus trains them, these twelve. Should this be copied by the whole church? No, these are apostles, ‘sent ones'. I believe there are people today who are apostles and this would be especially applicable to them but, I suggest, there are principles in what we are about to see which will apply to anyone who seeks to serve the Lord, in whatever form that may take. There are a number of principles that stand out in these verses and we would do well to learn from them.
First, note that they are sent out in pairs, not alone. Of course later on, the apostle Paul would develop the doctrine of the body of Christ, the church today, and so we are familiar with the concept of not being lone servants. No, we are part of a team, part of a body and we don't have to try to be all things to all men. We do what God gives us to do – and we gain strength and encouragement by not being alone. That surely must have been the main thing about going out in pairs. Do we support one another? Do we encourage one another? Do we stir one another on in serving the Lord? These are important things to ensure to work of God is being done through the body.
But note then that he gives then authority to deal with evil spirits. When confronted with evil spirits they will be able to do what Jesus has been doing and deliver people from these demonic beings. How do you get such authority? You walk close to the Lord, obeying him, meditating on his word, communicating with him in prayer, and being led by the Spirit. Then and only then, will you sense that authority when confronted by the works of the enemy. Such authority flows out a close walk with your Lord.
110. God's Provision
Mk 6:8,9 These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.
Living in the materialistic and security conscious time that we do, for most of us these verses must come as a nightmare. We look for secure jobs (if there is such a thing) with good pensions (which are increasingly unlikely) and seek to store up to stave off the rainy day. We like to have sufficient that will keep us going in the uncertain future. And then we come to Jesus' words!
“ Take nothing for the journey except a staff ” Yesterday I read an article about a family that flew out to South Africa for Christmas laden up with suitcases full of clothes and presents for Christmas. Unfortunately it was the time of the heavy snow and to get the plane out before the airport froze up, it left without everyone's baggage. When they arrived in South Africa they had virtually nothing and so had to buy and survive on absolute basics. They had a wonderful holiday. We tend to clutter ourselves up when we travel. If we are going on holiday in the car, I've been heard to say more than once, “It's all right, throw in the extras that you might need. We've got plenty of space, we don't have us use everything,” but we still take it even though we are fairly sure we won't use it!
Don't take food or money, Jesus told his disciples. Why? God would provide for them through other people. These were servants of God and in the Old Testament, the servants of the Tabernacle, the Levites were to be looked after by everyone else. For the apostles this is going to be a major lesson in faith. It will also mean that they will be motivated to make contact with people. There will be no sitting under a palm somewhere, doing nothing until the time is up, for their supply relies upon the people they will contact. They have just been given the authority and power to minister God's love, freedom and healing to people they meet – they've just got to first meet them!
Yes wear sandals and a cloak but don't take spares. i.e. take the basics of what you will need but don't take more than that. That will be enough. In the wilderness God enabled the clothes and shoes of the Israelites to keep on and keep on without needing repair. Was there an element of this here? Possibly, but the underlying message here must surely be, focus on the task in hand and don't worry about comfort and provision, let your Father in heaven look after that for you.
111. The Means
Mk 6:10,11 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them."
Abraham came to know God as the Lord my provider (Gen 22:14 ). The theme of God providing for us runs through Scripture but one wonders in reality whether many of us see our trip to Tesco's or whatever other supermarket it may be as going to receive the Lord's provision. The truth is that we don't realise it until we are in a position where something comes to us through supernatural means.
These verses today show us God's provision through very ordinary ways – through you and me. Yes, said Jesus to his apostles as he sent them out, when you go, find homes that will take you in and provide for you. If possible when you enter a town, find one such house and stay there until you leave that town. In doing this Jesus was, as we briefly noted in the previous meditation, continuing the Old Testament practice of the Law whereby the people of God provided for the servants of God, the Levites. In the New Testament it is translated into providing for your spiritual leaders so they can do the work of ministry.
The apostle Paul spoke about this to the church in Corinth : “ If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” (1 Cor 9:11 and surrounding verses). He also taught the same thing to Timothy (see 1 Tim 5:17 ,18). This raises very practical questions for the church today. On the one hand I believe it is quite wrong for church leaders to be living in great affluence in ways that are so contrary to Jesus' life and ministry, but on the other hand, do we provide sufficient for our local leaders. If we pay them a minimum wage it reflects what we really think about God and we will end up being all the poorer for it.
But there is another side to these verses for Jesus goes on to speak about what to do if they are NOT welcomed into whichever town they arrive at. If they try to speak of God's love and the kingdom of God and they are rejected, OK, move on! Shaking the dust off your feet, or rather off your shoes (sandals) was a literal way of saying we dissociate ourselves from you, you have nothing to do with us, and you need to get yourselves right with God for you have rejected His word and His servants – you are in trouble! Don't stay there and trying pushing through a brick wall; there are plenty of other people in the world who might listen to you – go to them!
112. The Kingdom Comes
Mk 6:12,13 They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Near the beginning of Mark's Gospel we read, “ Jesus went into Galilee , proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mk 1:14,15). That encapsulated the message of Jesus, that the rule of God was about to be revealed so now was a time to cast off disbelief and do a one hundred and eighty degree turn about and believe that God's goodness was there for them. The rule of God must surely be expressed by darkness being pushed back and the light and love and goodness of God revealed in what happens. To talk about God's rule is to talk about things happening, God delivering people from Sin and the fruits of Sin.
So it is that the apostles now go out and do exactly the same as Jesus had been doing. First of all they called people to repentance. People needed to turn away from their sin of unbelief and actively believe in the love and goodness of God that was there to restore them to genuinely be the people of God, not just in word, but in reality. We cannot become the people of God (Christians) without repentance. As we noted above it means a one hundred and eighty degree turn in our thinking, in our believing, in our attitudes and in our action. It is a turning away from self and sin and unbelief and a turning to God and to His love and goodness.
But then they drove out many demons. It has always struck me that Israel must have been in a very bad spiritual state where the occult so often prevailed and so many lives had become dominated by evil spirits. Wherever they went, it seems, they came across those who were possessed and a mark of the coming of the reign of God was that those people were set free from the demonic in their lives. Satan's minions represent the dominion of darkness and they have no place in the kingdom of light, the kingdom of the Son. Thus where they are encountered, they are cast out.
And then, finally, they healed all who came to them and were sick. Sickness was not part of the divine design at the beginning. Ultimately it is called by the breakdown in human life caused by Sin. Thus when anyone came to God through the preaching of the apostles, the way was made open for them to be healed. Hallelujah!
113. Who is this?
Mk 6:14,15 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." Others said, "He is Elijah." And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago."
Now what we have here Matthew shows was also discussed by Jesus with his disciples (see Mt 16:14 ). If we have read the gospels through we perhaps take Jesus for granted and tend to forget that he wasn't as clear cut to the people of his day as he appears to us now. I have often commented on the apparently poor spiritual state of the people of Israel at that time, largely because of the number of sick and those needing deliverance.
However we also now find here what I can only describe as a superstitious belief in the possibility of John the Baptist or Elijah having been raised from the dead. Admittedly Malachi had prophesied, “ I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes,” (Mal 4:5) but to have thought of them rising up out of the ground finds little justification from the Old Testament (and Jesus was later to teach that John was the Elijah fulfilment).
The link with John the Baptist seems even more superstitious, because they are attributing his rising up being linked to his miraculous powers which has a very spooky feel to it. These are a truly superstitious people. So what is it about Jesus that makes the people think these things?
Well John, Elijah and the prophets came bringing the word of God; they declared the truth as from God. They were uncomfortable to be around because they challenged spiritual and ethical standards. For these reasons, the superstitious population think they are getting a visitation from the past. In fact they are getting a visitation from above!
What is going on here is not very surprising; it happens all the time in different ways. Muslims, for instance, are quite happy to accept Jesus as a prophet – but no more. Others may be quite happy to acknowledge him as a great teacher. Still others will accept that he was a great healer, but all of these descriptions fall short of just who he was. Was the rumouring and gossiping at that time a superstitious means of coming up with an answer, any answer, however weird it was, as long as it was not the right answer – as happens today?
114. A Can of Worms
Mk 6:16 But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!"
When something unexpected happens in our lives, it often acts as a catalyst to reveal what goes on in us. A crisis brings out both the best and the worst in us. Herod has heard about Jesus. There is a man in the land – his land – who raises questions, and they have been asked and answers given. One of the answers was that Jesus was a resurrected John. Immediately in Herod, his guilt rises to the surface and the worst nightmare possible pours out – it is John come to confront him for his appalling behaviour. Suddenly his mind is pouring out fears like a can of worms. He is guilty! Has this man come back to haunt him?
We will deal with all the following verses in that terrible story in this one quick meditation. We will not give Herod any more space. John had preached against things going on in Herod's family and people had been upset. Herod had John put in prison – but that was all. Then came the evening of that fateful meal and Herod drunk too much and, as drunken men so often do, he lost control of himself and started saying foolish things. As a result of that, to avoid appearing even more foolish before his guests, he had given way and allowed John to be executed. We will say no more of the episode for it is a scandalous one.
What we can observe is that a good and godly man was put to death by an unrighteous and foolish man who abused his power. We might question, could God not have stopped this happening? The bigger picture is that our time here on earth is but a drop in the ocean of eternity. We see the present as so important and we want to cling on to it but there is a whole eternity yet to be enjoyed.
What we have here is a challenge to our perception of reality. So often we hear preachers preaching about heaven and the wonders of the world to come, but the moment death is mentioned, especially in respect of ourselves, we fear and show that all our talk of eternity is but words.
Sometimes God does step in and deliver His saints (e.g. Peter in Acts 12) but other times He allows the present evil circumstances to prevail to act simply as a doorway into eternity and we witness the death of one of His saints (e.g. Stephen Acts 7:59 ,60) or James (Acts 12:2). We must learn to rest in His sovereign decisions.
115. Need of Rest
Mk 6:30,31 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."
The apostles now return from their hands-on ministry trips in pairs. They tell Jesus what had happened. Other Gospel writers report how they were full of excitement, with the adrenaline still flowing no doubt from having seen great things happen. But the trouble with adrenaline rushes is that they subside and leave you feeling weak and low – and Jesus knows this. Jesus knows, as we've seen previously, when power goes out of you, he knows the cost of ministry, he knows that when you are serving the Lord, God's grace may be there but you are nevertheless giving out and you need rest and refreshing.
There were still many people coming to see Jesus, so many so that they weren't having time even to stop and eat. This is not a good environment for weary disciples so Jesus decides to take them away to a quiet place to get rest. This is the pastoral side of Jesus. There are those who say if God's grace is there, you never need stop ministering, but these verses deny that. Even Jesus himself got tired; that is obvious from the Gospels. It is a denial of our humanity to think otherwise. I was recently on a work rush and one morning the Lord quietly spoke to me from Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven” and it's not all now this minute!
The truth is that sometimes when we are ministering we are giving and giving and giving but our times of personal devotion with the Lord get a bit thin or lost in the desire to seek Him for the next message to preach. The Lord loves us for ourselves and not because we serve Him and, I believe, He loves to have times with us when ministry is not on our minds, when we are not praying about giving out, but we simply sit quietly as His children in His presence and enjoy Him and are enjoyed by Him.
No, the truth is that when we give out, we also need to take in, and that means take in for ourselves, not for the sake of the ministry. This says that we need to put times in our diary when we are just resting and enjoying being God's children enjoying His world. Failure to do this means we just become machines, and a poor witness to the world.
Mk 6:32,33 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
We saw previously Jesus' pastoral concern for his disciples after they have returned from their ministry trip, and so now they cross the lake to a solitary place. Now this must just have been somewhere along the coast, not across to the other side because they were spotted by the crowd who promptly ran along the coast and were there when the boat landed.
I sometimes wonder how the atheistic critics of Jesus account for this behaviour. It says that, for whatever reason, the common people were immensely blessed by Jesus, partly by his teaching and no doubt by his healing them of their sicknesses. There is no other way to understand this popularity than by accepting that he came bringing immense good to the people.
Now of course this popularity is both a blessing and a bane. It is a blessing in that the word spreads across the land and so instead of Jesus having to travel to the people, the people come to him. When they come they come in great faith because the accounts of what he was doing were clearly gossiped again and again across the country.
But this popularity is also a bane because it means that he is so popular that the crowds are so great that his disciples have no time to rest and indeed, they as a band have little time to stop and eat. That is the downside of ministry, that when God blesses it, it does put a strain on life and that needs wisdom to deal with as we noted in the previous meditation.
Indeed it is perhaps worth noting that success in ministry brings with it severe dangers. When God seems to be blessing a particular ministry so much, it is easy to fall into the temptation of thinking that you are somehow special and better than others. There is also the temptation to think that you must just carry on regardless of how tired you are feeling and it is in those times of weariness that we become vulnerable to entering into improper and eventually adulterous relationships. In tiredness we can also start to lose perspective so we no longer minister in love and grace, but we start looking down on those to whom we minister and almost resent them and their ‘folly' for having become those in need of help. Beware such times.
Mk 6:34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Jesus' intent, you will remember, is to take the tired disciples away to a place of quiet and rest – but the crowd have seen them go and have followed them along the coast so when the boat lands they are there waiting for Jesus.
So when Jesus lands, does he chastise them and sends them off? No, he feels for them, he feels compassion. Compassion is a sense of deep concern for the needs of another, and Jesus feels that for this people. They are, says Mark, like sheep without a shepherd. This crowd look like they need looking after, and despite all else, Jesus is willing to look after them and teach them. The disciples can sit in the background and fall asleep (perhaps?).
Again and again in the Gospels we see Jesus moved by compassion. He is someone who sees need and feels for the person in need and it is that which so often seems to motivate him into action. He said he only did what his Father was doing (Jn 5:19 ) but perhaps His Father's will is being expressed through the way He allows His Son to feel. When the Father ‘looks down from heaven' He sees everything that goes on and He knows what is going on, including the feelings of people (see Him with Moses in Ex 3)
When Ezekiel prophesied about the coming work of God through His Messiah, he said, “ I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ex 36:26,27) Part of the package of salvation is to receive a new heart, a heart of flesh, that is pliable, that is soft and open to be moved. In the world round about us people are stony hearted and are unmoved by the wonder of God. Indeed a phenomena we have witnessed in modern times is people moved by their emotions following a death but that is more of a self-serving emotion and not one that prompts servant heartedness.
No, compassion sees a need and is moved into action on behalf of it. There are people who are shaken by the circumstances of life into feeling for the needs of others and into action but mostly we are self-centred and self-concerned. May we become more like Jesus.
118. A Real Need
Mk 6:35,36 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat."
In a recent meditation we warned about how excessive ministry demands can actually pull a person down or make them especially vulnerable to temptation, especially in the realm of relationships. The lesson there is that the Holy Spirit is there constantly energising but he gives us the honour of deciding how long we can continue and when we should stop and rest.
In the present incident we have a different problem that arises when ministry goes on and on. Now cynics might ask, why didn't Jesus stop teaching a lot earlier so that they didn't get into the present predicament. The first answer, I believe, is that Jesus wanted to give these hungry people as much as he possibly could while he was with them. The second, and more powerful answer, I am sure, is that Jesus knew what would happen, knew that he had the power to deal with it and knew that he would be able to use this as a learning situation for the disciples. So let's examine what happens.
First of all we are told that it was late in the day. Jesus has taught on and on and the crowd had stayed and received it all, so now it is late evening. The disciples, perhaps, observe the setting sun and suddenly realise that this crowd has been there for a very long time – and they have had time to get food. Remember, they had just seen Jesus leaving in the boat and had then chased him round the coast without any thought of what might follow.
So now we have one of those delightful situations where the disciples come and tell the all-knowing Son of God what is very obvious: this is a remote place (so there is nowhere to get food), it's late (and we should probably stop and send them home) so they can go and find some food somewhere (for they are bound to be hungry.)
Why does Jesus let them do this? Why doesn't he stop them before they get under way? I suggest it is that he wants them to establish the impossible parameters of the problem to start with. It seems very often the Lord allows us to get into impossible situations – and then realise that they are impossible – before He acts and delivers us (e.g. Moses fleeing from Pharaoh – Ex 14).
Mk 6:37,38 But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" "How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see." When they found out, they said, "Five--and two fish."
“We don't have enough money!” How many times does faith flounder with this statement? That is the most common form of this problem of resources. Or it may be “We don't have enough personnel to start this project.” Or it may be, “I just don't have the time or energy to be involved.” These are all resource problems that arise again and again in the Christian life.
Rather than wallow in these statements of unbelief, how about adopting the perspective that says, “Lord, if this project is of you, please provide us with the resources or show us how we are to get them.”
The disciples are in learning mode – although they don't realise it – and haven't yet reached this level of understanding. They have confronted the initial difficulties of their situation: it is late and the people need feeding and so common sense says send them away to get food. But Jesus doesn't operate on common sense; he operates on the knowledge of his Father's resources. He knows what can be and so he needs to gently lead the disciples into the place of faith but first they will have to confront the impossibilities of the situation.
So, to start the ball rolling he suggests that instead of sending the people away, they simply feed the crowd. One of the disciples does some quick mental arithmetic and concludes that to feed this crowd it would need the equivalent of two thirds of a year's salary, i.e. a lot! Are they to spend that amount because, implied, we haven't got it!
OK, says Jesus, instead of focusing on what you don't have, what have you got? Five loaves and two fish is all they can come up with. I mean, even asking what they have got, Jesus is playing with them. He knows they won't have enough for this crowd, however much they have.
What is going on here? Jesus is bringing the disciples to a place where they realise that they just don't have what is needed. In what follows there will be no question of explaining it away. They are about to experience a miracle and nothing else will explain this.
120. Order & Method
Mk 6:39-41 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.
We now reach the crisis moment of this situation. Now suppose you are about to perform a miracle with five thousand men and women and it involved each of them being given sufficient food to remove their hunger. People are greedy and might come back for more. And how will you know that you haven't missed anyone and someone then gets upset? How you are going to administer this miracle is something we normally take for granted but is vitally important.
I have watched this sort of thing at big meeting where it takes only a little different approach, but essentially it is the same thing. The man who has been preaching senses that the Lord wants to touch a number of people in a certain way. Very often there will be a prayer ministry team in attendance as well. I remember one occasion where the leader was calling what, I am certain was only a very small number of people out for a very particular anointing. Unfortunately he was in a hurry and did not make the call clear and so about three hundred went forward. The significance of the anointing meant that there were only three or four men of sufficient calibre to pray for such a thing. In the ensuing melee it was obvious that there were far too many people for far too few ministers and so everything was done quickly and there was virtually no sign of the Lord being in it. Be very specific and tell people to come forward only if they are absolutely sure it is for them, in such specific cases.
The other failure that occurs is that the Lord starts with one group of needs that he wants to minister to and then moves on to another and may be another. The responsibility for how we administer that remains with us. I have led a large ministry team in the past at a large gathering and on the first call about eighty people came out. Instead of letting the team work through those people, the leader then called out people with a different need and another hundred came out. As he continued to do this we ended up with over five hundred people out the front and administered it was almost impossible. It is for these reasons that Jesus sits the crowds down in identifiable groups and thus it becomes possible to feed all who were there. Yes, a miracle!
121. It's a Miracle!
Mk 6:42-44 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
There is no way of rationally explaining what happened in this lonely place where five thousand people were fed by five loaves and two fishes. One commentator suggested that when the five loaves and two fishes were brought out, it shamed everyone else to bring out their food that they had been keeping and thus it just became a mass picnic – except that completely the denies the accounts which are quite explicit!
The accounts clearly say Jesus had the crowd sit down in large groups and then he gave his disciples the loaves and fishes after having prayed over them and they broke and broke and broke the bread and kept on feeding the entire crowd JUST with those loaves and those fishes. No once you try going off down the track of trying to explain it away you have to say, “I don't believe the account” and the moment you say that you have to add, “because I don't believe Jesus could do such a thing.” Once you say that you have to deny all the Gospel accounts and most people don't realise how illogical that actually is.
Consider the logic of the unbeliever: I don't believe Jesus could do this because a man can't do this and Jesus had to be just a man because there is no alternative because there is no God. You can't take away any one of the stages in that logic path. At the end of it, we have to ask, on what grounds do you reject the idea of a God as revealed in the Bible? It can't be for lack of evidence because the Bible and Church history is full of it. In a world where entertainment includes sci-fi and fantasy stuff and credibility is stretched, it is only personal fear that rejects the scientific possibility of the existence of God. Once we have God, then the Son of God is not a problem and miracles are not a problem. The starting place is the rejection of God which is in reality and emotionally driven thing and nothing else, but the atheist will not see that.
So a miracle of feeding occurs and, we are told, everyone was satisfied. there was nothing half-hearted about this; the Son of God met the needs of the entire crowd and to prove the point they collected up left-overs that exceeded what they started with! That is in deed incredible. Our credulity is stretched – but if Jesus is the Son of God, then that is not a problem!
122. More Scene Setting?
Mk 6:45,46 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida , while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
We have commented before abut how sometimes the Gospels seem to be made up of a number of acts or scenes and it seems that Jesus is the director who orchestrates what is happening so that God's word is taken to the people, God's love is experienced by them, and the disciples are taught and trained. Very often there is no warning of what is about to happen but it happens as a result of Jesus instigating it.
Our verses today seem simple and straight forward and there is no indication of what will follow but it is almost as if Jesus is setting the scene for the disciples next learning exercise. They have just fed the five thousand and are no doubt exulting in the wonder of what has just happened. Now what follows must have appeared somewhat strange to them because as soon as they have cleared up – and the crowd is still there – Jesus sends the disciples away. Here we have one of Mark's ‘immediately moments'. Straight away before anything else can happen Jesus sends them away.
They had been tired and in need of rest when they first came to this spot; that was the reason Jesus had brought them here, so maybe he has it in mind that if he goes with them in the boat, the crowd will just follow once again, so he separates himself off from them so they can get away on their own. Maybe that's how it seems at the time, but it does set the scene for something spectacular to happen.
Once the disciples are off in the boat and the crowd realise Jesus is not going with them, Jesus turns to the crowd and sends them home. It is as simple as that. No I'm not going to heal anyone, no I'm not going to teach. It is the end of the day and you ought to go home – so they go. So at last we have Jesus separated off from the crowd and the disciples are separated off from both the crowd and Jesus.
The crowd may be slightly reluctant to leave for we read that Jesus left them rather than they left him. So he tells them to go and he walks off. No one follows and so Jesus climbs up the mountain side to be alone so that he can pray. He has just spent the day giving out and so now it is time for him to take in of his Father's presence so he prays. It may also be that he seeks his Father on behalf of his disciples who, we will see, can be seen by him. He still watches over them.
123. Against the wind
Mk 6:47,48 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.
How two verses can encapsulate so much of a picture. This is like the summary of a disaster movie. Evening has come. Obviously the feeding and then packing the crowd away had happened late afternoon. Now evening has come which suggests that it is about to get dark and, with a strong wind blowing, inhospitable. Right that covers the environmental conditions prevailing here.
Now the players. First of all the disciples, they are in the boat – rowing. Presumably either the wind is in the wrong direction or it is too strong, but they are straining to row because they are going against the wind and the implication is that they aren't getting very far. In fact they are still clearly visible to Jesus from his vantage point on the mountain side. So then, second, Jesus. There he is on the mountainside all alone. He has been praying but now his attention is caught by the lack of progress of the little boat down below. So much for getting a time of rest after their ministry trip!
Questions arise. Didn't Jesus foresee this happening? Had he really had to leave the disciples to be on his own? Hadn't he realised with the growing wind that they would have a hard time of it out on the water? Was quiet so important for him to be able to pray and recoup his spiritual energy? Had he got something else on his mind that he was planning? The answer to all these is probably, yes!
So what is going on? It's another one of the stage-managed incidents that Jesus set up to teach his disciples, but at the moment they have no inkling of that at all. All they know is that Jesus is on the land and they are out on this boisterous lake and it is hard going. Should they turn round and sail back with the wind behind them, back to where they had left Jesus? Maybe there were discussions (arguments?) in the boat, but Jesus had given them instructions, and part of being a disciple is learning to obey the master.
Is the Christian life always going to be easy? No! In fact some might say it is rarely easy, but sometimes the hardness comes because of Jesus' instructions to see something through in a particular way. If it wasn't for them it would be easy but in the hard times we are going to learn that Jesus knows and Jesus will come at the right moment.
124. A Ghost?
Mk 6:48-50 About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
When you have lived on this planet for any reasonable number of years, you begin to get an idea of how things work. Gravity means things fall downwards towards the ground. Solid things like bricks and stone mean they are ‘solid' and hard and impenetrable. Water is movable and not structural and is not any use for walking on. With these things in mind, it is a fairly reasonable response of the disciples to attribute a figure walking on the middle of the lake to be a ghost.
All right, you have to be someone who believes in ghosts to start with but when you are confronted with something impossible, you may be excused for jumping to weird and wonderful conclusions. And such conclusions are scary. I mean, why is this figure out here? Is it coming for us? What does it want with us? What is it going to do with us? I think, in modern terms, if you'd just parachuted out of a plane at ten thousand feet and at about five thousand feet someone appeared to wander up casually and start talking to you as you continued to fall. But at least you would able to see them clearly. For the disciples it wasn't clear.
The fourth watch was between 3 and 6am so it is possible it is just starting to get light but still quite dark. Jesus has seen the disciples struggling on the lake and, we are told quite specifically, walked out to them. When he gets near them, he's travelling faster than them and so makes like he's about to walk past them. It's a funny picture really. If it was a modern cartoon film he's just amble by while they are struggling with their oars and calmly wave and say, “Hi guys,” as if it were perfectly ordinary and he was on his way somewhere. It's almost as if he wants them to invite him in or call out to him for help.
Isn't that what is happening when so often we get into difficulties in life and Jesus doesn't seem to be there. He's actually waiting for us to invite him into the situation or cry out to him for help. The fact that he is walking on water quite naturally should just reiterate the fact that he is the Son of God and he can handle every aspect of every situation, so if we are struggling, isn't the wise thing to invite him to come and help us through our struggles. This, as we said before, is a stage-set situation arranged by Jesus to teach these disciples something. And us?
125. Peace with Jesus
Mk 6:50-52 Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Sometimes in Scripture that are very graphic instances that speak immense truths. This is one of them. Without any beating about the bush, and it is very simple, when Jesus comes aboard your life he brings peace – always!
Of course this is the second of two incidents on the lake. Previously we saw Jesus calm the storm on the lake ( 4:39 ). It was a similar thing. Once Jesus was awake, peace was brought. Matthew tells us that on this occasion Peter got out of the boat and joined Jesus walking on the water (Mt 14:29) but Peter doesn't bring glory to himself and so omits that as he guides Mark on what to write.
But here on the water, Jesus' first instinct is to reassure the disciples that they are not seeing a ghost, but it is him. And then he simply climbed in the boat with them – “and the wind died down.” Coincidence? No, it is just God exercising His authority over His world in the form of His Son. I am convinced that many of us today, in reality, have lost the belief, which the Bible shows so clearly, that God moves in His world and that includes what we refer to as “nature”.
But much of the time, it isn't so much that Jesus has to speak peace, but where Jesus is, is always a place of peace because God is always in a state of total peace. He is not upset or in a state of upheaval. He knows everything and has absolute power to do whatever He wants, and so He is at absolute peace. When comes with His Sovereign Presence, peace comes with Him. There may be a storm raging in the rest of the world, but where He manifests His Presence, there it is peace. It is like being in the eye of the storm except wherever He then moves, that peace goes with Him cutting through the storm in whichever direction He goes.
This is one of the reasons to advocate the so-called Quiet Time in the morning, so that whatever stresses and strains confront us, as we bring them in prayer to the Lord, as we pray His presence invades our presence and before we know where we are the peace that passes all understanding is there. it isn't just that “He knows”, it is His very presence that has drawn near (Phil 4:6,7)
Mk 6:53-55 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.
The travels of Jesus are well documented in Mark. In Mk 2:1 Capernaum (at the north end of the Sea of Galilee ) was identified as his home. In Mk 5:1 they sailed down the lake to the south-east end of the lake to the area of the Gerasenes where he delivered the demon possessed man and the pigs died. Then he crossed the lake ( 5:21 ) and later returned to Nazareth (6:1) his original home town where there was little faith. After this he travelled from village to village (6:6), then to a solitary place on the lakeside (6:32) and then back up north and landed at Gennesaret on the north west coast not far from Capernaum.
Now it is worth checking back on each of these locations because again and again he is swamped at these places by crowds (2:2, 2:13 , 3:8, 3:20 , 4:1, 5:21 , 6:31 ,34,54-56.
With a casual reading of Scripture it might be very easy to miss the significance of all this. First we should note that there was a great hunger and a great need in the land and second, that Jesus was clearly meeting the need there by bringing healing. Again, because it is so common in the Gospels it is easy to forget it, but clearly there were many sick people and many demon possessed people, for these were the two primary needs that people brought to Jesus – and he healed and delivered them. And examination of the Old Testament Law indicates that when Israel obeyed the Lord they would receive all His blessings – which would include good health – yet that is clearly missing from the land. This would indicate a poor spiritual health of the people as well.
Now when you look at the state of the modern Church, we may find exactly the same thing, an absence of good health. We may thus question the state of the spiritual health of the Church at large. we may further suggest that this is yet a further reason to cry out for God to come in power and revive His Church today.
We may go a step further and suggest if the Lord came in power, the Church might truly act as the body of Christ again and we may then see the works of God that draw the crowds. May it be so!
127. Kingdom Power
Mk 6:56 And wherever he went--into villages, towns or countryside--they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.
Previously in Mark's Gospel we have seen how the power of God flowed through Jesus. Sometimes it happened as he reached out, sometimes as he spoke a word and sometimes as another simply touched him in faith. Here we find in our present verses the same thing, people only had to touch the edge of his cloak and they were healed. Everything about Jesus emanated the power of God.
Now when Jesus first came preaching we saw him speaking about the kingdom of God coming. The apostle Paul was later to say, “ For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) i.e. when God turns up His power will be manifested. The kingdom is all about the rule or reign of God, God coming and changing things, putting things right, making things how they were designed to be at the beginning. This was the ultimate purpose of God in sending Jesus.
Initially it was expressed through Jesus as he moved around Galilee and we have noted it happening as large crowds constantly flocked to him because he was touching and changing their lives as he healed and delivered them. Subsequently it was brought into being by Jesus dying on the Cross so we could have everything that got between us and God dealt with and we be brought into relationship with God by the power of the Spirit who came at Pentecost. From then on it was the Spirit guiding, directing and empowering to express God's will or God's reign, the expression of His kingdom.
So why do we not see the same outpouring of power today? The answer may be twofold. First it may simply be because we take on so much of the world's attitude and outlook that we are not open to the Lord to move through us. Second, this power is seen throughout history in what we refer to as revivals, which are not merely evangelistic campaigns as some in America have thought, but when there is a sovereign outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that salvation, healings etc. follow in large measure, and these are times that God sovereignly chooses.
So of course, when God Himself was walking on the earth He was unfettered by human limitations and sin and was thus able to see the amazing outpouring of blessing as seen in these verses.