As I have often emphasized in these blogs, one of the clearest realities in Scripture is that people are created to be dependent. To rule the world under the authority of God for His glory? Yes. To be channels of His authority for the advancement of His kingdom and purposes? Yes. But all of this is done while in a position of dependence on and surrender to Him as God and Lord, and done shaping the mind after and informing the thinking, will, and affections by the inerrant Word He has intended as the starting point for all our thinking. We are never to be independent from Him.
Of course, our fallenness and depravity make us unwilling to yield to Him. We refuse to be led (in a world that is not ours!) and choose to chart our own course as though we have the right to and sufficient knowledge and understanding of ourselves and that world! (That sin has utterly blighted the way we value and process information never broaches itself to people on this doomed mission.) So it follows that we need a Shepherd to redeem and guide us, and not only that but give us all we need and all that is ours as His beloved children and fellow-heirs of His worldwide kingdom.
Mark delights to show us the glories of Christ. In this narrative, we learn that Jesus is our true Shepherd, and that God gives us all we need by giving us His Son. Four truths in this narrative paint this portrait in glorious color.
A. Jesus gives His disciples rest (vv. 30-33)
The Twelve have returned from their mission, begun in verse 7, of proclaiming the king and His kingdom. Doubtless they are tired and spent; we are not told how long the journey was, but the physical exertion alone from all the on-foot travel would be very tiring. Of course Jesus knows they need rest; He is the indefatigable minister, whose energy and commitment outstrips others effortlessly, and even He needs to recharge now and then. So He intends to take them to a secluded place to be alone, away from the demands and pressures of service, and rest for a while.
Of course, that plan is short-lived, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
Of note is the use of the word translated “secluded” in the LXX. It is frequently used to refer to the wilderness wanderings of Israel! I think our Lord intends a parallel here. Just as He provided for His recalcitrant people and showed Himself as their covenant God in that era, so He will once again miraculously provide for Israel, now in the days of His flesh.
The journey across the Sea of Galilee to the secluded place, a region near the town of Bethsaida, is about eight miles, four on land. And as often happens in Mark, somehow the crowds hear of Jesus’—and now, His powerful apostles’—movements, and they run the four miles so that they’re waiting for the little boat when it pulls ashore.
I wonder if they cheered with ecstatic enthusiasm. I wonder if the apostles’ shoulders slumped, thinking, “But we were going to rest…”
And indeed, what happened to the rest? Surely Jesus doesn’t think several more grueling hours of ministry is restful! But I think what is going on here is something like what we are told happened when Lazarus dies. We read that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so that when He heard Lazarus was sick He intentionally stayed two days longer before He went to Bethany—allowing Lazarus to die, but also through that providing a deeper experience of His grace and glory by raising him!
Jesus is not indifferent to His disciples’ physical needs. I do not believe Jesus was being duplicitous when He told the Twelve they would rest. But He also intends for a rest that is more than just the physical—the ceasing of striving that comes when we obtain a vision of Christ’s glory as our Savior, Shepherd, King, and Provider. I believe Jesus gave them physical rest after this. But the pathway there was to show them something more necessary and more important—the kind of rest they would most need as they embarked on greater ministry to a hostile world about a year later.
B. Moved by compassion, Jesus sacrifices to meet the needs of people (v. 34a)
I think the character of Jesus is on wonderful display here. We can assume that while the Twelve were ministering, Jesus was not on vacation at Club Med. While the delegation doubtless gave Him time to rest, we can be sure He continued His frenetic pace of ministry at home. I say that because in all likelihood, our Lord is tired too. And while we can’t know how much access He had to His omniscience on a daily basis, it is quite possible the Lord knew the crowds would be waiting for them (of course, given their tendency to never leave Him alone, our Lord probably did not need to use His omniscience for that!).
Yet what is Jesus’ first thought? Not I’m tired or I’m hungry or I just want to hang out with my friends and hear how My Father has used them. No, He sees the crowds, and His first thought is for them.
He felt compassion for them, Mark says—the Greek has the idea of an almost physical sensation in the bowels. There is an ache in Jesus’ inner man for the needs f these people.
Recall that later Mark will tell us only the men numbered five thousand. That means counting women and children there could easily be 20-25,000 people here! They are overwhelmingly Jews, they are under horrific leadership that trains them to deny the Word of God in favor of human thinking, and they know nothing of a true relationship with the God who loves them.
The tired, spent, weary Jesus once again puts aside His own very legitimate needs to prioritize those of others. Compassion is so often antithetical to our nature. But it isn’t to Jesus’. Praise God!
C. Jesus shepherds by teaching the sheep (v. 34b)
We read earlier in the verse that Jesus’ compassion is prompted specifically because the people are like sheep with no shepherd. This is an OT image first used in Number 27:15-17, where Moses pleads with God to appoint a man over Israel to lead them. This was, of course, initially fulfilled in Joshua, but is most fully realized in the ministry and reign of our Lord. That this is ultimate intended by the Holy Spirit to be a messianic image is in shepherd imagery being used for the rule of King David, to whom our Lord is the antitype (1 Sam. 18:16), and elsewhere God tells us that Messiah will function as a shepherd to His people (Jer. 23:1-6 [7th century BC]; Ezek. 34:23-31 [6th century BC]; Zech. 11:4-14 [5th century BC]). Elsewhere, God Himself says He will shepherd His people (Isaiah 40:11). So God has come in the flesh to shepherd Israel and the nations!
How does He do this? Does He build a well or a clinic? Does He march in favor of the latest de rigueur social justice causes? No! Rather, He teaches them divine truth! Jesus knew the leadership in Jerusalem was apostate. It was not recognized by God and it was sending His people to Hell. And I like to think that Jesus’ teaching today found many willing hearts created by the Spirit of God, who lovingly embraced their Messiah and the life He offered.
“Many things” need not denote comprehensiveness of topics. Likely, it refers to the depth and profundity with which He taught. The topic, of course, was “the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:11). We can be sure Jesus emphasized His sovereignty and the comprehensiveness of the kingdom in the plan of God—world redemption at every level was being offered to all, with the heart of it being full and complete dismissal of sin before a holy God, received by repentant faith alone, because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ example here shows us the primacy of understanding divine truth. We need the Word of God to shape our thinking, responses, interpretation of the world, priorities, and everything else. Most of all, we need the truth about what God says about who we are, what our greatest need is, how to be reconciled to Him, and all that He promises those who are His.
D. Jesus shepherds by powerfully meeting all their needs (vv. 35-44)
The teaching goes on for some time, and the Twelve think this a perfect opportunity to send the crowd home so they can finally get the rest they so need. But they couch it in concern for the people: They need something to eat, and there is no food here. Jesus replies: “You give them something to eat!” (v. 37) John tells us this was a test to see how they would respond (John 6:16).
When the Lord pushes you to come up with a response to a humanly insurmountable problem, He isn’t tricking you. He wants you to admit that you can’t do it. Only this will drive you to Him, and only as you are dependent on Him will you see His power at work!
He asks how much food they have—only five loaves (a cracker-like piece of unleavened bread) and two fish (small, pickled fish that with the bread would have been lunch for a little by or a snack for a grown man). Surely this isn’t enough to feed 20,000 people! But the Lord instructs the disciples to seat the crowd in groups, and then He blesses the food…and keeps giving, and keeps giving! The miracle has instantly created so much that tens of thousands can eat and be satisfied! And when the leftovers are collected…twelve baskets full.
One for each of His men.
Jesus didn’t forget about them. They just had to trust His timing and path there. Where they saw lack, He saw abundance. Where they saw insurmountable obstacles, Jesus just saw divine possibility.
In the advancement of His kingdom and demonstration of His glory you can believe Christ for anything. We must catch up with what He wants to do. We do not have to convince Him! Jesus is the sovereign Shepherd who has come into His world to redeem and save and restore. We must simply trust Him, give ourselves untiringly to His work, and therein find ourselves dead center in the way of the full demonstration of His power, glory, and love. What a wondrous Savior, Shepherd, and King!