An Inexplicable God

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Insatiable Curiosity

Today, we want to have an explanation of everything. We want to know how everything works, where it came from, what it’s doing, why it does it, and what it’s going to do next. Our society has an insatiable appetite for knowledge.

Sociologists study people so they can learn how we tick, how we think, how we spend, how we live, who we love, and what our priorities are, so they can determine how we are going to develop as a society. Psychologists study our minds so they can determine why we do what we do and feel what we feel. Archeologists study things left over from the past so they can learn how people lived then. Biologists study living things to see how they work. Geoscientists study the earth. Climatologists study the weather. Oceanographers study the oceans. Astronomers study space. We want to know how everything works.

We spent well over a billion dollars to send the Rosetta Probe to land on a space-snowball just so we could know what it was made of! That’s awesome, by the way.

And it’s not just scientists that are on a quest for knowledge. We all are. What do we say after the first bite of something new? “What is this?! What’s in it?!” Some people can’t live without knowing the weather, others start and end the day watching the news. Some can’t live unless they’ve checked their Facebook or Twitter feed to know what’s going on with their friends.

Theology & Philosophy

Not only do humans have great curiosity about the world, we also have a great desire to know what is beyond our world. We want to know where everything came from, what happens after we die, if our existence has purpose and meaning, if there is anything beyond this mortal realm.

Enter the theologians and the philosophers. The study of the nature of God is called Theology – “Theos” meaning God, “ology” meaning “to speaking about”, or “the study of”. Those who practice it are called theologians.

Philosophy is the study of existence, reason, beliefs, values and language. It comes from the words “philio” meaning “love” and “Sophia” meaning “wisdom” – the love of wisdom. Theology and Philosophy go beyond the realms of where pure science can reach, but they are no less important – in fact, there are many who would call them more important.

Philosophy has been called the “mother of all science” since before scientists can study anything they must consult philosophy to find a question worth answering and whether they are able to know anything at all. And to go one step above the mother of all science, Medieval universities called Theology the “queen of the sciences” – supreme above all, the source of all truth. One cannot know anything worth knowing unless they first know God and His Word. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”

For thousands of years theologians and philosophers have talked, debated, argued and studied everything beyond the physical realm – including God.

Too Much Knowledge?

Our insatiable desire for knowledge is a good thing. It’s a God given thing. Our love for knowing how things work has led to some amazing things. And our curiosity about God and the meaning of life, has driven some of the most important things ever done in this world.

But, like anything else, when it gets out of control, that desire leads to sin. Dedicating our life to the study of a singular object may be helpful to the world – but it can also be idolatry. When the knowledge gained by sociologists and psychologists is used to manipulate consumers so they will buy more junk, it’s sin. Wanting to know what our friends are up to is good, obsessing over gossip is sin.

And it’s the same with Theology. A desire to know God is wonderful and healthy, but the belief that we can know everything about God is sin. Spending our life pursuing a greater knowledge of Jesus and His Word is valuable, thinking we know everything about Him leads us to sin and error. Believing in the Holy Spirit and growing in the knowledge of spiritual things is of great benefit, believing we know how to manipulate the Holy Spirit because of our knowledge of Him is foolishness. And we’re going to talk a little bit about that today.

The Feeding of the 5000

Let’s read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.

“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.

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.” (Mark 3:30-44)

Great Compassion

This is a pretty familiar story. It’s told in all four of the gospels. But before we get into talking about what we can’t know – let’s talk about what we can. What does this passage tell us about Jesus?

I think the first thing we learn here is that Jesus has great compassion for people – even dumb, hardhearted, lost people who don’t have any idea what they are doing or why they are there. He has compassion on people who don’t plan ahead, but just want to be where He is. He has love in His heart for people who have no idea what He is doing, but just want to be there.

That’s what this crowd was like. The mission that Jesus had sent the Apostles on was apparently successful. Jesus was more popular than ever. No doubt many of these people had followed the disciples as they came back to Jesus. Stories of his miracles and great teaching had spread far and wide and He had literally thousands of people following Him around, some there to hear the teaching, many there to be healed from their illnesses.

But they don’t really understand Jesus. They think they do, but they don’t. In the same story told in the Gospel of John 6:14-15 it says, “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

He literally has to run away because they want to force Him to be something he’s not. They think they’ve got Him figured out. They think they know His mission, His plan, His power, and why He’s there. But they don’t.

But Jesus doesn’t get angry with them. Do you remember why he’s there in the first place? He’s trying to give his Apostles some rest from their missionary work. But this crowd goes rushing on ahead, hoping to head Jesus off. Now, Jesus could have sent them all away, but He didn’t. No, His heart overflowed with compassion for them because He knew how lost they were, how desperate they were for the presence of God.

He wasn’t just seeing their physical need for healing, it says inverse 34, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” They needed more than physical healing – they were spiritually lost – and He has great compassion for them.

Sheep Without a Shepherd

“Sheep without a shepherd” is a very interesting phrase for Mark to use. It’s repeated a few times in scripture, and points specifically to Numbers 27:15-17 which describes the passing of the mantle of leaders from Moses to Joshua. It says,

“Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’”

Moses desires God to raise up a leader for the people, because He knows that they are stubborn and rebellious, and if there was no godly leader, these people would turn from God in a heartbeat. They would need someone to lead them into the Promised Land who knew God and loved the people. They needed a shepherd! And God appoints Joshua to succeed Moses.

And Joshua leads them – but when He dies, what happens? They Israelites start to disobey, they don’t get rid of the Canaanites, they compromise their mission. Then, in only one generation, we see a generation come up that has completely forgotten Moses, Joshua and the Exodus from Egypt. Within one generation the sheep without a shepherd wander into idolatry and divide from one another. They stop following God’s law, growing more and more corrupt and evil (Joshua 2).

And the generation that stood before Jesus that day was no different. They too were sheep without a shepherd. Moses was long dead, as was Joshua. God had raised up prophets, priests and kings, most of whom either rebelled against God or were persecuted by their own people for speaking the truth. Now they were under a pagan king and those who were supposed to be their shepherds – the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Teachers of the Law – were mostly blind, foolish, hypocrites who erected more and more barriers between the people and God.

And it broke Jesus’ heart to see them this way. Wandering. Rebellious. Anxious. Fearful. Sick. Faithless. Hopeless. Lost.

Jesus Reveals Himself

Turn to John 10:7-13. In John 10 we Jesus calls Himself “The Good Shepherd”, contrasting Himself to everyone else. He knows His special place, and He knows how desperately people need Him to be their shepherd. Keeping with our theme today, these are things that He wants to make sure we know about Him. There are things that we must know about Jesus, that He reveals about Himself. Things that bring us hope and peace, and a greater understanding of who He is.

I am the Door

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (7-10)

This is the first thing that Jesus wants us to make sure we know about Him. Jesus is the only way to salvation. There are many pretenders, but they are all thieves and robbers. Many have come promising safe “pasture” and rest – but they were liars.

I’m certain, as He looks at the crowd of thousands before Him, He can see into the hearts of those who have tried so many different doors seeking salvation and rest for their souls.

They’ve tried to find salvation in power and wealth, but found only emptiness. They tried to make their own “abundant life” through food, sex, and worldly pleasure – but learned they are thieves that promise one thing but are really stealing their joy. He sees those who have tried to find rest through practicing religion, but found the yoke was too hard and there was no rest in manmade ways to get to God. He sees people who have tried to find their way to good pasture through gaining great knowledge or trying to control everything, but found that it only lead to them to despair as they could never gain enough.

And Jesus, the Good Shepherd says, “You are like sheep without a shepherd. You’ve had a lot of people promise a lot of things, and they’ve all failed. If you want salvation and rest then you have to become part of my flock, and the only way to do that is through Me, ‘I’m the door.’”

I am the Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (11-13)

This is the next thing that Jesus wants to make sure we know. Here we see Jesus differentiate Himself even further from the predecessors and pretenders.

He’s not like the shepherds who have come before. They were merely hired hands. They didn’t own or love the sheep like He does. Jesus isn’t like like the prophets, priests and kings that have come in the past –He is greater than them. Everyone else runs away when wolf comes – Jesus doesn’t. Even the greatest prophets failed the people.

Even the greatest Prophet, Elijah, who was part of the great battle with the Prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (Kings 18), was overcome by fear and went into a deep depression. Jesus isn’t like that. He doesn’t get depressed. He doesn’t succumb to fear.

Even David, the greatest king, the shepherd who defended his sheep from lions and bears with only a sling (1 Sam 17:34-37), fell and brought calamity on his people more than once. Jesus isn’t like that. Jesus doesn’t start out great and then fall to temptation and foolishness at the end. No, He is the Good Shepherd. When the wolves come, He fights for them to the very end of his life.

Solomon, the greatest wise-man of all time fell into lust and was led into idolatry, letting His people down and bringing calamity on them. Jesus is the perfection of wisdom and will never fall into sin, and no one will ever pay for his mistakes – because He doesn’t make any.

All who came before were pretenders – He’s the real deal.

When Jesus sees looks out to the crowds He sees lost people who need Him. People who have put their faith in so many other things and have been let down again and again. Lost sheep who need a Good Shepherd. And His compassion overwhelms His desire for rest, and so He gives of Himself even more.

A Strange Command

After a long day of teaching, it says “his disciples came to [Jesus] 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.’” (35-36)

They were saying, “Jesus, you’re tired, their tired, we’re very tired. You’ve done enough. It’s time for you to pull back and have that rest you were talking about. Besides, it’s a long walk back and they need to start if they’re going to get to eat. We know you really love teaching people, and that they need it, but it’s time to eat now.”

I think the disciples feel like they are doing him a favour by telling him the situation. Maybe He’s distracted. Maybe He’s too into His sermon to be hungry. Maybe He needs a little reminder about reality. But they didn’t need to. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He’s not going to forget to feed the sheep. He’s got it under control. But, sticking with our theme, they don’t know what He’s doing, and they’re not sure He’s got it under control.

His response, no doubt, surprises them, considering there were thousands and thousands of people there. “You give them something to eat.” Why would He say that? He wasn’t showing off. He wasn’t being snarky.

No, He was preparing them to open their minds to learn something greater about Himself. What He is about to do how He does it, was intended to speak volumes about Him. He about to declare something very specific about Himself.

He’s not just another prophet. He’s not just a great teacher. He’s not just greater than Elijah, or David, or Solomon. He’s the Messiah. He is God. He’s about to show them that He’s even greater than Moses. He’s the fulfilment of all of the prophecies that have come before – from God’s word to Eve (Gen 3:15), to Moses’ teaching that a prophet like him would come (Deut 18:15), to all the Messianic Psalms, all of the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi – He would fulfil them all and prove to them that He was greater.

He’s not one of the “hired hands”, He’s the Door, the Good Shepherd. And His statement, “You give them something to eat.” is meant to prepare them for what’s to come.

Jesus is Greater than Moses

Consider this: Jesus leads the people into a desolate place, just like Moses led the Israelites to the desert. Then all the people get hungry and start to complain. Why? Because they didn’t know what God was doing, didn’t trust Him, and didn’t trust Moses. They wanted to go back to Egypt!

Now who brings the complaint? Jesus’ own disciples come and say that perhaps they needed to go back and get some food or the people are going to starve in the wilderness.

Same issue. A total misunderstanding of who God is, what God is doing, and a lack of trust that Jesus has things under control. But what does Jesus do? He feeds them.

In Moses’ time it was manna and quail from heaven. For Jesus it was loaves and fishes. The first time the people were told they couldn’t keep any until morning, but when Jesus did it, there were baskets and baskets of leftovers!

When Jesus told his disciples to give the people something to eat, there was something deeper going on. He was asking them, “Do you know who I am? Do you trust me? Do you believe that with me all things are possible? Have you forgotten the power and miracles and provision you had during the mission you just came back from today? Knowing what you know about me, my Father, and what you’ve seen already, do you have the faith to feed these people?” And their answer was simply, “No… no we don’t.”

Jesus Defies Explanation

Something interesting happens a few verses later in Mark 6:52, and it’s tied to the feeding of the 5000. Look what happens after Jesus feeds the people. Read verses 45-52:

“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

Do you see? Jesus was showing them something very important, but they still didn’t get it. The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 was meant to teach them who He was. He was the Good Shepherd, the one Greater than Moses, Greater than Elijah, Greater than David, Greater than all who had come before. He showed His inexplicable power over nature. He went right over the rules of math – something we take as absolute and unchangeable – and made five loaves and two fish feed thousands and thousands. It was absolutely miraculous. Jesus showed His divinity to them.

But when they saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified. When He said, “don’t be afraid”, they still were. When He calmed the storm, they were “utterly astounded”. Why? Because they still didn’t understand who Jesus was.

They didn’t realize that Jesus was God, in control, had power over anything, and had great love and compassion for His people. Their hearts were too hard, their minds too closed. None of what Jesus was doing should have been surprising if they had figured out who Jesus was. But their minds and hearts, all of their reasoning powers for how the world works, wasn’t allowing them to grasp who Jesus was. He didn’t make sense.

Jesus the humble carpenter – can turn a thunderstorm into a nice day because He wants it to happen. Jesus, the wandering Rabbi, whose shoes are caked with dust, doesn’t just part the sea like Moses did – but can walk on water and cause others to do the same. Jesus the son of Mary, born in a stable can literally bend reality to His will and turn McDonalds Happy Meal into a feast that can feed a whole city.

That’d doesn’t’ compute because there are things about Jesus that we can explain – and then there are things that we just can’t.

Trying to Explain God

A lot of people struggle with this one, and it’s the point I want to close with today.

Many people want an explainable Jesus. One that they can understand and predict. We want to know why Jesus does things. We want to be able to predict His miracles, and maybe even figure Him out well enough to make Him do miracles for us. If we can figure out the formula for how to get miracles out of God, then we’ll have the upper hand.

We want a God that fits into our box. We don’t like not knowing things about something as important as our God. We want Him to behave according to our rules, and abide by our standards. We want him to be predictable – under our control.

But the truth is, just as there are things that we can know for absolutely certain about God, there are other things about Him that are absolutely inexplicable – they can’t be explained.

There are times that Jesus makes absolute sense to us and we know what He’s doing. But then there are times when He goes way over our heads, past our understanding, beyond our abilities, beyond our comprehension, and does something completely outside our ability to process.

Why does the universe seem like it’s billions of years old, yet the Bible seems to only say it’s thousands? Why did God create Satan if He knew He would fall? Why does God choose some for salvation and not others? Why do some people get miraculous healings, while others suffer for years and years and are only released from their pain by death? Why do earthquakes and tornados hit where they do? Why do some people get rich and others struggle their whole lives to make ends meet? Why did God take thousands of years to bring the Saviour, and why is He taking so long to come back again? Why would God create people if He knew some of them would be eternally punished in Hell? If He can do anything, and is perfectly good, then why doesn’t He end all suffering today?

These are huge questions, which we are not going to get perfect answers to. And some people can’t handle that. The disciples struggled with it too.

They had just come back from a successful mission where they had actually performed miracles, cast out demons, and taught powerfully. Then they sat down and saw Jesus feed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. Now they see Jesus walk on water and calm a storm without even speaking a word. That didn’t make sense – not at all.

Putting God on Trial

This is a huge, mega-theme in scripture. God does something amazing, and no one has any idea what God is doing, or why He’s doing it, and so they freak out. We see it in the Israelites after the Exodus and we see it among the disciples and followers who were there at the feeding of the 5000. And we see it today.

We are, so often, no different than them. We claim to believe in God, but when He does things that don’t line up with what we believe about Him, we don’t assume we’re wrong about Him – we assume God is wrong.

We are so used believing our own perspectives, ideas, and presumptions, that we think we’ve got Him all figured out. And then He does something we think He shouldn’t do – or doesn’t do something we think He should – our faith crumbles. Just like the Israelites, just like the disciples, we are “utterly astounded” that God did something outside of our little box.

So what do we do? We put God on trial. We demand He explain Himself. We demand He show Himself to us. “Why did you do that? You must answer me! Give me your reasoning, God! You owe me an explanation!”

But the truth is that it is not He who is on trial, it is us. He’s God. He has nothing He needs to answer for. It is we who must answer. (Read Job 38-42)

Jesus looks to us and says, “Do you believe I’m God? Do you trust me? Is it possible that I’m bigger than your explanations and reasoning? Are you God? Do you have faith in me?”

It is not God who is on trial – it is us. We do not have the right to contend and find fault with the Almighty (Job 40:1). We must take Him as who He says He is. It is not He who must conform to our image, but we who must conform to His. He doesn’t have to meet our standards, we must meet His. It is not He who has to explain Himself when we stand before Him one day – it is we who will stand under His judgement.

What amazing grace He gives us as we stand there thinking we can put Him on trial and ask Him to defend what He’s doing! What amazing patience He shows as we complain against Him for enacting His will.

Conclusion

The concluding questions are simple: Do you trust Jesus? Do you think you need to remind Him what’s going on, that somehow He’s forgotten how to care for people? Do you need Him to answer why the wind and the waves are so large? Is it ok with you that He is God and you are not?