Jesus Feeds the 5000
Ok, so I need you to take a moment to remember the last few sermons, because they have all been, in some way, preparatory for this one. On the first Sunday of the year we talked about we are sometimes convicted to make changes in our life, and therefore make “Resolutions” to change – but how those resolutions rarely last very long. That’s when we talked about accountability not only to God but also to each other. The next week we talked about the Church Membership Covenant and how it is simply a type of accountability tool to help each other walk with Jesus more joyfully, biblically, and consistently. That was followed by last week’s message on “Unity and Harmony” which was an overview the theological underpinnings of how and why the work of Jesus on the cross brings us back into fellowship with Him and with each other, and how us doing the hard work to live that out brings glory to God and honor to Jesus.
Hopefully, those big thoughts of Accountability, Unity, and Harmony have been bouncing around your head for the past month because it will help you understand what is going on in our passage today. Please turn to 1 Corinthians 14:1-33.
First, and as always, a little context first. 1 Corinthians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul, inspired by God and with the authority of Jesus, to a new and relatively small church in the ancient Greek city of city of Corinth. Corinth was not unlike Ottawa or other big cities in North America today. It was cosmopolitan, multicultural, multi-ethnic with a vast array of religions and places of worship. It had very rich and very poor people, famous thinkers, great actors, beautiful architecture, and was a port town with lots of tradesman and visitors.
Atheism was almost unheard of and the life of the city ebbed and flowed from the pagan temples. They were where you’d go not only for worship, but for entertainment, to find work, to buy groceries, or to eat out. The experience of being part of a “worship service” in one of these temples was pretty intense. There were temple prostitutes, drugs, music, and other pretty crazy stuff going on two as people opened their minds to demonic influence. Some people would scream, others laugh. Some would fall down and shake, writhe on the floor, speak gibberish, or tell fortunes with special “words from the gods”.
None of this was considered weird though. It would be normal for someone, rich or poor, man or woman, to come into the temple, join an orgy, take drugs, and party – or beg favour from the god and be told to either pay money, hurt themselves, or do something extreme or terrible to ensure the god’s goodwill. That was normal.
Then the Apostle Paul came to town and planted a Christian church and it was very different from what they were used to. He was tired and overwhelmed from a long, difficult mission trip, but stayed for a year and a half, preaching, teaching, counselling, and preparing the church. He taught them that God loved them and saved them by grace, and didn’t need or want them to do all the crazy stuff they were doing at the pagan temples. He taught them God’s expectations for biblical faith, salvation, prayer, and how God creates people for his glory and equips them to worship Him and take care of each other.
He left and went on to plant and help more churches, but it wasn’t too long until he started hearing that there were problems in Corinth. We’ve been covering a lot of those issues over the past year or so, but most of them centred on divisions in the church – which we learned last week means that they had forgotten the very foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
They had divided on which teacher they liked better – some choosing Peter, others Paul, others Apollos – forgetting that their first allegiance was to Jesus and the teachers all just worked for Him. Because of the fighting in the church, they had given room for Satan to have a field-day among them and some of the habits of the old temples had worked their way back into their church. They forgot the gospel and started to believe they had to do certain things to get saved and win God’s favour. They forgot what God had said about purity and righteousness as both rampant sexual immorality and some form of pleasure denying asceticism had grown up in the church. They forgot about the unity and harmony that comes from being united to Jesus and started suing one another. They had also forgotten about the exclusive claims of Jesus, that there is only one God and one way to be saved as they grew bored with their church or felt pressure from society to go back to their old temples to offer worship to the pagan gods – while other people were using their freedom in Christ as an excuse to offend everyone around them by refusing to conform to the basic, cultural standards of their society.
In the section before the one we’re looking at right now, we’re seeing how all this had crept into the most foundational of their Christian practices as even the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, what we call Communion, had been corrupted. They’d meet for a worship service, which always included the special time of Communion where the sacrifice of Jesus was remembered, and it was a fiasco. Some would come early and eat all the food, others would get drunk on the communion wine, and the hungry among them would continue to starve.
Paul then, in chapter 12, turns the topic to Spiritual gifts, which are God’s special gifts given upon conversion to believers, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to help people worship God, serve their church family, and spread God’s love around the world. We talked about that in November and the sermon is online, so I’m not going to review it here, but I want you to remember that the big issue was that they had gotten God’s gifts confused with the type of things that were happening at the pagan temple.
In their previous religious experiences, it was all about self and selfishness. It was about manipulating the gods and the people around them to get what they wanted. It was about having intense ecstatic experiences that centred on their own desire for pleasure or excitement. It was about being the centre of attention, feelings special, and being more spiritual, more euphoric, more intense than those around them.
But the Christian church isn’t about selfishness, it’s about selflessness. It’s about being like Jesus, the servant of all who gave His life as a ransom for many. It’s about God saving us unto good works and living a life humbly serving His will and not our own. It is about using our gifts, talents, abilities, finances, to help others and point them to Jesus.
Giving up self-centred religion is hard though. Giving up on the belief that we can manipulate God is hard. Giving up being the centre of attention and living for others is hard too – which is one reason why this church, once the Apostle left – slipped back into old habits and needed to be corrected. In that correction, Paul gives some teaching on the Spiritual gifts, teaches them about loving service in Chapter 13 (which I hope you remember), and then here in chapter 14 addresses two of the gifts that were causing most of the trouble – Prophecy and Tongues.
Prophecy and Tongues
Just a quick note on what those are, so the passage is more easily understood when we read it:
Prophecy is, essentially, is the spiritual gift of speaking words from God. This is either something God has suddenly revealed or brought to mind, usually the words of scripture that apply to a certain situation or some piece of wisdom or direction or are very much like the gifts of preaching and teaching when God uses a person to speak and explain the Word of God to someone. They come through normal, human language, and according to the Bible, have to be tested or evaluated for truth, based on what God has already revealed in the Bible (1 Cor 14:29, 1 Thess 5:19-21).
So the picture of the New Testament spiritual gift of prophecy isn’t Moses standing on a hillside declaring words from God that no one has heard before, but more like a Christian friend, teacher, elder, or preacher speaking words that line up with scripture and seem to exactly fit a certain moment in time, bring glory to God and clarity, comfort, and direction to those who are listening. Sometimes God uses the words that the person is speaking to go straight into the heart of the listeners, believers or unbelievers, so much so that it seems like the secrets of their heart have been revealed to the speaker and God is speaking directly to them.
The gift of Tongues is similar but different in that the message from God is coming in a language that the person speaking doesn’t know – sometimes as another human language, like in Acts 2, or sometimes in a language that no one knows. This can happen when a Christian is alone, during their private prayer times, or publically when God takes over a person’s voice and shares a message that no one is able to understand until someone with the gift of interpretation stands up to explain what the message means. When spoken privately, it’s an intimate act of worship. When spoken publically, just like the gift of prophecy, this public message is meant to bring glory to God and clarity, comfort, and direction to those who are listening.
You can see how tempting it would be for a person who wants that weird, ecstatic, religious experience, or who wants to be the centre of attention, or who wants to feel special, to want this to happen to them. And especially for those in this Corinthian church where people were coming out of those pagan worship rituals. The other spiritual gifts, like hospitality, encouragement, service, giving, mercy, faith, or helps are not nearly as spectacular or flashy as tongues, right?
So, with that in mind let’s read 1 Corinthians 14:1-33 together:
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”
A Gospel Issue
Do you see what the big issue is here? God is all about Christians using their gifts. He wants people to speak His word to people, to bring His wisdom and comfort and joy to them. He wants His power to be shown, for Christians to be built up, for faith to grow, worship to be exciting and inspirational, and for people to get saved. He wants believers to experience what it’s like to speak the words of life to one another and see God’s Spirit move in a powerful way.
But, as with all sources of power and all gifts, there is the risk of it being misused. Usually, our greatest strengths are those that cause us the most trouble, right? This church had a lot of amazing spiritual experience, and had seen God move in amazing ways, had experienced God’s grace in an amazing way, but with that explosive power had come the temptation toward selfishness, division and pursuing the gifts rather than the Giver.
Instead of listening to God, they were more interested in being heard by others. Instead obeying God, they kept trying to tell God what they wanted. They were treating Jesus the way they had treated their pagan gods. Instead of coming to the Son of God humbly for salvation, for direction, for hope, for help, they came for the gifts and experiences associated with Him.
This still happens today and happened when Jesus walked the earth. Turn to John 6 where it tells the story of when Jesus had preached all day and those who were listening hadn’t brought food and were hungry. He had compassion on them and miraculously fed thousands of them with one boy’s lunch. After everyone had eaten until they were full, the disciples gathered twelve baskets of extra food left over!
Now read what happened next:
“When the people saw the sign [the miracle] that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:14-15)
What did the people want from Jesus? Eternal life? Salvation from death? Freedom from sin? Peace in their hearts through a right relationship with God? Did they even want to be with Jesus, the source of life and light, the very Son of God? No. They wanted full bellies. So Jesus takes off, runs away, and that night escapes to the entire other side of the sea. But the people follow him. Read from verse 22:
“On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’”
Do you see that there? Same issue as in Corinth. They were willing to completely bypass their relationship with God, forget about the Word of God, and dismiss everything that Jesus was offering them – for the sake of the gifts. In this case it was the food and freedom from hunger, in Corinth it was the spiritual gifts of tongues so they could feel special and powerful, but it was the same motive. They didn’t want Jesus, they wanted to use Jesus to get what they wanted – even if it meant trying to make Jesus give them what they wanted by force. They completely missed the point of the Gospel Jesus was preaching. He offered eternal life, these Jews wanted sandwiches. Jesus offered peace and purpose and a spiritual family, they wanted to babble and look cool to their friends.
This is a terrible temptation for any counsellor, preacher, or evangelist, but when we concentrate on the gifts, point people to the good things Jesus offers, we inevitably miss out on presenting the Gift-Giver! If they are converted to the gift, if we seek the gift, we will invariably feel let down because it will only feed our selfish desire for more – but if we are converted to and seek the Giver, only then will we be satisfied.
Jesus says, “I showed you signs that I’m the Saviour and the path to eternal life, but you don’t want that, do you? You want the gifts.” In another place He says,
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
Or, what is the point of eating your fill if you don’t accept eternal life? What is the point of speaking in tongues if you aren’t making any sense, helping anyone, worshipping God, or even connected to Him? What is the point of being the centre of attention and getting all the adulations of being a prophet, if you are far from God?
Keep reading in John 6 because something important happens there. Look at verse 28: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
The Corinthian church was so active with these gifts that they had forgotten what they had believed and the work of sharing the gospel of Jesus! Their worship services didn’t proclaim Jesus anymore. They were as bad as the pagan temple, a cacophony of drunken noise that didn’t make sense to anyone. There was no message telling people how to find peace with God, no sharing what it means to be righteous, no message of hope, mercy and grace – just meaningless madness done no longer in the name of Apollo or Aphrodite but in the name of Jesus.
Jesus implores His listeners to see the miracles as signs that they must do the one thing they must do to be saved – believe in Him. Paul, in the same way, implores the church to quit focusing on the signs and the gifts, and go back to the simple message they first believed, and to proclaim it in an orderly, understandable, humble, God glorifying way.
I could go farther into this, but I’m out of time. I want to you to take some time this week to read 1 Corinthians 14 in the light of John 6 and to explore in yourselves what ways you are focusing on the gifts rather than the Gift-Giver.
- In what ways are you simply using the people around you, the church, and even God, as a way to get what you want – even at the expense of your relationships with them and God?
- In what ways have you made your life, your home, your church, or your soul, a cacophony of self-centred noise that is out of tune with what God wants for your life? What I mean is to ask yourself about what ways you are being self-focused, self-centred, self-motivated – but pretending to do it in the name of Jesus. Teaching, helping, speaking, giving, singing, reading, eating, working, all for yourself, so you can be seen and steal glory from God by being seen by others, rather than using your gift to bring glory to Him and serve those around you. It’s impossible to hear God when everything in your life is focused on telling you how great you are.
- In what ways have you replaced a simple, orderly relationship with God, simple worship, simple prayer, simple bible reading, simple service, simple singing, with complicated, bombastic, ritualistic, religion? It could be choosing not to read the Bible so you can read the latest Christian book or listen to some preacher – or only talking about God when you are in public, but never giving Him a second thought when you are alone or with your family – or being caught up in trying to impress God with good works or punishing yourself.
- In what ways have you complicated your relationship with Jesus so that you are losing your focus on Him in favour of things that are merely about Him?
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)
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.
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?