30 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. 31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
32 So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. 33 But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. 34 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
38 “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.
41 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. 42 They all ate as much as they wanted, 43 and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. 44 A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. (Mark 6:30-44, NLT)
If we think back to our previous study, we remember that the disciples have just returned from going out and preaching the Gospel to the surrounding countryside. We can imagine, then, that as they return, they are ecstatic about what they have seen and witnessed of God’s power. They have performed miracles and cast out demons in Jesus’ name! They are bursting to tell Jesus all about it! But Mark 6:31 tells us that as they seek this opportunity to sit down and share everything with Jesus, “there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” The disciples can barely get out more than a few sentences at a time due to the crowd which unceasingly clamors around Christ.
And so Jesus says to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Let’s stop and think about this in terms of life-application for a second: There are times when we also need to just stop and rest. I like how the NIV puts Jesus’ words: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Jesus invites us, “Come with me… Come to a quiet place and rest with me.” We, too, should learn to listen for these words of Spirit in our lives… Listen for when He might be saying to you, “Come with me and rest for a while….”
And so, as we place ourselves back in the middle of this story, we can picture everything: The disciples finally have the opportunity to withdraw from the crowds and get some one-on-one time with Jesus. They have been craving this opportunity. Wouldn’t you? But then we read in Mark 6:33: “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (Mark 6:33, NIV). Just imagine how the disciples must have felt… They were sooo looking forward to this personal, intimate experience with Jesus, but then, here come the clamoring, noisy mobs of people! No matter where they go, the people always seem to find out and follow, making unceasing demands on the time of Jesus. I even find myself reading this story and feeling angry and frustrated at these insensitive, intrusive people!
But… “Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (verse 34, NKJV). Christ is able to look out among the clamoring multitude and see past the annoying insensitivity of the crowds. He is able to see their need. The disciples see unwelcomed intruders. But Christ sees sheep without a shepherd. He sees the mission of the kingdom.
I can, of course, relate most closely with the disciples. We can just imagine their annoyance at this unwelcome interruption to their personal time with Jesus. This was supposed to be their vacation! So, we can also imagine their motive as they approach Jesus with a “suggestion” — “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” Come on, Jesus, wasn’t this the whole reason we came to this place? To get some R&R and quality time together? Can’t we just tell them to go away, please!?
Ironically, the disciples, if we remember, have just returned from preaching and sharing the kingdom of God, but their response indicates that they still had some learning to do about the kingdom.
Jesus then responds to his disciples in an intriguing way. In fact, Jesus makes a number of very interesting statements throughout each of the four Gospel accounts of this story. Let’s take a look at what He might have been trying to teach his disciples then and us today:
“They do not need to go away.” (Matthew 14:16)
Jesus patiently listens to the disciples’ suggestion, but His response is firm: “No, they don’t need to go away.” There is a gentle underlying rebuke in those words. We just talked about the necessity of sometimes “coming away” and resting. But, there’s apparently an exception to that rule. Jesus teaches his disciples that human need always comes first. Jesus had intended to retreat privately with his disciples, but when human need comes to the forefront of the picture, Jesus drops His initial plan and postures Himself to serve. He teaches His disciples to do the same. He wants us to get our priorities straight.
Next, Jesus turns the table on the disciples in a way they most certainly did not expect:
“You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16)
You see, Christ takes the need at hand, elevates it to the forefront of our priority list, and then turns it around on us as opportunity for action on our part.
In response to this, the disciples hem and haw about what to do next. Well, we don’t have enough money… We don’t have enough bread… What are we supposed to do??? It’s impossible for us to do what you’ve asked, Jesus! (We often do the same thing, don’t we?)
That’s where Jesus’ next words come into play….
“How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38)
In response to our excuses, Jesus makes things very simple for us: But what do you have? What resources are available to you? Go and see. Christ expects diligent effort on our part to “go and see.”
But, we can’t forget the very next words that Jesus says. After the disciples are able to finally scrounge up five loaves of bread and two fishes, what does Jesus say next?
“Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:18)
After pooling the resources that we do have, we must then realize that what we have gathered is dismally inadequate–unless we first submit them to God for His blessing. We gather and then we take to Jesus for His blessing!
Christ’s next words are found in John 6:10:
“Make the people sit down.” (John 6:10)
After submitting our resources to God for His consecration, we are then to prepare to receive His blessings! This is where faith comes into the picture. Do we really believe God will do what He says He is going to do? If so, then we need to position ourselves in a way to receive His blessing!
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. (Mark 6:41)
Jesus frames everything He does in prayer. For every need, He pleads in supplication with His Father. For every blessing, He expresses thanks to His Father. (Why do we so often act as if we can do less?)
Jesus’s final recorded words come from the Gospel of John. They bear beautiful significance and meaning:
“Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.” John 6:12 NET
“Gather up the broken pieces…” Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from this study is that we serve a God who specializes in gathering the broken pieces! Our God fixes things. He took a broken situation in this chapter of our study and fixed it to be something beautifully miraculous, and he can fix things in your life, too. We can all look at our lives and see waste, can’t we? Wasted time. Wasted opportunities. Wasted relationships. And we can each feel the brokenness, can’t we? Broken families. Broken health. Broken dreams. But there is a God out there who desires nothing more than to gather those broken pieces of our lives and lovingly mend them back together – if we will just let Him! What seems like waste to us, God can redeem and turn into blessing! I love this quote:
“With God, nothing is ever wasted. He’ll never waste an experience; He’ll never waste a hurt; He’ll never waste a dream; He’ll never waste even a single piece of bread.”