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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Passion, Prayer and Provision


 

"Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed..."

Mark 6:50-51



Last time we saw Jesus send out the 12 disciples without any provisions - not bag, not shirt, not money - to go and proclaim the good news of the kingdom - in word and deed.

 

And now in verse 30, they’re back, and they report to Jesus what they have done and taught.

But the way that Mark tells it, makes it sound a bit like, even as they’re recounting their tales to Jesus, people are thronging to Jesus. You sense that in verse 31 - ‘so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat’.

 

And I point that out, at the beginning, because I was tempted with this second half of the chapter, to forget that the disciples had just returnedfrom a costly mission for Jesus, and rather, to settle down into a nice story of miracles.

Forgetting that, of course, Jesus is always purpose driven in what he does, and so everything he does has a goal in view – even the miracles.

 

Far from moving on from the costly mission of verses 6-13, what I’ve discovered is that these two miracles serve to reinforce the missionary message that Jesus intends his disciples, and us, to understand as thelife-purpose of discipleship.

 

So, I think that if we can keep at the forefront of our minds that Jesus sent the disciples out on a costly mission, we’ll see the intention of these two miracles more clearly.

 

Indeed, Mark shows us we should have their costly mission at the forefront of our minds by leading into the miracles with it. So, let’s follow his lead.


Two of a Kind

I’ll be referring to these two miracles collectively this morning and there’s a reason for that - a reason I want you to see from the beginning also.

 

Verse 51 says that the disciples were ‘amazed’ at what Jesus did when he walked on the water and stilled the wind because of this one thing: Mark says, ‘they had not understood about the loaves’ (v.52).

 

So I think that means that these two miracles are connected. It means that if they had understood the miracle of the loaves and fish they would not have been taken by surprise at Jesus’ walking on the water and stilling the wind. It might even mean that Jesus performed the second miracle precisely to teach the disciples what they should have got from the first one.


It certainly seems clear that they didn’t understand the miracle of the loaves and the fish because their hearts were hardened, v.52 says. And yet somehow their hardness of heart was seemingly transformed by the second miracle.

 

The reality is, they don’t seem to be amazed at all by the miracle of the loaves and fish, but they are blown away by the miracle on the water.

 

So, I think these miracles go together. And the second serves to make plain the first to the disciples, and perhaps to us too.


Here’s how I think the two miracles go together: both miracles are performed by Jesus to demonstrate that he will provide for the desperate needs of people. That’s the focus here: ‘Jesus is provision’.

In the first miracle, the need is food and Jesus provides. In the second miracle the need is power, and Jesus provides again.


Let’s just make sure we see those truths in the text.

In verse 35, we find that it’s already late in the day. The disciples and Jesus had sailed to a remote place on the north-eastern shore of the lake to try to get some peace and quiet (see that in v.31), but the people had run around the shoreline and beat them to their landing spot (v.32). And Jesus, seeing them there, had compassion on them and taught them, verse 34 says.

 

So, the place where these people were gathered, late in the afternoon, was a remote place without any markets. And that meant they had nothing to eat and were now really hungry.


We’re told there were 5,000 men. I suppose there could have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of women and children also. That’s a lot of people, and all their need is the same – it’s food to satisfy their hunger.


In the second miracle, after Jesus had sent the disciples off in the boat and dismissed the crowds; and had gone up on a mountainside to pray (v.45 & 46), he saw the disciples straining against the head wind, Mark says in verse 48.

 

By now it was the middle of the night, they were out in the middle of the lake, and the boat was going nowhere, despite their best efforts. The wind was ‘strong and the waters were rough’ John says.

In short, the disciples were tired and in need of power in the middle of the lake. And Jesus wasn’t in the boat like the last time they were in that similar position.


So, we’ve got need on the land - hunger. And need on the sea - power. And Jesus makes miraculous provision for both.

 

Verse 42 says, ‘They all ate and were satisfied’. Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish into five thousand plus meals.

And then in verse 51, he calmed the wind and the waves. Mark says, ‘Then he [Jesus] climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down’.

In fact, John’s account, says ‘Immediately the boat reached the shore’. The second miracle may have been even more of a provision than it appears in Mark’s account.

Perhaps the disciples, exhausted from rowing, didn’t have to row oneextra meter because Jesus’ provision for them was so effective - they were instantly translated to shore - maybe!


But in short: what Jesus is to the people in miracle 1, he is to the disciples in miracle 2 - namely, he is their ‘provision’.


And it’s not like this isn’t clear from the beginning to the end of the passage. In verse 31, the disciples were so inundated with people that Mark says, ‘they didn’t even have chance to eat’.

But by the end of Jesus’ miracle in verse 43, there were 12 baskets of leftovers - one for each of them. Jesus provides!

 

Again, in verse 31, the disciples were fatigued from their mission and Jesus says, ‘Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest’. Because he cares about them, he’ll provide a place of peace and rest for them.

 

And in verse 34, when Jesus saw the crowd, he knew that they were like sheep without a shepherd - aimless, vulnerable, lost. So, ‘Jesus began to teach them many things’ Mark says. He’ll be their shepherd.

 

And then finally in verses 53 to 56, when the following day they were on the western shores of the lake again, ‘all who touched his cloak were healed’ (v.56). Miraculous healing provision for the sick.

That’s not to mention the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, or the miraculous power over the wind to deliver the disciples.

 

That Jesus provides for the needy is the unmistakable thrust of these verses. Jesus is the ultimate answer to the need of all people.

He is the defining difference between want and provision.


Testing the Disciples and Showing the Way

So, now that we’ve seen the thrust of these two miracles let’s focus on how it comes to pass that Jesus provides for the 5,000 hungry people. And for that we need to zero in on verses 35 to 41 because that’s where we learn how the miracle comes about.


Verse 36 says that the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to the surrounding villages to buy themselves food – in order to satisfytheir hunger.


I think that’s reasonable on the part of the disciples. They are clearly concerned about the physical needs of the crowd, and they ask Jesus to get the word out, because, after all, the crowds do listen to him. That makes sense, I think.

 

But Jesus isn’t minded to send the crowds elsewhere for food. He turns it back on the disciples saying to them, ‘you give them something to eat’. In other words, ‘you provide for their needs’.

 

Now why does he say that? Why doesn’t he just ask them what they’ve got by way of food, like he does in verse 38?

Well, John says in his account that Jesus wanted to test them.

 

I wonder in what way did he want to test them?

I can think of at least two. The first is their reliance on money, and the second is their reliance on him. And basically, it appears that the disciples kind of crash and burn on both counts.

 

On the money front, they seem to count the cost of purchasing food for such a large number of people. In verse 7, they do the sums and seem to conclude that spending the equivalent of half a year’s wages would be reckless.

They say, ‘are we to go and spend that much on bread!

 

I guess they thought: what about their own needs - food, shelter, clothing? Now that they’d given up everything to follow Jesus, where would the money come from for those things if they spent the savings?

Their response seems to show their reliance on money.

 

And, on the flip side, their failure to look to their master and miracle working Jesus, in faith, and simply say ‘we don’t have enough food here master for everyone, but they’re hungry and in need, so just say theword and there will be enough’ is the second thing. Perhaps that’s what Jesus had in mind by testing them.

 

So, then in verse 38, I think Jesus shows them what they should have done, as he gets them to bring out the five loaves and two fish, gives thanks for the resources, and then distributes the food.

I think his point is: ‘you guys could have done this. Indeed, you should have done it’.

By faith, they should have proved that all the impossible needs of people can be met in Jesus.


Bigger Reality

And that translates into bigger – much bigger – realities than hungry bellies.

The Apostle John shows us that Jesus has bigger things in mind than bread that satisfies the stomach only.

He says that Jesus said to the crowds, ‘do not work for food which spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life’. In other words, Jesus doesn’t want us to terminate on the miracles, he wants us to transpose the miracles into a spiritual key, where the bread has spiritual, eternal benefits.

And again, ‘here is the bread that comes down from heaven which anyone may eat and not die’.

 

Here’s Jesus again in John, ‘The bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven [like the manna in the wilderness] and gives life to the world’.

 

And once more, ‘I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me [coming to him means believing in him] will never go hungry’. No more spiritual hunger for those who believe.

 

So, this is what is meant in verse 42 when Mark says, ‘they all ate and were satisfied’. The miracle provided for their physical hunger and Jesus satisfied them.

But the greater miracle is that Jesus provides for the spiritual hunger of the souls of people when they receive him by faith, and he satisfies their souls forever.

 

This is the kind of bread that every person in the world needs – namely, they need Jesus.

If you don’t have him, your soul will hunger and hunger and hunger all the days for your life and you’ll never be satisfied - not with all the money; not with all the holidays; not with all the novelty; not with all the fame; not with all the plaudits.

It’s why so many, who have so much, are so sad!

 

Tell me, do you find yourself hop scotching through life, from one buzz to the next, only to find yourself never truly satisfied? It’s because lasting satisfaction is only found in the person who made you to be satisfied in him - namely God and his Son, Jesus Christ.

You can stop hop scotching around, by pouncing on Jesus, and immersing your whole life in him.

 

I’m talking to Christians now, for satisfaction’s sake, and if this is what it takes (it may not, it may be something else), turn off the TV for a bit, turn off the music, turn off the football, or whatever, and turn your eyes on Jesus.

Drink deeply at the well that is Christ. Gorge yourself abundantly on the table that is Jesus. Don’t settle for the scraps that fall to the floor; take your seat at the banquet and glut yourself on him.

 

For every hour of television, spend an hour encountering your saviour. For every article you read about the latest celebrity, go deeper with one that pushes your nose into the glories of Christ.

Oh, what happy people we would be if we deep dived with Jesus every week instead of deep diving with Netflix! Or whatever…


What They Should Have Understood

If the disciples weren’t amazed that Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, but they were amazed that Jesus walked on the water, stilled the wind, and delivered them to their desired haven, then whatwas it that made the difference?

I think it was this: that the first miracle was performed for others, but the second for them.

 

For the first miracle they were outside observers, but for the second they were firsthand beneficiaries. And they didn’t get it, until they were the needy ones and Jesus provided for them.


I see two things that that immersive experience probably taught the disciples and should teach us too.

 

First, as you have received good things from your saviour, so othersneed to receive good things from him too. Don’t lose sight of the needs of others when you have been so blessed yourselves!

Lost people are like sheep without a shepherd and it’s a scary, empty, meaningless life to live, without Jesus in the boat.

 

And second, your God-given purpose below is to feed starving souls with the bread of heaven - Jesus - even though it cost you.


The world is full of lost people who need to hear about Jesus. The disciple’s responsibility isn’t to make the decisive difference in meeting the needs of those people. Any more than it was the disciple’s responsibility to make the decisive difference in feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

 

The decisive work is a miracle – a miracle of grace performed by God. But disciples of Jesus do their part by spreading the good news about the bread of life.

Like the loaves and fish, the efforts of Jesus’ disciples look small, and insufficient, and unsatisfactory, but in the hands of Jesus that’s just fine.

 

And when there is cost associated with that small, insufficient, unsatisfactory effort done in faith, the disciples of Jesus are called not to count it – but to give away their lives in sacrificial love for others just like their master Jesus did.

 

When it looks like that cost-benefit analysis results in loss, Jesus’ disciples are meant to remember that there were no less than 12 basketfuls of leftovers from that miracle!

 

Those baskets might not look like perfect houses, or nice new cars, or any other version of heaven on earth you can think of.

In fact, in all likelihood, they won’t look like that at all. But remember this, the overflowing baskets are coming down the line, in vastlysuperior forms, when Jesus returns in his glory.

 

Anyone who thinks they are losing out now because they’re giving away a chunk of their income, or because they’re using up their precious time, hasn’t understood the shameless promises of God that will belong to us in the heavenly realms.

 

Like when Jesus says: ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven’ - Mark 10:21. Or, ‘Truly, no one who has left home, brothers or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in the present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields [he means the community of the church] - along with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life’ - Mark 10:29-31.


And remember this: the disciples of Jesus will have everything they will conceivably need to do their part faithfully.

If they are to be those who feed the lost sheep of the pasture with bread from heaven, it will be because Jesus will be walking out onto the lake to meet them in the work of straining at the oars of the gospel.

 

The wind of the world will blow hard against the ship of salvation, but great will be the power of Jesus when he miraculously stills the storm and enables the gospel to make headway.

And in the end, his disciples will be brought safely to their desiredhaven – the return of Jesus, and all the abundant blessings he will bring with him!


Mission Pattern

The last thing I want to point out is this: in these miracles, there is a pattern that instructs Jesus’ disciples how to proceed as they interact with lost people.

Jesus sets the pattern and it’s roughly the same in each miracle. The pattern is this: passion, prayer, and provision.

 

In the miracle of the loaves, Mark says in verse 34 that Jesus had ‘compassion on the crowds because they were like a sheep without a shepherd’.

So, he saw their need and instead of feeling indifference, he felt pity for them and wanted to help them.

 

Then in verse 41, before breaking the bread and the fish, Jesus gave thanks for the food. In verse 41, Mark says, ‘taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks’. So, he drew heaven- and the God who dwells there - into this event where he meets the needs of the people.

 

And then he broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people and he did the same with the fish, verse 41 says. And so, he provided for their needs.


And we see a similar pattern in the second miracle. This time Jesus starts with prayer. Verse 46, he went up on the mountainside to pray. So once again the Heavenly Father is a part with what comes next.

 

And then, going out to them on the water, when they encountered him ‘they were terrified’ verse 50 says. But Jesus in his compassion spoke comforting words to them.

Verse 50, ‘Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”’. So, once again he has compassion on those in need.

 

And then, having seen them struggling from the mountain, and having gone out to help them, he provided for them by causing the wind to die down (v.51) and delivering them to the shore (v.53). So again, Jesus is always working to provide for the needy he encounters.

 

And the pattern is a pattern that we can use.

How much compassion do we have for people who are going to spend eternity suffering? Surely Jesus wants us to follow his compassionate lead - these people are like sheep without a shepherd, and they need to encounter the chief shepherd, Jesus.

 

How much are we in prayer for those around us? I guess, as much as we feel our need of miraculous intervention from heaven to translate the people we are trying to reach from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

 

And what about provision? Yes, our ability and offering might look like nothing more than 5 loaves and 2 fish. That’s not a problem for God! We need to take the gospel with the best words we can find, faithfully and prayerfully, and provide it to people who need their souls to be satisfied with the bread of heaven.

 

So, I think Jesus sets us the pattern of passion, prayer and provision to follow, and we can take that with us into our very ordinary lives and expect God to do extraordinary things with it because that is how he has designed for his kingdom to grow; for the lost sheep to be found; and for his glory to be magnified in the earth.


In short, Jesus is always setting the path that we should tread and then encouraging us to walk in it.

And as we do, he will meet us with miraculous saving power and his sheep will be brought safely into his fold.

This is our life’s purpose. Jesus said, ‘anyone who doesn’t gather with me, scatters’. So, let’s gather with him! Spurred on by the expectation of full baskets brimming over with more joy in God at Jesus’ second coming!

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