“They have nothing to eat.”
“And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men. And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.”
In verse 36 we are told of this great multitude that, “They have nothing to eat.” That is a good description of us. Hungry sinners come to Christ with nothing to eat. We have nothing. We can provide nothing for ourselves. We have tried to feed our souls on the swine husks of materialism, ritualism, ceremonialism, and even licentiousness, but found nothing to satisfy our souls! So we come to Christ, hungry and thirsty, having nothing to eat.
Yet, before the day was over, we read that five thousand men (not including women and children), “did all eat, and were filled.” Not only did the Son of God feed five thousand men with five loaves and two fish, when everyone had eaten all he wanted, the disciples took up twelve baskets full of fragments! May God the Holy Sprit teach us the meaning of this great miracle and the lessons contained in this passage. Christ alone is able to feed and satisfy immortal souls. May we ever be fed by him and fed upon him, who is the Bread of Life, fed to the satisfaction of our souls.
First, Mark was inspired to describe the conduct of Christ’s servants, when they returned from their first preaching mission. — “And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught”(v.30). These are very instructive words. Every servant of God should do exactly what these Apostles did. When preparing to preach, they must seek a message from the Master. While preaching, they must seek the Lord’s power, wisdom, grace, and strength. When the message is done, they must report back to the Master, tell him all they have done and taught in his name, and seek his Spirit to make their labors effectual.
In the work of the ministry nothing is so important as prayer. Prayer moves him who moves heaven and earth. Prayer displays faith in and dependence upon Christ. Let every gospel preacher be diligent in study, devoted in labor, and ardent in preaching. But the secret of power in the pulpit is prayer. Blessed is that church which has a praying pastor, one who knows he cannot preach without the power of God’s Spirit, one who cries with Ezekiel, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9). He is a faithful pastor, he is a faithful servant of God who gives himself to “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4).
Second, I want to show you Christ’s instruction to these faithful disciples who had been ministering to the souls of men. — “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately” (vv. 31-32).
I realize that there are very few who need instruction about the necessity of rest and relaxation. There are very few who are so zealously devoted to the work of the gospel that they do not even have time to sit down for a meal. Yet, for those few who are so devoted, our Lord’s words here are very needful. Someone said, “We must come apart for a while, or we will come apart.”
The work of the ministry is, to a faithful man, a matter of tremendous labor. It is a labor of the heart and mind, involving the entire life of a man (Romans 1:1; 2 Corinthians 11:28). Yet, while constantly ministering to the souls of others, faithful men are in great danger of neglecting their own souls (Song of Songs 1:6). J.C. Ryle wrote, “The prosperity of a man’s ministry and public work is intimately bound up with the prosperity of his own soul.” Our Lord knows that we carry the treasure of his gospel in earthen vessels. He knows that we are only weak, frail mortals, compassed with many infirmities. If it is not abused, occasional times of rest, reflection, relaxation, and recuperation are very useful and beneficial. We must never become so encumbered with doing things for Christ and serving him that we fail to take the time to sit quietly at his feet and hear his Word. Our Master does not require more than we can do. And it is better to do little and do it well than to do much and do it haphazardly.
Third, in verses 33-34 we are given a glimpse of Christ’s compassion. — “And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”
Our dear Savior was moved with compassion as he beheld the multitudes before him. That which moved him was the fact that these thousands standing before him stood before him “as sheep not having a shepherd.” They had plenty of priests, but no priests from God. They had preachers, but no preacher after God’s own heart to feed them with knowledge and understanding. They had prophets in abundance; but they were all prophets of deceit. They had religious forms and ceremonies, traditions and customs, devotion and zeal; but “they had nothing to eat.” Their form of godliness was empty and meaningless. They knew nothing of the power of godliness. They knew nothing of the gospel. Their religion was all husk. Thousands of immortal souls stood before our Lord Jesus, ignorant, helpless, and needy, on the high road to hell, the high road of religious darkness, blindness, ignorance, self-righteousness, and superstition! Angry as he was when denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees, those who should have taught the people the way of life, when our Lord beheld the perishing multitudes, he was ever “moved with compassion toward them.” How often we read that our Savior was “moved with compassion” toward those who stood before him as he walked through the earth (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 5:19; 8:2; Luke 7:13; 10:33; 15:20).
When our Lord saw the sick, “he was moved with compassion toward them, and healed them.” When he saw these thousands of people out in a desert place, ready to faint for hunger, he was moved with compassion for them and fed them. This great feature in our Lord’s character can never be remembered too often, esteemed too highly, or declared too frequently. The movement of his heart toward the sick and needy before him shows us how tender and affectionate our Savior was and is. How often we read of our Savior’s compassion toward men! These words are not given to fill up space. They are written in the Book of God because the Lord God intends for us to understand that he who is our God is a God full of compassion! God the Holy Spirit intends for us to know and be assured of the tenderness of Christ’s love to his own. His are the mercies and compassions of a man who is himself God. The tender mercies of the eternal God flow to chosen sinners through the God-man Christ Jesus.
The mercies and compassions of our God and Savior are the mercies and compassions of God, for he is “over all, God blessed for ever.” But they are no less the mercies and compassions of the Man Christ Jesus, for, “verily, He took not on him the nature of Angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” In Christ Jesus, the God-man, our Savior, there is both an infinite fulness of mercy and a tenderness of feeling (the tenderness of perfect manhood) toward his redeemed. Being full of compassion, he forgives our iniquity and destroys us not, turns away his anger, and stirs not up all his wrath (Psalm 78:38).
The word, “compassion,” is very expressive. It means, as Spurgeon put it, “His whole being was stirred to its lowest depth, and therefore he proceeded at once to work miracles of mercy among them.” He knew that many in the crowd had no faith in him and no love for him. They followed him because of curiosity, because the crowds went after him, or because they wanted to see a miracle. Yet, our Master pitied them. All were fed. All were relieved. All were filled.
Let no one ever question the gracious character of our God and Savior (Exodus 34:6). He “delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18). Let all who profess to be followers of Christ follow him in his example of mercy and compassion (John 13:25; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:32-5:1; James 1:27). J. C. Ryle rightly urges, “Let us never forget that our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never changes. High in heaven, at God’s right hand, He still looks with compassion on the children of men. He still pities the ignorant, and them that are gone out of the way.”
Being “moved with compassion toward them,” our Savior not only healed the sick and fed them, but also “began to teach them many things.” I have no doubt at all what he taught them. He taught these people the same, blessed gospel he taught everywhere else: their need of grace, the necessity and nature of the new birth, the purpose of his coming, the wonders of redemption by his blood, and the blessedness of repentance and faith.
Here is a place for personal examination. We must not attempt to examine and judge one another; but we must examine and judge ourselves, lest we be judged with the world. Am I like my Savior, tenderly concerned for and moved with compassion toward perishing sinners? Do I really care for eternity bound men and women? Am I willing and ready to meet and minister to the needs of those around me?
These are serious questions. Do not answer them in haste. We ought to look upon ourselves as Paul did, as debtors to all men. We ought to use every means to preach the gospel to eternity bound men and women. We ought to give willingly for the spread of the gospel throughout the world. If the definition of a Christian is “one who is Christ like,” it must be concluded that anyone who is not moved with compassion toward the souls of men is not a Christian.
Verses 35-36 give us another display of Christ’s patience. — “And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.”
These disciples were so much like us! Rather than trusting the Lord to do that which was wisest and best, they presumed that they knew what was wisest and best. Judging by what they could see, that it was well past the time for supper, that the people had nothing to eat, that they were a long way from town, and that the crowd was hungry, they said to he Lord Jesus to send them away to get something to eat. They leaned to their own understanding, rather than trusting in the Lord. Yet, the Lord Jesus was so patient! How much like them we are! Yet, the Lord Jesus is patient!
Christ’s power as God is manifestly displayed in the miracle recorded in verses 37-44.
“He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.”
Our Lord Jesus fed five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two fish. We are distinctly told that the crowd had nothing to eat. There was one boy in the bunch who had just these five loaves and two small fish with him. These were put into the Master’s hands. With them, the Lord Jesus fed about twenty thousand people; and after dinner the disciples took up twelve baskets full of fragments. What a banquet! We would be wise to store up the facts here revealed in our hearts and minds, so that we may remember them in times of need.
He who is our Savior is also God our Creator, one whose power to protect and provide for us is the power of omnipotence. He does not need us to do anything; but he graciously condescends to use such things as we are in the accomplishment of his miracles of mercy.
Those five loaves and two small fish were insignificant. Such a little could never feed such a crowd, but it did! That little boy’s lunch was utterly insignificant, until it was put in the hands of the Son of God. That boy could never have dreamed of feeding twenty thousand people that day, but he did!
That which is given to Christ is never wasted, lost, or even diminished, but only increases. That which was given was very little, but that which was done with it was very great. That boy did not give much; but he gave what he could. He gave all he had at the time; and God honored his gift. There are some lessons to be learned here about giving. — “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10).
“This I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)
“Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:6-10)
“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38)
In verse 42 we are given an example of Christ’s provision. — “And they did all eat, and were filled.” I am told that the Jews, like good Southern ladies, did not consider it a meal unless everyone had all he wanted, and looked upon it as a shameful embarrassment if there was not a good amount left over after everyone had eaten his fill.
Be that as it may, this is certain: — All who feed at Christ’s banqueting table are well fed! His provisions of grace are infinitely bountiful. His redemption is “plenteous redemption.” His righteousness is righteousness enough for our souls. His forgiveness is infinite forgiveness. His peace is “peace that passeth understanding.” The life he gives is abundant, eternal life. His grace is super-abounding grace!
Like his grace, our Savior’s provisions of providence are overflowing with goodness. Robert Hawker wrote…
“If from a few loaves and fishes the Lord Christ made such a supply for so great a multitude, and left such an over plus, think, what infinite resources are with our God, for every occasion, to both the spiritual, and temporal necessities of his chosen? Very blessed is the apostle’s conclusion on this point, when he saith; ‘But my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’”
Those who drink at his well always find it full. Those who feed from his barrel of meal always find bread enough and to spare. Those who fill their vessels from his supply of oil always have their vessels filled. The only vessel that is empty is the vessel that is not brought to him (Psalms 34:7-10; 37:23-25; Luke 22:35). That has been my experience. I have never lacked for anything. Have you? Has he not proved himself faithful to you?
“And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray” (vv. 45-46).
Our Lord constrained his disciples to take a ship to Bethsaida, knowing full well that he was sending them into the eye of a terrible storm. He sent his beloved disciples into the storm deliberately. He came to his disciples and made himself known to them in the storm in a way that they could not have known him otherwise. And he brought them safely through the storm.
When he had sent his disciples away into the storm, the Lord Jesus went up into a mountain to pray. What a picture that is! Child of God, your Savior, your Master, your Lord has sent you through many a storm and will yet send you through many more. Sometimes he acts as if he is going to simply pass you by and leave you in the storm; but he never will. He who sent you into the storm has gone up into the high mountain of heaven. There he prays for you and makes intercession on your behalf before the throne of God (John 17:6-19, 25-26).
This miracle serves as a beautiful and clear allegory of the gospel of God’s grace. We must never attempt to make allegories where the Holy Spirit does not make them. We must never try to make the Scriptures say what they obviously do not say. But just as Paul used Sarah and Hagar as an allegory to teach the distinction between law and grace (Galatians 4), so the Holy Spirit has given us these recorded miracles of Christ to teach us spiritual, gospel truths.
This hungry multitude in a desert place is a good representation of lost mankind in this world. All the sons of Adam are an assembly of perishing souls, lost, helpless, starving, and upon the verge of eternal ruin, without the gospel of Christ. There is but a breath between them and everlasting ruin. Their only hope of salvation is the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:15-16).
The loaves and fishes, so readily despised as being inadequate to meet the needs of so many, might well be looked upon as representing the preaching of the gospel, Jesus Christ and him crucified, which God has ordained for the saving of his elect (1 Corinthians 1:21-23; John 6:33). Like the loaves and fish in this passage, the preaching of the cross of Christ meets all the spiritual needs of sinners in this world.
The disciples’ passing out the loaves and fishes to the crowd shows us the sphere of human instrumentality. I cannot make loaves and fish; but I can bring my lunch to the Master. I cannot multiply the loaves and fish; but I can pass them out. I cannot save anyone or do anything to help anyone get saved; but I can preach the gospel to eternity bound sinners. And what I can do, and have the opportunity and means to do, I am responsible to do. And the same is true of you. Bring your lunch to Christ and watch him work!
The satisfaction of all the crowd and the baskets full leftover, appear to me to be a beautiful representation of the fulness of grace to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. He freely gives all to all who trust him. All who come to him have all they want and need. Finding all in him, we find satisfaction for our souls. Drinking the water that he gives, we never thirst again. Yet, the storehouse of grace is never diminished. In our Father’s house there is “bread enough and to spare!”
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