Satisfaction Found in the Wilderness
“In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away.” (Mark 8:1-9)
Once again our Savior is seen here miraculously feeding a hungry multitude in the wilderness. Here he fed four thousand men with just seven loaves of bread and a few pieces of fish. A similar miracle is recorded in Mark 6 and this same miracle was recorded by Matthew in Matthew 15.
The Son of God knew (and knows) the heart of man. He knew that caviling skeptics would arise in every age who would deny his miraculous works, works that displayed his divinity with undeniable clarity. Therefore, he repeated this great miracle in a very public manner, before thousands of witnesses. He has fixed it so that the only way you can read the Bible and still go to hell in unbelief is by jumping over walls of stumbling blocks. Yet, men far prefer to explain away the very existence of God by the most ludicrous arguments imaginable, than believe the Word of God, trust a crucified Substitute, and bow to a sovereign Lord.
Satisfaction for Our Souls
“And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” (v. 4) — In this wilderness we call life, in this world of sin, sorrow and suffering, and in the world to come, in that great wilderness called eternity, there is no satisfaction to be found for our immortal souls, except that satisfaction which is found in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.
Let me find nothing satisfying until I find Christ in it. I know that nothing can be dissatisfying, no matter how unpleasant and painful it is in itself, if I can see Christ in it. A conscious awareness of his presence sweetens every earthly bitterness. The love-tokens of his favor increases every joy. The sweet savor of his blessed name is as ointment poured forth, a spikenard very precious to perfume the lives of all who trust him. May God be pleased to make Christ the satisfaction of your heart and soul and of mine forever. Let us find satisfaction in nothing except our Savior! He alone leads his chosen to “fountains of living water” and feeds us with the “bread of life.” He makes his flesh to be meat indeed and his blood to be drink indeed, and he promises, that feeding upon him, we shall never hunger or thirst after the unsatisfying things of time and sense again (Revelation 7:17; John 6:51; 4:15).
“The multitude was very great” (v. 1). — There is, in the multitudes who followed our Savior, though they never knew his grace, a clear demonstration of that false faith, by which multitudes deceive themselves. These vast multitudes followed our Master because of the loaves and fishes. They had either seen or heard about his miraculous powers and bountiful provisions. Like these multitudes, many today take up a profession of faith and follow Christ in this world, sometimes for many years, who never know him. Some do so because they imagine they have seen a supernatural vision, or miracle. Some do so because they have been convinced of the historic facts of our Lord’s earthly accomplishments. Some simply continue in the religious traditions in which they have been reared. Many take up a profession of religion for purely carnal, covetous reasons. Many more do so at a time of emotional crisis. But the vast majority of those who profess faith in Christ prove in time that they never knew Christ.
True, saving faith is much, much more than a religious experience, doctrinal position and form of godliness. True faith essentially involves three things.
Matthew Henry wrote, “True zeal makes nothing of hardships in the way of duty. They that have a full feast for their souls may be content with slender provision for their bodies.” However, it is not at all unusual for false piety to produce the same outward zeal. Religion without zeal is certainly false. But outward zeal is no true evidence of inward grace. Grace produces love, kindness, compassion, and care.
Frequently, those who are deceived with a false faith will endure great hardships to keep up their profession. These people underwent a great deal of difficulty in following Christ. They were with him three days, and had nothing to eat. That was hard service. Probably, there were some who brought some food with them from home. But by this time it was all gone. And they were a long way from home in the wilderness. Yet, they continued with Christ, and did not speak of leaving him.
“I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far” (vv. 2-3).
Our all glorious Christ is a Savior full of compassion for needy souls. He has a compassion for those who are in need. As a man, he was the most caring of men. Yet, he has a special, particular concern for those that are reduced to need because of their zeal and devotion to him. He said, “I have compassion on the multitude.” John Gill observed…
“Christ is a compassionate Saviour both of the bodies and souls of men: he had compassion on the souls of this multitude, and therefore had been teaching them sound doctrine and he had compassion on the bodies of many of them, and had healed them of their diseases; and his bowels yearned towards them all.”
Those whom the proud Pharisees looked upon with disdain, the Son of God looked upon with pity and tenderness. We ought to do the same. Our Lord knew that the vast majority of those before him were hypocrites. Yet, he was moved with compassion toward them. He felt tenderly toward them. Thus, by example, he teaches us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. I fear any form of religion that makes people hard, callous, unkind, and uncaring. Whatever it is, it is not the religion of Christ.
Yet, we must never fail to observe that our Lord’s primary concern here and in all things is for his elect among the mixed multitude. While the multitudes often have a temporal benefit from his mercy, his mercy is designed for his elect. Paul tells us that he is the Savior of all men, but that he is specially, particularly, and distinctly the Savior of his elect. With that in mind, he said, “They have been with me three days, and have nothing to eat.”
Our Master will see that we lack nothing by following him. Whatever losses we may incur, whatever hardships we may endure, whatever sacrifices we may be compelled to make because of our faith in, love for, and devotion to him will be taken care of by our Master. We shall lose nothing in this world and nothing in the world to come. He has promised, “Them that honour me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30), and “They that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing” (Psalms 34:10).
The Lord Jesus said, “If I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way.” He knows and considers our frame. If we seek to glorify him, we shall be fed by him. He considered that many of these men came from afar, that they were a long way from home. He would not send them home fasting. It is not his way to send those away empty who look to him for bread.
“And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” (v.4) — Here we are reminded of the terrible weakness of our faith. Like these poor disciples, we quickly forget the wondrous things we have seen and experienced; and, forgetting them, our hearts are filled with foul unbelief. How weak we are! Yet, Our Lord’s all-sufficiency and grace is made perfect in our weakness. That is what the Master tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9. — “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Our unbelief and sin is often the black backdrop against which the diamonds of our Lord’s mercy, love, and grace shine forth most brilliantly. Our unfaithfulness makes his faithfulness all the more radiant.
I do not suggest for a moment, “Let us sin that grace may abound.” But I am saying that our unbelief and sin, the sins and unbelief of God’s elect are graciously overruled by our great and glorious Savior to make his grace shine forth most brightly in us forever.
These disciples could not imagine how so many men should be satisfied with bread in the wilderness, though they had seen it before. That therefore which they considered impossible, must have appeared all the more glorious when it was done.
The fact is, — our blessed Savior usually intervenes at the time of utmost extremity. Christ’s time to act for the relief of his people is when things are brought to the last extremity. He made provision for these men when they were at the point of fainting (v. 3). When they were reduced to absolute dependence upon him, he stepped in for their salvation. That is always the time when mercy comes. When we are completely helpless, he steps in to deliver us from trouble. When we are at our wits end he steps in to save.
Our Savior’s storehouse of grace is inexhaustible. He performed virtually the same miracle twice before, and seems to have done so with a specific purpose in mind. He wanted to show that he is ever gracious and infinitely bountiful in grace and power. He is still the same today. His throne is a throne of grace. He invites us to come, as often as we have need, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Notice this, too. In the first miracle he took five loaves and two small fish and used them to feed five thousand men. Here he takes seven loaves and a few small pieces of fish to feed four thousand. Why? I think he intends for us to understand three things specifically.
In our Father’s house there is bread enough and to spare. — “So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets” (v. 8). They all had a full meal. Not one left the scene desiring more. As John Trapp wrote, “They did eat to satiety, as men use to do at feasts, where the tables seemed to sweat with variety.” And, spiritually, there is such a fulness in Christ, which he communicates to all who come to him, that from it we receive, and “grace for grace” (John. 1:16). Those who live upon Christ shall always have bread enough and to spare and should never fear being brought to need. — “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread,” neither for their bodies or their souls. — “For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 37:25; 107:9).
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