One of our great weaknesses as we live our lives is that we do not know exactly what we need. Some of us are fully aware of that. We are going through situations and trials that make us say, “I just can’t see at all what I need to do or what needs to happen in this situation.” Perhaps we’re at a point of desperation, thinking we can’t get much lower when we must admit that we don’t even know what our need is.
After all, surely it’s at least one rung higher on the ladder of strength to know your need. There was a cartoon I watched growing up that always said, “Knowing is half the battle.” So, surely at least knowing your weakness is at least the first step on the ladder. But, some of us must admit in our current situation that we’re not even there.
And the Bible acknowledges that we dwell there often in the midst of our suffering. After Paul tells the Roman believers that they are called to suffer with Christ, he then acknowledges in Romans 8:26 that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, and then he defines our weakness, writing, “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought.” If prayer is crying out for God to help, Paul acknowledges that sometimes we don’t even know what to cry out to God for. We want to ask him to help us, but we aren’t exactly sure what we need.
I think Mark 6:31-56 is written to help us understand what we need. Maybe we could say that these verses are written to remind us who we need. And if we are believers this morning, we can say that these verses remind us of who we have – who has committed himself to us – who is our redeemer and savior.
Mark 6:31-56 tells us three stories where the people find themselves in difficult situations. There are people in a desolate place who have nothing to eat, the disciples on the sea who are battling the windy conditions, and people in the marketplaces who are sick. Each of these groups are facing a struggle bigger than themselves. Each of these groups might articulate what their needs are. The first group might acknowledge they need food, the second that they need the wind to calm down, and the third that they need their health restored. And interestingly, in each case, they have that perceived need met. Jesus miraculously provides food, calms the wind, and heals the sick.
But in the midst of providing these things, he’s giving them something else. He’s revealing to them in the midst of all of these miracles exactly who he is because that’s their greatest need. They need to know who he is and let that affect everything in their lives. And it’s easy to lose track of who our Lord is as we’re walking through darkness.
Therefore, this morning, I want us to look at these three stories and see what is our great need this morning, namely, to remember who our Lord is. Who is Jesus of Nazareth? This text answers this question again and again, and I want us to see again who he is and consider how that should affect how we live.
First, we’re going to see from the story of the feeding of the 5,000 that . . .
Jesus is the good shepherd who provides for his people (vv. 31-44)
In Mark 6:31-44 we read of the well-known story of the feeding of the 5,000. It’s one of those miracles that every gospel writer records. And it begins with Jesus leading his disciples away to an area where they might rest. The people had been coming and going so consistently that the disciples had not even had a chance to eat. So, Jesus leads them away to rest, be restored, and be alone for a bit in a desolate place.
The problem, however, is that it was hard to escape the people. And as people saw where they were heading, they actually ran ahead from all the towns so that when Jesus and the disciples arrived at this desolate place, there were already multitudes of people there. In fact, we know that there were 5,000 men present – without women and children.
But instead of Jesus looking upon the multitudes and being angry that they just can’t get away from them, he looks upon them with another emotion. He looks upon them and has compassion because, as Mark says, “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
It’s as if they were running here and there without an understanding of what to do, who they were, what was their purpose, or what was their great need. In fact, even their coming to Jesus doesn’t necessarily indicate that they know their need of him. John tells us in his gospel that after Jesus fed the 5,000, they tried to make him king by force. They were showing up in part because they thought they needed Jesus to overcome their greatest enemy – Rome. They were like sheep who had no understanding. So Jesus, in his compassion, “began to teach them many things” (v. 34). He was no doubt teaching them about himself so that they might understand that he was their great need.
And as he’s teaching the disciples come along with another issue. They ask Jesus to send the people away so that they might get food. Jesus asks the disciples to give them something to eat, but the disciples note the impossibility of such a task. They only have 200 denarii, and no matter how great a sum of money that is, it would be insufficient to feed such a crowd.
Then, the miracle happens. Jesus has them go get loaves of bread and fish. They come back with five loaves and two fish, and Jesus has all the people sit down in groups of fifties and hundreds. Then, he blesses the food, breaks the bread, and gives it to his disciples to distribute. And not only do they end up having enough so that all eat and are satisfied, but they even take up twelve baskets full of leftovers.
But let’s ask this question for a second – what is this story showing us? Is it showing Jesus’ powers extend to the ability to multiply fish and bread? Well, it certainly does that. Does it show us that Jesus can defy the laws of nature? Well, it certainly does that as well. But I think more than showing what Jesus is able to do, this story is meant to reveal to us who Jesus is. And what it shows us is that he is the good shepherd of his people.
Now, I say this first of all because Jesus himself sees the people as a group of sheep without a shepherd as he encounters the multitude. But he doesn’t see this and then turn to the twelve and say, “This people really need someone to care for them.” Rather, he’s the one who begins meeting their needs. He teaches them, and he feeds them. He is acting as a shepherd to these people who are like wandering sheep. He also will explicitly say in John 10 that he is the good shepherd. But I think he’s showing us that truth here as well.
Notice the elements that are provided in this text that also occur in Psalm 23. He leads the disciples away to a place where they might rest and be restored. He even has then sit down on green pastures, we’re told in verse 39. He then feeds them so that they are “satisfied” (v. 42).
Now, keep all that in mind as you hear just the first few verses of Psalm 23. David writes, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3). Jesus acts as a shepherd. He satisfies the people. He makes them lie down. He has led the disciples there for rest. And we can assume that as he teaches them, he teaches them of righteousness for his name’s sake.
This is significant not only because the one who is said to be the shepherd in Psalm 23 is Yahweh – meaning that if Jesus is this shepherd then he is God. It is also significant because it provides a picture of how the Lord wants us to understand him in relation to us. He is our shepherd.
And right now, in the midst of great trial, this is no doubt something your soul seriously needs to hear and what your mind needs to be reminded of. After all, Psalm 23 does not suggest that the shepherd will not let the sheep go through times of great difficulty. In fact, he specifically says that we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord tells us that to follow him means that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross (an act you would do as you walked toward your execution), and follow him. The Lord definitely calls us to painful and difficult situations.
But he also reminds us that he is with us in those situations. The good shepherd is with his people even though they walk through a place where they feel all alone – even in the valley of the shadow of death. He provides what we need.
Just consider how frequently and consistently the Lord reminds us that he’ll provide our needs. For a sample:
Concerning our physical needs, he says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
That is, as God calls you to a good work, he’ll make grace abound so that in all things and at all times you’ll be able to abound in every good work.
Paul tells the Philippians, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
And he doesn’t mind asking us to do good works that are utterly beyond our abilities. I mean, why does he tell the disciples to feed the 5,000? He does, doesn’t he? In verse 37 he says, “You give them something to eat.” And they respond by noting they can’t do it. Why does he do that? I can think of no other answer except to show them that he will use them to do things that they are completely inadequate for and that his ability will not be limited by their inability.
So, perhaps right now the Lord has you in a situation where you feel your inability, inadequacy, and insufficiency. Maybe he has you there because he wants you to cry out in desperation so that he can remind you who he is. He is the good shepherd. He is your good shepherd. And whatever you are walking through right now, perhaps struggling in obedience to him, he is with you, is compassionate toward you, will provide for you, and will reveal who he is through you. Maybe your greatest need right now is not some ability you wish you had or resource you think you need. Maybe your greatest need is to remember that the Lord is your shepherd and to cry out to him.
Second, we see from Jesus walking on the water that . . .
Jesus is the God-man who shows his power in this world (45-52)
Mark tells us that after the miracle of feeding the 5,000, Jesus “immediately made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side” (v. 45). And Jesus went up to the mountain alone to pray.
Now, let me just make an aside here. I don’t think this is the main point of these verses, but it’s hard for me to read verse 46 without recognizing a way that we, as husbands, might better serve our wives. There’s a reason it’s probably not good for a mom of young children to wear a WWJD bracelet. And here it is. What would be the answer to that bracelet in the middle of the day when you’ve been busy dealing with little kids all day, haven’t had a chance to eat, and feel like you haven’t had a chance even to breathe? Well, here, Jesus made his disciples get in a boat and leave him so that he might pray. And I’m no legal expert, but I believe that would actually be illegal for moms to do with their young children. So, moms, you can quote me on this, “You should not put your kids in a boat and send them away when you have been working all day, are worn out, and haven’t even had time to eat.”
But it is a good reminder that as husbands we need to be making provisions when and where possible for our wives to have some nourishment in prayer. It just may not be available throughout the day. So, as much as it’s good to make sure they have time to rest, or go be with friends, or go do some leisure activity without the kids, it’s also good to make sure if you can to provide them a window for a time to nourish their souls in prayer. Now, back to the text.
After a time of prayer, as evening came, Jesus saw that the disciples were making headway painfully because they were fighting against the wind. This was a war with the wind just to make any progress. So, Jesus starts walking across the sea, on the water. And the text says that though Jesus was going to pass them by, they see him, and they assume he’s a ghost. After all, physical beings, so one would think, would not be able to walk on water.
But Jesus assures them that it is he, and he gets into the boat, and the wind ceases. And Mark tells us, “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves but their hearts were hardened (vv. 51-52).”
Now, this leaves us a question, doesn’t it? What didn’t they understand? I mean, they would have understood from that that he can multiply fish and bread. Were they supposed to learn something else? Yes they were. They should have understood through his dramatic lesson that he is the good shepherd, that he is God. He is the God-man. And since they missed it the first time, here was another chance. After all, it is God alone who is pictured as ruling over the chaotic sea in such a way that he can walk upon it.
In fact, I think this episode is to remind us of Job 9:1-12, but before we read it, let me tell you why I think we’re to have this text in mind. There are two reasons. The first reason I think we’re to consider this text is because it speaks of God in contrast to mere man as being able to walk upon the sea. And the second is because of this note that Jesus planned on passing by the disciples. After all, isn’t that weird? Why would he do that? Why would Mark give us that detail without telling us why in the world Jesus would just plan on strolling right by them without stopping to address them?
Perhaps he includes that note because he wants to point us to Job 9:1-12. Just listen to these verses. We read:
“Then Job answered and said:
‘Truly I know that it is so:
But how can a man be in the right before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
He is wise in heart and mighty in strength
—who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they know it not,
when he overturns them in his anger,
who shakes the earth out of its place,
and its pillars tremble;
who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond searching out,
and marvelous things beyond number.
Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’”
In Job 9:1-12, Job declares that God is utterly greater than man. Man cannot contend with God. God removes mountains, shakes the earth, commands the sun and the starts, stretches out the heavens, made the constellations, and walks upon the waves of the sea. Furthermore, Job notes that though God passes by him, Job does not see him. God is both hidden and yet reveals who he is through what he has done. Maybe it is by declaring that the one walking on water intended on passing by them that Mark is showing us that Jesus is this one spoken of in Job 9. He is the one who walks on the water and is over creation. He is the one who passes men by with his great power and yet is hidden to so many. I believe that Mark 6:45-52 is showing us again what the disciples did not get with the miracle of the loaves, namely, that Jesus is no one less than the God-man.
And since he is the God-man, nothing is too difficult for him. He has all power. So, if the one who calls you to talks that are greater than you, who has compassion on you, who cares for you, and who provides for you in the God-man, then do not doubt that he will indeed accomplish in and through you all that he desires.
He is no powerless shepherd who has compassion but no power. He is the one who walks on the sea. Therefore, though you may feel like you’re drowning in the midst of what God has called you to do, look to him this morning and remember, he is the God-man. We may want our weaknesses to go away.
Paul did, didn’t he? He prayed for the thorn in the flesh to be removed three times. He wanted his circumstances to change. But God was doing something through that weakness of Paul’s. Paul said that God answered him that his grace was sufficient for him and that God would show his power through Paul’s weakness. I have no doubt that this is the Lord’s desire in our circumstances as well. After all the God who was pleased to reduce Gideon’s army to 300 and had Elijah pour water over the altar before consuming it in fire likes to show up through weak vessels. Cry out to him. Trust in him. And ask for the one who walks on water to demonstrate his power and carry out his purposes in your trying circumstances, for he is pleased to do it.
Finally, we see that . . .
Jesus is the savior who comes to deliver us from our sin (53-56)
These last verses of our text are a basic summary it seems like. After all, Mark is no longer as specific on the details of what Jesus and the disciples are up to, and he doesn’t go into too much detail about the nature of the miracles here. He simply notes that after Jesus and the disciples got to the shore the people immediately recognized him, and they began bringing all their sick to him and laying them in the marketplace. And every one of them, as he or she touched the fringe of his garment were made well. This seems to be simply a summary of Jesus continuing to work in power.
However, I think it’s also a summary of something else, namely, the people’s inability to perceive clearly who Jesus is. Mark says that they recognized him in verse 54, but there is a limitation to him. They recognized him as the one who could make the sick well, but they missed that he was coming as the savior. In fact, the miracles of healing were always to point to the fact that Jesus was able to deliver the people from their greatest need – sin. After all, sickness is only an effect of sin coming into the world.
On Wednesday night, I sat in the living room with my kids, reading to them about what Jesus did on Wednesday of the week of his life leading up to Easter Sunday. And I mentioned that people had conspired to kill him and Judas had agreed to betray him. Then I said, “So it seems like everything is going wrong. Jesus is going to get killed. Is God’s plan going to work?” And Michael spoke up and said, “The reason Jesus came was to die. The people might have thought he came to heal them from their sickness, but he came to die for their sins.” And I said, “That’s exactly right,” thinking to myself, “I think that’s what the people at the end of Mark 6 didn’t see. They recognized him, but they didn’t really know who is was. That was their great need, realizing who Jesus was – he is the savior who delivers us from our sins.
On a Friday outside of Jerusalem, all kinds of people chanted for Jesus to be crucified. After all, they knew who he was. He was the one who claimed to be God himself. He claimed to be able to forgive sins. So, they judged him guilty of sin and worthy of God’s judgment, nailing him to a tree and watching him drown in his own blood.
But on that Sunday morning, God revealed in a powerful way that they in fact didn’t realize who he was. As God raised Jesus from the dead, he overturned the guilty verdict pronounced by the people and declared that he is indeed both Lord and Christ. In fact, God showed that he had died in order to pay for their sins and was now raised in order to justify any who would trust in him for the forgiveness of sins.
So, on this Easter Sunday morning, let’s not let our focus turn to a number of lesser things. Let us turn our focus to Jesus – the Good Shepherd, God-man, and Savior – whose provision, power, and redemption we so desperately need. Amen.