Bread for a hungry world. Mark 6:30–44.
- O. Palmer Robertson
- Read Time: 1 min
An unexpected consequence of the war in Ukraine is that tens of thousands of people will starve to death for lack of bread in many countries in Africa and around the world that import grain from Ukraine and Russia. Jesus anticipated these kinds of tragedies and called them birthpangs of the regeneration of the new heavens and the new earth (Mark 13:8). These circumstances raise questions that have no easy answer. Yet in the scriptures, some insights provide light on a difficult subject. Consider the lessons arising from Jesus’ feeding the five thousand.
1. Jesus himself experienced the pangs of hunger. Just before the incident of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus and his disciples were so overwhelmed by crowds coming to him that they could not even find time to eat (Mark 6:31). So Jesus himself along with his disciples knew firsthand what it meant to feel the pains of hunger. He tried to free his disciples for a time of rest from this incessant push of needy people, but the crowd preceded their boat trip across a portion of the sea.
2. When he could not escape the great crowd, Jesus had compassion. He did not express frustration and tell them to go away so he could get some rest. Instead, he had compassion. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. Sheep must be led to green pastures. Otherwise, they will have no food. How did he manifest his compassion? Just as Jesus first forgave the paralytic of his sins before healing his body (Mark 2:5, 9-11), so now he first began to teach the people many things before feeding them (Mark 6:34). A person may gain the whole world and all it provides, but what does it profit if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul (Mark 8:36)? The greatest service you can render to a needy world is to communicate to them the truth about God the Creator and Redeemer, their own sin, and the salvation that comes through trusting in Jesus the Son of God.
3. Practical disciples. The twelve disciples saw that the day was ending. Evening was coming.. The people would need food. So they offer a practical suggestion. Send them away into the surrounding circle of villages so they can buy for themselves something to eat. They offer a practical solution to a pressing problem.
4. Jesus lifts the disciples’ eyes beyond human resources. But he does so by challenging them to be the instrument of divine provision. Jesus emphasizes: YOU GIVE! You give them something to eat. Two words receive emphasis. First, YOU are the ones to give them food to eat. No doubt Jesus could have created all the food needed. But he required that the disciples search out every last resource they might have for this very large task. The same applies today. Tens of thousands of people will be starving in many countries over the next few years. It’s the same question God asked Moses as he was commissioning him to deliver his people from the bondage to Egypt. “What is in your hand?” (Exod. 4:2) was God’s way of telling Moses that he must employ all the resources available to him in this glorious process of deliverance. All Moses had in his hand was an old wooden stick. But it proved to be the instrument for the salvation of God’s people. As in the case of all the other needs of the world, the Lord Jesus will ask you the question, “What is in your hand?”
The second word that Jesus emphasizes is, GIVE. The disciples had said, “LET THEM GO AND BUY.” But Jesus says “give.” Give them bread to eat. However you assess the matter of the needs of the world, you must conclude with the understanding that every provision for sustaining life is a gift of God. It is an undeserved gift. Just as Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden for their sin, so today everyone is a sinner that does not deserve to eat anything of the fruit of the garden of God. Instead, everyone deserves to die. The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23).
5. Jesus works in an orderly fashion. First, he requires that his disciples make an assessment of their resources. Then he requires the people to sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties on the green grass. By this method, Jesus underscores the fact that he is the fulfillment of all the images of grace in the old covenant scriptures. Moses had also divided the people in groups of fifties and hundreds (Exod. 18:25). By ordering this arrangement, Jesus was presenting himself as the second Moses who would provide for the needs of his people in an orderly fashion. The arrangement is the same today. But even though it was in a wilderness, as in the case of Moses, God also manifested his grace in that the people sat on “green grass” provided by the Lord (Mark 6:35, 39). Further order is seen in the fact that Jesus gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the people. He delegated responsibility to his disciples. A part of God’s outworking of his gracious plan involves the provision of people with administrative gifts. Never resent or envy people in positions of authority. Theirs is a role of service.
6. God’s gracious provision of bread for life was enough and more than enough. They ALL ate. They all were SATISFIED. The one hundred who were fed under the provisions of the old covenant scriptures had the same experience. They all ate and they all were satisfied (2 Ki. 4:42–44). Not only was there enough; there was more than enough. Jesus’ disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers, symbolizing a complete adequacy for the twelve tribes constituting the new Israel of God.
7. This action of Jesus anticipates bread for the world. His broken body is bread enough for the world. Jesus took the bread. Jesus blessed the bread. Jesus broke the bread. Jesus gave the bread (Mark 6:41). These actions intentionally anticipate the same procedure at the last supper when Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread (Mark 14:22). Only on this later occasion, Jesus declared that it was his own body and blood that he was distributing. It is his ultimate act of graciously providing bread for the world.
In this coming crisis, many people of our world will face starvation. For the next few years, no disciple of Christ can ignore this very real challenge. At the same time, always remember that with just a crumb and a cup, people all over the world can simultaneously feast on the body and blood of Christ that will assure them of everlasting life and blessedness in his coming kingdom. As you do all you can with the resources you have, remember that the first response of Jesus when he looked with compassion on the people was that he taught them. He communicated to them the message of eternal salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.