Read: Mark 8:1-13
Another large crowd gathers to hear the amazing teaching from Jesus. It seems that people are predisposed to gathering to hear words of wisdom or to be challenged to improve or simply to learn about something. Our quest for knowledge is wired into our DNA, some more than others, but all have a desire to learn.
I have to believe that Jesus is not your typical orator climbing on a precipice to make a point. Quite the contrary, I think He is encouraged by the people because of His humble approach to teaching coupled with incredible depth of wisdom. Of course He does have quite the credentials to support this notion, but the people gathering in this story don’t know how this all plays out, they just know of his reputation and after listening to Him speak, they want more and more.
In this instance, the people have been captivated for three days!
“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” Mark 8:2-3
Jesus instructs His disciples to feed the people, again! Their apparent amnesia is interesting, “can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” They gather seven loaves of bread and a few fish, obviously enough to feed the masses, right? Jesus blesses the bread and fish and the crowd is miraculously fed.
Given the context of this story in Mark, Jesus and the disciples are somewhere in the Decapolis, primarily dominated by Gentiles, though we read in a moment that there are Pharisees policing the crowd, so there are Jews present as well.
The first miracle of feed 5,000 (plus women and children) occurs in predominantly Jewish territory (Mark 6:30-44). This miracle is unique in that it is covered in all four gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry.
Feeding 4,000 (plus women and children) who are mostly Gentiles is significant and distinctly different! Mark seems to make the point that Jesus is wants to extend the gospel beyond the chosen ones. In addition to healing the Gentile women’s daughter and the man who couldn’t hear or speak, Jesus chooses to involve the disciples in sharing with this large population.
He could have had manna or quail fall from heaven, but, as with the first instance, He has the disciples serve the people. What He does and how He does it is important. What He does is feed a lot of people because He feels compassion. How He does it in mysterious, but requires the disciples to get involved, they don’t sit back and watch the miracle, they are direct participants in the event.
The mere fact that so many are gathered to hear from a Jewish teacher is significant all by itself, but this doesn’t sit well with the Pharisees:
The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. Mark 8:11-13
I like to think that Jesus sighed because the Pharisees simply can’t believe what just happened. Surely they remember that Elisha feed 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44), but it seems they can’t extend that concept to feeding so many, let alone non-Jewish people. Somehow they miss the miracle, are confused by His teaching, and come up with this great idea: ask Jesus for a sign. He simply dismisses them and gets in a boat to leave. Done.
Everyone who receives Christ has within them the dwelling presence of the Spirit. With that, each are given particular Spiritual Gifts for building up the body of Christ. Every Christ follower is a minister. We all participate, just like the disciples did in this narrative. And just like them, there are times, perhaps more often than not, that we do the work of Christ without completely understanding what’s going to happen. In the case above, watching seven loaves of bread feed so many was amazing. In our present day, sharing the gospel with one seems insignificant, but God can do amazing things with the smallest amount of faith!