The Good Shepherd
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer for Illumination:
O LORD God, we do not live by bread alone, but by your Word. As we spend time on this passage, give us insight into your Word. Help us to know it. Help us to love it. Help us to live it out. O LORD, may this Word sustain us, fill us, and cause us to grow in you. In Christ. Amen.
“You say you want a revolution, well you know…” Those are the opening words to the Beatles’ “Revolution”. That song came out in 1968. The 20th century was a century of revolution. In 1917, there was a revolution in Russia. The Bolshevik movement overthrew the Tsarist government and instituted a communist government under Lenin.
Then in 1966, there was the Cultural Revolution in China. Mao Zedong led a revolution to remove all western and capitalistic elements from the communist government. And in America, there was the sexual revolution in the ‘60s.
Maybe you’re wondering what revolutions have to do with a story about Jesus miraculously feeding a great crowd. So often when we read this passage, we only focus on the miracle and miss the greater point. This passage contains more than Jesus miraculously feeding a crowd. It is not less than that. But it is more than just a feeding. It’s a passage where Mark makes clear Jesus is the good shepherd; that he is the one greater-than Moses.
As we examine this passage, we’ll see the desire for a revolution and the unexpected revolution of Jesus.
The Desire for a Revolution
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.” The apostles have just returned from their mission. Jesus had sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God, calling people to repent of their sins and believe in the gospel. They have been ministering for some time, maybe a couple of months.
Now, the mission has ended. They have returned to Jesus and they tell him about all they have taught. They told Jesus about how the shared the gospel with various people in all of these towns in Galilee. And they tell him about all of the people they healed and the demons they had cast out. They tell Jesus about how the mission he sent them on showed that the Kingdom of God was coming.
Even though they have returned to Jesus, the disciples continue to minister alongside of him. “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat”. Their fame had spread and many people were coming to them and going. There were so many coming and at all hours, that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat. They were working nonstop.
So Jesus tells the disciples “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while”. Maybe your translation says “quiet place”. The word is actually desert. Jesus is calling the disciples to take time and go to the desert. The desert is place where God teaches his people, he corrects them, refreshes them, and prepares to send them out.
Go and read the Old Testament and you’ll see that. When God redeems Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he takes them to the desert. And there he teaches them his ways. Israel had been enslaved for 400 years and was in need of being taught who God is and what his ways are. When they fell into sin, he corrected them. He restored their spirits in the desert. And then he sent them out with Joshua.
One of the places where that is most obvious is 1 Kings 19. Elijah the prophet has just proved that the Baals and Ashteroth were nothing. Elijah is being hunted by Ahab and his wife Jezebel. So he flees to the desert. There God teaches Elijah that he is sovereign. There God corrects Elijah because Elijah thought he was the only true worshipper of God. There God refreshes him and renews his spirit. And after those things, God sends Elijah to continue ministering.
If you feel as though you are in the wilderness, know that God is using that time to teach you, to correct you, to refresh you, and to eventually send you out on his mission. Hopefully this time on Sundays is a time where God teaches you his Word; that this is a time each and every week where his Word is made alive to you and for you. Hopefully this time on Sundays is a time where God correct you; that this is a time where he corrects you so that your thinking and acting is more in line with his commands. Hopefully this time on Sundays is a restful time; a time when you can rest from your strivings and work, a time where you can be refreshed and renewed in your spirit. Hopefully this time on Sundays encourages you to join in God’s mission of proclaiming his gospel to the world. Being a disciple of Jesus means that you are taught by him, corrected by him, rest in him, and are sent by him.
Jesus called the disciples to get away and rest a while. But their departure wasn’t secret. “And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”.
The crowd recognizes Jesus and the disciples getting into the boat, figure out they’re going to the Galilean desert, and beat them there. And when Jesus sees them, he had “compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. We read that and romantic images of shepherds come into our mind.
In the Old Testament image of shepherd is used to describe the political and military leaders. When Moses prays to God for someone to succeed him, he asks that God provide a leader so that the people are not like sheep without a shepherd. David is often referred to a shepherd and many of his successors continue to use that image to depict themselves.
A few moments ago Jan read from Ezekiel 34. In that passage, God condemns the priests and the kings of Judah for how they failed to properly lead and guide his people. He condemns them as shepherds and says that he will eventually provide a good shepherd, one who will lead his people in his ways.
And the people think that Jesus might be the shepherd to lead them and free them from Rome. That’s a little hard to see here in Mark but if you look in the other gospels, they further explain this miracle, John especially. In John 6, you’ll see the people intend to make Jesus king. These people are probably picturing someone like Judas the Galilean who founded the Zealots. The Zealots were a group of Jews who wanted to overthrow the Roman government and install a Jewish king. They were a militia group. And the place where they were most supported was in the Galilee, especially in the desert places. They have come thinking that Jesus might be the one to overthrow Rome and re-establish Jewish rule. They want a revolution.
The Unexpected Revolution of Jesus
Jesus sees the crowd and he has compassion on them. The word compassion is an intensive word. It’s a word that has a root in vicera. Jesus feels for the people deep down in his gut. That is how strong the compassion he had for the people.
He had compassion on them because “they were like sheep without a shepherd”. He recognized that they were didn’t have a leader. The Pharisees and Sadducees had abandoned them; they were more interested in their position and power. Herod was no lover of God. The leaders had abandoned them. They were sheep without a shepherd. And so Jesus had compassion on them.
He had compassion on them because he knew they were looking for the wrong type of leader. They were looking for a leader like Judas the Galilean. They were looking at history and thinking they needed a shepherd like one they had 30 years prior. But Jesus knew they needed a shepherd like one from two thousand years prior. He knew they needed a shepherd like Moses.
The compassion he felt for the people showed in that Jesus began to shepherd the people. But he didn’t do it like Simon the Galilean preparing the people to overthrow a government. Jesus leads an unexpected revolution by showing that he is one greater-than-Moses. We see that in what he does. Like Moses, Jesus teaches and feeds his people.
“And he began to teach them many things”. Undoubtedly he explained many things concerning the gospel and the Kingdom of God. The gospel is life-giving. When he was being tempted by the Devil, Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). He was teaching them the gospel and how it renews and regenerates people. He was teaching them and applying the gospel to their lives.
Jesus spent all day teaching the crowd. “And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’
Jesus taught straight through lunch. And the crowd – lest of all the disciples – were getting hungry. They were in the Galilean desert; far from any restaurants; far from their homes. So the disciples suggest sending them home so they can return home before dark and have a meal.
But Jesus responded to them that they are to give them something to eat. The disciples respond in shock. “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” This crowd is huge. Verse 44 says that there were five thousand men there. That probably means there was closer to twenty thousand people listening to Jesus teach in the desert. That’s a lot of people. And it would take a lot of money to feed them all. It would take more than 2/3 of a year’s wages and the disciples didn’t have that.
Jesus insisted that they feed them. The disciples ask around and find that a little boy has five loaves and two fish. That’s not a lot. That was probably intended to be a snack for the boy and his family. The two fish that the boy has are probably small pickled fish, maybe a bit larger than a sardine.
Sometimes people who deny the miraculous events in the bible say that this is just a miracle of generosity. They say that the people were hiding their lunches and unwilling to share. Then they saw this little boy give up his snack and were moved to do the same.
That’s not what happened. The only food they had were these five loaves and two little fish. Jesus had the people sit in groups of hundreds and fifties. “And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish”.
Jesus blessed, broke, and gave the crowd bread. He fed them. And it wasn’t that the people each took a little bit of bread like we do when we do communion by intinction. They ate and were satisfied. They probably had two or three helpings of the bread and fish before they were fully satisfied.
Don’t you see the similarities to Moses? Moses shepherded God’s people for forty years. And in those years he taught them and he fed them. Right after leading the people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses gave the people the word of the LORD. Israel passed through the Red Sea and journeyed toward Mt. Sinai. There Moses gave God’s people the Ten Commandments; he gave them the law.
Then as they wandered the desert for forty years, Moses gave them manna, bread from heaven. He fed God’s people.
Here we have the one greater-than-Moses. Instead of teaching the law which leads to death, Jesus proclaims the gospel which leads to life. Here Jesus gives bread that truly satisfies, bread that will fill so that whoever eats of it will never hunger again (John 6:35).
We know that because later in Mark’s gospel Jesus blessed, broke, and gave bread to his people. On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus “took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’”
The revolution that Jesus brings is completely and utterly unexpected. Every other revolution wants to be the dominant group in society. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia wanted to overthrow the royal family and put their group at the top of society. The Cultural Revolution in China wanted to overthrow Western and capitalist groups so that the Maoist group could be at the top of society.
But the revolution that Jesus leads is completely and utterly different. Its values are upside compared to the values of other revolutions. Every other revolution says, “You die so that I can live”. Jesus says, “I’ll die so that you can live”.
That’s what the bread and the wine point to. That’s what this miracle ultimately points to. Jesus says, “Yes, I’m the good shepherd. I’ll lead you. But it won’t look like what you think. It’ll consist of me teaching you the gospel and the Kingdom of God. Yes I’m the good shepherd. I’ll feed you. But it’ll cost me my life.”
So if you’re looking for someone to lead a revolution and overthrow the status quo so you can be at the top of society, you’re looking for the wrong revolution. The revolution that Jesus leads is not like that. Instead of leading a revolution to put himself on the top, the king of the universe took the form of a servant and humbled himself even to the point of the death. That is the revolution he brings.
And if you are in it, then you behave in the same way. Instead of trying to put yourself at the top you’ll put others first. Instead of leading by command, you’ll lead by serving. You will be more concerned about the wellbeing of those less fortunate – the widows, the orphans, the sojourners, the poor – than yourself. You will humble yourself to serve others even if it means you wash their feet.
That is the revolution that Jesus brings. It is unexpected and unlikely every other one. Its values are upside down and about giving so that others are on top. You say you want a revolution, well following Christ is revolutionary. You will live like him teaching and feeding other’s.