Feeding of the Four Thousand
Feeding of the Four Thousand (Mark 8:1-9)
In my short time as being a pastor, I have had a few moments of absolute shock and fear as I begin the scripture reading and a sense of Déjà vu comes sweeping across my mind. I think to myself, have I preached or taught this text already. Have I pulled up the wrong sermon notes? Did I print out last week’s bulletin? These moments are often short-lived. When we read the Bible as a merely human document, we can see that someone either hit copy and paste to make a mistake and didn’t proofread their work. Some scholars have called today’s passage that. However, I want to show why Mark included this passage and why he included it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit here.
I. Same question
Before we begin looking at this passage, we need to address that many people have suggested that this is the same event in Mark 6:30-44. They can, on the surface, appear very similar. A crowd gathers around Jesus and his disciples in a desolate place. Jesus has compassion and asks his disciples to give them something to eat. They do not know how to feed the crowd. Jesus asks what they have, blesses it, and gives it to the disciples to distribute. The crowd eat and are satisfied, and they then collect baskets full of what was left. Jesus dismisses the crowd. When your view of the Bible is that it is a collection of stories written by men for morals and ethics, then why does it matter if it is a repeat, I would argue that there are many similarities. Mark is making a connection between them these two accounts. He also makes the connection, and we can see the differences to help us understand more about the passage. There are almost as many differences as there are similarities. The setting is different, the quality of loaves and fish, how many people were there, how long they were there, and the various reasons Christ had compassion on them. The lack of urgency to send the crowd away in feeding the 4000 accounts.
Maybe getting too specific, but in these two accounts (Mark 6:34-44 and Mark 8:1-9), Mark uses 111 Greek words, only 34 of them are the same, 54 unique words appear in Mark 6 and 34 unique words appear in Mark 8. I believe these vast differences in vocabulary show that they are two different events that Mark records. One of the significant similarities is not found in the narrative, per se, but in the question, Jesus asks the disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 6:38) and “How many loaves do you have? (Mark 8:5). This shows that Mark includes these two different accounts in his gospel because he wants to show that the disciples do not quite understand who Jesus is? Jesus brings this up in Mark 8:19-21,
“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
The disciples have traveled with Jesus, seen him heal the sick, cast out unclean spirits, calm the sea (twice), feed over 10,000 people with twelves loaves of bread, they have heard his sermons, and teach, heal a paralytic, raise Jairus’ daughter. Yet, in all this, Jesus uses the feeding of the five thousand and four thousand as the measurement of their understanding. The repeat shows Christ’s graciousness to his disciples as he is the teacher who seeks to teach, even if it means going over the lesson over and over. I often think about the times I must repeat things, which frustrates me as I tell my children, repeatedly, the same thing. I am constantly reminded as I get impatient, often when the children are in bed, how gracious God is to me. How is slow to anger and abounding in love. For me, to be slow to anger is measured in seconds or minutes. Yet to the Lord, it is measured in years and decades. God is slow to anger. As Paul writes in Corinthians, Love is patient (1 Cor 13:4), the first thing on the list is enduring patience. We want to ask the forgiveness question like Peter, how many times must I forgive, seven? How long must I be patient, seven seconds, seven minutes? Christ uses this as another opportunity for his disciples to grow and learn.
II. Different crowd
Another difference in this account compared to the first account is the crowd that gathers. Although we do not know the exact location of the account, the phrase “in those days.” Mark uses this phrase only in Mark 1:9, speaking of Jesus coming to be baptized. This feeding is most likely happening in the region of the Decapolis, a Gentile region. Mark 6 shows that Christ is the great shepherd promised in Ezekiel chapter 34 who has come to feed the sheep of Israel. Mark 8 reveals that Jesus has compassion on them because they have been with him for three days and had nothing to eat (Mark 8:2), but also because they have come from a far way (Mark 8:3). The word ‘far away’ is used five times in Mark and each in reference to how close the person or object is to Christ. Peter is far away from Jesus in his trial (Mark 14:54). The man who had the Legion of unclean spirits in the Decapolis was far off and came running to Christ (Mark 5:6). Mark is emphasizing that this crowd is outsiders. Mark 6 shows how Jesus is the shepherd prophesied in Ezekiel 34. Mark 8 shows that Jesus is the savior of all nations prophesied in Isaiah 55:
“Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:5–7)
Mark is writing to a majority Gentile audience. He explains following the faith of the Syrophoenician woman who is to be fed by Christ, even though she was not in the covenant community, she sits at the table as a woman of great faith (Matt 15:28). Identical to the passage from last week. The man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, although outside of the covenant community, could see and speak and glorify the God of Israel (Matt 15:31). The promise found throughout the scripture is that God chose a nation from whom the Messiah would come to save people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.
III. Same Jesus
When we have looked at the feeding of the 5000, and the story of the Syrophoenician woman, we noted the importance of the word be filled, satisfy (χορτάζω, chortazō) cf. Mark 6:42, 7:27. This word comes up twice in this passage. The first is found in the disciples’ question, “How can one feed (chortazō) these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4). Maybe the better way to translate this passage is not how can one satisfy? But who can satisfy? The answer is found only in Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Mark has sandwiched (excuse the bread pun) in between conflict between the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-13 and Mark 8:11-21. In the middle, Mark shows that the problem of the heart is the heart of the problem. It is not what a person eats that makes them unclean but sin. The Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus and explains she only needs but a crumb to be satisfied. Throughout all of this, we are reminded that those who are on the ‘inside,’ i.e., His disciples, do not quite understand who Jesus is. They are like the deaf and mute man unable to hear and therefore understand (Mark 4:10-12). In all these passages, those who you would think should understand (Pharisees and Disciples), but it is those outside, those who did not grow up reading the Old Testament, understand who Christ is and are satisfied. One of the most depressing things that I can see is that people do not know they need Christ. The most unfortunate thing is when people believe they have Christ or are Christian, but they do not know their need for him. We need to be reminded over and over. We come to Christ empty.
When invited to a person’s house, we often ask the question can I bring something? It then is a battle of trying to be polite to ensure you bring something. However, Christ says to us, bring nothing but your sin. Bring nothing but you rotten rags, your unrighteousness. Bring your shame, your transgressions. Even if you tried your best to bring a plate of your best works, they would be like a pile of garbage. The gospel of John explains that a crowd fed by Jesus came seeking him because they ate their fill of loaves (John 6:26). John explains that they need the true bread from heaven.
“Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:32–35)
We come to Christ with nothing but rags, sin, and shame. Christ says I will satisfy all you need. The disciples ask the question, “Who is able to satisfy these people in the desolate place?” The answer is Jesus. Moses did not cause the manna to appear in the wilderness but God. They ate this food but were not satisfied they needed to get up the next day and collect more daily bread. Christ comes and satisfies our souls. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever (John 6:48-51).
“Cast your eyes among all created beings, survey the universe, observe strength in one, beauty in a second, faithfulness in a third, wisdom in a fourth; but you shall find none excelling in them all as Christ does. Bread has one quality, water another, clothing another, medicine another; but none has all in itself as Christ has. He is bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, a garment to the naked, healing to the wounded; and whatever a soul can desire is found in him.” – John Flavel