February 19th 2023: Graham John

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Mark 8:1-10 The Feeding of the Four Thousand

This miracle may initially seem like a carbon copy of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 recorded in Mark chapter 6, but it is not. There are sufficient differences in the details to make it clear that Mark is talking about a different event. He is not repeating himself.

One important detail is the composition of the crowd; the people who benefitted from the first miracle were predominantly Jews, whereas those who benefitted from this second miracle were predominantly Gentiles. Mark makes this clear by mentioning a few geographical features. Jesus is not in the land of Israel. In chapter 7 we read that left the land of Israel and made His way to Tyre and Sidon. Here, He is still travelling in Gentile lands, lands considered unclean by Jews. In Matthew’s gospel we’re given a parallel account and strong hints that Jesus is still in foreign lands. When Matthew reports the reaction of the crowds to some of the miracles Jesus did there, he says the people glorified the God of Israel. That wouldn’t be said of Jews, they worship the God of Israel anyway. The Gentiles didn’t worship the God of Israel until they met the Lord Jesus. Jesus is still on this extended missionary tour, in Gentile lands north of Israel. Christ’s interest in the Gentiles must have encouraged the first readers of Mark’s gospel. We believe it was written and read first in Rome and the Roman countries.

Compassion and Concern:

The first thing we learn from this passage is the compassion and concern of the Lord Jesus to reach out to Gentiles, to reach out to the non-Jews. Jesus says here, ‘I have compassion on the crowds.’ (Mark 8:2a). He has compassion on the crowds, to reach out to unclean Gentiles, as the Church has stretched out and expanded around the world. Christ commanded the apostles in the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations. This, of course, extends all the way down to include us – unclean Gentiles of the 21st century.

Jesus is willing to feed both Jews and Gentiles. It reminds us, as Paul puts it, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

As far as salvation goes, the old boundaries, including national boundaries, have been done away with. Both Jews and Gentiles, if they are to be saved, must depend totally on the Lord Jesus Christ, who has mercy on them. Whoever we are today, wherever we come from, whatever our background, we can come to the Lord Jesus today in our spiritual longing. We see Christ’s concern to reach out to sinners. The gospel call is ‘whosoever will.’

The Lord Jesus is still the same today. He has the solution to all our sins. All we need to do is trust in Him, cast ourselves upon Him, and depend totally on that atoning blood that was shed for us at the cross of Calvary.

 Maybe you stand outside of the Kingdom today, maybe you don’t belong to the people of God. You can’t offer Him any previous merits, yet you too may come to the Saviour with a sure and certain hope that He is willing to do for you what He has been doing for two millennia – taking, receiving and welcoming new friends from among the godless Gentiles. Here is the Saviour who goes into the unclean lands, touches them, delivers those oppressed by the devil, feeds the crowds with just a few morsels – just as He did a few chapters earlier, among the Jews, the 5,000.

The invitation of the gospel here has its root in the compassion of the Lord Jesus. His compassion is mentioned most, out of all His feelings. His compassion is mentioned frequently. It’s the foundation of our salvation. We see compassion and concern for the unclean Gentiles.

The contradictions in the faith of the disciples:

In this situation, the disciples feel perplexed. Had they forgotten how, just a few weeks earlier, they fed the 5,000? They were involved in that miracle. So how could the disciples, who had been remarkably used in a similar miracle, be so completely out of depth here? What’s the problem?

May be, we shouldn’t be too hard on these disciples. How many times have we forgotten the mercies of the Lord? How many times have you been like these disciples, contradicting yourself, irregular in your following the Lord Jesus? This is most understood by those who have had lapses in their faith. The Lord reveals Himself to us, answers our prayers, reveals His compassion and love. He is still transforming us. Once we promised Him unfailing allegiance. A month or few weeks pass and we are drawn into trying circumstances, finding ourselves questioning, ‘Is there a God in heaven?’ Or we find ourselves planning and arranging our own deliverance, as if the Lord wasn’t carrying us up, bearing us up. Or we find ourselves anxious about a situation, as if we had no friend in Jesus, as if there was no mercy seat, as if there was no throne of grace to go to. Subconsciously, may be we find ourselves asking, ‘How can God possibly help in this situation?’ In other words, we are just like the disciples.

We are just like the disciples, they are just like us. We’ve let down our God, we have failed to be watchful, we haven’t trusted in His daily care. We’ve allowed doubts to enter in. It’s not just us, we see this in those who crossed the Red Sea. In the desert they start to complain – after a miraculous deliverance. They cry out, as if the Lord hadn’t proved His presence. Even Moses starts to falter later on when they cry out for food. He feels the burden of leadership.

After we’ve already experienced God’s blessings, we soon forget. We fail to allow the beam of light from the past to enlighten the present. People of faith use the deliverance of the past to change the present. David uses past deliverances to fortify his present troubles, “And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:37). Faith uses the ammunition of the past in present day challenges. Do you and I rely on the Lord’s deliverances in the past? Or are we unused to trusting in the Lord in this practical, everyday way?

You shouldn’t shun the opportunities that God gives us to prove Him. Think of the widow who threw her last mite. That was an act of faith born of a lifetime of trusting God, seeing how He rewarded those who trusted in Him. The Lord, who noted her service and sacrifice, would reward such faith. She trusted Him in the past and she trusted Him for tomorrow.

As Christ calls us to take His gospel to the dark, pagan world outside, we might feel cry with the apostle Paul, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ We feel our inadequacy so often. Our resources are so diminished, yet Christ is in the habit of multiplying our insufficient means again and again and again, like the loaves and the fish. He uses weak, frail disciples to turn the world upside down.

A complementary way of viewing this incident:

Augustine, a great man of God, suggests another way of looking at the words of the disciples, which complements what we’ve already said. He says that the perplexity of the disciples arose not through any unbelief in Christ’s power, but from their doubts as to whether Christ was willing to exercise His power among these idol-worshipping Gentiles. This corresponds with stories in the book of Acts. Years after Christ had ascended, after the day of Pentecost, God had to almost force-march the church into evangelising among the Gentiles. No-one had a vision for the Gentiles. No-one. No-one prayed with a burden for the Gentiles. No-one. Despite the great commission, there are doubts as to whether God could work among the Gentiles, whether He wanted to!

The Saviour will feed these unclean, pagan nations with His words, with His gospel. He will draw them after Himself. He will lead them to belong to a greater community than they presently know – whether they were Jews or whether they were pagan Gentiles. He will lead them to belong to a kingdom that will endure, a kingdom that will never go into exile, a kingdom that will never be improved upon, never replaced – the Kingdom of those who have been washed by the precious blood of Jesus. Sinners were now being renewed by the transforming work of the Spirit of God, submitting to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus went to the outcasts, the rejects, the despised Canaanites, the Gentiles. We have to follow His example, to further His mission field, to build His Kingdom among the Gentiles. That is our roll. Christ’s compassion is mentioned for our benefit. We hesitate. We hesitate to walk in Christ’s ways. We should remember, when we doubt, our Saviour is full of compassion. He will remember our sins no more. He will supply all your truest needs. No-one has ever found the bottom of His well.

When we are weary, as we often are, we should remember our Lord’s compassion. He knows what it is like to live in a world like ours. He has been here. He has stepped in our shoes, into a world that weighs us down, a world that makes us feel frail and feel our tiredness. He never forgets. We forget often, His grace, his mercies, His compassion, His love. He never forgets His forgetful people. His compassions fail not, they are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.