The Good, the Bad, the Hungry (Mark 6:34-44)

The Good, the Bad, the Hungry (Mark 6:34-44)

Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Mark 6:34-44

The Good, the Bad, the Hungry


The documentary The God the Bad the Hungry is about the champions who compete in the National Hotdog Eating Contest. The record is 72 hotdogs in 10 minutes. That’s over 7 hotdogs/minute. 12,000 calories and 16 lbs of food in 10 minutes. The goal for the contestants is to not only to eat as fast as they can, but to keep it down. (When Annmarie and I watch movies, usually she is the one who is sensitive and if there is an intense part, she has to turn away. I never have to do this. But I found myself having to turn away at points as I watched this documentary.) They just shovel it in at an unbelievable pace.

But as I watched, I thought to myself: In many ways, this is a picture of what I sometimes do spiritually. Approval? I gulp it down as quickly as possible. Security? I can’t get it in fast enough. Reaching certain measurements of success—I shovel it into my soul.

The Bible says that this is something that all of us do. We all possess a spiritual hunger. Sometimes we binge our souls on anything we think will fill them.

Scripture warns us that most of these indulgences still leave us famished and unfulfilled. The Call to Worships asks: Why spend your money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. (Isa 55).

This story in Mark 6 is a story about hunger. It’s a story about bread. (In fact, Mark 6-8 is known as the “Bread Section” because the word bread is mentioned some 17 times.)

It’s for those who are hungry and what to satisfy their souls with the richest of fair.

I’ll just walk through the passage verse by verse.

Walk Through the Passage

Context: In the verses just prior to this story, the disciples are sent out by Jesus on a mission trip. They return and report to him everything that happened. As they give their missions report to Jesus, the people of Galilee start showing up en masse. It reminds me of the old scene in Rocky where he is training in the rough neighborhood of downtown Philadelphia—and more and more people start following him until a huge crowd forms. This scene is a lot like that. The people of Galilee are tough, hardnosed people. Life is hard and their hope is dwindling. They’re are hungry, but they’re not sure for what.

v.31 says, “…because so many people were coming and going…the disciples did not even have a chance to eat. The disciples are famished. The gathering crowd hasn’t eaten. The context then is that everyone is hungry!

Jesus then gets in a boat with the disciples for some downtime. This is where the story picks up.

34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Notice three things about this verse:

  1. 1) Jesus has compassion on them.

Throughout the Bible, one of God’s chief and most celebrated attributes is that of compassion. In Exodus 34 when Moses says to God, show me your glory! God says, The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Ex 34:6-7).

This great crowd is hungry for the compassion of God, though they don’t now it yet. Jesus is the embodiment of that compassion.

  1. 2) Jesus likens the crowd to “sheep without a shepherd.”

This is an important phrase because throughout the Bible, kings and rulers are referred to as “shepherds.” Leaders were to lead, protect, and care for the people of God as shepherds. When Israel was ruled by corrupt and evil kings, God referred to his people as “sheep without a shepherd.” For example, in the OT book Zechariah 10:2 it says, The people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.

Knowing this helps us to understand that this expression—sheep without a shepherd—is a slam against Herod (who claims to be the king of Israel). We read about Herod earlier in Mark 6: He throws a dinner party for his own birthday, invites all the elites, stuffs his face, gets drunks, watches his niece dance half-naked, and then kills John the Baptist. It’s a banquet of corruption. No wonder these people are starving.

v.34 tells us that Jesus gives them something to eat. He doesn’t start with bread. He begins to teach them. Because he knows, Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word the comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

And the crowd is attracted to this teaching. They devour every morsel of wisdom that comes from Jesus’ mouth. Their souls are so ravenous that they forget that it’s dinner time and listen to Jesus until its late.

The story continues:

35-37 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place, and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

I remember, years ago, Annmarie and I were hosting a big dinner at our house. We had invited over all the elders, the deacons, the staff, and the spouses. It was around 30 people. We planned to BBQ. People were milling around, having a good time. When it was time, I fired up the grill, got it hot and put the meat on. It lasted about 2 minutes before it went out. I had run out of propane. No problem. I always keep a spare. But when I grabbed it, I realized that it was empty as well! I panicked as a thought about how the place I refill my propane tank was closed!

Fortunately, I realized I could run to the gas station and just buy a new bottle of propane. It was like manna in the desert! God had saved me!

It’s a horrible feeling when you’re faced with a crowd of hungry people and you don’t have anything to give them.

This is the position the disciples find themselves in. These people are a long way from home; it’s dinner time, and they’re starving.

What’s the disciple’s solution?

Their response is highly ironic. And it shows that they don’t really understand who Jesus is and what is going on here. Notice three points of irony here.

First, in v.35, the disciples say, “This is a remote place.”

Literally, this is a “desert” place. These are God’s people. They’re in a desert. A wilderness. How could God possibly give them something to eat?

They’re forgetting the story of how God took care of Israel in the desert by providing manna—bread from heaven—for them.

Second, in v.36 the disciples say, “Send these people away”…so they can get something to eat.

This is ironic because the disciples think that the crowd will be fed if they are sent away from Jesus, when in fact, Jesus is the only one who can give them what they are hungry for.

Third, in v.36 the disciples say, Send the people away so they can go…and buy something to eat.

They connect the food these people crave with the need for money. Jesus pushes back and says, no, you feed them. The disciples double-down on their economic paradigm in v.37 and say, “Jesus you don’t get it! To feed them would them would cost half a year worth of wages.” They are forgetting the words of Isa 55, You who have no money, come, buy, and eat!

It’s no wonder that both stories in Mark about Jesus multiplying loaves for a crowd—end with Jesus healing a blind man. To partake of the bread of life with the mouth of your soul, you must first have the eyes of your heart opened. The disciples are still blind.

Jesus then takes matters into his own hands:

38-40 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.

There are three insights that stand out in these verses:

  1. 1. In v.38, Jesus asks, How many loaves do you have?

Jesus is God. He created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) by the Word of his power. He could surely create a basket of bread in front of each person by simply speaking it into existence. But instead, he prepares to miraculously multiply the meager offerings of the disciples. He uses what they give to accomplish his purpose.

That’s still true today. God takes your inadequacies, your impossible situation, and your meager efforts and multiplies them 100-fold.

  1. 2. In v.39, it says, Jesus directed [the disciples] to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

It’s no accident that Mark mentions the green grass. Remember, earlier in v.34, the crowd is referred to as “sheep without a shepherd.”

In Psalm 23, we are told: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.  Sheep laying down in a green pasture is a picture of contentment. Satisfaction.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who alone can satisfy our hunger and make us content.

  1. 3. In v.40 it says, So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.

This group of Israelites gathered in groups in the desert is a connection to the OT when Israel was encamped in groups in the desert.

All the tribes were arranged in groups as they camped around the tabernacle making their way through the desert to the Promised Land.

The point of all this is to show that something new is happening with Israel.

  • Earlier in Mark 6, Jesus sent out the 12 disciples just as Moses sent out the 12 spies.
  • Now Jesus feeds Israel in the desert, just God fed Israel manna in the desert.
  • In the next section of Mark 6 Jesus walks across the water, just as God allowed Israel to walk through the water of the Red Sea and the Jordan to enter the Promised land.

This is a new Exodus. Not from the bondage of Egypt, but from the bondage of sin and death. Not into the Promised Land of Canaan. But into the Promised Land of New Creation.

This leads us to the climax of the passage:

Finally, in v.41-43 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.

Notice, when Jesus multiplies the loaves v.41 says, he took, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and then gave them to his disciples.

This is the exact same language that is used throughout the NT to describe the Lord’s Supper.

Took, gave thanks, broke, and gave.

In Mark 14:22 as Jesus gives the Last Supper to his disciples it says: While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples.

Took, gave thanks, broke, gave.

What’s the point? This feeding of the 5000 is intended to point us to the Lord’s Supper because in the Lord’s Supper we receive not only bread—but Jesus himself.

The point of this passage is that Jesus is the food that our souls seek.

Jesus says, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry (Jn 6:35).

No wonder it ends by saying in v.42, They all ate and were satisfied. With an abundance of food left over.

To feast in the kingdom of God the one thing you must have is nothing. All you need is need. To eat the food of grace—you only need to be hungry.