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Jesus' Discipleship Model, Part 10
RANDOM ACTS OF INTERRUPTION
The Story Behind the Feeding of the Five Thousand
Mark’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand is not a stand-alone story. It rests under the combined shadow of the twelve’s ministry as apostles in the villages surrounding Nazareth and the news of John the Baptist’s execution on their return.
Mark shows both threads in his introduction. On the one side, the twelve meet Jesus in triumph after their ministry. “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they head done and taught” (Mark 6:30). The men have gone out green and have come back with experience. They have delivered on their tasks. Because of their success, Mark refers to them under their earned title, apostles.
On the other side, they remain human. Tragedy has accompanied success, and they need to take time for restoration. “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).
Compassion from Different Perspectives
Unfortunately, the apostles’ plans for rest are interrupted by a crowd that runs to the place ahead of them.
We have seen already that Mark’s impressions of crowds are less than optimistic. Crowds are near-sighted and demand attention. Crowd-pleasing events seldom bear real fruit, and Jesus relegates crowds to his lowest levels of teaching (Mark 4:10-12).
Here, however, Jesus views them with sympathy. “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
The disciples feel sympathy for the crowd as well, but on a different level. “And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (Mark 6:35-36).
An Object Lesson in Deeper Understanding
Question: Why does Mark refer to the twelve as disciples again. Did they not just prove themselves?
I believe he uses the title change to note a subtle change in their thinking. When he writes that the apostles returned, they are focused on Jesus’ authority. Now, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to get food. They have let the problem eclipse their understanding of their master.
Jesus’ response wrenches them back to a deeper line of thinkiing. “You give them something to eat” Mark 6:37).
This is an odd command. The disciples have neither money nor food. Without resources, they have no place to go. What are they supposed to do—ask Jesus for some kind of miracle?
Well, you know….
The Reader’s Encounter with the Disciples’ World
We readers view the obstacle in the same way that the disciples encounter it. We reflect on human resources. Jesus calls them (and us) go to the person. It is a who question rather than a what question.
The idea goes back to Mark’s guiding principle in Jesus’ calling of the twelve. He chose them “so that they might be with him” (Mark 3:15). Presence matters more than anything else in Mark. As long as they are with Jesus, they are safe, and when they recognize the fact, they are able to tap into unlimited resources. Their work among the villages has shown them that they simply have to connect the dots between the need and the Need Supplier.
Big Need; Bigger Supplier
Unfortunately, they draw the line from the need to themselves. “Shall we go and buy two hundred Denarii worth of bread [equaling about two thirds of a year’s wages for the average worker] and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37).
The need is humanly possible to fill, but that is exactly Jesus’ point. “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’” (Mark 6:38).
Hearing that, Jesus shows the disciples the solution that they had lost. “Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups. By hundreds and by fifties” (Mark 6:39-40).
This act creates a massive sense of anticipation among the people. Thankfully, Jesus is ready to meet it. “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 people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied” (Mark 6:41-42).
Interpreting the Moral of the Story
Mark closes with two facts, both of which point to sufficiency. In the first, “They took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and fish” (Mark 6:42). The disciples each come away with a physical reminder that Jesus is sufficient for all our needs.
The second fact reemphasizes the same point. “And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men” (Mark 6:44). Interestingly, this is the last statement in the account, and it shows up only after the issues are resolved. Its point is to show Jesus’ greatness.
If we read the narrative with a view to the ideas that propel the story, we realize that Mark’s concern is never about the problem. The story’s theme revolves around the disciples’ need to see as Jesus sees, in terms of ministry. When they concentrate on the food problem, the momentum stops.
I wonder whether the modern section header, “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” drives us in the same direction. “Five thousand” changes our expectation of the story’s direction before we even begin to read it.
The number does not matter. Jesus was sufficient for ten. Mark spends his time showing that rather than staring at the problem, the disciples needed to partner with Jesus and move ahead.
At the beginning of the account, Jesus meets an interruption with compassion. This is the lesson that the apostles should witnessed.
WAITING FOR UTOPIA
In the past months, the US Supreme Court—supposedly conservative after the Trump appointments—passed two motions that shocked the evangelical world. The first, Bostock v. Clayton County, occurred on June 15, when the court gave new latitude to gay rights. Their ruling reinterpreted the meaning of employment discrimination “because of …sex.” In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the basis for the ruling, “sex” meant gender. But we are not in Kansas anymore. The court expanded the meaning to cover the contemporary mayhem over sexual orientation, sexual identity, and sex change. The ruling has the potential to eclipse the First Amendment right to freedom of religious practice in hiring situations. The second ruling was June Medical Services LLC v. Russo and came on June 29. The court struck down a Louisiana law requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital because concern for patient safety restricted a woman’s right to make unrestricted choice. (Oyez LII Supreme Court Resources, Justia Supreme Court Center, 2019-2020 Term, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2019, accessed July 3, 2020.) From a legal standpoint, the cases stand as testaments to judicial activism. When the court reinterprets its own past decisions and then forces their interpretations on the people without relying on congressional legislation, they overstep their authority.
Looking for Utopia
For we who believe in a biblical understanding of the meaning of life, gender, marriage, and family, the decisions mark a radical departure from of the most fundamental truths in Scripture. When we step back, we must realize that both the political right and the left harbor utopian visions, and each side is desperate to hammer its vision into the cultural reality. Many political conservatives, including myself, held great hope for Mr. Trump’s court appointees to right the injustices that have become incased in our legal system. These two decisions shattered our utopian hope.
Not the First Time
I want to look at the biblical perspective, however. We are not the first nation to wonder what the future might bring. If we look in Isaiah 8, The Assyrian Empire, which has grown into the first military superpower in biblical history, threatens to advance on Judah. They are a terrorist nation. Isaiah the prophet affirms the danger. Like a flooded river, Assyria “will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:8). God’s people are about to feel like they are drowning in terror.
A Personal Message for Isaiah
Amid the alarm, the LORD breaks through to Isaiah with a personal message. Isaiah summarizes his experience this way. “For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people …” (Isaiah 8:11). This is not the typical Old Testament “Thus says the LORD” message that Isaiah is to take to the people. It is a message for Isaiah himself. Notice how he describes his experience. “The LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me…”
Looking beyond the Immediate to See the Eternal
What exactly did God tell Isaiah? His message is a two-part call to see the situation differently than the rest of the people. He is to look beyond the immediate and see the eternal. The message unfolds in four sections that stand symmetrically against each other.
Isaiah 8:11-15 (ESV)
12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
A Call and a Warning
The use of words in this message is masterful. Verses 12-13 call Isaiah to think about the situation from a whole new perspective. Where the people cowered in fear and dread of conspiracy (verse 12) Isaiah must direct his fear and dread toward the LORD (verse 13). This deliberate reversal of thinking is the only way that he or anyone else will survive being consumed by conspiracy theories. Verses 14-15 record a second reversal, this one more ironic. Mixed results are certain to occur among Isaiah’s people. On the one hand, the LORD will become a sanctuary to those who fear him. Unfortunately, these will be few. For the majority, the LORD will become a stone of offense, a rock of stumbling, a trap, and a snare (verse 14). In verse 15, the destructive terminology piles up like a multiple car crash on an interstate. Many will stumble, fall, be broken, be snared, and be taken.
What This Mean for Us
The moral to this story is simple. We are engaged in cultural warfare. We need to think, to vote, and to educate as many as we can on our nation’s history and the direction it is heading. We need to pray that God will raise up Christians who have the wisdom to confront evil in high places. We also need to realize that human agency alone is unable to save us. If we look for that, we will be disappointed. From God’s eternal perspective, humanity falls into the conspiracy category. Salvation will not come by any president, legislative body, or judicial branch. Finally, we need to temper our expectations. Regardless of whether we fear God or the conspiracy, crises will continue to occur. Kingdoms will topple. Our favorite human saviors will disappoint.
Only the Lord, whose understanding is infinite, rules over human history. For that reason, we need to discipline our thinking. When we fear the Lord first, the latest human conspiratorial promises lose their power to mesmerize us. We do not have to grieve when utopia fails to appear.
For additional studies click on the links below:
May 2017 - Exodus 6:1-13 - Defeat, Not Failure
June 2017 - John 9:1-7 - True Discipleship
October 2017 - Ephesians 1:9-10 - God and the Work Ethic
October 2017 - Psalm 11 - Righteousness and Evil in the Las Vegas Shooting
November 2017 - Ephesians 6:5-9 - Practicing Value in Undervalued Labor
December 2017 - Psalm 77:19 and Psalm 131- Waiting on the Lord
February 2018 - Nehemiah 8:5-8 - Thinking Man's Warfare
March 2018 - Isaiah 1:18-20 - Authority and Reason
April 2018 - Deuteronomy 17:14-20 - The Life of David, Part 1
November 2018 - February 2019 - Genesis 37, 38 - Judah's Journey To Manhood
October 2019 - Intimacy with God
December 2019 - March 2020 - Men of the Book of Judges
November 2020- Jesus' Discipleship Model