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Here is a very familiar story to all of us – the feeding of the 5,000. But sometimes as we learned in the beginning verses of chapter 6, familiarity can breed contempt.

Parunak: Out of 35 miracles performed by the Lord in the gospels, this is the only one that is mentioned in all four. So it merits special attention. (Mt. 14:13-21; Lk. 9:11-17; Jn 6:1-14)

We think we understand the meaning of this simple miracle … but do we really?

How we usually picture this simple story is the disciples being dispatched by Jesus to search through the crowd and come up with the resources at hand = a meager 5 loaves and 2 fishes held by one young lad (John 6:9). Jesus then demonstrates His power to provide physical bread (that which nourishes physical life) for the entire crowd – that physical bread being symbolic of the spiritual life He can both provide and sustain. Thus we have Jesus revealed as the Bread of Heaven — broken for us in His redemptive sacrifice on the cross– who has come down to give life to those who will receive Him. That lesson is definitely being taught. We need to partake of Jesus Christ by faith. We will reflect on insights focused on that central application at the end of our message as we look at the teaching of Jesus in John 6 about this miracle. That will serve as our transition into our time of communion this morning.

But first walk with me through the passage from the standpoint of the Master Shepherd training His intern shepherds and I think you will see a far expanded emphasis.

[Outline – have been working our way through the gospel of Mark – come to a series of sets of 4 – let me quickly review for you – 4 Challenges / 4 Parables / 4 Realms of Dominion of the Lord / 4 Sobering Insights regarding inevitability of rejection / 4 lessons of faith]


This passage is going to say a lot about putting the needs of others ahead of our own needs

A. (:31) Rest and Refreshment are Essential When Ministry Has Been Exhausting

“And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)”

Mat. 14:13 “Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself”

Hiebert: He could have easily stimulated a popular movement against Antipas because of John’s martyrdom. Aware of the tense situation, Jesus deliberately withdrew from the territory of Antipas.

Lk. 9:10 “to a city called Bethsaida”

Hiebert: that is, Bethsaida-Julius, which was located on the eastern bank of the Jordan, just above its entry into the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus recognized the need to recharge one’s batteries – you cannot minister non-stop; you must allow for times of rest and solitude and refreshment

In this case, the disciples had been skipping meals and eating was now a very high priority

We read all of the time about the dangers of burnout in spiritual ministry – our bodies and emotions are not designed to run all of the time at the highest level of intensity – yet Jesus seems to have a special ability to draw strength from His heavenly Father to meet the demands of ministy

Hendriksen: took place when Passover, probably April of the year AD. 29, was already approaching, as is clear from John 6:4. The Great Galilean Ministry, probably extending from about December of A.D. 27 to about April of A.D. 29, was drawing to its close.

B. (:32-33) Peace and Quiet Can Be Elusive Due to the Burden of Ministry

“And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. And the people saw them going, and many recognized them, and they ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them.”

Sign miracles have snowball effect – create increased curiosity

The time on the sea in the boat proved to be the only respite they would have – ironic since their earlier time on the water had been so stressful when the storm arose

Parunak: “Desert” here does not mean sand and cactus (though that can be extremely beautiful), but simply a country area, which at this time of year would have been flush with grass from the winter rains.

Hiebert: a lonely place, uninhabited and unsuitable for cultivation. The rocky shores around the Sea of Galilee, especially the eastern side, offered many such places”

C. (:34) The Primary Mission of a Shepherd is to Feed the Sheep

1. The Eyes of a Shepherd — Vision for the Needs of People

“And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude,”

Was probably discouraging to the disciples who had been anticipating time along with the Lord Jesus; but not discouraging to Jesus – He saw the opportunity to meet the needs of people

Healings only touched isolated individuals; feeding miracle touched all

2. The Heart of a Shepherd — Compassion for the Needs of People

“and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd;”

Driven by compassion for others

Hendriksen: With him sympathy is not just a feeling. It is a tender feeling transformed into helpful action. It is, as far as possible, an identification. It is not just an emotion but a deed; better still; a whole series of deeds. He teaches them, heals them, feeds them.

Parunak: “sheep without a shepherd” –

a> The expression comes from the OT.

1> Num 27:17. When the Lord tells Moses to prepare to depart this life, Moses asks that the Lord provide the children of Israel with a leader, “that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” In response, the Lord appoints Joshua.

2> 1 Kings 22:17, Michaia ben Imlah [Micaiah son of Imlah] sees in a vision the death in battle of Ahab king of Israel, under the figure, “I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd.”

b> People are by nature a flocking creature, and need the oversight and direction of those so gifted by God. This need finds its NT reflection in the role of the “pastor,” which simply means “shepherd.”

c> This multitude had no shepherd. The Jewish priesthood and the rabbis should have been their shepherds, but we have seen already their hardness to the things of God, a problem that had been evident to Ezekiel (ch 34) 600 years earlier.

Hiebert: portrays them as helpless, lacking nourishment, guidance, and protection, exposed to the perils of dispersion and destruction. He saw that the religious leaders did not meet the spiritual needs of the people.

Remember the charge that Jesus gave to Peter at the end of the Gospel of John: Shepherd my sheep; Feed my sheep – that is how you will demonstrate that you truly love me

What type of meal are God’s children getting today throughout this country?? How many sheep without adequate shepherds are there?

3. The Priority of a Shepherd – Spiritual Indoctrination Trumps Physical Feeding

“and He began to teach them many things.”

Lk. 9:11 “He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing”

Hiebert: From John’s gospel, we learn that upon landing, Jesus and His disciples ascended the hillside and sat there, apparently waiting until the whole multitude had assembled. Prepared to teach . . .

These opening verses just serve to define the setting for the miracle which now will be the focus

Remember that Jesus is in the process of Training the 12 to go out as His ambassadors and serve as good shepherds of the flock of sheep entrusted to them


You want to be a pastor who shepherds the flock of God? Here are 4 important lessons to master if you want to truly be a Good Shepherd


A. Don’t Surrender to Outward Circumstances — Expect God to Do the Impossible

“And when it was already quite late, His disciples came up to Him and began saying, ‘The place is desolate and it is already quite late;’”

We are often tempted to give up and allow the circumstances to defeat us;

It seems reasonable to confess our inadequacy;

We lack the vision for how the Lord can work in amazing ways – can’t think outside the box

Look at how the deck is stacked against the disciples here

– running out of time – soon it will be dark

– nowhere near visible resources – out in a remote area

We give up too easily

B. Don’t Teach People to Trust in Themselves – Expect God to Provide

“send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

Lk. 9:12 “and find lodging”

Now that does not mean that we teach people to quit their jobs and look for hand-outs from God;

We must be discerning as to the means that God wants to use in different circumstances to provide our daily bread; but make sure that our trust is in God – “Give us this day our daily bread”

So the disciples have failed the first test – they have a lot to learn before they can qualify as good shepherds

That’s why the command Jesus left with His disciples at the end of the Gospel of John was

“Feed My Sheep”

Not saying that we don’t all have the responsibility to read the Word ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us … but we still need gifted leaders in the church to provide teaching and direction; we should expect that the Lord wants to provide such shepherding to His sheep


A. (:37a) Sacrifice All You Have to Meet the Needs of Others

“But He answered and said to them, ‘You give them something to eat!’”

Emphatic: “You”

Jesus commands His disciples to take the responsibility on themselves to provide for the flock

Jesus ultimately is going to make the supreme sacrifice and lay down His life for the sheep

Came not to be ministered to but to minister and give His life for the sheep

Hendriksen: Jesus means that these men must not be so quick to shake off responsibility. . . “Don’t bother the Master and don’t bother us,” was too often their slogan.

This is the key to understanding the passage that I had missed for many years –

Van Parunak opened up this passage to me:

The Source of the food. He corrects them by calling attention to the food they already have: five loaves and two fishes. This is almost certainly intended for their picnic supper.

1> One of the motives for their trip was to get some solitude so that they could eat. They certainly would have brought food along.

2> Objection: John 6:9 reports that this food was in the possession of “a lad.”

a: The conventional view is that some kindly little boy in the crowd shared his lunch. But that would presume that the disciples either have none, which is unlikely, or hoard it, also unlikely.

b: Alternative: Zebedee can’t run a fishing business alone. With his sons following the Lord around, he must find other help. The lad is one of his helpers, whom the 12 have brought along to “carry their bags,” and who happens to be the custodian of their lunch.

[Or: perhaps this lad had prepared to bring enough to feed Jesus and His disciples alone]

Not only was everyone fed, but there were twelve baskets of crumbs left, one for each apostle, to show that they really hadn’t lost anything in sharing their lunch!

The Disciples must share their picnic lunch, but it is returned to them many-fold in the twelve baskets. Clinging selfishly to our blessings will result in our inability to enjoy them, while sharing them with others will bring God’s blessing. Cf. Prov. 11:24-26,

“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and [there is] that withholdeth more than is meet, but [it tendeth] to poverty.

The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.

He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing [shall be] upon the head of him that selleth [it].”

Edwards: To their minds that is an unreasonable, if not impossible, command.

B. (:37b) Don’t Make Excuses Because of Your Short-Sightedness

“And they said to Him, ‘Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?’”

Math doesn’t add up

John 6:5 has Jesus asking Philip “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” saying this to test him – Trick Question – putting Philip on the spot – like being called on in class to answer the teacher’s question – part of the teaching strategy of Jesus

Not a very respectful response to the Lord’s command

Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the possibilities around you

Hiebert: The denarius was the ordinary pay for a day’s work in the vineyard (Mt. 20:2). Thus the amount suggested would be about eight months’ wages for a common workingman.

C. (:38) Don’t Under Value the Gifts God Has GivenYou

“And He said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go look!’ And when they found out, they said, ‘Five and two fish.’”

These were resources that belonged to them; that were in their control; they were stewards of what they had – they needed to do a proper accounting of what God had already given them

Hiebert: In form these loaves were flat cakes or biscuits, not like our modern loaves of bread. The two fishes were either dried or salted fish, and were commonly eaten with the bread as a relish.


A. (:39-40) Faith Works in Concert with Good Organization and Administration

“And He commanded them all to recline by groups on the green grass.

And they reclined in companies of hundreds and of fifties.”

Even when your faith is struggling … still obey what the Lord tells you

You don’t yet see the outcome – how the problem is going to be resolved … but trust the Lord through the process

If you don’t have much light, follow the light you have

Very organized approach – not some mob scene – Christ still has situation under control

B. (:41) Faith Looks to God for Blessing and Results

“And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all.”

What a tremendous miracle! Jesus kept breaking the food and distributing to the disciples to take around to the crowd and He never ran out …

C. (:42) Faith Is Never Disappointed

“And they all ate and were satisfied.”

Simple resources can multiply into abundant blessing

John Piper: the Lord is most delighted in His children when they are most satisfied with Him

What is our view of the sufficiency of our Savior


A. (:43) The Provision of the Lord SuperAbounds — You Can Never Outgive the Lord

“And they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish.”

They ended up with more than they started with; each of the disciples could now sit down to eat with their own basket of abundant provisions

B. (:44) The Provision of the Lord Satisfies the Pressing Need

“And there were five thousand men who ate the loaves.”

Add to that the multitude of women and children (Matt. 14:21) – truly an astounding miracle

John 6:14 “Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”


Transition to communion as we study through John 6:22ff

Edwards: Not surprisingly, the early church saw a parallel between the feeding of the five thousand and the Last Supper, both accounts of which contain the sequence of “taking bread . . . blessing . . . breaking . . . giving to the disciples” (cf. 14:22)