Shall we…?!February 2, 2020, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev Enoch Keong (Mark 6:30-44) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Mark
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service
Date: 9 Feb 2020
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong
In the recent weeks, we must have spoken to people who are trying to be extra cautious or are feeling anxious, or both, because of the flu virus situation. Haven’t we? Many are worried, even panicky about how things might spiral downwards in the coming weeks. This week, we hear cancellations of concerts, big events and even weddings as organizers are weary about potential spread of the virus. Of course, not everyone would feel the same. Some might in fact be happier than usual because they won’t have to report to work or school for a while. But for the greater majority, the uncertainties only bring about fear and anxiety. And Christians are not spared from it. So, may I ask, what are some thoughts that come readily to mind as the passage on feeding of the five thousand is read this morning? A bible story about passing food between thousands of pairs of hands. What about basic hygiene? In light of the coronavirus situation, this miracle story that Christian love to tell may just not go down so well any more.
Well, the bread and the fish were handed out by Jesus himself after all. So even if questions on hygiene did occur to us, we, people of faith, will quickly dismiss it as being silly. Or am I wrong in this case?
What does this passage has to say to Christians in Singapore today in this tensed environment? Before we even get to that, the story must first make good sense. So let’s begin by dealing with a few points in the story that readers have raised questions.
What we won’t try to do here, is to explain how five loaves and two fish could multiply till five thousands had eaten and there were leftovers pieces, miracle defies explanations; period. But there are other parts of this story that had raises questions and we can try to say something about them.
Mark says that Jesus has compassion on them when he saw the crowd. A crowd of five thousand men, assembled within the time span of a boat ride, just to find a place to rest for a while. That’s interesting. Not only that, Mark says that the five thousands reach there before Jesus and the disciples arrived. Well, not something impossible, but how did five thousand men manage to assemble in such a short time? And in the first place, how did they even know where Jesus was heading?
Answers to both questions have to do with ‘Jesus had compassion on them’ and the phrase “they were like sheep without a shepherd”. It’s easier to tackle to second question although we don’t have a definite answer, so we will take that first. The way that verse 34 reads seems to suggest that Jesus suddenly saw a crowd when he got off the boat and began to walk inland. A little like what we see in a surprised party. But its hard to imagine five thousand men keeping silent and wait for the moment to shout, “surprise!” So, more likely, the crowd had based on the general direction that the boat was heading and started to gather in one area. And it was Jesus who had compassion on them, decided to forgo the rest that he has planned for, and steered the boat towards the shore where the crowd was gathered, because they were to him like sheep without a shepherd.
Moving on now to the first question, “How did five thousand men manage to assemble in such a short time?” The key to the answer is again the phrase “they were like sheep without a shepherd”. Google give me these pictures when I punch in “sheep without a shepherd”. Pictures suggesting that things are getting unorderly, that there are impending dangers, and that Jesus is our loving shepherd. Not wrong for Christians to understand the phrase in such manner and to conclude that Jesus is our loving shepherd. But none of these depictions give the entire picture that Mark is painting here.
The phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” is not a new description that the gospel writers came up with. Similar phrases we will find at quite a few places in the Old Testament. The first occurrence is at Numbers 27, a time where the old leader Moses says, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” Moses said these words because he was not allowed to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land because he has sinned against God. It was at Meribah, a place with no water. God asked Moses at that time to speak to the rock to yield its water. Instead, Moses struck the rock twice to get the water. Water did come forth from the rock, but it also means that Moses has sinned against God by not trusting in what God said by striking instead of speaking to the rock. And for his distrust in God, Moses was denied his leadership position. Joshua became the shepherd in his place to lead the people into the Promised Land.
And we all know what entering the Promised Land involved. Not showing a ticket to be allowed entrance, not requesting for the city to open it gate, but by going to wars with the original inhabitants of the land.
Understanding “like sheep without a shepherd” with such a background, we can properly answer the question on “How did five thousand men manage to assemble in such a short time?” Israel was under the Roman rule, and the religious authorities, their supposed leaders, were siding with the Romans. Israel was like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus, on the other hand has done impressing things. Jesus has healed many from sickness, cast out demons, even legion. It look like Jesus is a powerful prophet, and could lead them to conquest like Joshua in time passed. They wanted to make this Jesus their shepherd - their warrior shepherd - to lead them in a revolution, and so in eagerness they rushed overland to assemble at where Jesus’ boat seemed to be heading.
It was probably for this reason that Mark says, “And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men (v.44).” Men, ready to start a revolution as freedom fighters. John helps to confirm that such was indeed the case. Right after recounting the feeding of the five thousand, John says, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15)
But as the saying goes, man proposes, but God disposes. Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua. And let’s not forget that name Jesus was not chosen by his parents, but given by the angel who visited Joseph, Jesus earthly father. Jesus is indeed like Joshua who led Israel to conquest, only that the future he leads his people into isn’t one dreamed by those sheep on the shore. Jesus overcomes darkness by resurrecting from the dead, and leads his people into a future a new era, a future without end.
Jesus the son of David, is also a shepherd like King David, the kind of shepherd that Christians are familiar with. Ps 78:70-72 says, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” As like King David, Jesus is one who leads and cares for the sheep, we see this side of him in his feeding of the five thousand.
But the disciples simply couldn’t see that Jesus was like Joshua and like David. And that’s why when they were asked to give the people something to eat, they replied with a “shall we?” “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” (v.37) Based on some people’s calculation, 200 denarii is what an average will get after working for 8 months. So their reply to Jesus in a more candid phrasing would be, “Shall we spend more than 8 months of our pay to buy bread for this group of strangers?” The disciples sounded unwilling and fearful. We don’t blame them for saying those words; because we would probably say the exact same thing in hearing what Jesus suggests, something impractical, in fact, impossible.
Their honest and logical response has however, zero effect. Jesus continued by saying, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” (v.38) And what happened next was the need of five thousand men was taken care of, they ate and were satisfied.
Friends, the disciple asked a negative question beginning with “shall we…?” The reasons seem to be the task being insurmountable, and they were unwilling to empty their purse for strangers. But Mark tell us a few verses later that the deeper reason is that “they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (6.52) Not hardened against strangers, but hardened against God; so hardened that they couldn’t see who Jesus is, and that God is doing something new in and through him. But not for us, brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been helped by the spirit of God, our hearts are not hardened. We are able to see and affirm that Jesus is Lord, affirm that God is with us through Jesus. We are able to echo Jesus in saying not mine but thy will be done. If this is true for us, then our hearts are indeed not hardened. Allow me therefore to say, today, Jesus bid us to still “Go and see”. “Go and see” what we have that we can give to him, that he may use them to satisfy the needs of others?
Friend, the focus of our church for this and next year is on evangelism and the theme will be 传神?! . The extra punctuation mark is not a typo, but is the way we choose to say that there are surprising aspects of this God whom we proclaim. And how do we express this theme in English. Sorry, we don’t have it in English yet. Basically because this Chinese expression, 传神, carries shades of meaning that no one English expression is able to capture. So, if we have suggestions on how to translate传神into English, please let us know. But the basic intention is clear, our focus of the church for this and next year is to share the gospel.
The church is embarking on幸福小组, each zone will have 2 groups conducting it this year. What幸福小组will be doing we will see in the bulletin in the following months. Pay attention to them and let the church know when we are ready to start a group. 幸福小组has been recognized as an effective way to share the gospel, but there are other ways that we have been trying and found effective. So,幸福小组or in other ways, the shepherd is asking us to “go and see”, and then give to him that which we can give, so that people need not be like sheep without a shepherd.
And when we have “go and see”, can I suggest that we do another thing. Like the disciples, we go to him with a “Shall we…” question, but with a twist. The disciple blasted a negative question at Jesus; we go him with a positive “Shall we….”
We, “go and see”, and then pray prayers like, “Lord, you have blessed us to be a group of people with gifting and skills, shall we use them in such and such a way for your kingdom?” We have people here who can form a gospel band. We have people here that can counsel people. We have people here who can volunteer our time in quite many areas in church and in the society.
If we are ready to go to Jesus with such prayers, then, does today’s story have a special message on how to share God’s love in times like this, DORSCON orange? I’ll be honest with us, no, no special message. The message is one and the same, people need the Lord, like the five thousand on the shore, Jesus was willing to go to them, and he took his disciples along to be his hands and legs.
To say all this in light of the current situation does seems a little out of place. These few weeks might really not be the best time to start reaching out. But for some of us, this might be a time that God wants us to show love to people that he has placed near us, doing it responsibly with prudence and faith. But in any case, it is a good time to “go and see”, take stock, especially so since we are entering soon into the season of Lent where Christians focus on praying and seeking the Lord, asking him “Shall we…?!”.
A positive “Shall we…?!” Will we? Will we give of ourselves to Jesus to pave the way for him to give himself to them?
Mark 6:30–44 (Listen)
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 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.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 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 disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.