In this passage the people had traveled a long way into the desolate regions and found Jesus there. They stayed with him for three days. As a result their personal, earthly, physical needs were becoming more and more pronounced. Jesus did the miraculous; he was the perfect provision for their real needs.
3 …if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:3-10–ESV)
Exhausted people and exhausted land
This crowd had remained with Christ much as one would remain at a retreat, but that place was ill suited to such a crowd. Imagine the Olympics happening in a city that did not know they were selected. The essentials would be quickly exhausted; that is what happened with this crowd. The bare necessities were exhausted.
The conference with this interested company having run its course Jesus needed to move on. It was like Mark 1:38 where Jesus had said to Peter: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came“1. When the Holy Spirit came the presence of God did not have to be so localized, but for now Jesus was all that was available. He had provided enough lessons to these spiritually hungry, and they needed to practice what he had taught them.
Opportunity for mischief
The return home would not be in cars, but on their feet or donkeys. There were no McDonalds or Wendys, and the supply of the land, small kiosks and hospitable people would not be sufficient for this group. Jesus foresaw that some would collapse or faint on the way. He probably also foresaw discontent, trouble and flared tempers of hungry people. Satan would surely exploit the neediness using it to tarnish the value of the time these people had had with Jesus.
Opportunity for miracles
Jesus weighed the value of this retreat for the people and while he surely saw the depleted resources of the desolate area he knew of other solutions. Not being naive to the diminishing supply of food or the spiritual hunger of the people he had decided upon a course of action. He took this moment to engage his fledgling leaders, the apostles in training. “What shall I do?” he asked. Jesus did not ask the disciples because he was at a loss. Jesus wanted to invite them to participate with him.
I do not know if Jesus was testing them. I do not know that had they replied, “make bread!” he would have patted them on the back. Miracles were not to be magic. They were to be meted out with propriety and to address real needs of real people on the way to greater spiritual understandings.
The disciples had seen restorative miracles as Jesus healed broken bodies. Jesus expelled demons from possessed people showing the disciples dominating miracles. The disciples had even seen the elements calmed and storms subside. In these Jesus had displayed his preeminence over bodies, weather and the demons. Those miracles were about fixing problems.
What about preventing problems? In the miracle of these loaves the disciples would be shown a new type of miracle. This miracle was one of creativity, supply, prevention of social unrest. Remember Jesus was the teacher. The disciples were learners and many of the times the things that Jesus was showing them were for understanding later.
Two needs and two solutions
The people needed food and the disciples needed lessons.
In the feeding of these 4,000+ people and by involving the disciples with the distribution Jesus met both needs that day.
There are problems and there are solutions: Jesus sees both; Jesus provides for both.
The people in that crowd may or may not have realized the impending hunger of the trip home. Did it enter the minds of the disciples that the departing crowd would face deprivation and fainting? We don’t know that either. When Jesus raised it as an issue, though, it became very apparent. This did not fall into the category of “Not-my-problem.” Jesus saw the problem. Jesus also had been preparing for it. He knew the solution.
It matters not where you are on the need spectrum. God always provides over the supply.
There will be needs all over the place. You will know some and not know some. These needs never (never) exceed the awareness or the supply of God.
When you see a problem decide to depend.
It is one thing to read a Bible story and say, “Oh, cool, Jesus provides for our needs.” It is another thing to apply that observation in the things we face. The Bible was not written for those who had learned their lessons. It was written for those who would come after and need to see what had happened. Application of spiritual principles is on purpose. We must decide to depend upon the promises. It takes faith, of course, but faith is a decision. Do it.
Anxiety is fear over the unknown. Nothing is unknown to Jesus.
Many people will become rattled by the imaginary. It does not feel imaginary, but the problems can be inflated to great size. Then once those fear balloons are blown up to their full proportion people may fall down and worry in front of them. The reason this works is that the imaginary looks a lot like the real. It can be very deceptive. Both can trigger panic, anxiety and paralysis.
If you want to worry let’s pile on another thing: there are a bunch of bad things you may not have even started worrying about yet.
Well, none of those are unknown to Jesus. Neither are any of these too big for Jesus.
Make the anxieties answer to Jesus.
It is one thing to read this Bible story and say, “Yep, the disciples did not really realize the big problems facing this big crowd.” Or, “Yep, the crowd did not know where their next meal was coming from.” It is another thing to apply that observation in the things we face. Application of spiritual principles is on purpose (sound familiar…look in the prior “PA”). Same story.
You must decide to depend. Don’t let your fears tell you that your situation is different. It matters not. You may still find the anxieties inflating. Don’t fall down before them and worry (that is a bit like falling down before and idol and worshiping it seems). Now that I have said it you may worry over the things you don’t even know you should worry about.
It does not matter. Jesus has seen them coming. Jesus will see you through their going. It may take a while. Two things.
- First, ask Jesus to be your pin and pop those balloons.
- Second, don’t get the air pump to inflate another.
Sometimes our lives will be like the crowd: waiting.
Sometimes our lives will be like the disciples: watching, learning, being prepared.
It does not matter your phase. Our lives are about growth and maturity. Our lives are supposed to be lived in dependence upon our benevolent, loving and all knowing God.
If following Christ seems to put constraints on you look to him for provision.
This crowd followed Christ into a desolate place. Their spiritual hunger and Jesus’ excellent answers kept them right there. That built up another problem and set them up for further problems on the way home. In this one can see that their hungers for Jesus, their staying in his presence brought on problems. It constrained them. There were real issues they faced because they followed their heart’s draw to their creator.
This can happen to us as well. When it does NEVER let something (yourself, Satan, people, etc.) tell you that your following Christ was wrong, stupid, a shortcoming or ANYTHING negative. Do not fuss. Reject worry, call upon him in your day of trouble. He will hear your cry and answer your need and he will be glorified through it all. Do not fuss; have faith. Remember having faith is a decision. Pop the balloon and stand on the promises. Jesus is never naive to our needs.
If Jesus had compassion after 3 days don’t figure it will dry up after a year, or ten. Walking with Christ for a lifetime will put a great distance between you and the things of the world. When you get a long way from earth’s solutions you are never too far from God’s. It may FEEL like you are far, but you must realize, accept and decide to rest upon the words of God. That decision and acceptance is called faith. Strength of faith must grow to meet seeming shortcomings in the world.