Scripture: Mark 8:1-13
Sermon prepared by Rev. Kevin DeRaaf, Burlington, Ont.
During the Gulf War of 1991, Iraq launched a series of Scud missile attacks against Israel. Many Israeli citizens died as a result of these attacks.After the war was over, Israeli scientists analyzed the official mortality statistics and found something remarkable. Although the death rate had jumped among Israeli citizens on the first day of the Iraqi attacks, the vast majority of them did not die from any direct physical effects of the missiles. They died from heart failure brought on by fear and stress associated with the bombardment.
Psychological studies conducted on Israelis at the time showed that the most stressful time was the first few days leading up to the outbreak of war on January 17th and peaking on the first day of the Scud missile attacks. There was enormous and well-founded concern about possible Iraqi use of chemical and biological weapons. The government had issued to the entire Israeli population gas masks and automatic atropine syringes in case of chemical attack, and every household had been told to prepare a sealed room.
After the first Iraqi strike turned out to be less dangerous than feared, levels of stress declined markedly. As in other wars, the people adapted to the situation with surprising speed. Then as the fear and anxiety subsided, the death rate also declined. There were 17 further Iraqi missile attacks over the following weeks, but Israeli mortality figures over this period were no higher than average.
It was fear and the psychological impact of the missiles, not the physical impact, that claimed the majority of victims. This shows again the damage that worry does to us, physically and emotionally.
All of us worry. And many of us worry more than we should. Worry is fear — a low-grade fear which can be debilitating if it gains enough of a foothold in our lives. We worry about our financial situation: will we be able to handle our mortgage or rent this month? Or enough to pay the bills? The strange thing is, it doesn't matter how wealthy we are, our level of worry seems to remain the same. We worry about our kids. We worry about stuff at work. We worry about our grades. We worry if our friends will accept us or not. We worry about the pie in the oven. We worry about church.
As we walk through this passage in Mark 8, I want to invite you to think about it from the perspective of your own particular set of worries. And the question that we are going to flesh out as we study the passage is, "What was going through the crowd's mind as they experienced this particular miracle?"
As the scene opens, Mark describes a serious situation. The people have been in the wilderness for three days, following Jesus and listening to his teaching. But now the food has run out. This was a concern — a legitimate worry. If there were women and children present, there may well have been over 10,000 people with Jesus that day. Many of them were a long distance from home. These people needed to get some food as quickly as possible.
Jesus realizes this, gathers his disciples around himself, and they huddle together. He says to them, "We have a predicament here. The people have nothing to eat and I'm worried about them. They have a long walk home and I want to do something about it." The disciples have obviously noticed the situation as well, but they don't know what to say to him. "What are we supposed to do? We're in the wilderness. Where in this remote place are we supposed to find food for all these people?" In response, Jesus asks them for what food they have — seven loaves of bread and a few fish, and he quietly begins to divide this food and feed the people with it.
What do you think went through the minds of the people in the crowd that day? Certainly they were concerned about the food situation and their families; concerned about making it home safely. It must have been an amazing thing for someone sitting somewhere on the outer edges of this huge gathering of about 10,000 people to suddenly hear the word that is spreading through the crowd — there's bread to eat! There's fish coming!
Sure enough, the disciples make their way through the crowd, distributing bread and fish out of some huge baskets. What was going through the minds of those people? I think it was something along the lines of, "Wow, he's amazing!" He's amazing. And he is. They already knew that, that's why they followed him around for the past three days. His teaching has been incredible. It feels wonderful just to be around him. They have heard him say amazing things; they have seen him do amazing things — and now this.
Of course, we know that it's no accident that they would be amazed. They are seeing the Son of God at work. They may not completely understand it yet, but God is among them, present in this man. Jesus is allowing them to catch a glimpse of all that is possible in the Kingdom of God. In God's Kingdom, anything can happen. In God's Kingdom, miracles are ordinary and people are valuable. And it is the heart of God the Father that beats at the centre of this Kingdom. Through this miracle, Jesus shows that He has come to connect the heart of the Father to the hearts of the people — and they are mazed.
Origen, a third century theologian, had a great analogy to explain who Jesus was. He told of a village with a huge statue — so immense you couldn't see exactly what it was supposed to represent. Finally, someone miniaturized the statue so one could see the person it honored. Origen said, "That is what God did in his Son." Paul tells us in Colossians that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. In Jesus we see God in a comprehensible way. Through Jesus, God made a personal visit to our planet.The text tells us that before Jesus distributes the food, he makes a very conscious point of giving thanks to God for the bread and the fish. He points people to the source of the food. Through this miracle, Jesus gave the people a glimpse of God, and their worries disappear. I'm sure they were all amazed that day.
That was good... and I can't eat another bite!
So, the food gets distributed through the crowd. What else goes through their minds? I know that the next thing that many of them think was something along the lines of, "That was good, and I can't eat another bite!" They may not have used those exact words, but the sentiment was there. Mark says in verse 8: "The people ate and were satisfied." The word satisfied literally means "to be filled with food."
Their needs were met. More than met. After feeding 10,000 people, there are still leftovers. The disciples picked up seven big basketfuls of leftover bread. This was Jesus' response to the doubt of the disciples earlier: "Where in the world are we going to get food here?" They were living with a sense of inadequacy, a poverty mentality. Even though they had seen Jesus feed even more people back in Mark 6, they still had doubts.
Isn't worry like that? It doesn't matter how many times things work out for us in our lives. How many blessings we receive, how many signs of God's grace and care, we still obsess about the fact that the next time, everything's going to come crashing down. Sure Jesus fed the crowd of 5000 men, but what makes us sure that He's going to do it this time? And so we jump to ominous conclusions: This time, we'll starve. This time we' re going to run out of money. This time my friends are going to leave me behind. This time I'm going to fall flat on my face and embarrass myself.
Again and again we see that this thinking runs counter to the heart of God. God does not skimp. God is concerned with our everyday needs. He isn't going to lead these people into the wilderness and then leave them there to die. That's not how God works. If we put our trust in God, we will find Him worthy of our trust every time.
What we need to understand in this passage is that this crowd was a group of people who did put their trust in God. This is a remarkable bunch. They knew how much food they had taken with them and how long it would take to get back home. They knew that they didn't have enough. They knew their children were hungry. Yet, in working all of that out, they had still decided that it was better to stick with Jesus than worry about their immediate needs. They were so captivated by what Jesus had to say that they were willing to risk their own health to stay with Him.
It's this kind of faith that characterizes this particular crowd. They were hungry, not for food, but for Jesus. In fact, they were more hungry for Jesus than they were for food. They knew what they really needed, and they were willing to do whatever it took to receive it. Because of that faith, Jesus responds and they leave satisfied. The implicit challenge here is to put ourselves into that crowd and ask what we are hungry for.
Mother Teresa once said that the spiritual poverty of the Western world is much greater than the physical poverty of her people. "We may be poor," she said, "but you in the West have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness." John Piper, a Christian pastor and writer, put it like this:
The cost of food in the kingdom is hunger for the bread of heaven, instead of the white bread of the world. Do you want it? Are you hungry? Or are you satisfied with yourself and your television and your computer and your job and your family?
This crowd followed Jesus through the wilderness because they were hungry for the bread of heaven. What they discovered was that once they decided that Jesus was the One who could meet their real hunger, their deepest needs, they walked away satisfied. He filled them spiritually, and then physically as well. "That was good," they said, I can't eat another bite! I am satisfied."
You know what? He really cares about us.
I think that there was one more thing that ran through their minds after they ate and as they made their way back to their homes. It's something that Mark reveals right at the start of this text, but the crowd wouldn't have realized it until later when they were thinking back on their experience. I think that as they were walking home and talking about what they had just gone through, some of them would have said to each other, "You know what? He really cares about us!"
Right away, Mark tells us that Jesus was motivated to do this miracle because He felt sorry for these people. He knows each of them. He sees their hearts. He knows they have a long journey home and that they have no food. He tells the disciples that He is concerned about them. When he says this, the people don't hear Him say it because he is just talking quietly to his disciples at this point. But as they walk home, energized with good food, they would have realized that Jesus was not just interested in getting His message across. He cared about them as people. He cared about their daily needs.
This experience with Jesus is consistent with the kind of experiences that people have had through the ages. To be a follower of Jesus is not just simply committing yourself to a particular system of beliefs and doctrines. To be a follower of Jesus is to enter into a deep sense of being personally connected to the heart of God the Father. It is coming into a profound awareness that Someone is paying attention to me.
The people had come to Jesus to listen to a great Teacher. In the end, they did meet a great Teacher, but even more than that, they met a man who loved them deeply. They discovered that, not because He said it, but because He showed it. They saw the love of God in Him and they felt the love of God in Him. They didn't know it yet, but Jesus came to show his compassion in an even more profound way: by going to the cross. His miracle on this day was just a little taste of what he had really come to offer. Looking at this miracle through the lens of the cross, we can see and understand that the real mission of Jesus was offer the world living bread, which is himself. The cross is the ultimate symbol of love. James Bryant Smith puts it like this:
We see in Jesus the compassion of God, the tenderness of God, and the desire of God to care for us. Even if we had never heard his words but simply watched his actions, we would know something of the character of God.
There's a story that nicely illustrates this: Right after World War II, many hungry and homeless children were placed into large camps by the allied armies. There the children were well fed and cared for. However, at night many of them did not sleep well. They seemed restless and afraid and no one could figure out how to help them.
Finally, a psychologist hit on a solution. After the children were put to bed, they each received a slice of bread to hold. If they wanted more to eat, they could have more, but this particular slice was not to be eaten, it was just to hold. That slice of bread produced marvelous results. The child would go to sleep subconsciously feeling it would have something to eat tomorrow. That feeling gave the child a calm and peaceful rest.
Psalm 23 says, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." The sheep don't worry because they know instinctively that the shepherd has made plans for tomorrow. He fed me today; he'll feed me tomorrow. The shepherd loves me; he is not going to let me die.
The crowd left Jesus that day, not just in awe of the amazing things that Jesus had done, and not just satisfied because their stomachs were full with bread and fish. They also left that day with a profound sense that God was tuned into their every need. "You know, He cares for me!" Their worries had disappeared.
Think about this message in light of some of the issues that have you concerned right now. Through the gospel, we see that the way to address our fears and worries is quite simple. It is to spend time in the presence of Jesus getting to know him better.
As we get to know Jesus better by studying the Scriptures and spending meaningful time in prayer and spending time with fellow believers, we learn what lives in the heart of the Father. We are reminded of how deeply we are cared for and how secure we really are. Worries last a short time, but the love of God for us never fails, never ends. "[Jesus] said, 'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.'" (Mark 8:2)
St. Patrick, the wonderful saint who was instrumental in the conversion of Ireland many centuries ago, crafted a wonderful prayer that summed up the security that he had found in Jesus. That prayer is now known as the Breastplate of St. Patrick. We close with these ancient words that go like this:
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding...
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath mc, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise...
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship
Hymn of Preparation: #420
May the grace, mercy and peace of God rest upon us, through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Amen.
We Celebrate Our New Life
Hymn of Praise: #8:1,4,5
God's Will for Our Lives: 1 John 4:7-21
We Hear God's Word
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture: Mark 8:1-13
Sermon: "The Cure for a Worried Crowd"
We Respond in Faith
We Pray Together
We Go Out to Serve
Parting Hymn: #171
May the Lord bless us and keep us; the Lord make His face shine upon us and be gracious to us; the Lord turn His face toward us and give us peace. Amen.