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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The True Shepherd of Israel
Text:Mark 6:30-44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 59:1-3
Hymn 7:9 (after the law)
Psalm 78:1,2,11
Psalm 23:1-3
Psalm 140:9,10 (after offertory)
Augment Hymn 27 or Hymn 6

Reading:  Exodus 16
Text:  Mark 6:30-44
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,


A man and his wife decided to take a vacation somewhere exotic.  Being the independent sort, they didn’t want the guided tour, being on a bus with a bunch of people you don’t know.  So, they decided that when they landed, they would go to the rental car counter and rent a car and take care of their own sight-seeing.  That’s exactly what they did.  The wife said, “Don’t you think you should get a map, just in case?”  Being a man, the husband replied, “It’s okay, honey, the rental car has GPS.  We’ll have no trouble getting around.” 


So their flight arrived in this city where few people speak English.  The people at the rental car counter spoke some English and that was helpful.  The couple went and got their car, and, as advertised, it came with a GPS unit.  Getting into the car, they powered it up and entered the address of their hotel, which was on the other side of the city, at the end of a maze of roads. 


After about thirty minutes on the road, the GPS went blank.  They pulled over to the side of the road and the man, being a man, tried to fix it.  He checked the power, tried it to turn it on and off, even banged it a few times – but nothing would work.  The GPS was dead.  There they were in the middle of a strange city where few people speak English, no maps, no GPS, no cell phones, no BCAA.  For some, this could be the greatest and most exciting challenge ever.  But for most people, this would be a nightmare.  Totally disoriented, totally lost.  Not knowing which way to go. 


That can happen when you go on a vacation, but it can happen in the middle of daily life too.  Something can come along -- maybe the death of someone you love, maybe sickness or an accident—something can come and knock you off your feet and totally disorient you, making you wander in the wilderness of doubts and questions.  That disorientation can happen temporarily or it can be a more long term thing.  If we reflect on it long enough with an open Bible, we begin to realize that we are pilgrims in a strange land and so much of what we see happening around us can be disorienting and confusing.  It makes no sense. 


We can be like sheep without a shepherd, except as believers we know that we do have a Shepherd, a good Shepherd, in Jesus Christ.  We know that because it’s revealed to us in the Bible.  That truth gives us comfort and encourages us for our pilgrimage.  And we see it particularly in our passage.  So, I preach to you God’s Word:


The Lord Jesus revealed as the true Shepherd of Israel


Earlier in chapter 6, the Lord Jesus had sent out his disciples on a preaching and healing mission.  He commissioned them to be his prophets.  In the verses right before our text (Mark 6:14-29), we find out what often happens to prophets.  Following in the footsteps of other Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist was beheaded. 


Now when we come to verse 30, we pick up the story of the disciples and their mission.  The mission is over and they return to their chief Prophet, the Lord Jesus.  They report all they’d done and taught.  Evidently it had been a busy time for them.  The busyness just continued all around them.  Mark tells us that many people were coming and going and in fact, it was so busy that they weren’t even able to find a moment to sit down and have a bite to eat.  Notice that the crowds are considered a bother here.  They’re annoying and they prevent people from taking care of their normal, daily needs. 


The Lord Jesus sees this.  He’s concerned for his disciples, the special group of twelve men who are part of his inner circle.  Why would he be concerned?  Because he’s a man and he has a human nature.  He knows what it’s like to be tired (remember him sleeping in the boat?); he knows what it’s like to need a break.  Some of you are tired.  Some of you are worn out.  Listen to the words of your Saviour at the end of Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The Lord Jesus still extends his call to come.  Come to him with your weariness and your burdens.  Come to your elder brother who knows and understands.  You can pray to him and bring these things to him and you can know that he’ll not only listen, but also extend his help.  He’ll do that by encouraging you with his Word.  He’ll give his help through the Holy Spirit, the Comforter whom he’s sent to dwell in us.  He’ll give his help through the encouragement of Christian brothers and sisters.  When you pray to him, he will not fail to answer because the concern he shows for his disciples in this passage is the same concern that he still has today for his people.  Remember what it says in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  He will hear and act.


So he does here in Mark 6 as well.  He knows their need and he acts on it.  He wants to take them on a retreat.  He tells them to come with him to a quiet place so that they can rest up a bit.  It’s important to note that when he says, “a quiet place,” literally that says “a wilderness place.”  The word here was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to describe the place where the people of Israel wandered before they entered the Promised Land.  We will come back to that in a minute. 


Obviously, they’re at the Sea of Galilee.  That’s obvious because they get into a boat to travel to this “solitary place.”  Again, that’s the same word as in verse 31; it can also be translated “a wilderness place.”  From Luke’s parallel account, we know that this was somewhere along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near a place called Bethsaida.  Assuming that they were near Capernaum when they got in the boat, it was perhaps a straight line distance of about six and a half kilometres or four miles across the lake. 


The Sea of Galilee is not a huge lake and as a boat was sailing across, it would be very easy to keep your eye on it from the shore.  The crowds did exactly that.  As the boat departed, they watched very carefully and started running to the place where they thought the boat might land.  Mark tells us that these people came from all the towns and they ran on foot.  I just mentioned that the straight line distance is about six and a half kilometres or four miles across, but if you were on foot running around the shore of the lake, this extends to about sixteen kilometres or ten miles – quite a bit further!  But people in those days were much more accustomed to travelling on foot and somehow they managed to outrun the boat and get to the landing point before Jesus and his disciples. 


Now comes the biggest surprise in this text.  Yes, there’s a miracle that takes place, but by this time in Mark we’ve come to expect miracles from Jesus.  No, there’s a bigger surprise here, something just amazing.  Jesus and his disciples were trying to escape the crowds, trying to head out on a retreat, so that the disciples could rest and eat.  But now they arrive at their destination and who’s there waiting for them but the crowds!  Thousands of people.  I think any one of us on a good day would probably be annoyed at this.  “Here we go out of our way to escape the crowds and they chase after us, running around the lake as if their life depended on it.  We wanted a break, but these people won’t give it; they won’t give up!” 


That’s why verse 34 is so surprising.  “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them...”  What?!  We expect to read, “Jesus became exasperated with them” or maybe “Jesus was frustrated with them” or maybe “Jesus was annoyed with them.”  But “Jesus had compassion on them”?!  Who is this?  That’s exactly the question Mark wants us to ask and the question that he’s going to answer.


Jesus is the one who has compassion on the crowds.  That means he has pity, has sympathy, he is moved in his heart for them.    Psalm 103 expresses the same kind of compassion and sympathy that we find here, attributing it to God himself.  Psalm 103:13 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”  Those are beautiful words and they’re echoed here in our text when Jesus is said to have compassion on these crowds that chase him around the lake.  Who is Jesus?  He’s the one who reflects the compassion of the Father, because as Paul says in Colossians, he is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and in him all the fullness of God dwells (Col.1:19). 


You also need to see your Saviour here with his perfect obedience.  You might become exasperated, frustrated or annoyed with other people and their expectations.  Some times your frustrations are reasonable and can be vindicated from the Bible.  At others, they may be rationalized with the Bible to cover up the fact that it’s sin.  Still at other times, we may not even bother with what the Bible says – then it’s just naked sin.  We all know it’s true:  we are lacking in the perfect love and compassion for our neighbour that God’s law demands.  But beloved, fix your eyes on your Saviour and cling to his perfect obedience, his perfect love for his neighbour, his perfect patience and compassion.  Through faith in him, resting and trusting in him, all those merits too are imputed to you.  His perfect righteousness here is also your perfect righteousness.  His compassion is yours.        


Jesus is the one who has compassion on the crowds because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  That’s an expression with a background in the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were said to be “like sheep without a shepherd” when they were without a leader.  Now let’s consider that expression a bit more carefully.  God calls his people sheep in the Bible more often, and when he does that it’s simply an accurate description of who we are.  It’s not meant as a compliment.  He didn’t say we were as wise as owls or as resourceful as coyotes or raccoons, or hyenas in the Middle Eastern context.  He said that his people are like sheep.  If he wanted to build up the self-esteem of his people, or if he wanted to make them feel good about themselves, calling them sheep was not the way to do it.  Calling them sheep, calling us sheep, that’s meant to give an accurate picture, a picture that makes us humble before God.  You see, sheep are some of the most utterly dependent animals on the planet.  They’re also some of the most stupid.  Sheep need a shepherd for survival.  Sheep need a shepherd to show them where to go for food.  Sheep need a shepherd to protect them against predators.  When sheep don’t have a shepherd, they’re prone to wander, to fall prey to wolves, bears and lions.  When sheep don’t have a shepherd, they’re liable to starve.   Sheep that want to be independent and do things their own way – they die.


That’s why Jesus has compassion on them.  He knows what they really need.  He knows that these sheep are out wandering in the wilderness.  These sheep are starving.  These sheep are his and the shepherds who were supposed to take care of them, took care of themselves instead.  The religious leaders in Israel, the priests and the Scribes, were false shepherds who just lined their own pockets and let the people wander.  These people were victims of false shepherds who gave them stones, scorpions and serpents for food.  No wonder then that Jesus had compassion on these people, that he felt sorrow and pity for them.  They had been cheated and robbed by these so-called shepherds.


Now notice how his compassion translates into action.  He knows what they really need.  These sheep without a shepherd have been starving for spiritual food.  That’s why it says at the end of verse 34, “So he began teaching them many things.”  He gives them the gospel of the kingdom of God, proclaiming to them the good news, as he has done so often already in Mark.  He gives them spiritual truth that will truly feed their hungry and thirsty souls.  Here’s the good Shepherd with his sheep in the wilderness and he compassionately feeds them, giving them the nourishment they’ve been lacking.  So he continues to do today.  Today his sheep are still in the wilderness on a journey to the Promised Land.  Some might ask with Psalm 78, “Can God spread a table in the desert?”  Yes, he can!  That’s exactly what Jesus Christ does for us, week in and week out.  He spreads a table in the desert and feeds us with his Word.  In the desert, every direction looks the same; it can be disorienting to be in the desert.  So much uncertainty and confusion.  But the Good Shepherd comes and feeds us and gives us direction, shows us the way of life, the way forward from the desert to the Promised Land.          


But I can hear someone saying, “But what about his concern for the disciples?  What happened to their need for rest and his attempt to meet that need?”  That’s a good question.  You can look at it from a couple of different angles.  From one perspective, the disciples were sheep with a Shepherd.  They were disciples of Jesus.  Remember the parable of the lost sheep?  The Good Shepherd tends to the needs of the one lost sheep, wouldn’t he then also tend to the needs of the 5000 plus lost sheep and leave the twelve who are in good hands already?  From another perspective, what the crowds needed as lost sheep was also what the disciples needed most.  More than rest, they needed the teaching of the Lord Jesus.  Believers never outgrow their need for the gospel.  And the disciples also needed to see their Good Shepherd and his compassion, so that in their ministry in due time they would go and do likewise. 


His compassion for the sheep without a shepherd doesn’t stop with his teaching them.  He is a Good Shepherd who takes care of all of the needs of his sheep.  This gets drawn out when his disciples approach him late in the day.  They again draw attention to the fact that this is a remote place – again, literally a wilderness, out in the boonies.  “It’s late and all these people are still here preventing us from having our retreat.  So, Jesus, please send them away to places where they can eat, send them away from us now.” 


He answers in a sort of teasing way, “You give them something to eat.”  Again, notice how he doesn’t see the crowds as a nuisance, but as his calling.  He came to be their Shepherd, how can he send them away?  Their reply to him is incredulous, almost sarcastic.  They ask, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii (or eight months of wages) and buy bread for them?”  It’s not a serious question; it comes across as snarky and sarcastic.  After all, it’s not likely they had eight months of wages on them.  Eight months of wages would get you over 2000 loaves of bread.  Where are you going to find someone with 2000 loaves of bread for sale?  And how are you going to get 2000 loaves of bread from there to here?  It’s a sarcastic question. 


But his next question is not sarcastic.  He asks how many loaves are on hand and tells them to go and find out.  After a bit of searching, they discover that in the whole crowd there are only five loaves of bread and two fish.  From John’s gospel we know that this food belonged to a young boy.  It’s not much. 


Jesus directs them to sit down in groups on the grass – that little detail tells us that this event took place in the spring.  It doesn’t change the fact that this place is out in the boonies.  Even in the driest and wildest parts of Palestine, you can find green grass in the spring.  The people were seated in groups of hundreds and fifties.  All of this is reminiscent of Israel in the wilderness in the book of Exodus.  The Exodus out of Egypt took place in the spring.  If you read Numbers 2, you’ll find that the Israelites were carefully and methodically arranged in their camps in the wilderness.  So here too in Mark 6.


Then Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish and he does something very familiar:  he leads in prayer before he and everyone else eats.  You see, that practice of praying before you eat is not something that people invented.  It’s something we find in Scripture.  If Jesus, the Son of God, would give thanks for his food, why wouldn’t also those who believe in Jesus, those who have union with him through faith and the Holy Spirit?  The food that we have before us each day is nothing to take for granted – it comes from above as a gracious gift of God, and we ought to give thanks for it.


Verse 41 says that he took the loaves and the fish, he gave thanks, he broke the loaves, and then gave them to his disciples.  Compare verse 41 with what Mark writes in 14:22, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples..”  The exact same verbs are used in those verses:  took, gave thanks, broke, and gave.  This is not a coincidence.  When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, this is also the Good Shepherd feeding his people with his crucified body and shed blood.  At the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Jesus reminds us that he is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep.  This joyful event here in Mark 6 is pointing ahead to the sacrament, but also beyond it to the Great Marriage Feast of the Lamb, when our Saviour will feed us for eternity at a lavish banquet for which there is no earthly comparison. 


At this feast in Mark 6, Jesus miraculously provides the food in great abundance.  We don’t know how he did it, nor does it really matter.  What matters is verse 42:  “They all ate and were satisfied.”  Again, we have shades of Israel in the wilderness with the manna provided by God.  There, God’s people ate and had exactly enough.  Jesus is re-enacting that event, but he goes one step further because there’s more than enough.  There are twelve basketfuls of leftovers!  There are even more leftovers than the amount of the original food.  This is a sign of abounding grace.  This is the sign of a Saviour who lavishes his people with everything they need and more.  The number of people fed?  Mark tells us that there were 5000 men, 5000 males.  We could expect that there would be at least some women and children in addition.  So, this was a miracle, the feeding of thousands of people with a few loaves and a couple of fish.


What does it reveal to us about Jesus Christ?  We discover in this text that he is the true shepherd of God’s people, the Good Shepherd who not only takes care of spiritual needs, but also physical needs.  He’s a Saviour for the whole person, body and soul.  What happens here is prophetic of his saving work in all its fullness.  Yes, he saves our souls with the sacrifice of his body and blood once offered on the cross.  But Scripture also tells us that he saves our bodies.  At the last day, our bodies will be raised from the dead and reunited with our souls.  Body and soul lay under the curse of sin and Jesus Christ delivers from the curse of sin on the entire person, both body and soul.  He is a complete Saviour, he is your Saviour, your Good Shepherd.  He will never disappoint, never fail you or forsake you.


You may have times in your pilgrimage here on earth when it seems like the world is spinning out of control and you’re disoriented, unable to find your bearings.  It happens.  At times like that (as at all other times!) let your thoughts and your hearts flee to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.  He promises to lead you and guide you like none other can.  When it seems like the foundations are shaken, he’ll encourage you with the knowledge that there is solid ground under your feet.  You can confidently and joyfully say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I’ll not want.”  This is God’s Word.  AMEN.


Let us pray:


O Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd,


We praise you for your gracious provision for your people in times past, present and future.  Thank you for providing for our entire person through your perfect redeeming work.  We are grateful to know that you are the only Saviour we need for body and soul.  As our Shepherd, we pray that you would continue to lead us and guide us in green pastures.  We pray that you would defend us against all enemies.  We ask that you would lead us to see more and more our dependence on you, that we would love you more, be impressed with you more, have our hearts filled with more thankfulness.  We pray all of this in your Name and for your glory, along with the Father and the Spirit.  AMEN.     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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