Welcome to our worship on this 4th of July weekend. And welcome if you’re listening on the radio. Let’s begin with offering our thanks to the Lord for the blessings of living in America.
The last screen there quotes Zechariah 4---
Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
May we always remember that all good things come not from our own might or power, but from the Spirit of the Lord. Our hope always comes from our almighty God---Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
And what a supreme gift we have received from God’s Holy Spirit that he inspired the writers of the Bible to communicate God’s Word to us in scripture. Today we continue our focus on Mark’s Gospel---following “In the Footsteps of our Master.
You heard two sections of Mark read a few moments ago. Both were occasions when Jesus miraculously provided dinner for thousands. Pretty impressive! We could use Jesus’ help with our Shepherd’s Hand meals on Monday nights---but then---he’s here already isn’t he?
But before we look at those massive meals, notice how the first situation begins in Mark 6---
Mark 6:30-31 “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
The disciples have been hard at work sharing Jesus’ good news, but they’re exhausted. Notice Jesus doesn’t say---toughen up! He says, “Let’s take a break”!
Jesus recognizes the disciples’ needs and he recognizes yours and mine. Summertime is a great chance for a change of pace. Time for rest and relaxing is part of God’s plan for us and it is good---when we use it well. But sometimes we can get so wrapped up in trying to squeeze everything into our summer plans that we end up in a frenzy. And then we start to think---“I can’t wait for fall to come so I can get some rest!”
For recreation to be truly re-creation, we need to use it well and more isn’t always better. And for re-creation to really happen, we need our Creator to be part of it.
Which is why prayer, quiet time, worship, and reading God’s word is important for every member of the family, separately and together, in this summer season.
Which brings us back to Mark’s Gospel and Jesus recognizing their need for rest. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for them to take a break right then. Sometimes that happens when we serve the Lord.
We hear from Mark that as Jesus led the disciples away by boat to get a rest that lots of people saw them go and followed on foot. They were waiting for them to land. And---
Mark 6:34 “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”
Jesus had compassion on them because they had great needs---like shepherd-less sheep. And so he begins teaching them---he feeds them with his Word. He is the bread of life---that’s what Jesus called himself.
Jesus gave them the good news, direction for life. Shepherd-less sheep need that---we all do. But he’s not only concerned for their spiritual needs.
Mark 6:35- 37 “By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
The disciples recognize they have a problem---they want Jesus to send the crowds for take-out. But Jesus has another idea. “You 12 can feed these thousands!”
Mark 6:37 “They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
What Jesus suggested was impossible for the disciples. But not for him.
Mark 6:38-40 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.”
5 loaves and 2 fish---comes up a little short to provide dinner for thousands. But not for Jesus---
Mark 6:41-44 “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.”
Add women and children and it’s a lot more than 5,000! So what do we make of this miraculous meal? And what about the one that follows in Mark 8? Again, they need dinner for thousands. And again Jesus presents the problem to the 12.
Mark 8:1-3 “During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”
Of course you and I would have learned from the last time that this was not a problem. No, not really—you and I would have been like the disciples, stuck in our earthly way of looking at things.
Mark 8:4 “His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
Despite the disciples slowness to learn, Jesus’ compassion again moves him to provide dinner for thousands with a miraculous multiplication of bread and fish.
So what do we make of these dinners? There are many things we can learn, but I would like to point to three. First the 2nd event is not just a re-run of the first. Jesus didn’t do this everywhere he went---though people would have loved that and some followed him for that reason.
The first feeding of the 5,000+ happens in Jewish territory near Capernaum where Jesus spent much of his early ministry. The second feeding of the 4,000+ seems to have happened in the region of the Decapolis, Gentile territory.
Jesus came first to the Jewish people. They were the ones God began his relationship with. But they were not the only ones that God loved. Despite the fact of the divide among the Jewish and Gentile cultures, Jesus’ Good News was meant for all people and it still is today.
Second, notice how Jesus fed all these people. In both cases he asked his disciples to gather what was there and give it to him. Then he made it multiply.
Often that is how God works. He wants us to be involved. He wants us to take what he has already given us, place it in his hands, and then he meets the need.
We may wonder why the Lord doesn’t miraculously meet all the needs in our world today. But what did Jesus say to his disciples? “You give them something to eat.” Jesus knew that was physically impossible. But he wanted the disciples to learn an important lesson about how God works.
Certainly God can operate without our involvement. But for reasons we can’t completely understand, God chooses not to meet every need directly, but to provide the raw materials and involve us in the process of providing what we and others need. Ministries like the North Valley Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, LOVE Inc, Shepherd’s Hand Clinic, and Lutheran World Relief, function best when we take some of what God has placed in our hands and offer it back to God through those ministries and many others. So then, we are partners with him in meeting the needs of people around us.
When Jesus tells us “You give them something to eat”, he is hoping we will learn that we can’t do it alone. But that when we offer what he has provided us, then he will take it and make miracles happen.
Third, these dinners for thousands were not about proving Jesus’ power and might. This was not a political campaign or a marketing stunt. Jesus did not do this to impress the crowds. He did it to point to the Kingdom of God that he was bringing into the world. And in the Lord’s Kingdom, we begin by recognizing our need---like the disciples and the crowd did. And then we receive the blessings of God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ, so we can share those gifts with others.
The occasion for these miracles and many other of Jesus’ miracles was basic human need. And we see God’s power revealed, the power of his Kingdom in Jesus, providing both spiritual and physical bread, saving people from sin and hunger out of compassion for the people he loves.
These miracles were signs pointing to the Kingdom of God that, in Jesus’ early ministry, was starting to be revealed.
But if we’re going to grasp the power of these events, we can’t avoid asking the question of what do we really believe about miracles in 2016?
There have always been those who have questioned the validity of miracles. After all you and I can’t feed 5000+ with 5 loaves and 2 fish. That’s not how groceries work.
Some have tried to explain away the miracles in the Bible. “You know, people back then just weren’t as sophisticated as we modern people are. They were gullible.”
But while they may not have known some things that we do, they knew that feeding thousands with a little bread and fish was out of the ordinary, as was walking on water and rising from the dead. Those who believed didn’t just blindly accept these things, they saw them as evidence of a power beyond human understanding.
There are those who try to explain away the feeding of 5,000 by saying that after they found the 5 loaves and 2 fish, that everybody just started to share what they had. But if the people had that much food, why were they hungry? And where did the 12 baskets of leftovers come from?
The real issue here is a belief called materialism which is often defined as thinking of material possessions as most important in life. But materialism often goes beyond that to a philosophical belief---that nothing exists except matter and the things we can touch and see and hold.
That belief has a lot of influence these days. And those who hold that belief can’t accept any miracle because it doesn’t have a natural, material cause.
That belief has even influenced some professors and scholars in the church who approach the Bible with the pre-judgement that miracles aren’t possible. They say -----“I’ve never seen a miracle. Science can’t prove miracles. So they must be impossible.”
That’s a pretty big pre-judgement or prejudice. But if you hold a materialistic worldview, miracles must seem impossible.
But there are logical problems with that view. First of all, materialism is not itself a belief that is based on material evidence. You can point to the existence of the material things you can see and hold, but there is no material evidence that proves that spiritual things can’t exist.
Eric Metaxas, best-selling author, has written a book called “Miracles”. In it he points out the flawed reasoning that if a materialist insists that the only evidence of a miracle he would accept is natural evidence, then obviously it is impossible for there ever to be such evidence, since a miracle by definition comes from supernatural sources.
But why would a Christian dismiss the possibility of miracles? There are probably many reasons, but perhaps the biggest one is a desire to make the Christian faith fit with a “modern” view of the world.
Several times I have heard leaders in a church group NOT our own, say that we have to adjust our Christian teachings to fit the way the world thinks, implying that’s what will attract more people.
There are several problems with that view. The first and foremost is---what authority do we have to change what has been revealed to us by God in his inspired Word?
And if with some advanced mental gymnastics we can get past that first problem, the second is that if we could make our teaching fit the ways of the world, we would have nothing special to offer. If we dilute the uniqueness of Christ, there would be nothing of benefit that would attract people.
Third, if we accept that there is a God who created us---which you would think should be a requirement for a church ---if we believe God created the universe, then making dinner for thousands is nothing!
Of course as Christians, we believe that God works in our world in countless natural ways---ways that many scientists recognize---the complexity of DNA, the various traits of the earth that are just perfect for the existence of human life, the development and birth of a child.
But the Lord also works in supernatural ways. Why not? By definition, he is the one who has set the natural laws in place.
Oxford mathematics professor John Lennox says that God has created a universe that we describe as operating by natural laws. And that is true. But God is not a prisoner of these laws! God can reach into the world and bring in a new event. This is how Christians understand the resurrection; we don’t claim it happened by natural processes, we claim it was an injection from outside of God’s energy and power.
Science may be able to show that a miracle can’t happen by natural means. But because the supernatural is out of the realm of science, it can’t prove that miracles are impossible.
You can’t feed thousands of people with 5 loaves and 2 fish by any ordinary means known to man. But what about means that go beyond human, material processes?
As Christians we are not required to check our brains at the door before we enter each Sunday. God has given us those brains to use. Both Pastor John and I have college degrees in science and have deep appreciation for what science can do.
When science is used properly it does not destroy faith. It can build faith by pointing to the evidence of God’s design in creation. But what does harm faith are worldly, materialistic assumptions that come from a worldview that seems to be getting narrower and narrower these days.
So where does that leave us?
As Christians in 2016, we can believe in miracles because they come from the Creator of the universe---who most often works through the ordinary means of his created world---but who also works at times in miraculous ways---thankfully, the how and the when of miracles are up to him.