Ministering to the Multitudes – Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 27, 2015

Ministering to the Multitudes
Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13


One of the many things that should not amaze me, yet constantly does, is how much the people written about in the Bible are so much like me. That should not amaze me since the Bible speaks about ordinary people doing ordinary things, yet this idea still persists in the back of my mind that the people mentioned in the Scriptures were some how special and different from me. Perhaps that is a hidden desire to excuse myself when I do not live up to the example they have set, or on the other hand, a source of pride when I do better than they did. This morning we are going to see another example in which the disciples of Jesus prove they are ordinary men for they act just like we would. We will also see God’s graciousness in dealing with them and the multitude that blocked Jesus’ original plan.

This morning we are going to examine the only miracle performed by Jesus that is recorded in all four gospel accounts. Please turn to the following passages and put in a book mark since we will be going back and forth between all four: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13.

The Setting – Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10; John 6:1

We begin with Matthew 14:13, “Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself.” This refers to the news about John the Baptist being unjustly executed by Herod Antipas which we talked about last week. (See: The Contrast Between Belief and Unbelief)  The specific place Jesus went was the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias) John 6:1 states, with John including the Roman name used by the Gentiles in the late first century to identify the lake. Luke 9:10 is even more specific in naming Bethsaida (house of fish) as the location. This is Bethsaida Julias which was located just southeast of where the Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee. Some have assumed that Jesus’ immediate withdraw was due to fear that Herod would now try to imprison Him. But this is a false assumption for several reasons.

First, Jesus is God and He never did anything based on fear. No one, including Herod, could do anything to Jesus that Jesus did not allow. Previous attempts to kill Jesus were not and could not be successful. The people of Nazareth were so upset at Jesus’ preaching they tried to throw Him off a cliff, but Jesus simply passed through their midst (Luke 4:30). Jesus proved He was not afraid of them when He returned there later to preach again. Even when Jesus was eventually crucified, John 10:18 is explicit that Jesus laid down His life on His own initiative for no one could take it away without His consent. Certainly Jesus’ withdrawal would delay any confrontation with either Herod or the Pharisees until the proper time, but Jesus did not fear either Herod or the religious leaders.

Christians need not fear when threats are made against us because God’s sovereign hand is also upon the believer and nothing can come against us that He does not allow. In addition, His promise is that He will not allow anything that is too much for us, but He will provide a means through it or an escape from it that we might be strengthened in our faith (1 Corinthians 10:13, James 1:2-5). Tough things will enter into our lives, but we are secure in the Father’s hands. Even the eventual death of a Christian is a victory for it is a transfer from the troubles of this life into His glorious presence.

Second, Mark 6:31 specifically states that Jesus initiated the departure with His disciples because there had been “many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” Jesus and His disciples had been very busy and the news of John’s execution would have only added to their emotional burden and need for a time of rest and refreshment. Jesus was watching out for their needs.

A third reason Jesus departed to a lonely place is mentioned in Luke 9:10. The twelve had just returned from their mission of preaching and healing. (See: Directions for Ministry). The crowds made it difficult for Jesus to hear their reports and give them further instruction, so He left with them to accomplish that and give them a chance to rest.

Mercy to the Many Matt.14:14; Mark 6:33-34; Luke 9:11; John 6:2-3

As much as Jesus wanted to be in a lonely place, the people would not leave Him alone that easily. Mark 6:33-34 gives us the most detail, “The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd . . .” John 6:2 reveals their motivation, “And a great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.”

As the people see Jesus and the disciples departing by boat, they start following Him on the shore. The trip is about 5 miles by boat and 6 or 7 miles by foot. As they go, they would have attracted the attention of those in the cities they passed through which would have prompted even more to join in. John 6:4 mentions that this occurred just prior to the Passover, so they would also have attracted the attention of many of the pilgrims going to Jerusalem for it. Why were they going? John is specific that it is because they were seeing the signs Jesus was performing on those who were sick. They were attracted by Jesus’ miracles. Certainly there were those that wanted to be healed from their sicknesses, but there were also those who were following just to see the miracles being performed.

Jesus had traveled to this lonely place to get away from the crowds, yet when He arrives, there is a multitude already waiting for Him. How would you have felt? You are tired and have been dealing with people and their problems for a long time already. Your students have just returned from their assignments and you want to hear their reports, and they need some rest too. For those reasons, you get in a boat and sail away from the crowds to a lonely place looking forward to some relative peace and quiet. Yet, when you reach your destination there is already a crowd and more are coming. Would you be frustrated? Maybe even a little bit angry? Would you have felt justified in telling the people to go away and come back another time? Probably; I know I would, but that is not what we see in Jesus.

Mark 6:34 continues, “and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” John 6:3 states that “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.” The multitude followed Him up, and Luke 9:11 tells us Jesus’ response – “and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing.”

Jesus “felt compassion for them.” The word here (splagcnivzomai / splagchnidzomai)literally means to be moved in one’s viscera, your gut. The ancients described their emotions as arising out of their bowels. We still do that to some degree today when we describe anxiety as “butterflies in our stomach” or fear resulting in our “stomach being tied up in knots.” Jesus was emotionally moved to be merciful to them. God is not some impersonal force out there that is indifferent to the things we go through. Jesus is God. He told His followers that if they have seen Him, then they “have seen the Father,” and He is not remote from the suffering of mankind. Jesus would have had every right to tell the people to give Him a break and leave Him alone, but instead, He is deeply moved over their physical suffering and spiritual confusion. He is a sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:15) that knows our weaknesses and emotions.

Jesus extended mercy to the many back then and He continues to do so now. Regardless of what state or situation you may find yourself in today, Jesus is able and willing to extend mercy to you if you will receive it. You can bring your troubles to Him and you will find sympathy, compassion and a love so strong that you no longer need to be anxious (1 Peter 5:7).

Jesus had compassion on the multitudes even to though many were shallow, self-centered thrill seekers whom He knew would reject Him only a short time later. Compassion and mercy are qualities that we should have too, and you will gain them as you walk with the Lord. As you mature in Christ, those are qualities that are extended even to your enemies and those who persecute you because your own character is becoming more like Jesus.

Testing the DisciplesMt.14:15-18; Mk. 6:35-38; Lk, 9:12-13; Jn 6:5-9

We are not told when Jesus arrived in Bethsaida, but we are told what happened as the day was drawing to a close. Mark 6:35-36 explains, 35When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” The disciples recognize that a problem is quickly developing. This appears to have been prompted by Jesus earlier for John 6:5-6 informs us that when Jesus had first seen the great multitude coming to Him, He had said to Philip who was from that area (John 1:44) “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” 6 And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. Philip seems to have been very analytical and so he was able to quickly calculate the cost of feeding so many people and replied to Jesus, “two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” A denarius was the standard wage for a man for day’s labor. We are not told how much money they had with them, but this would have been a lot. It is 2/3 of the amount a man would have earned in a full year, and yet it would not have been enough to buy a sufficient amount of bread to feed everyone even a little. Philip had calculated the cost, but he still did not know where they would get such an amount of food. Since Andrew and Peter were also from that area, Philip may have talked to them about this problem to see if they had any ideas about where to get food for so many people, and from the response, it appears that all twelve weighed in on it later.

John 6:6 specifically states that Jesus asked this question of Philip in order to test him. What was the test?

The disciples had already seen Jesus perform many miracles in the year that they had been with Him. They were first hand witnesses to Jesus’ authority over disease, sickness, nature, demons and even life. They had also been present when Jesus turned the water into wine (John 2). Each of these miracles pointed to the fact that Jesus was God in human flesh and could be trusted to be compassionate and provide for those in need. How would the disciples respond to the situation that was now before them?

Now it is late and Jesus gets part of the answer to His test as the disciples present to Him their solution. Mark 6:35-36, 35When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late. (Matthew 14:15 describes the time as being “already past”). 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” They did not know where they could get enough food, so their solution was to have the crowd dispersed into the surrounding countryside and villages where they could fend for themselves in finding food and places to stay.

Their response did not pass the test Jesus had set up, but it now gave Him the opportunity to teach them further. Jesus’ answer to them was, “They do not need to go away, you give them something to eat!” (Matthew 14:16). This is not just a request, it is actually a command for them to carry out a task they did not believe was possible, but that was just the point Jesus wanted to make. What is impossible by every reasonable means of human endeavor is possible with God. Their solution would not be found within their own resources of either money, supply or wisdom. It could only be found by bringing what they did have and seeking God’s provision which is exactly what Jesus directs them to do next.

As a quick aside, Jesus used the circumstances that had come up to test His disciples and then to teach them another lesson. His example is a reminder to all parents that you need to be sensitive to use circumstances that come up to find out what children believe and what they are thinking. The circumstances encountered in the course of life provide some of the best opportunities to teach lessons about God and how to live for Him, but you need to be aware and ready to teach them. If they have not progressed as far as you had hoped, then you can continue to teach them those lessons so that they will grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Jesus directs them to the solution to the problem step by step. First, He has them find out what resources they do have. Mark 6:38, “And He said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go look!’” It is at this point that John 6:9 records that Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother brings what he has found, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”

These are not big loaves of bread like we think of them, but more like very large rolls, and the particular fish mentioned was most likely the small Tilapia, now called “St. Peter’s fish,” which is the size of a lake perch. These could be carried as a meal by salting and drying them or pickling them. These five loaves and two fish are not much food as Andrew points out, “but what are these for so many people?” His assessment, like Philip’s, is that this is an impossible task. The disciples had neither the ability to buy enough food nor was there enough food present to meet the needs of the multitudes.

The Miraculous ProvisionMt14:19-23; Mk 6:39-46; Lk 9:14-17; Jn 6:10-15

The needs were beyond the ability of human resources to provide, but as all four gospel accounts record, they were not impossible for Jesus. Continuing with Mark 6:39-44, 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied.

The disciples did not have a means to provide for the many people there, but Jesus was present and he did have a way to provide. He tells the people to sit down in organized groups of 50 and 100. This would have aided the distribution of the food. That must have been quite a site as they sat there in multicolored splashes of the color of their clothing against the backdrop of the lush green grass that grows there in the early spring and under an azure sky.

Then Jesus took the five loaves of bread and the two fish and gave thanks for the food that God had provided. He then broke the bread and divided it among the disciples to distribute to the multitudes. Nothing in the text specifically indicates when the bread and fish multiplied or how it did so. There was no fanfare or majestic public display, but quietly and perhaps imperceptibly the food multiplied with the magnitude of the miracle being attested to by the many people who ate and were satisfied. John 6:11 is specific that the people ate of the bread and the fish “as much as they wanted.” They were not given some small set amount designed to stretch the little bit of food as far as possible. The food was not rationed out. The baskets were passed between the people and they took whatever they wanted. Having observed how people behave when there is free food, I think the people ate pretty heartily.

While nothing in any of the gospel accounts indicates the manner in which the food miraculously multiplied, my own thoughts take me back to similar miracles in the Old Testament. 1 Kings 17 records the story of the widow of Zarephath who had provided for the prophet Elijah, and in turn God provided her a jar of flour and jar of oil that never ran out for a whole year though there was little in them. 2 Kings 4 records the miraculous story of a widow of a prophet. She was in serious financial danger and God provided for her by enabling the oil in one jar of oil to multiply as she poured it into jar after jar until there were no more containers. It is reasonable to me that this is what occurred as the baskets were distributed. Again, this is my own speculation, but the picture in my mind is that as Jesus broke the bread and divided up the fish for distribution, it multiplied to fill all the baskets. Then, as the baskets were passed around, a person would reach in and take out all the bread and fish they wanted, and more bread and fish immediately replaced what was taken out.

Jesus performed a miracle of multiplication of food. Five small loaves of barley bread and two small fish multiplied to feed and satisfy well over 5,000 people. Matthew 14:21 states there were “about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children.” The number of people fed could have been two to three times that amount – 10,000 to 15,000.

The bounty of the food provided is made even more dramatic by the amount of leftovers that were gathered. Mark 6:43, 43 “and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

Jesus directed His disciples to pick up the left over fragments (klasmata / klasmata -Matthew 14:12). These are not small crumbs, but rather pieces of bread and fish that had been broken off that had not been eaten. These were the leftovers from those who had taken more than they could eat. That is the reason I think the people ate heartily. The disciples gathered up 12 baskets of these fragments. These would have been the small to medium size baskets people would have taken with them when traveling.

There is an important lesson here in this final detail noted by every gospel writer. An infinite resource is not an excuse for waste. God provides with abundance and we may freely take and use all that we want, but He does not condone waste. This is the balance between being stingy or excessive. Rejoice and be glad in the blessings the Lord bestows upon you, but do not squander or waste those blessings. Consider that the reason you may have an abundance is for the very purpose of sharing with those who are in need. Even here, the leftovers would have provided for the Lord and the disciples’ needs that day.

The people understood the significance of the miracle. John 6:14 records, “When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” The miracle was plain to see and because of it they recognized that Jesus was the Prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18. Their problem was that they did not understand the ministry that the Prophet would bring. They only thought of Him in terms of political power and a restoration of Israel to its former glory. We will see this more clearly in the coming weeks, but verse 15 records that they sought to act upon their beliefs.

John 6:15, Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. Jesus did not acquiesce to such intentions, and from the other gospel accounts we learn that Jesus immediately sent His disciples back across the Sea of Galilee in the boat and dismissed the crowds. He then withdrew into the mountain to be alone. Jesus was never overwhelmed by the events that surrounded Him nor did He ever lose control to them. He remained in control of what He would do and when He would do it.

Practicing the Principles

But what does this miracle of the feeding of more than five thousand mean? It is obviously a very important miracle since it is the only one repeated in all four gospel accounts.

Jesus’ departure from Capernaum points out that there is a time and place to withdraw from the crowds. Ministry opportunities abound, but we as humans are limited and there are times we need to seek a quiet place where we can be refreshed.

Jesus’ demonstration of compassion to the multitudes is also a model for us. Life is about serving the Lord and not your convenience. Ministry to others will at times be not only inconvenient, but it will be to people that are blocking your goals. From a human perspective, they are irritating, but as you see people through God’s love, you reach out sacrificially to meet their needs. You should help meet physical needs of others as you can, but the real purpose is to meet their spiritual needs by teaching them about God.

Jesus’ flexibility to adapt to the circumstances and take advantage of them is a reminder that the best lessons often occur in the midst of unforseen circumstance. Parents, Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs you to be diligent to teach your children about God in every circumstance of life, which means you must become aware of the opportunities and take advantage of them as situations develop and change.

The task that Jesus charged his disciples with was impossible for them, but that was just the point being made. They would face many situations in the future which would be considered impossible by every reasonable means of human endeavor, but Jesus can do what is humanly impossible. The disciples had to learn to trust Him, and we must do the same today.

There are many tasks that God has given to us that do give every appearance of being humanly impossible, and many people try to shift their responsibilities to others to avoid them. In doing that, they set themselves up to continue to fail with many people suffering the consequences. Here are a few humanly impossible tasks God has given to us and for which we must learn to trust Him.

First, raise godly children. How are imperfect parents supposed to accomplish that? Children imitate what they see in their mom and dad which is enough by itself to strike fear in a parent’s heart, but added to this is the child’s own sin nature. It is impossible for you to raise a godly child on your own abilities, but you must remain faithful to the task and rely on God to provide what you cannot.

Another impossible responsibility is living for Christ. I cannot live and witness for Him in my own power. I cannot fight sin in my own power. That is impossible for me to do and at times I feel that so strongly my emotions seem to be crying out that I must sin in order to find relief from the sheer tension of it all. How then can a person live in holiness when he finds himself in a body of sin that seeks for itself pleasure, power and prestige? I must trust the promises of God that are beyond my own power and simply seek to be faithful while relying on Him to do the rest.

When it comes to temptation, I must remember that God has promised that He would not allow anything that would beyond my limits of resistance for He will provide a way through it or around it. My part is to be faithful to His commands and then see how He delivers. Say no to cheating on a test. Your future is in God’s hands and God will put you where He wants you regardless of any test score. Say no to tax fraud. God will provide for those who seek His kingdom and His righteousness first, so give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Flee sexual involvement with anyone other than your spouse. The few moments of stolen pleasure and emotional intimacy are negligible compared to the tragedy it brings. God can sustain you as a single or even in a marriage that is unfulfilling.

To live a righteous life you must pursue a righteous response even when others make fun of you for doing so. You must live with eternity in mind. Proclaim the Word of God even when others may hate you for it. Be more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing men. Serve others even when it requires sacrifice on your part. The purpose of life is to serve God and others for Him, not ourselves. God will provide for us as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew. 6:33).

Remember that God does not define success like the world does. He only requires us to be faithful in following His commands and He takes care of the end result. God did not call the apostles nor has He called us to be mindless servants who act without thinking, but He does want us to have the faith of a child that fully expects his father to direct and provide. A young child does not need to understand the reasons for his mom’s or dad’s instructions, but he does need to trust that if a parent tells him to do something that it is for the best and that he will be able to accomplish it or the parent will be there to help him. The same is true in our relationship with God. It is not a matter of your understanding why He wants you to do something, but a matter of trusting Him that it is best for you and He will be there to help you as needed to accomplish what He asks even when it seems impossible from the human perspective. Little is much when God is in it.

Sermon Notes: Ministering to the Multitudes
Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13


Most of the people written about in the Bible, including the apostles, are _________- they act like we would

Jesus deals with people with __________________

The Setting – Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10; John 6:1

Jesus and the disciples withdraw to a lonely place near Bethsaida Julias

Jesus is God – He never did anything based on ____________

Christians need not fear for we are in the _________________hands of our loving God

Jesus withdraws because they were so busy they did not have time to eat and they needed _____(Mark 6:31)

The twelve had just returned from their ____________and Jesus wanted time alone with them – Luke 9:10

Mercy to the Many – Matt.14:14; Mark 6:33-34; Luke 9:11; John 6:2-3

John 6:2 – The crowd ____________around the lake to find Jesus because they saw Him healing the sick

Jesus withdrew to a lonely place get away from the multitudes, but when He arrives, they are already ______

Mark 6:34 – Jesus felt _______________for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd

Compassion (splagcnivzomai / splagchnidzomai) – an __________of pity or mercy you feel in your bowels

Jesus is as _________now as He was then – you can bring your troubles to Him and find peace (1 Peter 5:7)

Jesus had compassion on them even though many were shallow,___________________thrill seekers

Testing the DisciplesMt.14:15-18; Mk. 6:35-38; Lk, 9:12-13; Jn 6:5-9

John 6:5-6 – Jesus __________________them to think about how to feed the people by asking Philip

Philip calculated ____: 200 denarii (2/3 of year’s pay) was not enough. He did not answer where to get food

The disciples had seen Jesus do many _______including turning water into wine, would they seek His help?

Mark 6:35-36 – it became late and the disciples’ solution was to send the people away to ____for themselves

Jesus set up the next lesson by ________________them to feed the people – an impossible task for them

Follow Jesus’ example: Be aware and sensitive to use the circumstances to __________important lessons

Mark 6:38 – Jesus directs them to ______________what they have.

John 6:9 – a boy’s ___________: five small loaves of barley bread and two “St. Peter’s fish” – lake Tilapia

The Miraculous ProvisionMt14:19-23; Mk 6:39-46; Lk 9:14-17; Jn 6:10-15

The disciples did not have means to feed the people, but Jesus did – and He prepares the people to _______it

Jesus gives _______, then breaks the bread & fish and gives it to the disciples who distribute it to the people

Without public display, the food multiplies and everyone ate “as __________as they wanted” – John 6:11

1 Kings 17 and 2:Kings 4 are examples of examples of two previous ________________of food multiplying

Matthew 14:21 – there were about 5,000 __________women and children – perhaps 10,000 – 15,000 people

Mark 6:43 – the left over fragments fill _______________- more than enough to feed Jesus and the apostles

An infinite resource is not an excuse for waste – we are _____________of what God entrusts to us

John 6:14 – the people understood the miracle’s significance, but did not understand the __________(Dt. 18)

John 6:15 – Jesus would _________________them to make Him king

Practicing the Principles

Humans are limited and there are times we need to seek a quiet place where we can be _____________

Jesus’ _______________extended even to those who were irritating is a model for us to follow

Be flexible, adapt to the circumstances and take ______________of them to teach lessons about God

What is impossible for us is possible for God and He will ______________us to do whatever He asks of us

Do not try to shift responsibilities to avoid them – learn to ___________God in doing them

Examples: Raise _________children. Live for Christ. Overcome temptations. Live a ____________life

We are to be _____________in following God’s commands – He will take care of the results

Little is ____________when God is in it


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the disciples are mentioned. 2) Discuss with your parents how you can trust God for things that seem impossible.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. How are the people written about in the Scriptures like you? Explain. Why did Jesus and the disciples withdraw to a lonely place? Where is Bethsaida? What did Jesus find when He arrived? How did the crowds get there and why did they come? What is compassion? How did Jesus demonstrate His compassion? How does Jesus demonstrate His compassion now? Why did Jesus ask Philip where to buy bread for all the people? What was the result of that question? What was the disciples solution to the problem? Why did Jesus command the disciples to give the people food to eat? What food were they able to find? How did Jesus have the food distributed? What examples of miracles in the Old Testament give us insight into the multiplication of food in this story? How much food did the people eat? What is the significance of having twelve baskets of food left over? How did the people respond to the miracle? Why were they wrong? How did Jesus respond to them? What principles can you find in this story that you can apply in your own life concerning the following topics: *The human need for rest; *Compassion; *Flexibility with changing circumstances; *Finding ways to use situations to teach about God; *How to approach the commands God gives to us that are humanly impossible; *God’s provision.

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