The Eventide of Prayerful Intercession, Mark 6. 30-52

Bernard Osborne, Dinas Powys, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Part 3 of 5 of the series Eventides in the Life of the Lord Jesus in Mark's Gospel

This passage deals with two related miracles accomplished by the Lord. The first was the feeding of the five thousand. The disciples had just returned from their first missionary journey, tired and excited. Immediately before this miracle we read of the murder of John the Baptist, and no doubt the Lord had Himself been pierced to the heart by the death of this faithful servant. Both Master and men were in need of a quiet rest, and they sought to escape from the tumult of Capernaum by ship to reach the quiet uplands on the other side of the lake. "Come ye yourselves apart . . . and rest awhile", the Lord had said. This surely is an invitation from Christ to which we ought to give heed more often. After any great exertion, the body cries for rest, but still more does the soul's health demand quiet after successful and exciting work for Christ. We need to come apart and rest in communion with Him. Without communion with the Lord we shall become mechanical in our efforts, and we shall lack power. Even when faced with the most urgent calls upon his service, the busiest worker does not waste time when he gives time to secret fellowship with God. It is only as we draw upon His strength and feed upon Him in communion with Him that we shall be equipped to help others. Our experience should be one of ever going in to the presence of God for our rest and strength, and coming out again to meet the needs of men. A Christian will be ineffective if he attempts to meet the needs of men without first having spent time apart with the Lord.

Is the trouble with us that we are too busy to sit still and listen to our God ? Is it that we do not give God time to speak to us ? Is it that we give Him no opportunity to recharge us with spirit­ual energy and strength ? After all, is it not those who "wait upon the Lord" who "shall renew their strength"?, Isa. 40. 31. Or is our devotion such that it is content to "sit still", glad in our spiritual privileges, but blind to the need around us ? A devotion that does not issue in action is not real devotion.

The Lord knows our frame, under­stands our frailties and our infirmities, and is well aware of our physical weaknesses. He knows that if we constantly give attention to the more public aspects of service, we may forget the welfare of our own souls, so that while we have assiduously been keeping the vineyards of others, our own vineyard we have not kept, Song of Songs 1. 6. We must remember that the prosperity of a man's ministry is closely connected with the prosperity of his own soul.

The rest that they sought was not to be, and their search for privacy was defeated, Mark 6. 34. What would we have done if we had been in the posi­tion of the Lord?, wanting quiet for rest and for instruction of the disciples, with the thronging crowd remorseless­ly intruding. Would we have been irritated, angry, impatient? But look again at the Lord. There is no trace of these in His heart. His weariness did not override His compassion. The shepherdless multitude always moved the Lord deeply. Here was a wonderful love that never sought its own, but always forgot its own needs and sorrows in sympathy and care for the burdens and sorrows of others. They had teachers who never led them into the pastures of God's Word or broke to them the bread of life. They talked of the traditions of the elders and the souls of the flock were famished. He saw them famished and lost, and He had compassion on them and began to shepherd them. He, the Good Shep­herd, led them into the green pastures of the Word and they were fed. Tired and weary though He was, He went on teaching them all day. He spent Himself in the work. It is worth any sacrifice to feed a fainting soul, to save a lost soul.

Again, notice the Lord's awareness of our physical needs. He had taught them, but He did not forget that they needed a meal before setting out on the homeward journey. The Lord's compassion extends to all our needs. Like His Father, He knows that we have need of food. Read Matthew 6. 31, 33. If we put His interests first, He undertakes to provide for our physical necessities.

But how to feed them ? The disciples had no real answer save to send them away, Mark 6. 35, 36. Are we not sometimes tempted to shuffle off responsibility for the world's spiritual hunger? Do we not sometimes think that we are not able because we think that our resources are absurdly in­sufficient? We do not look high enough. We see the difficulties; we do not see the infinite, almighty resources of our God. Is not His command still "Give ye them to eat"? Christ is enough to satisfy the world's hunger. Calculations which leave Him out of the matter are ineffective, v. 37. The disciples had reckoned up their re­quirements but they had not taken stock of their resources. But the Lord is ever the Master of all situations. He knew what He Himself would do, John tells us. So He feeds the multi­tude with insignificant means. Little is much when God is in it, and the in sufficiency of our poor human re­sources is shown to be no hindrance to the accomplishment of the great divine purposes. With the most meagre means perhaps some 20,000 people were fed that day and filled. The loaves were not diminished by His giving. That is true of all divine gifts. He be­stows and is none the poorer.

Before the Lord broke the bread that day, He looked up to heaven, the source of all our blessings, and He gave thanks and blessed it. So in a deeper sense the Lord took and blessed a human body. Then He set them in fifties and hundreds, in ranks, literally "like beds in a garden". Order is stamped upon all His ways, whether in creation or in grace. God is not the Author of confusion ; confusion is the devil's work. Order is heaven's first law. The One who brought order out of chaos in the dawn of time, and who would have order in worship, instead of the disorder that could so easily arise from unrestricted use of spiritual gifts, 1 Cor. 14. 40, is here before us. At the end of the meal there was no wastefulness—the surplus was collec­ted. There was no wastefulness in the economy of God. Likewise we should learn to be good stewards of God's bounty. Meanwhile He had satisfied the need of all. There is enough in Christ the heart and mind to fill.

The meal is over, and the Lord is urgent in sending the multitude away, and in sending His disciples across the lake. Why this is so is explained for us in John 6. 15. The palace-fortress of Herod was only a few miles distant and in their mob enthusiasm the crowds were ready to march against it, to seek to dethrone the tetrarch and to crown Christ King of the Jews. The Lord refused this. The kingdom will yet be His, but He will accept it at God's hand, not at the hand of man. The danger was dealt with at once.

Any revolt will peter out if the leader sends His main supporters away on a long and tiring rowing expedition, and then Himself retires to a mountain top to spend the night in prayer and fellow­ship with God.

Everyone had gone, and the Lord had a heart-longing to be alone with His Father. Do we ever have that same longing? Alas for the Christian who must ever live his life in the limelight! Meanwhile the disciples were on the lake. They were:

(a)   Alone. Yes, it is quite true that they had one another for company, but He was not there. They feel now how much they want Him, how badly they get on without Him. Who upon the troubled sea of time would be left without a Comforter so gracious, a Helper so mighty? Are not the words of the hymn true with us ?

I must have the Saviour with me, For I dare not walk lone.

Furthermore they could not see Christ now. We want to see, when the whole need is that we should trust.

(b)  Assailed. They were in a storm. They were "tormented" or "dis­tressed", R.V., in rowing. It was only by painful effort that they could make way against the driving storm. It was not through stubborn self-will, but through obedience to the Lord's com­mand that the disciples found them­ selves in this plight. God's path for them led through the storm. The Lord's people may sometimes have to pass through a sea of troubles. They may encounter trouble in the very act of obeying Christ. Let us not count it strange if we meet trials in the path of obedience. Yet consider that the Lord saw them "toiling in rowing", v. 48. His disciples are never in any sort of tempest or trouble but what His eyes are ever on them and He comes to their help. He has never failed to draw nigh unto His own in their hour of darkness and need. The Lord sees the troubles of His believing people and in due time He will help them. Wherever we may be, whatever our circumstances, the Lord sees us. We are never beyond the reach of His care. Our way is never hid from Him. He who walked upon the water never changes. He will always come at the right time to uphold His people. He will not forsake us. He also, who in the wilderness kept open table for the poor with divine miraculous power, is at the same time the Deliverer of the distressed on the sea. in regal might walking over the rebellious waves and bringing them His peace, Psa. 107. 25-31. He came treading the waves, and He puts all the swelling tumults of life under His feet.

(c) Afraid. They thought that they saw a spirit. This was not the only time they thought so; read Luke 24. 37-43. And He "would have passed by them". Why ? Compare Luke 24. 28. The Lord wanted His disciples to confess their need of Him before He came to their help. The disciples at Emmaus must constrain Him. It was not that the Lord intended to pass them by, since it was because of their need that He had come, but they must be brought to realize their need for themselves. If we would have the Son of David heal us, we must confess our need of healing and our faith in Him by crying for help, Mark 10. 46.

{d) Assured. They were afraid, but the beloved voice came to them across the waters. He is both Lord of the bread and of the billows. He can multiply the one and mollify the other. Note what the Lord said "Be of good cheer". How often those words were on His lips, and when He bade men "cheer up" He gave every reason why they should, unlike the man of the world who bids us to "cheer up" because "it's not so bad as it might be". Small comfort to know that things could become worse! What sort of comfort is that? But listen to the Saviour's comfort:

(i) The Good Cheer of His Pardon— "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee". Matt. 9. 2.

(ii) The Good Cheer of His Peace— "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace", Luke 8. 48.

(iii) The Good Cheer of His Power— "In the world ye shall have tribulation ; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world", John 16. 33.

(iv) The Good Cheer of His Presence —"Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid", Mark 6. 50.

(v) The Good Cheer of His Promise —"Be of good cheer, Paul; as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome", Acts 23. 11.

In the history as given in Mark, the Lord broke the bread, ascended the mountain for prayer, and later returned to relieve His discouraged disciples. Have we not here in these miracles a parable in action? Do we not see pictured here His body broken for us, His present priestly intercession for His people while we battle in the storm of life below, and finally His personal advent in power? Yesterday He died for me— the bread was broken. Today He lives for me, and there intercedes on the mountain top. Tomorrow He will come as the Morning Star in the "fourth watch of the night" and conduct me to the Father's house. "He maketh the storm a calm"; "so he bringeth them unto their desired haven", Psa. 107. 29, 30.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Bernard Osborne is retired from a career in education and is in fellowship in the assembly at Dinas Powis, Wales. He is a gifted Bible teacher and travels extensively in ministry throughout the UK and N. America.