Mark 6: 30-44
Dr. Chris White March 30, 2014
In basketball, free throws are not free. Someone is not randomly chosen and given the ball for free points. No, free throws come as a reward for the other team breaking the rules. Any time you see someone shooting free throws, a rule was broken. All games take rules seriously. And most people take rules seriously, especially Christians. And Christians take rules seriously because we believe God takes rules seriously. In fact, we think of God as the great rule maker and punisher of the rule breakers. But there is this other side of God we see through Jesus in the gospels. Here we find Him breaking rules—rules we swear by—for the sake of the gospel. Specifically, He’s breaking rules to bring His peace into our lives.
We’ll look at a very familiar story today in Mark 6:30-44. It is the event of the feeding of the 5,000. And we’ll read the passage in portions to see just how Jesus was breaking rules for the sake of helping people like us.
Read with me from Mark 6:30-32. Here we find God breaking the rule of majority-first. We would expect that God would do all God can for the whole world to know the gospel. Were he teaching today, we would expect to only see Jesus in stadiums and before great crowds. But as the passage notes, even with a multitude at hand, Jesus looks on the Twelve and sees that they need his attention. This is where he begins to break rules.
Jesus has compassion on the minority even at the expense of the majority. While the gospels note in Luke 8:43 that that crowds almost crushed him at times, we also need to see that Jesus constantly interrupted the flow of the crowd for the need of a person: a paralytic, a tax collector, a deaf and mute man, and a blind Bartimaeus on the road side. He regularly stopped talking to many to talk to one. He knew the need of one. He knew when the work of God was intended for one set of eyes.
God breaks this rule for you, too. Yes, God reveals Himself to a large world, but your needs are not lost on Him. No matter how loud the crowd, your needs are not muted. Jesus pulling the Twelve into a boat to pull away from the crowd reminds us all that God sees your details and needs within the larger fabric of this world. He knows what frightens you, He knows where you are failing and thriving, and He knows what are your limits.
Read with me from Mark 6:33-34. Here we find God breaking the rule of the minority. The crowds are moving along the shore, shadowing the boat. We don’t know what the Twelve or any spectator thought of the crowd, but Jesus saw sheep without a shepherd. He saw vulnerable people without direction. So he lands, has compassion on them, and begins to teach. So while it might seem that the minority needs of the Twelve are most important, he breaks the rule of the minority to care for the majority.
This is an interesting angle of faith. We are guilty of believing that certain people are taken more seriously by God and even blessed more by God than others, or at least it looks that way from our perch. It might be that we feel left out. We presume others have the attention of the Twelve. We presume that Jesus brings a few into the boat and leaves the rest of us behind. But Jesus cares for those who have nothing but the legs to get around the sea. If their hearts are open, there is a Savior willing to talk to them.
God breaks this rule of the favorites for you, too. There is no question that God does unique acts of grace and ministry through and for individuals. We know that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Esther, Mary, and Martha enjoyed a different assignment than we. But God does not create cliques. He is open to the open-hearted: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13). Jesus says, 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 (Matt 11:28-29). He is open to the seeker.
We may look out on those that seem favored and wonder how God ever has time for us, but He does. I read an article this week about Adam Greenway, a dean at Southern Seminary in Louisville and a well-received preacher. What is different about the article is the open comparison of him to Rev. Billy Graham, our foremost evangelist. No preacher reading that article, especially this one, has ever been compared to Billy Graham. It would appear that Adam Greenway is in the boat while the rest of us are on the shore. He is a fine man, and God is great to him, but God is great enough to be great to everyone at the same time, and He is faithful enough to be faithful to everyone at the same time. God can care for the great as well as the least. No matter where you fall in your own mind or in the mind of others, God breaks the rules of the elite to care for the least.
Last, join me in Mark 6:35-44. Here we find God breaking the rules of conformity. The rules here are simple. People who arrive unprepared are going to face hunger, and there is no simple way for such a crowd to eat. If people are sent off to find food, the teaching is over. Eight month’s wages will do it, too, if anyone can come up with such a sum. These are not viable options, it seems. All we find on their behalf is 5 loaves and 2 fish. So it is time for the need and the meager resources to conform to the inevitable—people go home and eat or stay and face hunger. God through Jesus does something else—He breaks the rules. What should only have fed a family or two is the beginning of feeding groups of hundreds and fifties, 5,000 in all. If God had conformed to these limits we wouldn’t have this story. But this is the way of God: He does not conform where we have to conform. God does what God will do, and God frequently chooses not to conform.
Conformity is a great temptation in this world, and the consequences are often tragic. Just this week a story was posted out of Japan concerning a man who was released after being on death row since 1966. Japan has a 100% conviction rate due in part to the role of confessions. Mr. Hakamada confessed to the killings after 240 hours of questioning over 20 days, but soon recanted. But the confession held weight with the three judges. Since then DNA technology has cleared him. It’s also come to light that one of the judges on the panel believed in his innocence at the time but was overruled by the other two judges; he was so aggrieved that he resigned seven months after the ruling and considered suicide. Because acquittals are so detrimental to legal careers, the pressure to conform to charges is intense.
God does not have to conform to the pressures of this world. When Jesus brings a demoniac back to his right mind in Mark 5, it is God refusing to conform to what the village had concluded about the man. When Jesus brings a person out of a reputation for sin, like Levi and Mary Magdalene, it is God refusing to conform to the conclusions of offended neighbors and impatient parents. And where there seems no reason for hope, and the great pressure is to conform to what everyone says in inevitable, we hold on. The God who feeds the 5,000 feeds you and me. The God who heals the sick can heal you and me. And the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us from the dead.