Always More Than Enough
I can very clearly remember the first time I got stuck in a snowdrift after I moved here to Northern Michigan from southwest Ohio. I mean, I was really stuck. And it wasn’t like I’d never seen snow. When I was a child growing up in southwest Ohio, between Dayton and Cincinnati, I saw plenty of snow. I was only 4 at the time, but I can remember my dad and grandpa stacking wood in the garage before the big blizzard of ’78, and even down there, my grandpa was able to supplement his income by plowing snow for pretty much every business in Blanchester for years. I can remember ice skating on the lake at grandma and grandpa’s house, and spending snow days home from school sledding down the huge hill in our front yard. I’d seen snow before.
But not a snow like this. It was January of 1998, and we’d gotten a huge snow up here. Schools were closed, and I had a big meeting to get to. We were bringing a speaker in from out of state for the meeting, and his plane was the last one to land before the airport closed. So I got up that morning and headed toward First Congregational Church. I was living with Carver and Lyn Nixon at the time, in an apartment in the basement of their house on East Shore Road.
I backed out of the drive, and headed north to go up McKinley to hit Center Rd. Everyone knows McKinley, right? As in “Mount McKinley.” It goes up from East Shore it seems like forever, past where it crosses Center Rd., and keeps going up until it crests and then drops fast back down to the water on the other side where it meets Peninsula Drive. So as I turned left onto McKinley, ready to make the climb up, I noticed the road hadn’t been plowed yet, and the drift was pretty deep. More than 2’ deep at that point, as it turned out.
What I didn’t realize was how far up the hill the drift went. It went all the way up, more than a quarter mile, almost all the way up to Center Rd. A snowplow had started down the road, could no longer move the snow, and stopped. A quarter mile up the road from where I was, you could see where the driver had stopped and backed up. I couldn’t see that from where I was. I just figured it was a couple feet of piled up snow. So I laid on the gas and hit it, figuring it would be kind of fun to plow through it. Yeah, I made it far enough into the and onto the drift to get all four wheels up off the road surface, stuck in the snow. All four wheels off the ground. I walked back to Carver and Lyn’s house – remember, this was January of 1998, no one had cell phones back then – and called my friends and coworkers the Russells, who still own a farm on Center Rd.
David, the dad and one of my coworkers at the church, was out blowing snow, so Coe, the mom, sent their oldest son Andy to rescue me. About a half hour later he came walking down the hill with a shovel in his hands, and told me that the plow had quit trying farther up the hill, and he parked up there and had to walk down. He and I spent the next hour trying to dig me out before we gave up. He walked back up to his car and drove home to get his dad, and their big John Deere farm tractor to come and pull me out. About 3 hours after I’d buried my car in that drift right in the middle of the road, thinking I could just bust through.
Have you ever felt like you’re stuck like that? Like the problem you’re facing, the obstacle in front of you, is just too big to handle on your own? Or like the problem you’ve gotten yourself into is too much, and it threatens to overwhelm you? Maybe it’s an addiction you can’t seem to get a handle on, or a relationship challenge you just can seem to meet. Maybe its some baggage from your past that you just can’t seem to dump, or some parts of your personality that are broken and just keep getting in the way – like anger or lust or jealousy or discontent or pride or envy.
Maybe it’s a chronic illness or injury that causes pain that won’t stop, or that limits what you can do. And maybe, like me back in 1998 on McKinley hill, and in various areas of my life too many times to count since, you’ve tried to handle it own your own, not really understanding what you’re up against, trying to ram your way through, and you just got more stuck. Made things even worse. Ever been there? Ever felt stuck like that. Maybe you’re stuck like that right now. When we’re at that kind of an impasse, faced with that kind of an obstacle, often all we can see is the problem, the mountain, the quarter-mile-long snowdrift and the stuck car. And when all we can see is the impasse, the problem, we often forget to turn to Jesus. Don’t worry, that happened to those closest to him too. Turn with me to Mark 6:30-44. We’ll start by looking at Vv. 30-34.
Jesus had sent his disciples out in pairs to do what he had been doing – proclaiming the good news that the salvation and rule of the Kingdom of God was present in Jesus, healing the sick, and casting out demons. And they saturated the Galilean region with the power and message of Jesus. And now they come back to Jesus, both exhausted and exhilarated. They’d had to trust God constantly, both for provision and protection and also to work when they prayed for people – to heal and deliver. Feeling the power of God alive in you like that is an exhilarating thing, but they’d also had their faith pushed to the limit. And Jesus wanted to hear the stories and give them time to rest and process what they’d experienced and done. So he tells them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”
As we’ve learned more and more about the human body and brain, our physiology and psychology, we’ve come to realize and acknowledge the importance of rest. The human brain and body seem to be wired to thrive on a cycle of activity and rest. Bursts of activity followed by times of rest. Even the most aggressive of exercise routines – whether it be training for marathons or triathlons or body building or crossfit – trainers and fitness coaches stress the importance of building regular rest into the cycle. And they aren’t just talking about getting enough sleep at night. Even aggressive training regimens like P90X feature three weeks of aggressive training followed by a slower recovery week with lots of stretching and light exercise. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow goes to bed at 8 pm during the football season so that his body can rest and recover and rejuvenate. And if he’s experiencing some pain or knows he’s about to face a really talented, aggressive defense in the next game, he goes to bed at 7 pm to give his body an extra boost. And it isn’t just our bodies that need the break. We need psychological breaks too. We’ve always told our kids, you have one mental health day a month that you can take off school, no questions asked. Just tell us the night before and we’ll call you in. Mentally and emotionally and physically we can’t just keep going forever.
Jesus knows his disciples need to rest and recover, and process their experience. He often does the same thing himself. He wants to give them a break. But there’s a problem. The people and their challenges and problems won’t stop coming. Look at V. 31. The disciples return from the mission trip Jesus had sent them on, and they’re immediately swamped with people in need of help. And now the people know that Jesus has empowered his disciples to do what he does, so in their minds, there are more people who can help, right? And that’s true. The disciples have taken their first steps into the life Jesus had invited them into when he first called them to become “fishers of men.” They were becoming extensions of his ministry in the world – his hands and his feet and his heart.
So more and more people are hearing about Jesus and his power. Therefore, more and more people are coming to be healed and delivered. And Jesus looks around and says, “Yeah, rest and refreshment aren’t going to be possible here. Come away with me for a break. Let’s find a desolate place away from people. A desolate place. That’s a theme in Mark. A desolate place. The wilderness. That’s where John the Baptist burst onto the scene in the first verses of Mark’s gospel. It was where Jesus was tempted by Satan. It was where Jesus drew away to pray alone, and where Jesus went to choose his twelve apostles.
This wilderness theme in Mark points back to God leading Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, and providing for and protecting them there. The wilderness is an untamed place, a place that can sometimes be dangerous and in which provision is hard to find. It is rugged and sometimes harsh. It isn’t lush a filled with vegetation and fruit. That’s often where Jesus has to retreat when he needs rest, and he and his disciples need rest now, because so many people are coming for help that they can’t even take the time to grab a quick bite to eat. Peter and John are getting hangry. Matthew and Judas are starting to argue. Philip is over there starting off into space. They need to get away from people for a bit. The wilderness is just the place to do that.
Unfortunately, when they set off in a boat, the crowds see them, and figure out what’s happening and where they’re going, and they ran on foot and got to where Jesus was trying to gather his disciples for rest. The great need of the people found them wherever they went. Now, notice the heart of Jesus. He could have sent the people away, but he didn’t. He had compassion on them. Why? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Mark is taking a major shot at the Jewish religious leaders here, because truth be told, Israel had TONS of shepherds for the people. They had so many priests that they worked using a platoon system – on for a week and then off for several. Something like that. Even backwards, backwater towns like Nazareth had a synagogue where people could go to hear the Word of God, worship, and receive instruction. The problem wasn’t that they had no shepherds. The problem was that the many shepherds they had weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing – caring for and tending God’s flock. In Israel, shepherds tended flocks when they were out in the wilderness, where they needed guidance to find enough food and water, where they needed to be protected from thieves and predators.
Shepherds were supposed to stay with their flocks at all costs, guiding, protecting, and walking with them. They were to lead them to food and water, and were to be constantly aware of the physical and emotional condition of their flock. They carried lambs who were too small to keep up. They sought for and carried lost sheep back to the flock. The protected and guarded their flocks with their lives. It was a dirty, hard job. The original “dirty job.” And God used the image of a shepherd as an example of what the priests and religious leaders were to be doing for his people – shepherding them. There were many shepherds, priests, in Israel, but they weren’t doing their jobs. Wherever Jesus goes, the people find him, like sheep without a shepherd, desperately seeking a shepherd, and he has compassion on them.
He doesn’t send them away, even though his disciples need rest. He has compassion on the people, and so he begins to teach them. Look at Vv. 35-38. And he teaches all day. Next time you think I preach too long, remember that. And toward the end of the day, the disciples realize that they’re out in the middle of nowhere, with no major provisions, and a huge crowd of people with nothing to eat. It’s a problem. It’s a huge problem.
And the disciples and Jesus haven’t eaten yet either. They’re hungry and exhausted. The crowd is going to be hungry. And it isn’t a small crowd. Mark tells us that there are five thousand men there. That isn’t counting the women and children with them. So what are we talking, ten thousand people? Fifteen thousand? The two largest villages near there, Capernaum and Bethsaida had 2-3 thousand residents each. The massive crowd listening to Jesus included that, and much, much more. Even the closest towns wouldn’t be able to handle the crowd, and large portions of them would have been in the crowd too.
So the disciples point out the obvious to Jesus – we need to send these people away to find food. And Jesus makes an interesting reply. “You give them something to eat.” Now, remember, the disciples are exhausted and hungry. And they’re noticing the same thing in the crowd. And Jesus tells them to feed them. Their reply is sarcastic. “Yeah okay Jesus. How? We’ll just take the 200 denarii we don’t have out of the bank and go buy bread from villages that don’t have bakeries that big. Two hundred denarii was 6-8 months wages for a common day laborer. They didn’t have that kind of cash laying around, and even if they did, where would they go to buy that much bread? They were dealing with more people than all of the residents of Bethsaida and Capernaum together. The problem was too big. Yes, God had provided for them and worked through them when they had gone out through the region teaching and healing, but they were just 2, and they didn’t have to feed the crowds. This problem was much, much bigger. Too big.
So Jesus ups the ante. “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” It didn’t take them long to figure it out. Five loaves and two fish. A laughable amount of food for that many people. It might feed 5. But not 50, or 500, or 5,000. Or 15,000. Jesus isn’t expecting them to feed the people with their meager ration. He’s EMPHASIZING THEIR LACK. He hammers home the point that they really don’t have enough to feed the massive crowd. He slaps them in the face with the immensity of their obstacle, the depth of their problem, and their insufficiency to meet the need.
Until they put what they have in Jesus’ hands. Look at Vv. 39-44. He tells the disciples to group the people into rectangles of 50 and 100. Again, now they know exactly how many people are there. One last emphasis on the immensity of the challenge, the problem, the impasse. No, 5 loaves and 2 fish aren’t enough. “We have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. But okay, whatever Jesus.” How many miracles have they seen? How many demons cast out? How many lepers cleansed, blind whose sight is restored, deaf suddenly hearing? How many of those things happened through their own prayers, their own hands as Jesus used them when he sent them out?
How many times does Jesus have to come through before we’ll trust him? Does it matter how big the challenge is? How steep the climb? How dense the impasse? How big the snowdrift? When Jesus is standing there beside us. He doesn’t always do what we WANT him to do. But he always does what we NEED him to do, what we would want him to do if we could see everything he sees, knew everything he knows, saw things from his perspective. But we don’t, and truly, we can’t. We can only see things from our perspective. But we have to remember who it is who has asked for our 5 loaves and 2 fish. Insufficient for the task? You bet. But Jesus asks for them anyway. And when he has touched them, our meager offerings, he then proceeds to do incredible things. His provision is always more than enough, especially when what we have to offer is insufficient for the task.
There are three things we need to notice about what Jesus does here. The first is that he asks for what they have. He takes, and uses, what they have, and extends it far beyond all rational capacity. He doesn’t just poof a feast out of midair. He could have, but that isn’t what he does here. He takes what they do have, their meager offering, and transforms it into enough to fill a crowd large enough to fill even the largest churches several times over, until they are satisfied.
Second, he doesn’t make a feast fit for a king. He gives them what they need. He extends the loaves and the fish, he doesn’t transform them into prime rib and lobster. Not that there’s anything wrong with eating prime rib and lobster when it’s in front of you. But he met their very real need. They were hungry, and he fed them. He fed them until they were full. He didn’t give them a snack to tide them over. He gave them enough to eat until they were full.
Third, there’s no evidence that the people in the crowd knew what was happening. They only knew that Jesus and his disciples included a filling dinner with the day. They only knew that they were being served, and they ate. For all they knew, Jesus could have had a commercial tent set up on the other side of the mountain baking bread and cooking fish. They were, after all, near the Sea of Galilee. Only Jesus and his disciples knew what was really going on. That the five loaves and two fish were accomplishing what no five loaves and two fish should have been able to accomplish.
And then, when the meal was over, the disciples gathered the scraps, as was customary among the Jews. Bread was, after all, considered a gift from God. It wasn’t to be left laying around. It was also customary for Jews to carry a small wicker basket with them – both men and women did this – almost like a purse. It was something they grabbed as they left the house like you and I grab our wallet and keys, or purse and keys. They could carry enough bread for a quick meal if they needed it, and any odds and ends, tools they might need for the day, in that little maybe purse-sized basket. And when the disciples gathered up the scraps, there was enough fish and bread to fill each of their baskets. Jesus met their need too, as they met the needs of others. Rest itself would come soon, as night was falling, and maybe they would finally be able to draw away from the crowds like Jesus wanted.
But these sheep without a shepherd, this crowd, needed a shepherd to lead them to food and water, spiritually, as Jesus taught, and physically, as he fed them. He did not send them away. He IS, after all, the GOOD SHEPHERD. But Jesus met his own disciples needs too.
Where are you stuck? What is your impasse? What is your quarter-mile-long snowdrift? Is the car stuck, all four wheels off the pavement? What are your resources? They aren’t enough, are they? Your willpower, your wealth, your reputation, your strength, your energy, your talent … they aren’t enough, are they? Is Jesus asking for them? Asking you to place them in his hands? Asking you to trust him? Then trust him! He sees you. He sees the impasse. He sees the stuckness. He sees the other side of it too, and he will get you there, if you’ll let him. Let’s pray.