Scripture: Mark 8:1-10
Comparison and Contrast of Feeding of 4,000 with Feeding of 5,000
Good morning, I appreciate the opportunity to share with you again from God’s word. For those of you that don’t know me or for those that may be watching online, my name is Dan Jones and I serve as a Deacon at First Baptist. My beautiful wife Holly and I have been married for over 28 years, we grew up in the Syracuse area but have spent time in both the Capital District and around Buffalo. We have 5 grown children and 5 grandchildren and consider the people of this church our family as well. I thought I would start by giving you a fun fact about me so that you could get to know me better. By looking at me now it might be hard to believe, but in 2017, less than 5 years ago, I trained and ran in the Buffalo half marathon. I placed 359th out of almost 3000 runners and 22nd in my age group. I think the only way I could finish now would be in an ambulance.
Today we will continue with our series the Cross and the Crown from the book of Mark. Several months ago, I volunteered to step in for Pastor Mark and bring the message. At the time that I volunteered, the actual verse that I would be assign was not known because Pastor was not quite sure where we would be in our journey through Mark. Once we got closer to the actual date of this message, I was assigned chapter 8, verses 1 through 10. This passage gives the account of Jesus’ feeding the 4000, which was a little concerning, because at first glance is strangely similar to the feeding of the 5000 that occurs less than a chapter and a half earlier in this book.
In fact, there are bible critics, that believe that the account of the feeding of the 4000 is not supposed to be in the bible at all. That due to the similarities in the accounts, the two separate stories are just different perspectives of the same event. They claim that this duplication could have happened when someone copying the scriptures became distracted, lost their place and rewrote the story a second time or maybe summarized the story a second time to emphasize a specific point or narrative.
After all, the two accounts are quite similar. They both take place in secluded areas, on open areas of ground, with large crowds. In both cases, the gathered people need to be fed and the menu for both included bread and fish, both of which were in scarce supply. In both stories, Jesus directed the people to sit on the ground and in both cases, he miraculously multiplied the food so that everyone ate and there were a lot of leftovers. So, I can understand why someone just looking at the surface of these accounts or someone looking to de-legitimize the bible as the Word of God, might come to this conclusion.
However, this morning we are going to take a deeper look into these verses of Mark chapter 8, and see why the account of the feeding of the 4000 is a completely different event than the feeding of the 5000 and hopefully, come away with a better understanding of its message and the reason it was included by God as part of our bible.
We have been working our way through the book of Mark on an off since June 2021. The series is entitled the Crown and the Cross because the book of Mark can be broken down into two sections. The first half of the book reveals Jesus as Messiah and King, while the second half reveals His death and resurrection as the suffering Messiah. Chapter 8 represents the “start” of a turning point in Mark’s account of Jesus life. Most of Jesus’ ministry and His dealings with the religious leaders in the early chapters of this book take place in Israel, with his base of ministry being in the area of Capernaum.
In chapter 3 Jesus is at his home base and his mother and brothers come looking for him. Chapter 4 starts with Jesus teaching the “Parable of the Soils” in a boat from the shore near Capernaum and ends with Him “Calming the Storm” on the way to the opposite side of the lake to the “Country of the Gerasenes. Then in Chapter 5, instead of getting a time of rest and renewal, He encounters and heals the man with the “Legion of Demons”. Then, Jesus once again travels back to his home base in Galilee, continues to teach, perform miracles and is confronted by the religious leaders. Chapter 6 starts with Jesus in Nazareth, He feeds the 5000 in Bethsaida, and ends up back on the northwest shore on the Sea of Galilee at Gennesaret. Then finally, in chapter 7, after dealing again with the Pharisees and scribes, the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus and the disciples headed out to gentile lands. We saw two weeks ago that they went to the Syrophoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon and cast out a demon from a little girl then onto the Decapolis to heal the deaf and mute man. That brings us to chapter 8 and our passage for today.
Mark chapter 8, verses 1 through 10:
The same account can be found in the parallel passage of Matthew chapter 15, verses 29 through 39
Who made up this large crowd of people?
This account starts in verse one with “In those days, when there was again a large crowd”. Although verse one doesn’t tell us the location of the crowd, we know from the previous chapter that Jesus and the disciples are in the Decapolis, found in Mark chapter 7, verse 31. The Decapolis was a gentile region made up of 10 Greek cities, located southeast of the sea of Galilee. The cities were autonomous city-states, protected and dependent upon Rome. The area of the Decapolis was wedged between the sea of Galilee, the land controlled by Herod Antipas on the West, and to the north, land ruled by Phillip the Tetrarch, The Decapolis was not part of the Herodian kingdoms. On the map, you’ll see that prior to 6 AD, the area of Judea and Samaria were by ruled by Herod Archelaus, after which it was put under Roman rule. While some Jews did live in the Decapolis, it was considered gentile land, with a Hellenistic culture, language, and religion. Excavations have found evidence that Greek gods such as Zeus and Artemis were worshipped in the Decapolis.
Why were they there?
In typical fashion, Mark gets right to the point and is somewhat lacking on details. However, the parallel passage in Matthew chapter 15 says; “And large crowds came to him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute and many others, and they laid them down at his feet; and he healed them.” The description of the ailments given in this list are severe in nature. The Greek words used here for “crippled”, and “lame” are words used in Mark Chapter 9 and in Matthew chapter 18, when Jesus says that if your hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off because it is better to enter life crippled or lame than to be cast into hell whole, with both hands and feet. The thought here is that crippled, and lame have the meaning of a serious bodily injury, like actually missing a body part or amputation.
Jesus was not like “faith healers” today that claim they have the gift of healing. The list of “self-proclaimed” faith healers of today include Todd White who claims to heal by lengthening legs, Benny Hinn who claims miraculous healing powers, but hand selects his audience to make sure that no one with obvious, documented illness or deformity makes it up on stage, Kenneth Copeland who claims to be able to rebuke and heal COVID-19 or Bill Johnson that runs a school where for a small fee they will teach you how to move in the gift of healing.
Instead, Jesus was the real deal. If someone was missing a leg Jesus would give him a new leg. If someone was missing and eye, Jesus would give them a new eye. Jesus was able to recreate in order to bring healing to someone. He was so effective at healing that it said; “large crowds” brought their sick to Jesus and “laid” them at His feet. The Greek word used for laid means to throw, cast or to hurl.
Imagine the scene, this Jewish teacher from Nazareth comes to a gentile land and performs great miracles of healing. The word spreads throughout the Decapolis and crowds of thousands come bringing their sick, disabled, diseased and in a frenzy, push their way towards Jesus and literally just “throw” their sick down at His feet so that they could be healed. This is why such a large crowd had gathered on the mountainside.
Now that we have a sense of how we got here, let’s go back to Mark chapter one verse one and continue with this account. In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus calls his disciples and in verse 2 He says; “I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” The Greek work for “remained” means more than just “attendance”, it means to “remain attached to or to cleave unto”. The crowd was not wanting to leave Jesus’ presence, they were clinging to his every word, even spending the nights in open country to stay with him for three days.
Was Jesus Compassionate?
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is described as having compassion or being compassionate. Luke Chapter 7 says: When the Lord saw her, he felt compassion for her and said to her do not weep. In Mark chapter 1 it says; “Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, I am willing; Be cleansed.” And again, in Matthew Chapter 9 it says; “Seeing the people, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” However, this is the only account in the New Testament where Jesus, in the first person, says that; “I” feel compassion for the people”. The word Mark uses here for compassion comes from a word meeting entrails, vital organs or bowels. To be moved deeply within in the very seat of emotions. We might say it was a “gut” feeling or a visceral reaction like “I feel it in the pit of my stomach” This is all the more powerful and instructive when we remember that he is speaking about a crowd that is made up of mostly gentile people.
Verse 3 says; “If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; And some of them have come a great distance.” As I mentioned earlier, the Decapolis was made up of independent city states, and it covered a relatively large land area which includes parts of modern day Israel, Jordan and Syria. Due to the distances traveled and the amount of time that the people has gathered to be with Jesus, any food which they would have brought for their journey would have been gone by now. Yet they continued to stay both day and night just so that they could be near Jesus to hear his message and see his miraculous power.
In verse 4, “his disciples answered him, where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” You will notice that there is something missing directly before this verse that seems to make verse 4 a little odd. Did you catch it? Did you notice what is missing? The disciples answered a question that was never asked. Jesus made a statement about his compassion and his desire to not send them away hungry. The disciples must have assumed that Jesus statement was directed at them.
There are two schools of thought regarding the disciple’s response. Some commentaries paint the disciples in such a way as to look upon them with disbelief or chastisement. One such commentary says; “This is astounding. Have they, the disciples, forgotten what just happened in the feeding of the 5000 a mere 2 chapters ago? Apparently, here are fewer people and two more loaves than before, yet the disciples still wonder how they’ll be fed. They only see an impossibility, not an opportunity. They’re not even thinking about what Jesus could do.
Another way to look at the disciple’s response is that having seen the feeding of the 5000 just months earlier, their response was a rhetorical question as a way of replying to Jesus’ statement of not wanting to send the crowd away hungry. In the feeding of the 5000, the disciples asked; “Shall we go and spend 200 denarii on bread and give them “something” to eat?” Spending 200 denarii, equaling about 8 month wages for an average laborer, would only buy enough bread so that everyone could get just “something” to eat. In that account the disciples were worried about just getting the bare minimum to feed and sustain crowd by giving everyone a small portion. However, Jesus miraculously created a meal by multiplying the loaves and the fishes, which not just gave the 5000 “something” to eat, but Mark, in chapter 6 verse 42 says that; “They all ate and were satisfied.” the word satisfied in Greek is derived from the care of farm animals, which means to feed, or fatten, and of people it means to fill or to satisfy with food.
Here in verse 4, speaking of the 4000, the disciples responded to Jesus non-question with the thought back to how Jesus had not just fed the 5000 with something to eat, the minimums, but completely satisfied the crowds hunger when he fed them months earlier. It is probable that after spending the last almost two years with Jesus, seeing his miraculous power, especially after seeing his generous feeding of the 5000, his disciples knew that Jesus had the power and that the only way that the crowd could be fed and satisfied, was if Jesus did it himself.
In verses 5 through 7, the same pattern is followed as when He fed the 5000. Jesus multiplies the food that is available. This time, there are seven loaves and a few small fish, while at the feeding of the 5000 there was five loaves and two fish. Here Jesus directs everyone to sit on the ground, where at the feeding of the 5000, He directs the disciples to have everyone sit on the green grass. The difference here seems to indicate that the feeding of the 5000 took place several months earlier, in the spring when the grass was green and that the feeding of the 4000 took place in mid to late summer when the grass in that part of the world turns brown due to the summer heat.
Let me take a minute here and go off on a slight tangent. I have always had a special place in my heart for Jewish believers in Jesus, commonly known as Messianic Jews. In fact, Holly and I had the opportunity while living in Albany, to worship with a Messianic congregation. There is a richness in many of their customs and feasts, going back thousands of years, that are a foreshadowing of the coming of their Messiah. It is a richness that we have lost because in many ways we have separated Christianity from its Jewish roots. In verse 6 it says that Jesus gave thanks and blessed the meal. I dusted off my Jewish New Testament Commentary and looked for a more “Jewish” commentary of what this might have looked like in the 1st century with a Jewish Rabbi and his Jewish disciples. The Hebrew word B’rakhah (beer-ra-ka) is a Jewish blessing or benediction. The Jewish New Testament commentary says regarding this passage; “although the text does not say so specifically, it is reasonable to suppose that he, Jesus, recited the customary b’rakhah, which Jews have said for more than 2000 years before meals that included bread. In English that blessing is; “Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.”
This quote is from the Jewish New Testament Commentary; Here are two points to note about Jewish blessings at meals. First, the blessing before a meal is short. A longer “grace” is said after the meal. This seems sensible: one thanks God for something received; moreover, on a full stomach, if prayers become verbose, one can relax and express appreciation at the length, but not on an empty stomach, if the prayers becomes verbose, one’s mine easily descends from heaven to the table. Second, the object of the blessing is God, not the food. It is unnecessary to say, as many Christians do, Lord, bless this food to our bodies; since food is already God’s blessing to us. Rather we thank him for providing it.
Getting back on track, we come to verse 8 which says; “and they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was leftover of the broken pieces.” Here again the word “satisfied” is used when describing the crowd after they had been fed. Once again Jesus did more than just put a little food in their stomachs. Out of his compassion, He miraculously multiplied the meager provisions so that the people ate until full and completely satisfied. Jesus provided so much food that the scraps had to be collected up into seven large baskets. The Greek work for “large basket” used here means; “a flexible mat-basket used for carrying provisions. This is the same word that is used in Acts chapter 9, verse 25 to describe the “large basket” that was used to lower Paul through an opening in the wall at Damascus. This is different than when the leftovers were picked up in the 12 baskets at the feeding of the 5000. In that account, the word used for “basket” is different and has a different meaning. In that case, the Greek word for basket means; “a basket, such as were carried by Jews for food”. The difference is clear, after the feeding of the 4000, there were 7 baskets, big enough to carry a man, filled with food leftovers. While at the feeding of the 5000, there were 12 lunch box size baskets filled with leftovers.
Verse 9 tells us that; “About 4000 were there”, but the parallel passage in Matthew gives us a little more detail. Matthew chapter 15, verse 38 says; “And those who ate were 4000 men, besides women and children.” Commentators say that: “With 4000 households represented, the crowd could easily have numbered between 15 and 20 thousand.” After the meal and cleanup, Jesus dismisses the crowd and sends them away. Mark says that, after sending the crowd away, He and his disciples got into a boat and came to the District of Dalmanutha. While Matthew says that they came to the region of Magadan. Today the exact location of the District of Dalmanutha has been lost to history. However, with the additional details supplied by Matthew, it is believed that it was located somewhere on the northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee.
We have just finished looking at this miracle performed by Jesus, and I hope we can all agree that it is a separate and distinct event from the feeding of the 5000. Let’s recap the differences:
- The locations: Bethsaida vs. Decapolis
- Time of year: Spring vs. Summer
- The number of days with Jesus: 1 day vs. 3 days
- Loaves of bread: 5 vs.7
- Baskets full of leftovers: 12 vs. 7
- Size of baskets: lunch box vs. man sized
- The number of men present: 5000 vs. 4000
- *Jesus’ audience: Jews vs. Gentiles*
Also, Matthew and Mark recorded them as separate miracles. But the most convincing argument that these were two separate and distinct events is that Jesus himself referenced both as separate events in Mark chapter 8, verses 18 -20.
Now the question is, why would two separate but similar events need to be recorded in scripture?
I suggest that the main reason is that Jesus’ interaction with a mostly gentile crowd was used to teach his disciples, and us, that God’s compassion and salvation extended beyond the Jews to those considered outsiders, like the gentiles. To get a better understanding of the full extent of the interaction in this account, we need to look at some of the history of how God interacted with Jews and non-Jews. We know that as God’s chosen people, the Jews were to be set apart as a distinct people. In Leviticus, when speaking of Israel it says; I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. Then also, it says; thus you are to be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy; And I have set you apart from the peoples to be mine. God showed his compassion to his people in many ways and at many times in the Old Testament. Here are a few of the Old Testament verses that speak to God compassion for his chosen people.
Deuteronomy chapter 32; for the Lord will vindicate his people and will have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their strength is gone and there is none remaining bond or free. Then, in Isaiah chapter it says; For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.
However, there are also example of God’s compassion for gentiles as well. Second Kings chapter 5 tells the story of Naaman the Syrian, a leper who was healed By Elisha. Also, the book of Jonah details God’s plan to bring the gentiles of Nineveh to repentance, through the rebuke of Jonah. In fact, the reason why Jonah disobeyed at first and found himself in trouble with God was because he knew that God was compassionate. Chapter 4 verse two regarding Nineveh’s repentance, Jonah, speaking of God says; therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant and loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Finally, we have Isaiah chapter 42 verse 1; Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. And in Isiah chapter 49 verse 6; He Says, it is too small a thing that You should be My Servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. In those last two verses, the nations are seen as the target of God’s salvation.
Although God had set apart the Jews as his chosen people, he gave them rules on how to interact with foreigners that were in alignment with the compassion that he had for them. However, during the early part of the first century, Jewish scholars arose that created divisions among the races. Between 10 and 20 AD, one such scholar named Shammai (Sam-may), a Pharisee, became president of the Sanhedrin. He served until 30 AD and passed “18 ordinances” that dealt with ritual cleanliness and increased the separation between Jews and Gentiles, especially among many of the religious leaders. People became obsessed with this separation and Gentile were treated with contempt and forsaken of God.
However, with Jesus’ healing and feeding of this mostly gentile crowd from the Decapolis, he showed his compassion for all people. It was a lesson for his disciples, and us, that no one was too far removed from his love and compassion. In his commentary, James Edwards says it well; “The journey of Jesus to Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis proves that although the gentiles are ostracized by the Jews, they are not ostracized by God. Jewish (criticism) against the gentiles does not reflect a divine (criticism). There is a lesson here for the people of God in every age, that its enemies are neither forsaken by God nor beyond the compassion of Jesus.
What are the Takeaways?
Are you a believer today?
If you are a professing follower of Jesus, this first one should be easy, as believers we are called to show compassion to the members of our own families. Not specifically or only our own relatives, but the members of the family of God, those that are brothers and sisters in Christ. We show compassion by serving one another and carrying each other’s burdens.
Do we look for opportunities to serve others?
Do we put others needs before our own?
Are we diligent in praying for the needs of others?
How does the use of our time and money reflect the compassion we have for our spiritual family?
Jesus said that; “all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Next, as believers, we are to follow Jesus’ example and show compassion to outsiders. I am sure that there were some in the crowd that were just there out of curiosity or maybe to get a free meal. Jesus showed compassion to the outsiders of his day. He gave the example to his disciples, and to us, that no one is outside the reach of Jesus. The deacons are reading a book called “Loving Your Community”, it looks at ways of building ministries that reach the community. I love the fact that as a church we want to reach out to the outsiders in our cities and towns to impact out community for Christ. However, we must remember that we as individual believers should be following Jesus’ example when he showed compassion to the gentiles, the outsiders of his time.
Are we willing to engage with unbelievers? Meet them where they are?
Can we be patient with those that are ignorant of God?
Do we look down on people with different political affiliations?
Are we too good to associate with the homeless person? The same sex attracted person? The trans person?
Do we see the people that are locked away in prison as too far for God to reach?
God has given us opportunities everyday to show compassion to outsiders and He has given us Jesus as an example to follow.
Are you afraid of engaging with outsiders? Afraid of their rejection or the abuse of your compassion? You might say that you are not strong enough, bold enough or spiritual enough to be able to follow Jesus’ example of compassion for outsiders. The good news is that Jesus can miraculously take the resources that you have and multiply them so that there is more than enough to follow his example. Just like he did when he multiplied the inadequate supplies food to feed the multitude. Pray for God to give you the opportunity and resources to show compassion to your community of outsiders. Our compassion for outsiders, no matter the outcome, brings glory to God.
Are you an outsider today? Do you hold God at arm’s length and hold back from giving him the pre-eminent place in your life? Have you ever offended God by disobeying his commandments or law? The bible says that due to our nature, no one can follow God’s laws perfectly; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is called sin. God is holy, nothing sinful can be in his presence. He is righteous judge, that has to punish for sin or transgressions against him. That punishment is spiritual death, spending an eternity outside of his presence, which is described as hell; For the wages of sin is death. Unfortunately, there are not enough good things we can do to make up for our disobedience or sin. Your good deeds will never outweigh your bad. This may seem like a hopeless situation, but God had compassion on us. He sent his only son to take our place for the punishment we deserved; He made Him, Jesus, who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We accept the sacrifice made by Jesus when we repent or turn from our sin and trust in the sacrifice that He provided; For God so loved the world that he sent his only son begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not parish, but have eternal life. If you have thought about your need to accept the sacrifice that Jesus made so that you could be in a right relationship with God and spend eternity in his presence but have never made that commitment, I beg you to act now. Do not wait any longer. None of us know what will happen tomorrow, we have no promise of another day. The bible says; “we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”; and “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” Whether you are here in person or watching online, if you make that decision or need help in making that decision, I urge you to contact the church, Pastor Mark or one of the Deacons and we will rejoice with you and help you take the next steps in your walk with Christ.
Finally, brothers rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.