More Than Enough

Original Date: 
Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mark 6:32-44 More Than Enough

Only One Riot
I know about the Texas Rangers—the police force, not the baseball team—for basically two reasons: The Lone Ranger, and Walker, Texas Ranger. Both shows portrayed the Rangers as larger than life, super capable heroes. If just one ranger were present, any situation was under control.

Well, apparently those fictional characters were both based on one real life example. It was the early 1900s and the city of Dallas—much smaller than it is now—was engulfed in a labor riot. The mayor, overwhelmed by the violence, sent a message by telegraph to Austin begging for help. A telegraph came back saying that help would arrive on the noon train.

So the mayor hurried down to the train station, but couldn’t believe his eyes when only one Texas Ranger stepped off the noon train. The mayor went up to him and said: “We’re done for, I asked for a whole company and they only sent one ranger?”

The ranger, Captain Bill MacDonald, shrugged his shoulders and drawled: “Well, there’s only one riot, isn’t there?”

As far as the legendary lawman was concerned, if you had one Ranger on hand, you had more than enough. One of MacDonald’s favorite sayings, which became a part of the Ranger Creed was: “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’”

When I first read that story, I though immediately of God. If one Ranger is more than enough to stand down a riot, then how much better off is the person who has God on his side?

Think of Moses and the people of Israel standing on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian cavalry riding down on them. An impossible situation. But God was on their side.

Or think of David, barely a teen-ager with a few shepherd’s tools facing a hardened, veteran, giant warrior. A guaranteed losing fight. But God was on his side.

Again and again, that’s the story of scripture. God reverses impossible odds. With God on your side, you are never really at a disadvantage.

As I thought about the message I wanted to give as we head into a New Year, it’s that thought that stood out to me. When you have Jesus, you have more than enough.

New Year’s is a time for making plans and resolutions and dreaming about the potential of what lies ahead. It’s a time for looking forward and making fresh beginnings. And one thing I want to encourage you to do as you enter 2013 is to go into it with Jesus. Whatever you might face in the New Year, remember: when you have Jesus, you have more than enough.

The Scripture
The Scripture passage that is going to help us see that this morning is Mark 6:32-44. It’s the story of the feeding of 5000, and here’s how it goes:

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

The stories that are told about Jesus in the Bible are there, first of all, because they are true. This story, in particular, stands out from all the other miracles that Jesus performed because it is the only one—other than the resurrection--that is recorded in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This miracle clearly made an impression.

But when the gospel writers include a story about Jesus, they are doing more than just recording history: they are trying to teach us. They are helping us to see things about Jesus, and about us as His followers. You can see that in the different stories they include in their accounts: the reason Matthew, Mark, Luke and John don’t have all the same stories is because the authors are trying to teach different lessons. And you can also see it in the different details they choose to include.

So while Jesus really did multiply fish and loaves to feed an enormous crowd, Mark also wants us to see a lesson here for those of us who would follow Him. It’s often in the actions of the disciples that the lessons of these stories are found for us. And in the way Mark tells this particular story it is in the two things Jesus says to His disciples that we will find our two main points.

Hard Things
So, the first thing Jesus says is in verse 37:

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

When Jesus is confronted by His disciples with hunger of the crowd, this is His surprising response. There’s a problem, but His disciples can fix it. There’s a need, but He wants them to meet it.

And here’s the lesson I think we can learn from this: Jesus calls us to do difficult things. There are problems in this world, but Jesus wants us—his followers—to fix them. There are needs, but Jesus wants us to meet them.

Now, let me back up and give you a little context. Let’s go back to verse 32.

It says that Jesus and the disciples were trying to get away. They were hoping for a little R & R; a break from the crowds.

You see, this story comes at the end of a stretch of real busy-ness for Jesus and the disciples. At the end of chapter 4, on a trip across the lake, Jesus had silenced a storm with a single command. Then, in chapter 5, when they got across the lake He cast a legion of demons out of a notoriously violent man. When the crowds got to be too much to handle on that side of the lake, He crossed back over only to be caught up in the drama of a dying 12 year old girl and a woman who had been chronically ill for 12 years. He promptly healed the woman and raised the little girl from the dead.

By the time chapter 6 rolls around, the crowds around Jesus and the demands on His time are both quite great. So He divides the disciples up into pairs and sends them out on a tour of the surrounding villages. He wants them to learn to do ministry. They preach the good news and heal many sick people, and by the time they get back to Jesus they can barely contain their excitement.

But they are also tired. It’s been a hectic period of ministry. And so Jesus suggests they take a boat someplace quiet—a solitary place—and regroup.

The problem, though, is that there really is no such thing as a solitary place where Jesus is concerned anymore. Because of the miracles and His growing notoriety, people are constantly watching. And so as soon as they see Him get in the boat they take off ahead of Him and tell their friends too. By the time Jesus and the disciples land at the place they think is going to be their getaway, they find an arena-full of people waiting for them.

Now, they could have just turned the boat around and gone back where they came from. There were so many people out there they probably would have found the villages to be quite peaceful. But Jesus sees the great need of the crowd and has compassion on them. He stays. He begins to teach. He begins to heal.

The disciples, on the other hand, are not quite so compassionate. They see their chance at a break taken away from them. Plus, they see a problem. There’s no food.

So they come to Jesus. “Umm, Jesus… you know, this is kind of, a, shall we say a ‘remote place’, you know, kind of ‘solitary’? You’ll remember, that’s sort of why we came out here, so we could get a break from all the people. Well, anyway, now there’s all these people here, and they didn’t think to pack any lunches and…well…it’s getting kinda late and they’re getting kinda hungry and it’s not like there are any restaurants close…so maybe you should tell them to move along so they can find some food…”

It would seem the disciples have a pretty good point. If these crowds don’t move along, there are going to be some empty bellies when they turn in tonight.

But Jesus has a different plan. He’s teaching the disciples how to do ministry. Here’s the perfect opportunity. So, verse 37, Jesus says: “You give them something to eat.”

Like I said, here’s our first lesson. Jesus sometimes asks us to do difficult things. Here’s this enormous crowd—we’re about to find out there are at least 5000 people there—and Jesus says to his disciples: you feed them.

Now think about that. If we had 5000 people in our parking lot, and we had to feed them in a moment’s notice, that would be really hard to accomplish. And we have a Hy-Vee right next door! These guys are out in a remote area, it’s not like they can call in a caterer.

Plus, as the disciples point out, even if they had access to a market, it wouldn’t be cheap. At least eight month’s wages. I did a little comparison shopping with Hy-Vee catering and found that eight month’s wages is still pretty accurate. Fish sandwiches for 5000 people will run you right around $40,000. That’s a lot of cash. What Jesus is asking the disciples to do isn’t just hard, it looks pretty much impossible.

And, if you think about it, Jesus asks us to do some pretty hard things today too. I mean, He says that it is our job, as His followers, to go into all the world and preach the good news about Him. All the world. The world is a pretty big place. But He wants everybody to hear about Him. He wants us to do the telling. “You give them something to eat.”

Or, consider poverty. Somewhere around one quarter of the world’s population is said to live in absolute poverty—currently measured as less than $1.25 a day. And Jesus wants us—His followers—to do something about it. He wants us to feed them and address the inequities that put them in poverty in the first place. As Richard Stearns says in the book The Hole in Our Gospel, that means addressing factors like education and women’s rights and access to clean water and disease control and more. Huge problems. Huge tasks. But Jesus wants us to love the poor. “You give them something to eat.”

Or we can make this more personal. Some of you are Sunday School volunteers. Every week you head down to Kingdom Kids and you see all those eager little faces and you realize that Jesus wants you to teach them about Him. And maybe you don’t know a ton about the Bible. Maybe you feel like you’re learning the lesson just a day or two before you’re supposed to teach it to the kids. But Jesus loves those little children. And He wants you to help them love Him. “You give them something to eat.”

And more. Jesus wants you to love your enemies. He wants you to forgive those who hurt you. He wants you to share your faith with the neighbor down the street. All sorts of difficult things. Things that might just look impossible. Things where you start to make excuses… “But Jesus, that would cost too much, that would be embarrassing, that would just be too hard!”

But Jesus says: “You give them something to eat.”

Jesus calls us to do difficult things.

What Do You Have?
But, here’s the thing: Jesus doesn’t leave us to do these hard things on our own. This leads us to the second thing Jesus says in our story and our second point. Verse 38:

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

Jesus doesn’t want to hear excuses from the disciples. He doesn’t want to hear about what they don’t have. Instead, He wants them to find out what they do have, and give it to Him.

Here’s our second lesson: Jesus takes what we have and multiplies it. When Jesus calls us to do something difficult, He’s more interested in what we have than what we don’t have. If we’re willing to trust Him, He can turn very little into a lot.

So the disciples go and come back with five loaves of bread and two fish. We know from the gospel of John that it wasn’t even something they had brought. It was a little boy in the crowd, whose mother had been thoughtful enough to pack a lunch, that provides the beginning of what was about to happen.

Then Jesus has the disciples do a little crowd control while He says table grace before He starts carving the bread and the fish. Then He hands it to His disciples and has them distribute it among the people. And they just keep serving and serving.

In fact, I really want you to notice that in verse 41: who feeds the people?

At the end of the day, it’s Jesus who does the miracle and causes the bread and fish to multiply, but--just like He said in verse 37--it’s the disciples who give them something to eat. Jesus empowers them, but it is the disciples who carry out the task they’ve been called to.

We don’t actually read about the miracle until verse 42. It’s almost like Mark wants us to experience it the way the disciples did. Jesus just keeps breaking bread and handing it to the disciples. They keep carrying it out to the people. The people keep eating. And then, all of a sudden, everybody’s been fed. Nobody’s got an empty stomach. And there’s an extra basketful for each disciple beside.

What looked like too little—virtually nothing—has become more than enough in the hands of Jesus.

And, of course, I think that’s the lesson for us. Jesus calls us to do difficult things. Things that sometimes look to us to be impossible. But when we are willing to take what we have and make it available to Him, He is able to multiply and use it to do more than we can possibly imagine.

I told you earlier that Jesus is teaching His disciples to do ministry here. This is about more than just seeing that this particular crowd has enough to eat for the night. Jesus is preparing them for all the hard things He’s going to be asking them to do after He leaves: beginning the church, taking the gospel to the nations, facing down persecution, serving the poor. And here’s the first lesson Jesus wants them to learn: nothing is too difficult so long as you are depending on Him.

I don’t know what 2013 is going to hold for any of you. I don’t know what particular tasks Jesus is going to call you to. I can predict, however, that it will—at times--be difficult. I know some of the things you will have to do in order to be obedient to Jesus will be hard in this coming year—they might even seem impossible. Tasks that you will feel inadequate for.

But remember: when you offer what you have to Jesus—no matter how meager it might appear—He is able to take what you give Him and multiply it many times over. When you have Jesus, you have more than enough.

Whether By Many or By Few
One more story. There’s a story in the Old Testament that I ran across a few weeks ago that reminded me of the Texas Ranger story. It’s a strange little story—strange in that I don’t really know how it fits into the rest of the Bible—tucked away in 1 Samuel.

It’s about Jonathan, the son of King Saul. It’s a time when Israel is engaged in almost constant war with the Philistines. And, more often than not, the Philistines are winning. They have better weapons, a warrior culture, and just seem to have the upper hand over Israel.

But in this story, Jonathan decides to take the fight to the Philistines. The two armies are lined up across from each other up in the mountains. And Jonathan decides that he and his armor bearer are going to sneak up on an outpost of Philistines and fight them. Just him and his squire.

It’s a real Rambo move. Jonathan scales the mountain, jumps into the enemy foxhole, and starts swinging his sword. The Bible says he killed 20 men in about half an acre. Just an odd little story showing some of the heroic exploits of Jonathan.

But what struck me is what Jonathan said just before his attack. He says to his armor bearer: “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Sam. 14:6)

Only one ranger? Only one riot.

Jonathan knew: when you have God on your side, you have more than enough.