How Much Evidence Do You Need?

Give Them Something To Eat!

Mark 6:33-44

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / March 7, 2004


            ‘If Jesus wants us to believe in Him, why didn’t He provide us with irrefutable proof that He is God?’—This is the cry of the skeptic. This is the question often posed by those who have not yet placed their faith in the Son of God.


            In response to that question, I concede that we do not possess ‘irrefutable proof’ that Jesus is the Son of God. So, in the absence of ‘irrefutable proof’, we should ask about the body of evidence available to us. What evidence is there to support the claim that Jesus is the Son of God?


            Beloved, as I consider the body of evidence that supports the claims of Jesus Christ, I conclude that this body of evidence is gargantuan, and it is convincing. We get a sample of that evidence in the text before us this evening.


            I should also say something about the demands for ‘irrefutable proof’ and ‘evidence’. In my mind, to demand the former is not always helpful, while to demand the latter is eminently necessary. Let me illustrate this by taking you back in time. In June of 1993, I took a step of faith and asked Allie Pomeroy to marry me, and in May of 1994, we both took a step of faith in exchanging marriage vows with one another.


            The reason I say that getting married involved ‘steps of faith’ is because I did not possess irrefutable proof that Allie loved me. I did not require her to take a polygraph test, nor am I a mind reader. In order for me to determine whether Allie loved me, I had to interpret the evidence before me. Well, some of the obvious evidence came in the form of words; other times in came in the form of kind gestures. Particularly convincing was Allie’s willingness to watch Hockey Night in Canada with me each Saturday. And perhaps the most convincing bit of evidence was Allie’s willingness to continue our relationship, even as she uncovered all of my idiosyncrasies. 


            My point is that if I waited until I had ‘irrefutable proof’ that Allie loved me I might not have never made a marriage proposal. Along a similar vein, those who demand that God produce ‘irrefutable proof’ are likely to find that they have missed out on the most special relationship available to mankind.


            I am thankful for the mountainous body of evidence given to us in nature, and more specifically, in the historical record we call the Bible.


            In the text before us this evening, we see the disciples of Jesus struggling to interpret the evidence that points to Him as the Son of God. Though our text is the feeding of the five thousand, we would be remiss if we did not note the commissioning of the disciples at the beginning of chapter 6—specifically, verses 7 through 13.


            It is interesting that Jesus would give such responsibility to His disciples given their manifest lack of perception. As one commentator has put it, “It is difficult to exaggerate the risk Jesus took in sending His disciples out to teach and heal” (English, The Message of Mark, 125). The risk in sending the disciples has to do with their persistent inability to comprehend Jesus’ teaching (4:10-13). The disciples had also demonstrated a lack of trust in Jesus’ will, and ability, to protect them—on a boat, in the midst of a storm, they cried out to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (4:38). Yet, in spite of their lack of perception, Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs, to teach, heal, and to exorcize demons (6:7-11).


            Amazingly enough, the disciples, despite all their limitations, find themselves with the ability to cast out demons and heal diseases (6:13). You would think the disciples would soon connect the dots and understand that the One who commissioned them has authority over all creation. You would think that they might then understand that they are in the presence of the Son of God and that nothing is too difficult for Him. Yet, from the accounts before us today, we see that the disciples still didn’t get it.


            Admittedly, the disciples were likely quite tired from all the ministry they had been engaged in. The plan was for them to be by themselves (6:32), but the crowds continued to follow them. And when Jesus sees the crowd, we are told, “He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things” (6:34).


            Jesus, motivated by compassion, adjusts His itinerary. But the disciples object, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send the people away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (6:35, 36).


            From all outward appearances, the objections of the disciples were quite reasonable. They were out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to eat; it was getting late and if there was to be any hope in purchasing dinner somewhere, the gathering needed to be broken up immediately. There appeared to be no other alternative; their calculations were correct except that they forgot to include in their calculations the impact of the presence of Jesus.


            Jesus responds to the disciples proposal with the order, “You give them something to eat!” (6:37). The disciples are miffed. By their calculations it would take 200 days worth of wages to feed a crowd of this size. Their response was, “This is too expensive. This proposal of Yours exceeds what our budget allows” (6:37).


You can imagine how this scenario would play out in the average Presbyterian church. First, there would be a feasibility study to determine whether or not it was even possible to feed this many people. If it were possible, a committee would be struck to determine the most effective way to distribute the food. And, of course, before any of this was executed, Session would need to meet in order to assess the proposal.


            But notice how Jesus operates; He does not survey the opinions of His disciples in search of a motion before making a decision, He simply issues a command, “You give them something to eat!Jesus does not consider what is feasible; He considers only what is best to do. He considers their spiritual state and feels compassion for the people, He considers their physical state and appreciates the fact that they are likely very hungry, and He considers how to immediately remedy this situation.


            Jesus says to His disciples, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see!” (6:38). They were to rummage through all of their belongings, and to bring every crust, and every scrap of food to Jesus . . . “Master, we have five loaves of bread and two fish” (6:38).


            Matthew records for us Jesus’ response, “Bring them to Me” (Mt. 14:18).


“But Master, there is barely enough food for ourselves.”

“Never mind, bring them to Me.”

“But Master, there are more people in need then we are able to help.”

“Never mind, bring them to Me.”


            And what does Jesus do? He looks heavenward, gives thanks, and distributes food sufficient to feed over five thousand people. O, and one more thing: there were twelve full baskets of bread and fish leftover (6:41-43).


            The disciples still didn’t get it. Mark records in verse 52, “they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.


            How much evidence did they need? They had seen Jesus cast out demons and heal the sick. They, themselves, had been conduits of His power as they engaged in the same ministry. They had seen Jesus still the raging sea; and now, they had witnessed a miraculous feeding of five thousand  people. Really, how much evidence did they need?


            How much evidence do you need?


            Beloved, do you understand who Jesus is, and are you prepared to heed His command?


            I see I striking parallel between what happens in this account, and what is expected of us as the Church of Christ.


            Just as Jesus, in His day, felt compassion towards those who were “like sheep without a shepherd” (6:34); we too should feel compassion towards those who do not yet know Jesus Christ.


            But, of course, Jesus did more than “feel” compassion; He acted upon His compassion. And there is a sense in which the Church should respond to Jesus’ command as if it were directed to us, “You give them something to eat!


            If Jesus had compassion on lost sheep, should not His Body, the Church, have compassion for lost sheep? If Jesus desired to feed hungry sheep, should that not also be the Church’s desire?


            If you were to ask me to summarize the task of the Christian Church today, I would say this: The Church should be doing the very things that Jesus did            when He walked this earth. We are not simply a body of people who belong to Christ, but more precisely, we are Christ’s Body—we are to act on His behalf. We are to show compassion for the lost sheep by heeding our Master’s command to “give them something to eat”.


            What are we waiting for before we act? More evidence? Surely God has sufficiently revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, recorded for us in the Scriptures. Surely, the One who shed His blood for our sins is worthy to be followed.


            And so we rummage through our possessions, we look at all of our personal resources, and we confess that our ability to feed the lost sheep is utterly insufficient. Even as a church, we have only meager contributions to offer this hungry world of ours. But then, what does Christ say to this? He says, “bring your meager portions to Me. Bring all that you have to Me    ; bring all that you are to Me, and I will consecrate you to do My bidding. I will give you sufficient resources to feed My sheep.”


            Beloved, let us not be excessive in our planning.


We must not limit ourselves to do only what appears feasible.


But let us commit ourselves to do that which Christ calls us to do. Bring your meager portions to Christ, and trust Him to provide you with the ability to effectively feed His sheep.


What more evidence do we need? Feed His sheep. Amen.