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Last week’s post on St Mark’s Gospel concluded with the story of St John the Baptist’s death, which, strangely, does not appear in the standard Lectionary used for public worship.

Those passages which do not appear in the Lectionary comprise my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 6:53-56

Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret

 53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.


Today’s passage follows Mark’s account of feeding the 5,000, which John MacArthur tells us was actually more than that (emphases mine):

That really is a misnomer, it is really a feeding of the 25 thousand, Matthew’s adds plus women, plus children, not just men. We can easily estimate 25 thousand people were fed by Jesus when there was no food, so He created enough food, not just to feed them minimally, but to make them all literally gorged, is the Greek word that is used, and there were twelve baskets left over to feed the Twelve Apostles.

Matthew Henry describes the food:

The provision was ordinary. Here were no rarities, no varieties, though Christ, if he had pleased, could have furnished his table with them; but thus he would teach us to be content with food convenient for us, and not to be desirous of dainties … The promise to them that fear the Lord, is, that verily they shall be fed …

Mark’s account is as follows (Mark 6:38-44), starting with Jesus’s enquiry of His disciples:

38And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 

St John’s account includes additional detail (John 6:8-15):

8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

You can read the continuation of John’s version here.

St Matthew tells us (Matthew 14:17-21):

17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Hence MacArthur’s estimate of 25,000.

Those who partook of this impromptu feast — one of Jesus’s most creative miracles — were of no faith or an imperfect faith. Some followed Him to listen to what He had to say. Others thought Him the prophet who would save Israel from oppression, an earthly king. Many more were hangers-on and wanted to see what everyone in the region was talking about. There was more unbelief there than imperfect faith. Recall that the next day, Jesus lost many disciples after telling them this (John 6:25-40):

25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

We read this today and find it reassuring. Yet, at the time, those listening to Jesus did not receive His words well and ‘many’ stopped following Him (John 6:60-69):

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

At the time of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, MacArthur tells us:

It is … the peak of His popularity. He’s two years into His ministry, over a year of ministry in Galilee, He has basically gone through Galilee twice, He’s now gone through, or starting to go through Galilee a third time. He has multiplied Himself by empowering the Twelve Apostles to preach His message and to do His miracles so there is an explosion on this third tour through Galilee, the power of Jesus is seen and experienced over and over again in the 200-plus towns and villages that are stretched across that densely populated small region that we know as Galilee.

However, between this marvellous creative miracle and the anti-climactic aftermath in which we see Jesus’s (and, by extension, our own) precarious fortunes in this life, there was the violent tempest on the sea that evening. Exhausted, Jesus had told the Apostles to sail on ahead; He would catch them up later after He spent time alone on the mountain to regroup and pray.

Jesus prayed a lot. He set us the example to follow. Many of us — myself included — have resisted prayer in the past. God is too busy to listen, I always said. Yet, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit want us to ask for their help. They welcome that continuous and open communication. Of Jesus’s prayers, Matthew Henry says:

Observe, 1. He prayed; though he had so much preaching-work upon his hands, yet he was much in prayer; he prayed often, and prayed long, which is an encouragement to us to depend upon the intercession he is making for us at the right hand of the Father, that continual intercession. 2. He went alone, to pray; though he needed not to retire for the avoiding either of distraction or of ostentation, yet, to set us an example, and to encourage us in our secret addresses to God, he prayed alone, and, for want of a closet, went up into a mountain, to pray. A good man is never less alone than when alone with God.

Meanwhile, the Apostles were on the sea in a wooden boat. During the storm, which lasted several hours, they feared for their survival whilst trying to stay afloat. Henry analyses the situation:

This was a specimen of the hardships they were to expect, when hereafter he should send them abroad to preach the gospel; it would be like sending them to sea at this time with the wind in their teeth: they must expect to toil in rowing, they must work hard to strive against so strong a stream; they must likewise expect to be tossed with waves, to be persecuted by their enemies; and by exposing them now he intended to train them up for such difficulties, that they might learn to endure hardness. The church is often like a ship at sea, tossed with tempests, and not comforted we may have Christ for us, and yet wind and tide against us; but it is a comfort to Christ’s disciples in a storm, that their Master is in the heavenly mount, interceding for them.

Christ did not reach them until ‘the fourth watch’ (Mark 6:48). MacArthur does the timings for us:

Watch number one was six to nine, watch number two was nine to twelve, watch number three was twelve to three and watch number four was three to six. It’s three to six in the morning. If it’s five in the morning and they left at eight in the evening, they’ve been out there nine hours. They’re in some serious trouble. It’s deep darkness all night long in the fourth watch of the night.

Therefore, the storm’s purpose was to strengthen them — to make Olympian evangelists out of them. They were in training for the divine, as are we when God sends us hardship and extended periods of difficulty. That is the time to turn to Christ and ask for help, not once but every day.

Matthew’s account gives us the dramatic episode involving St Peter. Just moments before, they thought Jesus walking on the water was a phantom, a ghost. Matthew 14:27-33:

27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

 28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him,  “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Muslims often say that nowhere in the New Testament does anyone say that Jesus is Lord or the Son of God. Matthew 14:33 and John 6:69 clearly disprove that error. Let us commit these verses to memory. I do not know what Bible version our Muslim friends read but it appears to be annotated.

These events bring us to this week’s passage, which occurs at the same time as John 6:60-69 above but with a different emphasis. John’s record of events shows the people for the shallow followers they were. Mark’s makes this point more subtly.

The morning after the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the tempest, Jesus and His Apostles land at Gennesaret (verse 53), not far from Capernaum and Bethsaida, the original port of call (Mark 6:45). (This Bethsaida is different from the Pool of Bethesda or Pool of Bethsaida in John 5. The port of Bethsaida is along the Sea of Galilee. The name means ‘fish house’, so fishing was probably the primary local ‘industry’ there.)

John’s account tells us that people followed them there. More came from Capernaum. So, again, our Saviour and the Twelve were surrounded by crowds (verse 54). This time, however, the newcomers sought healing (verse 55). MacArthur says that Gennesaret is a scenic spot which is much identified with the Sea of Galilee, sometimes referred to as the Lake of Gennesaret.

Mark 6 ends by stating that Jesus healed many people, not only that day and before, but in the days and weeks that followed. MacArthur says that Jesus healed all who approached Him or touched His garment. This illustrates the Lutheran and Calvinist principle of common grace, which benefits both believers and unbelievers:

This is the greatest exhibition of visible manifest common grace you will ever see. No discrimination, no questionnaire about who gets healed, you don’t have to go into a pre-room to be screened. Anybody and everybody whether you believe or don’t believe, whether you love or hate, this is for everybody. This is common grace. This is the compassion of our God.

Henry would acknowledge that, no doubt, but in his commentary he points us to the physical preoccupations of the crowds over the spiritual:

We do not find that they were desirous to be taught by him, only to be healed … But it is sad to think how much more concerned the most of men are about their bodies than about their souls.

How true, in Jesus’s day, in Henry’s 17th century and in the 21st. It is a sad state of affairs.  This includes today’s relentless health campaigns. We would do well to think more of pursuing excellence in faith rather than unproven agenda-driven physical regimes.

In closing, I covered Mark 7 two years ago. One of the verses deals with health and forbidden foods issues. Whilst the context is Old Testament dietary laws, today’s application can be against health propaganda. This is what Jesus said in Mark 7:18-20:

18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, ”What comes out of a person is what defiles him.”

Those are more verses to commit to memory the next time a secular expert or a misguided churchman tells you to comply with the latest state diktat on health. Why end up a whited sepulchre?

Next time: Mark 8:1-10


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