30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
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.
(Mark 6:30-34 NIV)
In today’s text, Mark resumes the story of Jesus sending His disciples out in pairs to minister in Jewish villages. Verse 30 records the disciples returning and telling Jesus all the things that happened during their ministry.
Notice that Mark calls the disciples “apostles” – meaning “missionaries” or “sent ones”. And like a child coming home from an errand and a stray dog or cat following them home, others gathered around the disciples to hear and be healed. Mark records that there were so many and the need was so great that the disciples did not even have time to eat.
Jesus recognized their need for rest and pulled them away from the crowd. They got in a boat and were headed for a solitary place in the Judean wilderness. Jesus knew the value of healthy boundaries between work and rest and sought to give His disciples that balance.
Because the Sea of Galilee is not that big (you can see across the lake from every point on the shore), the crowd figured out where Jesus and the disciples were going, ran around the top of the lake, and met them when they arrived on the other shore.
In verse 34, notice Jesus’ reaction to the crowd. He was not angry, nor was He resentful toward the crowd for not leaving them alone. Instead, Jesus had compassion on the crowds because He saw their spiritual hunger.
Mark (via Peter) records Jesus’ emotional response and reasoning – that Jesus saw the people as sheep without a shepherd, in desperate need of care. When Mark used this word choice, it was a reminder of Numbers 27:16-17, where God promised to provide a leader for the people so they would not be like sheep without a shepherd. Ezekiel 34 is another passage where the Lord condemns the “shepherds” (the religious leaders) of His people as only looking out for themselves and not caring for the sheep (God’s people). God promises to send a shepherd from the lineage of David to be their shepherd. Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise made so many centuries earlier.
As mentioned above, Jesus saw the crowd’s spiritual hunger and began teaching them. Mark, true to form, does not disclose the substance of Jesus’ teaching, only that He taught them “many things”.
Jesus’ feeding the flock spiritually in the wilderness is reminiscent of God feeding His people spiritually in the wilderness after Egypt and before the Promised Land during the days of Moses. And as we shall see in the next text, Jesus provides for the people’s physical hunger along with their spiritual hunger, just as God provided manna and quail for the children of Israel during their wilderness experience many generations ago.
May we remember God’s hand of provision to feed us both spiritually and physically, to give us both work and rest, and the example to set healthy boundaries for each.
May we have a grateful heart to the Lord for His promises, example, and provision. May we spend time with the Shepherd of our bodies and souls as our worship today.