The shepherd of the sheep – Mark 6:30-56

Chatswood Baptist Church

Everyone needs a break

Everyone needs a break. Everyone need to pause and rest from the work that they have been doing. It doesn’t matter who you are or even how much you love your work, if you work 24/7 then you’re going to ultimately find yourself spent and you might even burn yourself out.

In one book I read it stated that in the “USA it is estimated that some 1500 people leave pastoral ministry each month due to burn out, conflict and more failure”. The study, that the book was quoting from, went on to say that “a third of pastors say that they feel burned out within just five years of starting ministry”. Frail human beings need rest. We all need a break. This surely was one of the reasons why God instituted one day of rest in seven among his people in the first place.

The disciples were no exception

The Lord Jesus also recognised the need for a break or a rest. In the reading today we see that after the disciples came back from preaching the gospel through the towns and villages of Galilee that they gathered around Jesus (verse 30) and reported to him all that they had said and done. But Jesus recognised that with all that they had been doing and with all coming and going of the people around them that it was time for a break. It was time to get away from everybody and have a rest. So, we read in verses 31 and 32 that Jesus said to the disciples….

Mark 6:31-32
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place”.

However, as much as you plan for a break, sometimes something happens to interrupt it!. You sit down for a cuppa and to have a quiet moment away from the kids and then you hear someone crying and then the word “mum” or “dad”, although it was usually “mum” in our household. Or you might be trying to have a night off without any distractions and then you get that call that something has gone wrong at work and you’re needed to go back in or at least sort something out from home.

This was the case with the Lord Jesus and the disciples. Many saw Jesus depart, and the crowd decided to run ahead of Jesus along the shoreline picking up others along the way. So, when Jesus landed there with his disciples, we are told that a large crowd had already gathered there to greet him. Mark tell us that when he saw them, he had compassion on them for “they were like sheep without a shepherd”.

Sheep without a shepherd

I think this phrase is a particularly important one for understanding what is going on in this passage today. This phrase first comes up in the Scriptures in Numbers 27 in a conversation between the Lord and Moses. Moses had just been told that he wasn’t going to cross over the Promised Land and that he wasn’t long for this world. When Moses heard this, he didn’t complain or worry about what was going to happen to him, but he asked the Lord to appoint a leader over the people of God so that they might not be like sheep without a shepherd.

Numbers 27:15-17
15 Moses said to the Lord, 16 “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.
When Jesus saw the crowd, he immediately saw what their problem was. It was lack of spiritual leadership. They were like sheep without a shepherd for they had no one to feed them and take care of them in the way that a leader should have. The people of God had been like this for some time. Ezekiel the prophet had spoken of it six centuries earlier. The Lord had called him to prophesy against the shepherds of Israel because they just weren’t doing their job. Listen to what the Lord told him to say to them…


Ezekiel 34:2b-4
2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
Ezekiel went on to say that God was going to hold these bad shepherds accountable. He was going to remove them from tending the flock and that he would one day come himself to rescue them and shepherd the flock himself.


Ezekiel 34:15-16
15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

When Jesus stepped on to the shore and saw the large crowd that had gathered there, he immediately recognized the problem. What they lacked was the sort of spiritual leadership that would teach them the things that they needed to know, the things of God and immediately Jesus sets about to rectify that, starting to teach them. What God’s people need to survive and thrive in this world was to feed on the Word of God. Without it, people perish. This is true today as it was then. We need leaders who teach the things of God.

But Jesus also did more than just teach the sheep in the story. He revealed that he is the true shepherd of the sheep that the people of God had been waiting for. He did this by feeding the sheep in way that only the Lord himself could do.

Feeding the sheep

Late in the day, the disciples came to Jesus wanting him to send the crowd on its way so that they didn’t have a lot of hungry sheep to deal with. They thought that the crowds could buy themselves something to eat in the surrounding villages. But Jesus didn’t do this, and I think he didn’t because he wanted to show them something more about himself. What Jesus does is he reveals himself to be the shepherd of the sheep.

You feed them

When the disciples came to Jesus with what they must have thought was a reasonable request, Jesus turned around and told the disciples, “you feed them”.

Mark 6:37
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

I have thought about these words a bit. Why did Jesus tell them to feed them? Did Jesus really expect them to do this? I don’t think so. I think he expected them to be confronted with the impossibility of the task at hand. He wanted them to understand that humanly speaking it was impossible for anyone to feed that many people with the resources that they had on hand that day. I think that he expected them to come up short so that the impossibility of what he was about to do was driven home to the disciples.

He fed them all

After the disciples had seated the people down in groups on the green grass, he feed them all – every single one of them. He did the impossible. He gave thanks and then he took the five loaves and two fishes that the disciples had manage to scrounge up and miraculously provided enough food to feed every one of those 5000 until they had eaten their fill. Mark tells us that all of them were fully satisfied and that there were enough leftovers for the disciples to fill twelve baskets with them.

In the household that I grew up if there were any leftovers it meant that everyone had more than enough to eat. We sadly didn’t practice that wise Japanese tradition (hara hachi bu) of only eating until you were 80% full. We practiced the Calman tradition of eating “until you were busting at the seams”. You ate until you felt full and even then, we were told that you could always make room for a little more. I am not sure what the ancient Israelites did, but Mark tells us that they all ate and were satisfied and that there were even enough leftovers for the disciples to fill twelve baskets.
What I think Jesus was doing there in the wilderness was showing the disciples that like God had feed his ancient people in the wilderness he was now doing it again. He is the Shepherd of the sheep. He is the Lord who made himself known to Moses and he had come in the person of Jesus to rescue and shepherd his people. He did something that only God could have done, miraculously providing bread for his people in the desert to show that indeed he was God in the flesh who had come to shepherd his people.

The disciples saw everything

The disciples were witnesses of this. They saw everything. He made them find the five loaves and two fish – so that they knew what he started out with. They had to set the people on the grass in groups of 50 and 100 so they knew how many people there were. They were the ones that collected the twelve baskets of leftovers, more food than what they had begun with. If anyone ought to have known that something impossible had happened that day it was the disciples.

Rescuing the sheep

But the disciples didn’t seem to get it. This is highlighted in the next story when Jesus had to rescue his sheep. In verse 45 to 52, Mark recounts the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jesus sent his disciples off in the boat ahead of him, while he dismissed the crowd and went up a mountainside to pray.

The disciples were in trouble

Out in the middle of the lake the disciples found themselves in trouble again. The wind had turned against them and they were now straining at the oars to make any headway. John tells us that they had been rowing like this for 5 or 6 kilometres (see John 6:18). Matthew’s gospel tells us that they were being buffeted about by the waves (Matt 14:34). It was rough out there.

Jesus saw them

Like a shepherd watching over his sheep Jesus saw the disciples out on the lake and he saw that they were in trouble. He did what shepherds do. Like a shepherd he goes out to rescue them, but unlike any shepherd that we know he went out to them walking on the water.

They saw Jesus and were terrified

But when they saw him, they were terrified not comforted. Mark tells us that they were all terrified and they thought him to be a ghost. They did not expect to see Jesus do something like this even though by now they should have known to have ruled it out. When they saw him, they cried out in fear! His presence ought to have brought comfort and assurance, but it did exactly the opposite. And Mark gives us the reason in verse 52.

Mark 6:52
For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

They did not understand about the loaves

Firstly, let’s think for a moment about that first phrase, “they had not understood about the loaves”. What should they have understood about the loaves that should have prepared them for seeing Jesus out on the water?

Surely the miracle of the loaves ought to have helped them to see that Jesus was no ordinary man. He is God incarnate. God in the flesh. He was more than just a man for he did the things that only God could do. Like God had done for his ancient people on the way to the Promised Land Jesus miraculously supplied bread to the hungry. He did what only God could do. He is God with us.

If they was any doubt, then him coming to them walking on the water should have clinched it for them. From their Scriptures they would have known that only God was said to have walked on the waters. In Job chapter 9 and verse 8 Job talks about God and says…

Job 9:8
8 He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.

And what did they see in the early hours of the morning? They saw Jesus treading on the waves, coming to lead his people safely home, telling them to not fear “it is I”. With these words “It is I” Jesus was giving them another clue. Listen to what he said…

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

In these words, Jesus was more than just saying, ‘hey it’s me over here’. The words that have been translated in our NIV as “it is I” could also be translate, “I am”. In the Greek, the words are “ego eimi” and in the Greek version of the OT these two words were the words that the Lord used when he revealed himself to Moses. In Exodus chapter 3 Moses asked the Lord to tell him his name so that he could tell the people of God who it was that had sent. The Lord said to Moses “I AM WHO I AM.” This is what you are to say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).
What the disciples had not understood about the loaves and were not even understanding when they saw Jesus walking on the sea was that Jesus was saying that he was the great “I AM”. He is God in the flesh. He was the Word of God made flesh dwelling among them. He was the Lord who had come in the flesh, in the line of David, to his people to shepherd the flock, to rescue them and strengthen them, to heal the sick and bring back the stray and search for the lost.

Now I’m not going on to look at the rest of the chapter where we see the shepherd of the sheep strengthening the weak and healing the sick in verse 53 to 56, but I want to finish by thinking about this lack of understanding on the part of the disciples. Why hadn’t they understood about the loaves? Why were they so slow to realise who Jesus was? It’s the second part of verse 52 that we need to look at for the answer.

Their hearts were hardened

In the second part of the verse Mark traces the lack of understanding the loaves and now the walking on water to a problem with their hearts. The stories are connected by verse 52 “For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened”.

The heart in the New Testament is more than just that muscle that pumps our blood around the body, it is more generally thought of as the centre of our personality or our being. It is what governs us directing our intellect and will and feelings and desires. It is the seat at the centre of us from which these things are ruled.

A hard heart is one that isn’t ready to accept what God is revealing and I think this is because once you see Jesus for who he really is there is no question about it, he can’t just be the shepherd of the sheep, he has to become your shepherd, the one that you are going to follow no matter where he leads you.

Once you see Jesus for who he really is, you’re faced with a decision and the heart has to surrender itself to the one who is meant to govern our feelings and our desire and our will and intellect. If you aren’t prepared for that you’ll keep on not joining the dots that God has put there for you to see and you will remain blind to the truth seeing but not seeing, “perceiving and ever hearing but never understanding” and as a result never turning and being forgiven. (see Mark 4:12).

Up until now in Mark’s gospel, Mark has only used this sort of language of Jesus’ opponents, but here Mark suggest that at this point the disciples weren’t understanding because the disciples were in some way still stubbornly resisting the things of God in their hearts.

Don’t be stubborn of heart

Today I want us to think about the condition of our own hearts. I want to encourage you not to have stubborn hearts that refuse to see what God is revealing to you. Don’t close yourself off to the things of God because you’re afraid of what that might mean for you. The Lord wants you to understand that Jesus is the shepherd of the sheep who cares for the flock, providing them what they need and watching out for them. He comes with all God’s power and deity to rule our world and rescue people like us who have gone astray, who are lost but are so lost that we don’t even know it. He has come to bring back the strays and save the lost, to bind up the injured and strengthen the weak and heal the sick.

Don’t stubbornly resist the things of God.

Follow him

What God is calling us to do is follow Jesus. Sheep in the ancient world weren’t driven along by dogs snapping at their heels, but they what they learnt to do was to follow a shepherd who would lead them. He would lead and they would follow. Where he went, they went and this is what we are meant to do with Jesus. He leads, and we are follow. God wants us to understand is that Jesus is the one that we are to follow for he is the shepherd of the sheep. We are to turn from our ways and go his way.

Listen to his voice

Therefore you must listen to his voice. What the crowd didn’t have were leaders who taught them about the kingdom of God. When Jesus saw them he had compassion on them and immediately began to teach them many things. He taught them about the kingdom of God and what it meant to belong. When he left his disciples he told them to make disciples and teach them to obey all that he had commanded them promising to be with them (see Matt. 28:20). We today listen to his voice and he teaches us as we open up His word, the Scriptures. We are to listen to his voice and do all that he has taught us.

Don’t be afraid

It’s his voice that reassures us. It’s his words that bring comfort and courage. He told the disciples to take courage, and not be afraid for he was there with them and that he was the great “I AM”, our creator and saviour. He also watches over his people. Even when we don’t think that he sees us; his eye is always on us. He sees what is going on. He never leaves us or forsakes. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 23 the Lord is his shepherd and he went on to say in verse 4.

Psalm 24:4
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

We can take comfort that our shepherd is close by even though we might not see him. He is there quietly speaking those words, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid!”