In the Gospel of Mark, the sixth chapter, there are two well-known miracles that Jesus performs. The first miracle is the feeding of the 5,000 with five small loaves of bread and two fish. You probably know the story – as Jesus blessed the food and broke it into pieces, the amount of food continued to grow to the point that everyone’s appetite was satisfied, and there were 12 baskets of fragments left over.
Immediately, Jesus commanded His disciples to get in a boat and cross the sea. Jesus stayed behind to pray. Late at night, the boat was well out to sea and a storm had blown in. The Bible says Jesus saw His men struggling at the oars. During the fourth watch of the night (that is between 3 and 6 in the morning), Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. As soon as Jesus got into the boat the wind died down and the sea was calm. Verse 51 says, “And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.”
Of course. Why wouldn’t they be amazed? They had seen incredible things that day; the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, and Jesus calming the storm. Amazing. But there is an interesting phrase that connects those two miracles.
Verse 52, explaining about the disciples’ amazement, says: “For they had not understood the loaves, because their heart was hardened.” God didn’t think the miraculous events of the day deserved their amazement. He wanted them to have a “soft heart,” and “understand the loaves.”
First, recognize that Jesus was interested in His disciples. He was concerned they hadn’t seen His motivation and priorities. The way the events of the day started was that Jesus saw the multitude of people and He had compassion for them “…because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.” Jesus’ plan to alleviate the situation was that “…He began to teach them many things.” (Quotes from verse 34)
Jesus knew His teaching would fix the problem. But His disciples saw a different problem. They were concerned the crowd was hungry. (If you look back to verse 31 you will see the real issue may have been that the disciples hadn’t had time to eat – their concern was probably more for themselves than anyone else.) When they expressed their concern, Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat.” (Verse 37)
If Jesus’ concern was for the people’s lack of direction and their lack of connection to God (the Shepherd), don’t you suppose that He was asking His men to support that intervention when He said, “You give them something to eat?” Isn’t it likely that He was hoping they would teach what they had learned following Jesus? Instead, they chose to be worried about the stomachs of the people, and Jesus, in His gentle way, confirms that He is God, right there in front of them all, by feeding everyone, and hoping that His followers would see what was important, not just what felt urgent.
And Jesus was also focused on the people and their real need. The disciples’ detour didn’t help. I know the miracles of Jesus were done for a reason, and I have no interest in taking anything away from them. But His concern on the day in question was to build up a people who needed direction, encouragement from, and connection to their God. The miracle, as wonderful as it was, distracted them from a greater message.
In the book of John chapter 6, we see the continuation of this same story. Jesus and His disciples are now on the other side, and many have followed Him there. Jesus confronts these people by saying this in verses 26 and 27: "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." And then, in verse 35 He makes it clear: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
As wonderful as it is to see God’s hand, what we need in our life is Him. Soften your heart, and receive the bread of life.