“No, they didn’t just say that . . . did they?” This is the thought that many have when they read Mark 8:4. In this verse, Jesus 12 disciples make a statement that bewilders us. You see these 12 disciples just a chapter an a half earlier (less than a page in many Bibles) had just seen Jesus feed roughly 11,000 people (5,000 men) with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Now, just a chapter and a half later these men are in a situation where they are around fewer people (4,000 men), and have more resources (7 loaves of bread and a few small fish), and Jesus states his desire to feed this crowd. Given this setup, what might the disciples say in Mark 8:4?
Before we look at Mark 8:4, let’s add a few more pieces of info to the story. In the chapter and a half between mass feedings, Jesus walks on water, confronts a set of corrupt religious leaders, drives a demon out of a possessed girl, and heals a deaf mute . . . all in front of the disciples. Given this context, we might expect the disciples to enter Mark 8:4 tightening the laces on their sandals, as they prepare to serve dinner to the crowd surrounding them. However, Mark 8:4 says something very different.
“His disciples answered, ‘But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?’” – The disciples (Mark 8:4)
Are you serious? Where can ANYONE get enough bread to feed them? The answer is JESUS! Jesus can feed them. The One who fed the 11,000. The One who walked on water. The One who calls out the religious charlatans. The One who casts out demons. The One who makes the deaf mute hear and speak. He is the ANYONE who can feed EVERYONE in that remote place. If you are like me, you are probably laughing incredulously at your Bibles asking, “How could they miss that?!?!”
Well, before we bust our gut at their expense, let’s add a bit of perspective to their experience. To fully understand some jokes, you just have to be there. The disciples comments in Mark 8:4 fall into this category. I believe their physical location played a big part in their faithless response to Jesus desire to feed the 4,000. You see, Jesus fed the 5,000 up near Bethsaida a prominent Jewish community on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Since many of Jesus’ disciples were Galileeans (and many were fishermen), Bethsaida would have been a very familiar location for these men. In a sense, this miracle was a “home game” for the disciples . . . Jesus did a miraculous thing in their own back yard. In contrast, however, the feeding of the 4,000 happens in the region of Decapolis, a Gentile region located in the deserts between Galilee and Judah. In a very real sense, this would have felt like a “road game” to the disciples. They had grown accustomed to Jesus doing great things on their home turf, but change the setting, and they probably were not expecting Him to work in similar ways. Of course, Jesus proves them wrong and takes what they have, blesses it, and feeds the masses in Decapolis with food to spare.
Before we allow ourselves to think that the disciples should not have allowed the geography to sway their response, let’s think about our own lives for a moment. I am guessing that every believer in Jesus Christ has a faith that He can work in major ways in their life. At the very least, by definition, Christians are believing that Jesus can work in the arena of their sins to provide forgiveness and redemption with God. Most Christians will go even another step. Maybe they easily trust God and expect Him to work in their church life or ministry setting. In other words, they are trusting Christ to work when they pray for someone at church, share their testimony at small group, or teach Sunday school with the third graders. These are “home games” for many peoples faith. However, what happens when a difficult situation occurs at work, or in your family (extended or immediate). Do people quickly trust God then? When a difficult sale comes up at work, do people pray for that, or assume that Jesus has nothing to do with their work life? When a tough parenting situation raises its head, do we trust Christ for that, or do we assume that we are on our own in that location? The fact is, I think our “location” impacts our expectations of Jesus Christ just as it did the disciples. I know many times it does for me.
Take a moment now and think of what the “home” and road” games are for you in your walk with God. The disciples forgot that Jesus was the same with them in every setting, so they failed to take their current need to Him “on the road.” This was a mistake. Jesus wanted them to bring their struggles to Him both at home and on the road. He wants to work in our church, home, and work life. He wants us to be dependent upon Him at all times. When we fail to do this, the joke’s on us.