“The Shepherd and the Three Feasts” (Mark 6:30-44)

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&I have fond memories of my wedding dinner 9 years ago. It was a joy to see so many relatives and friends come together in one place. There were about 100 or 150 guests, which is a normal size for a Malaysian wedding dinner. While the food was prepared by a restaurant, we still had to do the work of deciding who to invite and where they should sit.

Most of you have heard the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000. I can’t imagine organizing 5,000 people, much less preparing so much food. But that is what happened in today’s Bible passage, from Mark chapter 6.

The story of Jesus feeding 5,000 is often used to preach about how God can multiply our resources and abilities. Or how Jesus challenged his disciples to have more faith in his power.

But I would like to take a different approach. Instead, I want to highlight how Jesus reveals himself as Israel’s Shepherd who cares for his people. After that, I’d like to show how Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 foreshadows the three feasts in the Bible—and why these feasts give us a reason to be joyful as Christians. Let us begin with a prayer, then read the passage.

[Mark 6:30-44]

The Shepherd

After a busy time of work, Jesus and his disciples wanted to rest but they were interrupted by a huge crowd. Mark says there were 5,000 men. If you add women and children, the real total was well over 5,000.

In verses 39 and 40, the crowds are described as sitting down in “groups”—or symposia in the original Greek language. Symposia conveys the image of guests at a lively dinner party, reclining comfortably around tables as they eat, drink, and chat. Mark’s use of this Greek word evokes the idea that Jesus hosted a feast in the middle of nowhere!

Instead of getting angry with the people who interrupted his rest, Jesus’ heart was moved to help them, because he saw that they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (verse 34).

This expression, “sheep without a shepherd,” is used in the Old Testament to describe how the nation of Israel lacked godly leaders. We can find examples in 1 Kings 22, Zechariah 10, Isaiah 40, Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 34. Most of these are prophecies: God promises to gathered his scattered sheep and guide the people of Israel himself, instead of allowing them to be exploited by human leaders. (References: Isaiah 40:11, Jeremiah 31:10, Ezekiel 34:5-15)

Further reinforcing this idea of Jesus as shepherd, Mark mentions a small detail in verse 39: that Jesus had the crowd sit on “green grass”. By mentioning this detail alongside the idea of a shepherd, perhaps Mark wanted evoke the image of Psalm 23, which says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2). A good shepherd leads his sheep to places that are good for them. Places they can rest. Places they can eat, drink, and be nourished.

Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus describes himself as “the good shepherd” of Israel (John chapter 10). In other words, he equated himself with God, and his words were proven by the miracles he performed. In the middle of a remote place, Jesus supplied food to the hungry crowd, just as the God of the Old Testament miraculously provided food for the ancient Israelites to eat in the desert.

Through this miracle of feeding the 5,000, Jesus demonstrated that he had divine power and that he cared for people’s needs holistically. This can encourage and guide us in many ways—here are three:

First, God is able to multiply the few resources or abilities we have, if we offer them to him. This is true. However, it is not true that we will be rich or successful if we donate generously to a church—which is what some preachers claim by using this Bible passage. An early Christian document called the Didache warns about false prophets who receive money for their teachings. It says, “If (a preacher) asks for money, he is a false prophet . . . do not listen to him . . . But if he tells you to give to others that are [needy], let no one judge him.”
Second, God cares not only for our spiritual health but also our physical needs. Our bodies are a precious creation of God, and he doesn’t want us to neglect or misuse our bodies. Likewise, we should care for people in a variety of ways. Some Christians feel that there is no need to share the gospel and that we only need to do social work, such as by helping the poor. But as Jesus’ example shows, we should do both—share the gospel, as well as make the world a better place. We should take a holistic view of human needs.
Lastly, this story clearly shows Jesus’ amazing heart for us. He had compassion even when he was tired. In other words, he has great patience for us. We often imagine God as somewhat disapproving, but in fact he welcomes us. Hopefully, we will emulate Jesus in his compassion. Being compassionate doesn’t mean you always have to say “yes” to someone’s request. You can be compassionate while saying “no”—it’s a matter of how you do it. But it’s never easy to love like Jesus did, and so we need the Holy Spirit’s help.

The Three Feasts

Moving on to the second half of my message… The feeding of the 5,000 foreshadows three important feasts in the Bible. They are: (1) Jesus’ Last Supper, (2) the early Christians’ Holy Communion, and (3) the wedding feast in Revelation, which is the last book of the Bible.

The Last Supper is Jesus’ final meal before his death. It took place during the Jewish feast called Passover. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples to distribute. It’s the exact same thing he did with the loaves and fish in Mark 6. The bread symbolizes his body, which was broken on behalf of our sins.

He shared a cup of wine with his disciples, saying it symbolized his blood, poured out for them. He also said, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (this is a quote from Matthew 26:29). In other words Jesus was saying, “This will be my last taste of wine for a while. The next time I drink it will be when we are reunite in my Father’s kingdom.” I believe he was talking about his second coming and the wedding feast of Revelation.

Revelation 19 and 21 describes the glorious way in which Jesus will come again. Like a bridegroom, he will unite with his bride, the Church—who are believers from all nations. This union will be celebrated with a wedding feast. This event and other events in Revelation fulfil Old Testament prophecies, such as this one in Isaiah 25: Isaiah says, God will prepare “a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine . . . he will swallow up death forever. [He] will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace” (Isaiah 25:6-8).

Revelation 19 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad . . . For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev 19:7-9)

Revelation 21 says, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them . . . He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4)

I can’t help but feel excited as I read this. Contrary to doom and gloom of our daily news, what awaits us ultimately in our future is . . . celebration! Whether the wedding feast will be a literal one or metaphorical one, the future God promises us is one of celebration, joy, and community.

In Japan and other cultures, we often celebrate something by eating together. Somehow, food is a way we humans express joy, create joy, receive joy, and grow closer in our relationships. During my own wedding dinner, it was really heartwarming to see many relatives and friends come together from different countries and backgrounds. Those who were strangers before suddenly became acquaintances because the wedding gave them something in common.

Though beautiful, our earthly weddings can’t compare to the ultimate wedding and feast that God will prepare for his people. We will come together from all nations, drawn by our common faith in Jesus Christ. We will become family and begin a new kind of life together.

While waiting for that day of new intimacy with Jesus, we remember him constantly by celebrating Holy Communion. The earliest Christians had a practice called “love feasts” in which they shared a meal together and incorporated the elements of Holy Communion to remember Jesus.

We also remember that while we await to be part of the Great Banquet in the new heaven and earth, Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit through whom we continue to experience Jesus’ presence and power in our lives today. Incidentally, today is Pentecost, the day in which the Holy Spirit was poured out to Jesus’ followers after his ascension. The early Christians also saw Communion as an act that looks forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Before Communion, they would recite a prayer that not only looks back to the Last Supper but also to Pentecost. Let me read you a prayer from the middle 3rd century attributed to St. Hippolytus of Rome: “Therefore, remembering his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the chalice, giving thanks to you, who has made us worthy to stand before you and to serve as your priests. And we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit as a gift to your Holy Church. In their gathering together, give to all those who partake of your holy mysteries the fullness of the Holy Spirit, toward the strengthening of the faith in truth.”

Whenever we break the Communion bread, we reenact Jesus’ Last Supper. We remember that he gave us life and meets our hunger. As Jesus says in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” Whenever we drink from the Communion cup, we look forward to Jesus’ second coming and the heavenly feast.

So we can approach Holy Communion not only in repentance but also in joy. While we recognize the gravity of our past sins, we also celebrate our future with God—one that will not be marred by sin.


To conclude this message, the feeding of the 5,000 is yet another example of Jesus revealing his identity as God and Israel’s shepherd. He is the one who can meet our needs and satisfy our hunger—whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual. He gives us a great future to look forward to and celebrate.

We’ve talked a lot about feasts today. It’s amazing how much the Bible uses food as a symbol of spiritual truth. Food symbolizes nourishment, communion, celebration, hospitality. So let me end by inviting our church to do something related to food. I’m organizing a food donation to the food bank. You can put non-perishable food items in the cardboard box in the kitchen. Let’s show the love of Christ not just through our words but also our actions.

Now, let us end with a prayer:

“O God, whose blessed Son did take bread and fish and bless and break it, and gave it to his disciples to distribute among the multitude: Grant that we, who have been nourished by the holy food of the Holy Communion, may be filled with the same spirit of love and compassion which moved him who on this day fed the hungry and gave hope to the hopeless. We pray this through Christ our Lord; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.”

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