Needy People, Need-Meeting God

One of the things I find most enviable about children is that, even though they’re at the most vulnerable and needy stage of life, they’re often the most unworried and unburdened.

My kids, for example, totally depend on their mother and I. And yet, they aren’t worried about it! It’s never even crossed their minds that their needs won’t be met, that they won’t get fed and clothed, that they won’t be protected. While their needs are many, their burden is light because of their total confidence in their providers.

What a great way to live, no? If only we could carry that same mindset into adulthood!

An invitation to trust

Interestingly, that’s exactly how Christians are invited to live—to enjoy the same level of trust in our Heavenly Father that my children have in their earthly father. God wants you and I to live life confident that he knows what we need (often better than we do), that he’s powerful enough to meet those needs, and that he cares enough to do so. 

We’re dependant and vulnerable, and yet we have a heavenly Father who can be trusted for the provision of, not only our need for salvation, but life’s daily needs as well. Mark reminds us of this truth in 7:31–8:26 of his gospel account.

In the opening three verses of chapter 8, Jesus gathers the twelve and presents them with a physical need. He says: “I feel for these crowds. They’ve been following us for days now, they’re a long ways from home, they haven’t eaten, and they won’t make it back without food.” Apparently, the people had been so enamoured with Jesus’ teachings that they recklessly followed him, and now they’re in legitimate trouble.

They panic: The Twelve worry about food

And how do the disciples respond? They panic: The twelve worry about food.

And his disciples answered him, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people” (8:4)?

They recognize the severity of the situation and the legitimacy of the need. 

We’re experiencing some deja vu, aren’t we? Two chapters ago, Jesus had miraculously fed 5000 hungry people who had followed him to a desolate place. The twelve, however, seem to have forgotten that happening and, because of that, they panic when they see the need and worry about food.

And the concern intensifies as the need becomes personal. In verse 14 we find that it’s no longer the crowds that need food but the disciples themselves.

And they had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them (8:14).

In the excitement of feeding others, apparently the twelve had forgotten to eat themselves. They look around and come to realize they had also forgotten to take some of those leftover loaves with them and only find one in the boat.

Jesus uses their hunger for a segue to an important lesson.

And he was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (8:15).

The NT often uses leaven as a metaphor for sin. As leaven added to dough makes its way through the entire batch, so sin works its way through an entire life.

Paul, in writing to the Galatians, says:

You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough (5:7–9).

Even a little sin is enough to derail a Christian’s walk, to stunt growth and halt productivity for God. Why? Because it permeates an entire life.

What was the ‘leaven’ of the pharisees and Herod that the twelve were to avoid? If we look to Mark 8:11 we read the Pharisees were demanding a sign to test Jesus. They had no intention of being convinced by the sign, rather, they wanted to prove Jesus a fraud. They were hard-hearted, unbelieving, prideful cynics who did not see Jesus for who he really was and didn’t hear his message for what it was. And Jesus, after denying them the sign, tells the twelve to beware of the leaven of hard heartedness, of unbelief.

It’s a weighty lesson, one the disciples can’t hear over their growling bellies.

They began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread (8:16).

The crowds needed food, they panic. They needed food, they panic.

As they needed bread, so you and I have immediate, potentially distracting needs, today. You may need a job, peace in tough circumstances, more time in your day, a better connection with your adult child, healing in your marriage, strength to put a specific sin to death in your life. We all have needs, today, right now, that we long to be met. We are a needy bunch and we can relate to the crowds and the disciples here. 

He provides: The Lord meets their needs

Now, confronted with the need, the twelve are concerned. But shifting our focus from the disciples to Jesus and we see that, while they panic, he provides: The Lord meets their needs.

Starting in verse 5 we notice the feeding of the 4000 is quite similar to the feeding of the 5000 in chapter 6. Jesus asks how much food is available, he sits the people down, gives thanks, and then passes it to his disciples for distribution. Verse 8 tells us that they all ate to their satisfaction and a huge amount of leftovers were collected. Then Jesus sent them away. Jesus met their temporal need and then sent them home. He provides for the hungry crowds.

What about the need of the twelve for bread? Well, we’re shown in verse 17 and following that their greatest need is not what they think it is—it’s not their hunger. Their greatest need is understanding. And Jesus rebukes them for their lack thereof. And it’s a forceful rebuke comprise of seven rapid-fire rhetorical questions.

And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

“When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand” (8:17–21)?

Notice that they remember the details (“twelve,” “seven”), they just miss the lesson: Jesus knows their needs, cares about their needs, and is capable of meeting those needs. But it’s as though they are forgetting who it is that’s travelling with them. “Do you not yet understand? Do you not get who I am and what I can do?” In a sense, they’re not that far off in their lack of perception from the Pharisees.

As I read that rebuke from Jesus I feel myself sitting with the twelve in the boat. My need isn’t an empty belly, but at the moment we’re trying to sell a house from across the county. I have three young children to raise even though I often feel like I’m making it up as I go. As I read this text I find myself listing in my head the needs I have that distract me, cause me stress, make me worry and potentially panic.

And then comes the correction: “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Don’t you see or understand? Is your heart so hard?”

And when Jesus asked the twelve to recount for him how he had provided in the not-too-distant past, I feel a jab to my gut: “Did I not bring you through school? Did I not provide a wife for you that you don’t deserve? Did I not provide you a loving church family to serve under and serve with? Have I not shown my ability to meet your needs in the past year? Month? Day?”

And even now as you and I metaphorically sit in that boat with the disciples, burdened with the needs we each have, as we listen to Jesus’ challenge I’m confident we can all say, “Yes, he has met many of my needs in the past sometimes in surprising ways and other times in ways that made me realize I didn’t know what my real needs were.”

We perceive: The Church trusts her God

In this text we see that the twelve panic and Jesus provides. And now I want to close by highlighting the gracious invitation for us to rest in this truth. So, while they panic and he provides, we perceive: The church trusts her God.

Right in the middle of that line of rhetorical questioning, there is a key quote. In fact, I think it’s a key to the entire passage. In verse 18, Jesus, quoting both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, says:

Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?

It’s a fancy way of asking, “Don’t you get it yet? Don’t you perceive who I am and what I can do? The needs I can meet? How safe you are with me. How provided for you are. How carefree you can be?”

Herein lays the genius of Mark. What are the two miracles that serve as bookends to this feeding of the 4000? If you look you’ll find they are two healings, one of a deaf man (7:31–37) and one of a blind man (8:22–26). They are miracles of perception, restoration of senses.

In the former, Jesus is presented with a gentile man who had been deaf long enough that it effected the way he spoke. The crowd implored Jesus to heal the man by laying his hands on him. So, the Lord takes him aside by himself, uses his saliva, and touches the deaf man and restores his fifth sense.

The man literally had ears but could not hear until Jesus healed him.

The latter miracle of perception is remarkably similar. Jesus is presented with another gentile man, this time one who was blind. Again, the crowd implored him to touch the man. So, Jesus takes the patient out of the village by himself, uses saliva, and lays hands on the blind man and restores his fifth sense.

The man literally had eyes but could not see until Jesus healed him.

So, we’re presented with these two miracles of perception—the restoration of hearing and the restoration of seeing—surrounding a feeding miracle that highlights the predictable lack of perception of the Pharisees but also the troubling lack of perception of the twelve. That’s why Jesus warns them to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, that unbelief that can spread through your life.

You see, Jesus wants them, and us, to perceive him rightly. There’s power and passion and provision when we know who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s capable of doing in our lives. He sees our needs, he knows them, he cares about them, and he’s capable of meeting those same needs.

This is a common theme through Scripture.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6).

And:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?

You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:25–34).

My children, unfortunately, will grow up and realize that I am inconsistent in meeting their needs. I’m not wise enough to know all their needs. I’m not powerful enough to meet all their needs.

But, as Christians we’ll never come to that same realization. God invites you and I to live this life like the vulnerable, needy, dependant children that we are but full of trust and confidence that we belong to a Heavenly Father who loves us perfectly, knows what we need completely, is powerful enough to meet those needs, and caring enough to do just that.

May God grant us eyes to see him as he is and ears to hear his promises as they are. And may we grow, by his grace, as people who are needy but unburdened; vulnerable, but unafraid.