He sent them on their journey with no bread. He forced them to rely upon the provision of the Father for their daily bread. Since they each returned, we can safely conclude that the Father did indeed provide for them. Not one of the twelve starved along the journey. Now just as the Father had given them bread along the way, they returned to have Jesus feed them and a vast crowd with bread, and they even each had a basket full of leftovers! Jesus was teaching them that just as they placed their faith in God, they should also place their faith in Him.
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Mark 6:30-44 ESV
After witnessing the supernatural hand of God against the Egyptians via the ten plagues, the LORD’s guidance as they fled Egypt via the pillars of cloud and fire, and God’s marvelous deliverance through the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites were finally free from the yoke of Pharaoh’s enslaving hand. They were now free to worship the Most High and to enter into the land of Canaan that God had promised their ancestor Abraham so long ago.
Yet a new problem presented itself. On the other side of the sea was a great wilderness that the great crowd would need to traverse before they could enter the Promise Land. As the people of Israel began their journey through the wilderness, they began to grumble, crying out that God had only delivered them from Egypt in order to have them starve to death out in the desert. The LORD answered their groanings by giving them bread from heaven. As His sheep bleated out, the Shepherd gave them food.
The Return of the Apostles // Verse 30
As is very common to Mark’s Gospel, our present passage links itself to previous ones. Particularly, the words the apostles returned to Jesus remind us of their short-term journey that Christ sent them upon in verses 7-13. Having gone out in pairs to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God and having seen that even Herod has begun pondering the identity of Jesus upon hearing of the miracles that the apostles were working in Jesus’ name, the twelve now return to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. Since they were ministering as ambassadors of Christ, it was only fitting for them to give a report to their Teacher of all that they did.
Of course, that does not imply that we will be judged on the last day according to the merit of our own works. If that were the case, then Jesus would not have also taught us these words:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The people that Jesus describes seem to be faithful stewards who have done much labor in Christ’s name, who have been valuable servants of the kingdom. Does this passage not seem to contradict the parable of the talents? A closer glance at both reveals no contradiction at all. In the parable, the servant over one talent confidently declared to his master, “I knew you to be a hard man…” (Matthew 25:24), yet we were just told of the master gladly rewarding his other two servants with much after being faithful with only a little. You see, just like those who cry, ‘Lord, Lord,” in Matthew 7, the servant did not truly know his master. Like Jephthah and Saul, his fundamental lack of understanding the character of his master led him into sin even while attempting obedience. If that sounds harsh, we should remember that the biblical concept of sin is to miss the mark, like an archer who fails to hit his target. This is why the Bible so thoroughly laments ignorance of God. Attempted obedience without a proper knowledge of who God is often results in further sin. Indeed, trying to obey a false notion of God is like an archer who is shooting west even though his target is east. The archer’s skills are worthless if he is not actually shooting in the direction of his target. Therefore, we should take God’s message through Jeremiah to heart:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”