In there verses, we have,
I. The return to Christ of the apostles whom he had sent forth (Mark 6:7), to preach, and work miracles. They had dispersed themselves into several quarters of the country for some time, but when they had made good their several appointments, by consent they gathered themselves together, to compare notes, and came to Jesus, the centre of their unity, to give him an account of what they had done pursuant to their commission: as the servant that was sent to invite to the feast, and had received answers from the guests, came, and showed his Lord all those things, so did the apostles here; they told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. Ministers are accountable both for what they do, and for what they teach; and must both watch over their own souls, and watch for the souls of others, as those that must give account, Heb. 13:17. Let them not either do any thing, or teach any thing, but what they are willing should be related and repeated to the Lord Jesus. It is a comfort to faithful ministers, when they can appeal to Christ concerning their doctrine and manner of life, both which perhaps have been misrepresented by men; and he gives them leave to be free with him, and to lay open their case before him, to tell him all things, what treatment they have met with, what success, and what disappointment.
II. The tender care Christ took for their repose, after the fatigue they had (Mark 6:31); He said unto them, perceiving them to be almost spent, and out of breath, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile. It should seem that John’s disciples came to Christ with the mournful tidings of their master’s death, much about the same time that his own disciples came to him with the report of their negotiation. Note, Christ takes cognizance of the frights of some, and the toils of others, of his disciples, and provides suitable relief for both, rest for those that are tired, and refuge for those that are terrified. With what kindness and compassion doth Christ say to them, Come, and rest! Note, The most active servants of Christ cannot be always upon the stretch of business, but have bodies that require some relaxation, some breathing-time; we shall not be able to serve God without ceasing, day and night, till we come to heaven, where they never rest from praising him, Rev. 4:8. And the Lord is for the body, considers its frame, and not only allows it time for rest, but puts it in mind of resting. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers. Return to thy rest. And those that work diligently and faithfully, may cheerfully retire to rest. The sleep of the labouring man is sweet. But observe, 1. Christ calls them to come themselves apart; for, if they had any body with them, they would have something to say, or something to do, for their good; if they must rest, they must be alone. 2. He invites them not to some pleasant country-seat, where there were fine buildings and fine gardens, but into a desert place, where the accommodations were very poor, and which was fitted by nature only, and not by art, for quietness and rest. But it was of a piece with all the other circumstances he was in; no wonder that he who had but a ship for his preaching place, had but a desert for his resting place. 3. He calls them only to rest awhile; they must not expect to rest long, only to get breath, and then to go to work again. There is no remaining rest for the people of God till they come to heaven. 4. The reason given for this, is, not so much because they had been in constant work, but because they now were in a constant hurry; so that they had not their work in any order; for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. Let but proper time be set, and kept for every thing, and a great deal of work may be done with a great deal of ease; but if people be continually coming and going, and no rule or method be observed, a little work will not be done without a deal of trouble. 5. They withdrew, accordingly, by ship; not crossing the water, but making a coasting voyage to the desert of Bethsaida, Mark 6:32. Going by water was much less toilsome than going by land would have been. They went away privately, that they might be by themselves. The most public persons cannot but wish to be private sometimes.
III. The diligence of the people to follow him. It was rude to do so, when he and his disciples were desirous, for such good reason, to retire; and yet they are not blamed for it, nor bid to go back, but bid welcome. Note, A failure in good manners will easily be excused in those who follow Christ, if it be but made up in a fulness of good affections. They followed him of their own accord, without being called upon. Here is no time set, no meeting appointed, no bell tolled; yet they thus fly like a cloud, and as the doves to their windows. They followed him out of the cities, quitted their houses and shops, their callings and affairs, to hear him preach. They followed him afoot, though he was gone by sea, and so, to try them, seemed to put a slight upon them, and to endeavour to shake them off; yet they stuck to him. They ran afoot, and made such haste, that they out-went the disciples, and came together to him with an appetite to the word of God. Nay they followed him, though it was into a desert place, despicable and inconvenient. The presence of Christ will turn a wilderness into a paradise.
IV. The entertainment Christ gave them (Mark 6:34); When he saw much people, instead of being moved with displeasure, because they disturbed him when he desired to be private, as many a man, many a good man, would have been, he was moved with compassion toward them, and looked upon them with concern, because they were as sheep having no shepherd, they seemed to be well-inclined, and manageable as sheep, and willing to be taught, but they had no shepherd, none to lead and guide them in the right way, none to feed them with good doctrine: and therefore, in compassion to them, he not only healed their sick, as it is in Matthew, but he taught them many things, and we may be sure that they were all true and good, and fit for them to learn.
V. The provision he made for them all; all his hearers he generously made his guests, and treated them at a splendid entertainment: so it might truly be called, because a miraculous one.
1. The disciples moved that they should be sent home. When the day was not far spent, and night drew on, they said, This is a desert place, and much time is now past; send them away to buy bread, Mark 6:35. This the disciples suggested to Christ; but we do not find that the multitude themselves did. They did not say, Send us away (though they could not but be hungry), for they esteemed the words of Christ’s mouth more than their necessary food, and forgot themselves when they were hearing him; but the disciples thought it would be a kindness to them to dismiss them. Note, Willing minds will do more, and hold out longer, in that which is good, than one would expect from them.
2. Christ ordered that they should all be fed (Mark 6:37); Give ye them to eat. Though their crowding after him and his disciples hindered them from eating (Mark 6:31), yet he would not therefore, to be even with them, send them away fasting, but, to teach us to be kind to those who are rude to us, he ordered provision to be made for them; that bread which Christ and his disciples took with them into the desert, that they might make a quiet meal of it for themselves, he will have them to partake of. Thus was he given to hospitality. They attended on the spiritual food of his word, and then he took care that they should not want corporal food. The way of duty, as it is the way of safety, so it is the way to supply. Let God alone to fill the pools with rain from heaven, and so to make a well even in the valley of Baca, for those that are going Zion-ward, from strength to strength, Ps. 84:6, 7. Providence, not tempted, but duly trusted, never yet failed any of God’s faithful servants, but has refreshed many with seasonable and surprising relief. It has often been seen in the mount of the Lord, Jehovah-jireh, that the Lord will provide for those that wait on him.
3. The disciples objected against it as impracticable; Shall we go, and buy two hundred penny-worth of bread, and give them to eat? Thus, through the weakness of their faith, instead of waiting for directions from Christ, they perplex the cause with projects of their own. It was a question, whether they had two hundred pence with them, whether the country would of a sudden afford so much bread if they had, and whether that would suffice so great a company; but thus Moses objected (Num. 11:22), Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them? Christ would let them see their folly in forecasting for themselves, that they might put the greater value upon his provision for them.
4. Christ effected it, to universal satisfaction. They had brought with them five loaves, for the victualling of their ship, and two fishes perhaps they caught as they came along; and that is the bill of fare. This was but a little for Christ and his disciples, and yet this they must give away, as the widow her two mites, and as the church of Macedonia’s deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality. We often find Christ entertained at other people’s tables, dining with one friend, and supping with another: but here we have him supping a great many at his own charge, which shows that, when others ministered to him of their substance, it was not because he could not supply himself otherwise (if he was hungry, he needed not tell them); but it was a piece of humiliation, that he was pleased to submit to, nor was it agreeable to the intention of miracles, that he should work them for himself. Observe,
(1.) The provision was ordinary. Here were no rarities, no varieties, though Christ, if he had pleased, could have furnished his table with them; but thus he would teach us to be content with food convenient for us, and not to be desirous of dainties. If we have for necessity, it is no matter though we have not for delicacy and curiosity. God, in love, gives meat for our hunger; but, in wrath, gives meat for our lusts, Ps. 78:18. The promise to them that fear the Lord, is, that verily they shall be fed; he doth not say, They shall be feasted. If Christ and his disciples took up with mean things, surely we may.
(2.) The guests were orderly; for they sat down by companies on the green grass (Mark 6:39), they sat down in ranks by hundreds and by fifties (Mark 6:40), that the provision might the more easily and regularly be distributed among them; for God is the God of order, and not of confusion. Thus care was taken that every one should have enough, and none be over-looked, nor any have more than was fitting.
(3.) A blessing was craved upon the meat; He looked up to heaven, and blessed. Christ did not call one of his disciples to crave a blessing, but did it himself (Mark 6:41); and by virtue of this blessing the bread strangely multiplied, and so did the fishes, for they did all eat, and were filled, though they were to the number of five thousand, Mark 6:42, 44. This miracle was significant, and shows that Christ came into the world, to be the great feeder as well as the great healer; not only to restore, but to preserve and nourish, spiritual life; and in him there is enough for all that come to him, enough to fill the soul, to fill the treasures; none are sent empty away from Christ, but those that come to him full of themselves.
(4.) Care was taken of the fragments that remained, with which they filled twelve baskets. Though Christ had bread enough at command, he would hereby teach us, not to make waste of any of God’s good creatures; remembering how many there are that do want, and that we know not but we may some time or other want such fragments as we throw away.