MONUMENTAL AND MEANINGLESS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 19, 2012
 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
The most monumental miracle Jesus ever performed may have been the most meaningless. The feat of feeding five thousand men, plus women and children, is the only miracle covered in all four Gospels. It is monumental because it puts Jesus at the peak of His popularity during His earthly ministry. It is meaningless, for the most part, because virtually none of the people who partook of the bread and fish became fully devoted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though “they all ate and were satisfied,” their satisfaction rested in earthly benefits rather than eternal commitments. Let’s examine several facets of Jesus’ ministry on this day and discover whether they are monumental or meaningless to us.
The Popularity of Jesus
On this day, Jesus’ approval rating would have been higher than any Democrat or Republican. He gave away free food and did not raise anyone’s taxes to pay for it. He could have sold out more concert halls than Elvis and The Beatles combined. He and His band were rock stars who couldn’t get away from the demanding crowds. Yes, Jesus, at this time of His public ministry, was the most popular person on the planet.
I would wager that He still is, today. Christians, true and false, say He is number one. Other religions, like Islam and Judaism, pay Him great respect. Even thorough-going pagans, who rail against every moral standard He stood for, still wear crosses around their necks. Jesus Christ is still the most popular person on our planet.
Many came to Jesus on that day because of His monumental popularity, even though such popularity was fading and meaningless. The same crowd that cheered Free Food Jesus and wanted to make Him an earthly king is the same crowd that cursed the Dying Jesus on the cross and refused to accept Him as the eternal King. He was not popular when He hung on Calvary; therefore, the popular crowd walked away.
Jesus did not come to be popular, nor does He demand that you follow Him for popularity’s sake. If you come to Christ with your heart out, risking even unpopularity to be His disciple, your faith will prove monumental. If you merely come for a hand out, it may just prove to be meaningless.
The Love of Jesus
Jesus’ love and “compassion” was monumental. It moved Him to action on behalf of all people. It rained bread and fish on the just and the unjust. And, at least on this day, they all love Him back.
Jesus is easy to love when there is plenty of food on the table, money in the bank, good health in our family, and good times on the weekend. When life is good, God’s love seems monumental. But when times get tough, when we can’t name it and claim it, when following the Lord seems like a steep uphill climb, the love of Jesus – or perhaps I should say the love for Jesus – grows cold and meaningless.
Jesus’ showed His love then, and now, as a Shepherd for sheep. He feeds the sheep, yes. But He also has authority to lead the sheep where He wants them to go. Everyone loves the feeding, but not everyone loves the leading. Our modern sense of entitlement has programmed us to think everybody, including God, owes us something and we do not owe anybody, including God, anything.
Jesus feeds and Jesus leads. He cannot feed your souls as Savior unless He leads your life as Lord. Jesus gives and Jesus demands, monumentally or meaninglessly.
The Teaching of Jesus
What Jesus really wanted to do on this day is what Jesus did best, “teach them many things.” I’m sure He spoke that day about the monumental themes of the kingdom of God, faith and repentance, the judgment and everlasting life. All that seemed meaningless to the masses when dinner was served.
Our church gets dozens of requests each week for free food, free rent, free gas, and other things that money can buy. We do our best to meet some of these requests. I rarely get a call from someone who wants to be taught how to enter the kingdom of God and become a follower of Jesus Christ. It seems that people, then and now, are a whole lot more interested in what the Lord can do for them than what they can do for the Lord.
The church always has been and always should be involved in social ministries. It is both popular and loving to have a Food Pantry, house a Clothes Closet, or serve with Habitat for Humanity. Food, clothing, and shelter are man’s basic needs. But, they are meaningless when compared to the monumental needs of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, worshiping God on Sundays and every day, and studying and applying the teachings of the word of God to our lives.
Of all the things that Jesus did on this day, consider what He emphasized on His last day. Remember “The Great Commission?” Disciple-making and teaching are God’s greatest concerns for man. It is up to the church to make it monumental or meaningless. And, there will be a test.
The Test of Jesus
Once again Jesus, the greatest Teacher, gives the most difficult tests. On this day, He issued a verbal exam with one imperative: “You give them something to eat.” With only one lad’s loaves and fish, this was a monumental, even impossible, test. It was not meaningless, however, for at least eleven men. They simply brought to Jesus everything they had and trusted Him to make it work.
You should know that God delights in putting men and women into impossible situations. He commands those who do not seek Him to believe in Him. He demands that we humans, who can no more change our sinful condition than a leopard can change his spots, to repent. He tells us to eternal life by commanding us to take up our own death-cross. Jesus calls us to love the unlovable, reach the unreachable, and do the impossible. That’s our test.
When we realize we have nothing to give, or that what we do have is far too little to meet the demand, and when we turn to God and give Him all that we are and all that we have, when we become dependent upon God’s grace and power, we have passed the test. And the grade is greater, more monumental, than we could ever ask or think.
The Miracle of Jesus
After the popularity peaked and the love is lavished and the teaching is taught and the test is taken, Jesus performs a monumental miracle. With just those five pieces of bread and two fish, our Lord miraculously multiplied the meal and fed upwards of 20,000 people. If Jesus had gone into the restaurant business instead of the cross, He’d have been a millionaire; and, we’d all be lost. Food for the body is not much good without salvation for the soul.
“They all ate and were satisfied.” Miracles can be quite satisfying. But when you are satisfied, you don’t want any more, or at least anything else. The Gospel of John tells us that they actually did return for more food, but they didn’t want any more preaching and teaching about the King and His kingdom. They wanted the miracle but not the message. And, apart from the eleven true disciples and one hypocrite, they all walked away. They were the recipients of a monumental miracle, but at the end of the day it was meaningless to them because they did not understand that the miracle made Jesus God, Lord, and they refused to accept Him for who He is. They only wanted Him for what He could do, from a temporal, earthly, ultimately meaningless point of view.
The real miracle, I think, happens when we see Jesus as Lord. On the merely human level, we are far too selfish, too radically sinful, too democratic and independent, to let someone into our lives to be our king. We’d much rather have elected officials who give us free food.
But when you desire God more than food or possessions, then grace has awakened in your heart. When you love Jesus and want to follow and obey Him, no matter what the cost, then mercy has covered your sin. When you see this miracle and acknowledge that God has come to earth, that Jesus is the Lord and our Savior, then the monumental miracle of salvation has come to your soul. Otherwise, it is all just meaningless.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org