Beginning with lessons from the Lord’s feeding of the 4,000, the Jewish leaders attempt to discredit Him. Here is why they would obtain no sign. Here also are their doctrines, why they should be avoided (with their modern equivalents) and how Christ is Himself the greatest sign.
‘In those days the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him and said unto them, I have compassion on the multitude.’ There follows the feeding of the four thousand. Our subject is ‘The roots of unbelief’. Perhaps I ought to begin with reference to verse 21, which is Christ saying to the disciples, ‘How is it that you do not understand?’ – the roots of unbelief. Well, from the beginning of the chapter Christ proceeds to Dalmanutha, east of Jordan. There are many Gentiles that live there, as well as Jews. And just very quickly, to introduce the subject, he declares his compassion on the multitude, verse 2. Three days they had been listening to him, and whatever they had taken with them to eat was obviously long exhausted. Christ says, ‘if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way, for divers of them came from far.‘
And there seems to be a kind of minor re-enactment of the feeding of the five thousand, even to the disciples response. Verse 4, ‘His disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men? – such a crowd, four thousand men, and presumably many more, if you were to include the women and children. ‘How can we feed them here in the wilderness?’
So it tracks, it follows, the event not very long before, when Christ had fed five thousand. The disciples don’t seem to remember how it was done, the great miracle of creation that Christ worked in providing in a deserted place so much food from nothing. Well, it continues to track the earlier event. ‘And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven.’ The numbers vary, but the events are very similar.
Verse 6, ‘And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground’, and once again, as with the feeding of the five thousand, you think of the illustration we have here of faith, because of course all those people would not have had any spiritual faith. But in being commanded by the great prophet teacher, as they saw him to be – though no doubt some of them felt he was the promised Messiah, and estimated him justly and highly – nevertheless, when he said, ‘Sit down’ and prepared to feed them, there must have been astonishment, as before.
No sign of any carts or camels or donkeys laden with food sufficient to feed thousands. No sign of any provision, and yet he commands them to sit down in an orderly way, and no doubt, as earlier, the disciples, under Christ’s direction, form them up in lines so that they can be served. Well, the cynical among them must have sniggered to one another: ‘What’s this all about? There’s no food. There’s nothing around, nothing to be seen.’ The roots of unbelief. But as the loaves and the fishes were broken and distributed, so they multiplied.
But you see the picture that’s provided, because they obey him, so it’s a picture of faith, acquiescence, submission to the command of Christ. If he says, ‘Repent and believe’, we obey him and in obeying him we receive him and embrace him.