Category Archives: Discipleship

Mark 6:30-56 sheep without a shepherd

Discussion question:

Have you ever felt like the last person to understand what is going on?

Read Mark 6:30-56


Before hearing about John the Baptist in Herod’s house, Jesus had sent the 12 disciples two by two to preach that people should repent. There have been a few lake crossings in this gospel and back in Chapter 4, Jesus had stood up in the boat and told the storm to be quiet and it was! Word about Jesus has spread and people have been wondering ‘who is this man?’



  • 30-44 Feeding the five thousand
    • 30-34 Sheep without a shepherd
    • 35-38 How many loaves do you have?
    • 39-44 From Jesus to the disciples to the people
  • 45-56 Jesus brings…
    • 45-50 Jesus left the disciples on their own
    • 51-56 The sheep follow the Shepherd

30-44 Feeding the five thousand

30-34 Sheep without a shepherd

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported…” This is the first time the disciples are referred to as the apostles. Mark writes this account after all is finished and the community who read this know them as the apostles. But also the word apostles means ‘sent ones’ and that is exactly what Jesus had done in Mark 6:7. This picks up after that mission was at an end. The account of John the Baptist created a sense of time passing in the story. The disciples must have been excited about what they did and witnessed. And they did it unaccompanied by Jesus. NB: They were so excited about all that they had done and taught and yet it seems that this whole section resolves with the fact that Jesus does everything – the disciples don’t seem to catch on to this yet. 

“…get some rest.” What a wonderful encouragement from our Lord. Just because there is more work to do doesn’t mean that we must sacrifice our rest.

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them…” Jesus does not see dollar signs or an opportunity for an ego boost, he sees people who need something. He felt for them.

“…they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them…” A crowd of lost sheep. They are shepherded through teaching.

35-38 How many loaves do you have?

“Send the people away so that they can go … and buy themselves something to eat.” Remember that Jesus had already said to the disciples that it is ok to go and get some rest. Now the disciples are showing compassion on the crowd and suggesting that they be let go to get some food for themselves.

“But [Jesus] answered, “You give them something to eat.” We’re getting closer and closer to the point of this story. Jesus is going to feed five thousand plus people miraculously, but he is going to involve the disciples in the work. Something that would be impossible for any person to do will be made possible through Christ.

“…more than half a year’s wages!” The disciples have not yet learned to trust Jesus. They have also outlined the magnitude of the problem for us.

“How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Jesus is involving the disciples in this act of compassion. They have identified the problem and Jesus is helping them to solve it in ways that they could not have imagined. It must have felt like a fruitless exercise to them.

39-44 From Jesus to the disciples to the people

“…Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups…” A lovely extra bit of details about the green grass 🙂 Everyone is ready for a picnic without the sandwiches! But Jesus again helps the disciples to break down this problem and prepare the crowd to be served. It’s a bit like Israel being divided into clans and Moses leading the people by groups.

“…he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute…” Jesus is sent by the Father whom Jesus gives thanks to. The disciples receive from Jesus who is directing them. And they distribute it to the people. WARNING: bringing a Roman Catholic reading to this passage will see the Eucharist (communion) at work with the bread being provided by Jesus and distributed via the apostles. But there is no need to see this as the Lord’s supper. There is no deeper link here than providing food for the people. A better connection would be to look back to the wandering people in the wilderness who were fed manna from heaven under Moses. Also, there are fish provided too and a great deal of leftovers.

“They all ate and were satisfied…” Five thousand men plus extras were satisfied by this miracle.

“…and the disciples picked up twelve basketful of broken pieces of bread and fish.” Notice again how involved the disciples are here. Jesus is trying to teach them something. They have seen the concern (V35) and they have seen the resources (V38), they have seen the size of the problem (V40), they distributed what was given and gathered what was left over. They saw better than anybody that day what was possible. 

Summary: Jesus saw that the disciples needed rest. Jesus saw that the people needed a shepherd. Jesus directed the disciples to provide for the people with the resources that Jesus brings.

45-56 Jesus brings…

45-50 Jesus left the disciples on their own

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him…” The rest that they needed is still on Jesus’ mind. They won’t get the rest while Jesus is with them. Notice that Jesus ‘made them’ get into the boat. Remember back in Mark 4:36 that the disciples were taking Jesus places. On that episode they commanded the boat with boldness but were frightened by a storm which Jesus commanded. This time, Jesus sends them off and we’ll see again how little Jesus needs the disciples!

“… he went up on a mountainside to pray.” Jesus also needed time alone with his Father.

“Later that night…he was alone on the land.” The theme of being with or without Jesus continues in this passage. They were ‘out there’ on the lake and he was alone on the land.

“He saw the disciples straining…shortly before dawn he went…” A super hero would see people in trouble and fly to them but not our Lord. He sees our straining and struggle and waits for the right moment. In God’s wisdom it is good for us to have struggle.

“…he went out to them, walking on the lake.” You know, as you do! A simple bible reading would stop and conclude that this is the important part of the story. But a deeper reader will see that this is just one element of the story. The point is more than ‘look at what Jesus can do!’ The point lies in how he treats us and why he has even come to us.

“…they all saw him and were terrified.” The last thing they expected to see was their teacher walking by them on water. While they strained, he strolled. NB: do ghosts exist? While the answer is no, there is a spiritual realm with angels and demons and there is a story of King Saul bringing Samuel back from the dead and there is that time when Moses and Elijah stood with Jesus on a hill! There is also superstition and over imagined realities that we have no concrete answers to. Best to just say no.

50-56 The sheep follow the Shepherd

“Immediately he spoke to them…” The quickness of Jesus here is contrasted with his delay in Verse 48. 

‘“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them.’ Surely Jesus didn’t get into the boat for his own benefit but for theirs! The disciples need Jesus. Jesus understands their need. They are not alone and the man who can feed five thousand with a few loaves and the one who can walk on water has come from heaven to walk with them. To direct them.

“They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” It’s at this point when I read this story that I thought I had understood the loaves but then Mark reintroduces the point here! The disciples had not yet caught on to what the crowds seem to be craving. The crowds are amazed at Jesus and will go out of their way to find him and spend ridiculous hours with him. The disciples are still thinking 2 dimensionally about mission. Jesus wants to send them but they must realise that they go with Jesus. They saw the crowd who needed to be fed but Jesus directed them on how that would get done. It is time for the disciples to start believing that Jesus can feed multitudes, cast out demons, raise the dead and walk on water. Have they even answered the question that they asked back in Chapter 4: Who is this man? We are told that their hearts were hardened and so they are yet unwilling to see who Jesus is.

“…people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout the whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.” This simple and excited faith is what Jesus wants from his disciples. If only they could see what the crowds were seeing!

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. What events were the disciples talking about in Verse 30? How did they describe the events?

Q2. How easy was it for Jesus to do things in these Verses? Look over the whole story and note all the amazing things that Jesus is said to have done and how simple it was for him.

Q3. What problems did the disciples face in all these Verses? How did the disciples think each problem should be solved?

Q4. How are the crowds described throughout these verses? What were their needs and how were they resolved?

Q5. What was Jesus waiting for the disciples to learn? Compare what Jesus was doing while the disciples were straining themselves on the lake.


The disciples had a special and close connection with Jesus and yet they had not yet become excited about who he is. We are all sheep without a shepherd. Without Jesus we struggle against the wind. With Jesus we are directed to teach one another to have faith in him. Jesus saw the crowd who was lost and he began to teach them. Jesus saw the disciples’ who were afraid and said “take courage because I am here.” Jesus has now left us to do this without his physical presence. But the same practice is followed. Rely on God and not our own strength. See the difficult task before us and take courage. The needs of the many are solved by knowledge of the One.


Challenge#1 Jesus is the solution to all of our problems.

In this passage we see Jesus solving problems in ways that the disciples did not foresee. The disciples even thought that their mission was done by them alone! Jesus, who can walk on water, provide food out of virtually nothing, and can heal simply by being present has much more to say and contribute to our problems than we can even imagine. The disciples still treated Jesus like a side-kick to all of their needs. Both the calming of the storm and the walking on water incident left them blown away (pun). But Jesus challenged them on both occasions about their fear. Why are you so afraid? Where is your faith? (Mark 4). And “Take courage. Don’t be afraid?” (Mark 6:50). Jesus is asking us to put him at the centre of the solution to all of our problems. Without him we are just straining at the oars against the wind. But with him, we can be directed and take courage.

Challenge#2 Finding rest in the middle of chaos.

Jesus shows teaches us the importance and value of praying in the quiet when he does it so often himself. He didn’t wait for a quiet moment, he created one.

Challenge#3 Think lost sheep, not problems to solve.

We are all like sheep that have gone astray. We all need the Great Shepherd. It’s not some more than others. The disciples needed to see this of themselves rather than being the muscles for Jesus. When we see this then we can spend more time directing people to Jesus than solving people’s problems. The more we try and fix people’s problems the more weary we will become. But keep directing people to Jesus and we will find this solution much easier. Even Jesus saw the sheep without a shepherd and his solution was to direct them to the word of God as he taught them.

Start Living

A course for new disciples

This 8 part course was written in 2013 to help new Christians (or Christians who felt stuck in their faith) to move forward. It was written and developed by Simon Twist and used at Campbeltown Anglican Church for a number of years. It has been replaced by our Firm Foundations course which uses the book of Colossians to help Christians to truly understand the grace of God and what that means. But Start Living still has a place for anyone who wants to consider 8 key truths that every Christian ought to know. It is supplied here for personal study, Growth Group study or one to one training. The eight lessons are listed below with links to PDF files.

Introduction Lesson

Lesson One: What’s the big deal with God? (We begin with grace)

Lesson Two: Why Don’t We Pray?

Lesson Three: A Guide on Worry

Lesson Four: I Believe in the Trinity

Lesson Five: The Word of God

Lesson Six: A Life of Faith

Lesson Seven: The Community of Faith – Church

Lesson Eight: Sharing Your Faith

Firm Foundations – Study 1 – Colossians 1:3-8

Truly Understanding God’s Grace

Topics covered: The message of hope, love, faith and grace.
Glossary: hope; love; faith; grace; gospel; epistle.

Discussion question

How would you explain the message of the gospel?


After Jesus died and rose again from the dead, and just before he returned to heaven, he told his disciples to go into all the world to tell everybody that he is the LORD of all and that the forgiveness of sins is offered in his name. A man named Saul hated this new religion known as ‘The Way’ and later known as Christianity. But while he was actively resisting Christians, he had an encounter with the risen Jesus. You can read about his story in Acts Chapter 9. He was converted and rather than hating all Christians and trying to destroy this new movement, he was born again and became the most influential disciple-maker the world has known. As he moved among Greek speaking towns, he became known as Paul.

The book of Colossians was written by him, along with his younger colleague Timothy, to one of the churches located in modern day Turkey. Paul had not personally established this church in Colossae nor visited it prior to writing this letter (Colossians 2:1) but his preaching for two years in a lecture hall in Ephesus impacted the whole province which Colossae was part of (Acts 19:10). A man named Epaphras is mentioned in Colossians 1:7, 4:12 and Philemon 23. He may have heard the gospel from Paul in Ephesus, taken the message back to his hometown of Colossae (Colossians 1:7) and continued in mission with Paul but never forgetting his church in prayer (4:12).

The city of Colossae in relation to almost every location mentioned in the history of the bible!

Read Colossians 1:3-8

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

What do you see?


  • 3-4 God has clearly worked in you
    • (Hearing of the faith and love of the Colossians)
    • Who do we thank for Christians? God the Father.
  • 5-6 Because the gospel has beared fruit in you
    • (Which flowed from them hearing and truly understanding the true message of the gospel)
    • What does the gospel do? It produces love outflowing from hope.
  • 7-8 This gospel is faithfully spread by people through the Spirit
    • (Which is spread by faithful servants by the power of the Spirit)
    • How do we understand God to be at work in this world? By faithful ministers and the Holy Spirit.

(3-4) God has clearly worked in you

“We always thank God…when we pray for you…” Paul along with Timothy are writing this and that is the we. Notice their letter comes in the context of a relationship in prayer for the church. They are not putting themselves as head over the church and telling them what to do but are thankful to God for what he is doing in that church.

“…God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Billions of people across the globe and across history believe in a god of some sort. We speak of him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not any god that you can imagine but the true God who has revealed himself to us ultimately through his son. This son is Lord meaning ‘the One in Charge’, the Commander, the Boss of all. He is Jesus, a common name in first century Israel but he is the Christ which means God’s chosen king. But it is God the Father to whom Paul and Timothy pray.

“…because we have heard of your faith…and love…” Paul has heard reports of the church and two things cause him to thank and praise God – their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all of God’s people. These two observable attributes flow out of the gospel that they heard.

“…faith in Christ Jesus…” Such a small phrase that means so much! It describes a person putting their trust for the future in the hands of a man that they have never met in the flesh! It also describes something that is reportable since Paul had heard of their faith. The Bible uses the word faith, as it should, as a word of confidence and knowledge that produces action. Like trusting that a car will keep you safe as you travel at 110km down a freeway – your faith in the car is evident since you are traveling in it. Likewise, faith in Christ Jesus is seen because it alters the way of life for a Christian. Paul conveys why faith makes a difference in Verses 5 and 6.

“…the love you have for all God’s people…” The second observable attribute of the church in Colossae is their love but specifically their love for all of God’s people! Here is another element of the bible that is important. The whole earth is God’s creation and every human ever living has been made in the image of God. But, the world contains two types of people – those who are for God through Jesus Christ and those who do not know God through Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 2:9 those who have heard the gospel are described as those called out of darkness and into God’s wonderful light and they are described as God’s people. A special possession. The theme of the People of God is one that is carried right through the bible and can be investigated in our God’s Big Picture Plus+ course. When Paul refers to all of God’s people, he is referring to everyone that has declared Jesus as Lord and who believe that he has risen from the dead and that we now have our future hope in him (Romans 10:9-13). Just like faith can be observed, love is observable too in that it is more than a feeling, it produces action of care for others.

(5-6) Because the gospel has beared fruit in you

“…that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven…” The greatest impact of the gospel on a person is their shifted vision of the future. Without the promise of a bright future, the Christian faith would be empty. But we have the promise of the resurrection and a place reserved for us in heaven. John 14:1-6 shares of Jesus’ promise that this is what he has come to give us: eternal life through Christ. See also John 3:16. The worries of this life a put into perspective when we think of eternity. When we know that the future is secure, it affects the way we understand life here and now. Even suffering is placed in the context of temporary trials that test our faith rather than a curse from God. The Christian faith is about hope! Not wishful thinking! But the knowledge that a better future is prepared for us.

“…the true message of the gospel that has come to you.” The faith and love is not something that makes the people of Colossae stand out as amazing – like they are wonderful people by nature. Their faith and love have sprung out from hearing the gospel. The gospel means good news. And Paul uses the phrase, ‘true message of the gospel.’ Many things can be attached to the message of the gospel to make it untrue! Things such as the need to keep the Old Testament law, or the need for baptism in a specific manner, or the need to earn God’s love. Then there is the melding of the true gospel with a specific denomination or preacher or theologian. The true church of Christ is not about which institution you follow or whether you are Calvinist or some other labeled variety of Christian. The true message of the gospel is about Christ crucified for the sins of the world and gifted without charge to all who put their trust (faith) in Christ Jesus. Full stop. The effectiveness of this true gospel when received by a person will not go unnoticed by others because their faith and love will be visible. Lastly, this message has ‘come to you.’ Each generation of Christian are merely receiving the same message that the prophets predicted, that Jesus fulfilled and that the Holy Spirit, through the word of God is taught. It comes to us by word of mouth as people teach the bible in truth.

“In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world…” Paul continues to make the point that Christian faith is not specific to a location or race but is the same message intended for the whole earth to hear because it is the message of the one true and living God, the Father of Christ Jesus. This message gets transmitted from person to person as the true message is retold, believed and received as truth in the mind and heart of the hearer.

“…just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it…” There is no secret to the spread of Christianity. You hear the good news and understand it and you tell others about it and on it goes. Even when the church in Colossae heard it, they spread it around town themselves. The gospel is not something that we keep to ourselves. It is also not something that we just wait for church Ministers to tell. When you get such good news as the gospel, you pass it on! If you heard that the cure for all sicknesses was available and all you had to do was go to a fountain in the centre of town look at it – you’d investigate it and then let everybody know!

“…and truly understood God’s grace.” This is a key phrase to this whole section of Verses 3-8. See, many will hear the gospel taught to them by family or friends or even at church by their own minister BUT will fail to truly understand God’s grace. All of humanity are dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1). We are unable to truly please God because all of us have fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). We have lived in darkness and God is only full of light – with no darkness in him. This makes him unapproachable by us. But God is full of compassion and mercy and has sent his one and only Son into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The end result of our sin is death – that’s the bad news. But the gospel – the good news – is that through Jesus Christ we can be forgiven! See Romans 6:23; John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18. This has been described as the great exchange – our sins for Christ’s righteousness. Imagine us clothed in filthy rags and Jesus standing clothed in dazzling white. Imagine that this represents our condition before God the Father. Now imagine that Christ swaps his bright white and perfect clothing for ours. He takes on our unworthiness and, free of charge, gives us his spotless record. At the cross, he took on the full wrath of God’s judgment for sins that he never committed. He absorbed the punishment for us. He died so that we might live. Grace, truly understood, is that we have done nothing to earn God’s love and we cannot repay Christ for what he has done for us. Grace is God’s love – underserved, unmerited and unable to be repaid – ever. Salvation is about being saved – and you cannot save yourself! God doesn’t save us because he gets something more from us. He saves us and gives us the hope of eternity and we get everything great from him – the privilege of calling Him Father – access to pray to Him at any time – the promise of eternal life without punishment – all at the cost of Christ crucified.

(7-8) This gospel is faithfully spread by people through the Spirit

“You learned it from Epaphras…” See again, the gospel magically come to us but is brought to us and taught to us from someone. The church in Colossae has Epaphras to thank for bringing the good news to them. He is described as a faithful minister of Christ working on behalf of Paul. Where Paul could not come himself, Epaphras was trustworthy with the message so that what he brought to them was the same message. Since it is only the TRUE gospel that gives hope then we want to be receivers of that same TRUE gospel and not an altered one. The word minister is the same as servant or slave. It is not that Epaphras was necessarily paid or appointed with a special role but that his service was to Christ is spreading the gospel correctly.

“…who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” We have read of God the Father who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and we have heard of the good news traveling around the world by faithful servants of the gospel. This message was of grace and it produced love. Now we are informed that this love is demonstrated in the Spirit. The gospel is not only transferred around the world by the words of faithful servants like Epaphras, it is also illuminated and made real in a person by the Holy Spirit. Verse 9 tells us that the Spirit gives wisdom and understanding. This is why many people hear the faithful retelling of the gospel but do not ‘truly understand God’s grace.’ Instead they remain in the error of believing God only loves those who are lovely and who earn his respect. Humans all have the capacity to love but only the Spirit of God can produce love that is Christ-centred rather than self-centred.

What did we learn?

Christianity is a worldwide phenomenon initiated by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is all about the message of the gospel. This good news centres on God’s free gift of salvation, which is spread by people telling people the authentic unaltered message of grace. The Spirit of God brings that message alive in people when they receive it and believe it. The outworking of the gospel is Christian love flowing from people’s real trust in Jesus Christ. When God’s true message of grace reaches someone’s ears, the Spirit transforms that person’s life because of the hope that produces faith and love. God’s authentic transforming message is packaged in human relationship but empowered from Himself.

Picture this in diagram form beginning with the will of God and ending with hearts transformed by the gospel of grace…

God the Father → Jesus Christ crucified for sins IS the gospel of grace → Paul preaches this gospel → Epaphras hears it and delivers it back home → people in Colossae hear the true message and truly understand it → faith and love through the Spirit

Now what?

Consider one or more of the following ways that this passage can form a firm foundation for your faith.

  1. What is the true message of the gospel and do you truly understand it? Try and explain it or write it down. Do you have any questions arise in your mind as you try to explain the gospel? What can you do to answer those questions? Lookup the following passages to hear the gospel from other parts of the New Testament:
    1. Ephesians 2:19
    2. Romans 3:23
    3. 1 Timothy 1:15
    4. Romans 6:23
    5. John 3:16
    6. 1 Peter 3:18
    7. John 4:9-10
  2. Faith, hope and love: three great words with great misunderstanding.
    1. Faith, as used in the bible, is about such knowledge of God and his promises that it alters your life because of your trust in him. Read Romans 3:21-28.
    2. Hope, as used in the bible, is about picturing the future that God has promised to those who love him. It is not wishful thinking, but it is imagining something that has been guaranteed to us. Read Romans 8:18-25.
    3. Love is both an emotion and a decision. Love, as an emotion only, is fleeting. Love, as a decision only, is without affection. But love is to choose who or what you are committed to. Jesus said, for example, that you cannot love both God and money. You can choose to love money as both something that provides security and something you will do anything to keep. But to love something that is fleeting itself is foolish. Rather, love God who has given us the gospel of grace. Read Romans 5:8.
    4. Faith and hope are words for this life but love is eternal. Read 1 Corinthians 13:13.
  3. Christianity is a spiritual faith grounded in real relationships. The gospel could not have reached Colossae without Paul or Epaphras. The gospel could not have reached Colossae without the Spirit of God. We do not belong to church for human relationships only. We belong because of the Spirit of God who has brought us into the knowledge of God’s grace and love. We only know this truth, however, because of humans who have also been touched by God’s grace in truth.