Jesus feeds 5000.
As I pondered what I should say to you today, once again about the miracle of feeding the 5000, my thoughts were more about the circumstances of this event in Jesus’ ministry. Did you know that this is the only miracle of Jesus repeated in all four gospels? We know that if something is given once in the Bible, we must sit up and take note, but when the Holy Spirit repeats himself, it must because there is a lesson of surpassing importance.
I want to focus on the circumstances of the story. When the great multitude came to Jesus in the wilderness, he was moved with compassion because he saw they were tired and hungry. Late in the day his disciples suggested that he send the people home so they could find something to eat. Mark 6:35-37 tells us what happened next. You know the rest of the story, how they found the lad with five loaves and two fish and how Jesus blessed that meager lunch so that it fed 5000 men with 12 baskets left over.
This is one of the great miracles of the Bible. But it was also no coincidence; Jesus ministry was never one of him and his disciples getting themselves into difficult situations, without God specifically having the intention of teaching the people with Jesus, and us too, whatever the circumstances.
It’s late, the people are tired and hungry, and the disciples make a very practical suggestion: “Send them away and let them find food.” That’s logical. The suggestion is not made from bad motives. In themselves the disciples had no resources to meet this enormous need. They had no food and no money. What else could they do? Answer: They could do nothing!
The disciples didn’t see 5000 people; they saw 5000 problems they couldn’t solve. Most of us would have reacted the same way. We’re quick to see what we can’t do and quick to talk about what we don’t have. The disciples saw the crowds and realized their inadequacy. Somehow they forgot that the Son of God was standing right there with them.
In order to get the full impact of what happened, we need to look back and see what miracles had already happened in Jesus’ time with his followers: from the start his was a healing ministry, but there were some specific occasions that are mentioned in the Gospels. The healing of a leper, the healing of a centurion’s servant, and healing Peter’s mother in law. The disciples saw a paralysed man stand, roll up his bed and walk away, two blind men see and a mute could suddenly talk. Jairus, a leader in the synagogue pleaded with Jesus for his dying daughter and the girl was restored to life. Then there was that episode where the Gadarene demonics challenged Jesus; the demons listened to the voice of Jesus and possessed a herd of pigs, which then ran off over a cliff. If this was made into a film, the musical score would require a full orchestra playing fortissimo!
And, lets not forget the storm on the lake; it doesn’t sound like much of a deal, when you describe it that way, but in a 40 knot wind, Galilee can produce waves over 2m high. And when the storm frightens experienced fishermen sufficiently to wake Jesus, calmly sleeping through it all, and he stands and commands the very elements of nature, they cannot but know that their teacher, their friend, has extraordinary power.
So now we return to the hungry people on the hillside. I love it when Jesus says, ‘You give them something to eat’ (verse 37). It’s funny because then the disciples explain why they can’t feed this massive crowd. One wonders if they were thinking something like this: ‘You want us to feed this crowd? You must be joking! We don’t have any money and we don’t have any food. But Jesus wouldn’t let his men off the hook. He wants them to get involved in the grand adventure of helping others.
This is how Jesus often works with his followers. Over and over again he puts us in positions where we are helpless, and then he says, ‘Do something!’ In our desperation we cry out to heaven, ‘How?’ and he replies, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ It’s not that Jesus wants to set us up to fail, but he does want us to know that without him we can do nothing. Our success depends totally upon him, and the sooner we learn that, the happier we will be. We should not conclude that something can’t be done, so don’t bother trying to do it.
John’s account of this miracle tells us that it was Andrew who found the young boy with the five loaves and two fish and brought him to Jesus. Have you ever wondered what prompted him to offer this information? Was it a sort of ‘See this Jesus, this is all the food here for everyone!’ Or was Andrew, mindful of what power he has seen in Jesus, says ‘I don’t know if this helps, but I found this boy with some food. He wants to share it’.
We should not miss the obvious lesson here: Don’t ever despise the small things. Just because something is small or seemingly insignificant doesn’t mean God can’t use it. He used a baby’s tears to attract Pharaoh’s daughter, and the infant Moses was saved from certain death. Later he used Moses’ rod to deliver the children of Israel. And still later a teenage boy named David used one smooth stone to defeat mighty Goliath. Now Jesus is about to feed 5000 men with five little loaves and two fish. Size doesn’t matter with God. He can use anything we offer to him.
As I stand back and ponder this wonderful miracle, one truth seems to stand above all the rest. If you like, call this the moral of the story: God often puts us in situations where we are doomed to failure in order to force us to depend totally on him so that when the miracle comes, he alone gets the credit. This is a divine strategy repeated many times in the Bible and in our own experience. We often find ourselves in desperate straits with no way out, no good options, and no human way of remedying our situation. God allows this to happen so that we will cry out to him. And when the deliverance comes, we are obliged to give God the total credit.
Some time you may feel that you have come to the end of your knowledge, your wisdom, your skill, your strength, your eloquence, your creativity, and your personal charm. Life has a way of stripping away our self-sufficiency and showing us how weak we really are.
It’s a stressful thing to have no money, no manpower, no influence, few resources, no way to meet the needs of people all around you. And still Jesus says to you what he said to his men so long ago, “These people are hungry. Give them something to eat.”
So here are three little points I wish you to take home and ponder.
One: The fact that something is impossible is no excuse for not trying to do it. All too often we conclude that something can’t be done so we don’t bother trying to do it. If Moses had taken that attitude, the Jews would not have escaped Egypt. If Joshua had felt that way, the walls of Jericho would still be standing. If David had adopted that opinion, Goliath would have decimated the Israelites. You never know in advance what God may do, so don’t rule out the possibility of a miracle coming your way.
Two: God asks us to do the impossible and then he gives whatever we need to obey his command. Erwin Lutzer points that Jesus often told people to do impossible things. To a lame man he said, “Rise, pick up your bed, and walk.” To a dead man, he cried out, “Lazarus, come forth.” There is a sense in which every command of God is impossible for us to obey in our own strength. We always lack what we need to obey God’s commands. But God is faithful to give us whatever we need in our service to others when we ask him. What God demands, he supplies. He “bids us fly and gives us wings.”
Three: When we offer our meager resources to God, we discover that the impossible isn’t. J. Hudson Taylor, a great man of faith whose missionary efforts helped open China to the gospel, time and again saw God do amazing things in the face of hopeless circumstances and murderous hostility. Reflecting on his experiences, he remarked that ‘there are three stages in any work attempted for God: Impossible, Difficult, Done.’ I am very encouraged by that because there are many moments when we can all seem to be stuck in the ‘impossible’ stage of life. Cheer up, you never know but your impossibility may simply be ‘Stage 1’ of a mighty miracle God will perform on your behalf.
Finally, God will give you whatever you need in order to do his will. And he will do it . . .in his own time, in his own way,and according to his own will.
So lets not loose our hope and courage in this pandemic. Lets not pine for what we had, or wait for when its over, and despair of reaching out to people who need Jesus. Lets bring what we have now, however meagre it may be; God will not despise our small efforts, given in big faith. He will give us whatever we need so that no one goes away hungry.