Feeding Five Thousand
by John Stevenson
Of all of the miracles which are recorded during the ministry of Jesus, only one is described in all four gospel accounts. It is the one which we find in this chapter - the feeding of the five thousand.
This was an especially significant miracle. It was significant because it involved the most number of people. It had the most eye-witnesses. It also had the most volume. The only other miracle that ever came close to it was the turning of water into wine. Bread to the multitude; wine to the wedding guests. Bread and wine - He still offers it to us.
The setting for the story took place in a time of retreat - a time when Jesus was seeking to get away from it all.
WITHDRAWAL TO BETHSAIDA
And when the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. And taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. (Luke 9:10).
Bethsaida was a small town located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Its name was appropriate for a group of fishermen - it meant "house of fishing." It was home to Simon, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44).
It had been a time of great activity. There was a growing intensity to the ministry of Jesus that reached its culmination as He sent the Twelve out on a short-term mission trip.
Now they are back. They have done a good job and they are tired. And so, Jesus determines to take them away from the crowds. They go home to Bethsaida so that they can recharge.
Have you ever suffered from burn-out? You can come to the point when you are tired and just canít get the emotional energy to go on. At such a time, you need to find a place to which you can withdraw. You will find Jesus waiting for you there.
MINISTRY TO THE MULTITUDES
But the multitudes were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:11).
It was one thing for Jesus and His disciples to make plans to get away from it all. It was another thing to accomplish it. They got away from the crowds, but the crowds did not get away from them.
Jesus could have gotten angry at the multitude. After all, they were intruding at a time when they were not wanted. The office was closed and Jesus and His disciples were going on vacation. Couldn't they make an appointment? Instead, the reaction of Jesus was one of welcome. He saw their needs and He felt for them. He cared.
The Christ event is the evidence that God cares. He did not stand aloof from humanity. He became involved. He was involved in the discipleship of the Twelve. And He will be involved in a ministry to the masses.
THE INSTRUCTIONS OF JESUS
And the day began to decline, and the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place."
But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people." For there were about five thousand men. (Luke 9:12-14a).
Imagine the scene. Jesus and His disciples have long since left the crowded cities and have made their way to the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. They were followed by the crowds, so instead of spending the day in rest and relaxation, Jesus and His disciples have a day of teaching.
Now at the end of the day, the disciples are tired and hungry. And they arenít the only ones. The people are getting hungry as well. And so they come to Jesus with a suggestion. It is that He send the multitude away to surrounding areas where they will be able to purchase food.
The plan of the disciples is entitled: "Every man for himself." But Jesus has another plan. He says to them, "You feed them."
This was an impossible request. I can picture their consternation. They assemble all of their possible resources and they come up with five loaves of bread and two small fish. We know from the other gospel accounts that even this was provided by someone else and had not originally been theirs. How can they possibly hope to feed this multitude? There are no nearby grocery stores and they havenít got the money in any case. After all, Jesus had told them back in verse 3 not to take any money for their journeys and they had taken Him at His word.
This was an impossible situation. But Jesus has the answers to those kinds of situations. He is trying to teach you something in the midst of your impossible situation. And it is in the understanding of that lesson that impossible situations become bearable.
What is your situation? No matter what it is, don't forget to look for the lesson. Listen for the instructions of the Christ. Listen, because Jesus has the answers to the questions that trouble you.
You see, this situation did not come about by mere chance. It was brought about purposefully. It was brought about to manifest the power of God. The same is true of your situation.
There is a lesson here. It is that a lack of the means to do something is not necessarily proof that God does not want us to do attempt that thing. Having only a little food is no justification for sending the crowd away hungry. Having only a little money is no excuse for not helping the poor. You look to serve God with what you DO have and then watch Him provide for that service.
THE MIRACLE PROVIDED
And He said to His disciples, "Have them recline to eat in groups of about fifty each." 15 And they did so, and had them all recline. 16 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the multitude. (Luke 9:14b-16).
The grass is green. The sun is low in the sky. The cool breeze is blowing off the Sea of Galilee. The disciples are quietly obedient in organizing the people into groups of 50's and 100's. They may have been weak in faith, but they still OBEYED. And as a result, God will do something wonderful.
Having problems believing? Have a difficult time in the faith department? Welcome to the crowd. There is a lesson here for you. It is a lesson for when you find it difficult to believe. When you are having trouble believing, obey anyway. Obey as though you believe, and eventually you will find strength for your faith.
The disciples obeyed the words of Jesus. He has them divide the people into workable groups. There is a prayer of blessing.
I cannot help but think that the disciples were peeking during the prayer to see where the delivery trucks were going to come from. And yet, when the miracle takes place, we are struck by its simplicity. The heavens did not open. Trumpets did not sound. We are not told how Jesus did it.
We simply read that the disciples begin to disperse the food. And there is more food.
And still more. And people are getting seconds. And there is still more.
It isnít that Christianity has been tried and failed, it is that it hasn't been tried.
afraid? His courage is sufficient for you.
alone? His presence is sufficient for you.
in sin? His grace is sufficient for you.
in need? His abundance is sufficient for you.
Notice also that this food was conveyed to the multitude through the agency of the disciples. Once again, men were the method used by the Master. He didnít have to do it that way. He could have fed them all Himself. Manna could have rained from heaven. Or it could have all just appeared in the laps of the people. But instead, it was the disciples who distributed the food.
This was a part of their training in ministry. They had recently gone out and had been preaching and teaching and healing the sick. But now they are learning that they can only be effective as they are being supplied by Jesus.
There is a lesson here for us, too. God wants to feed a world that is spiritually hungry and He wants to do it through US. He has the resources, but He desires our involvement. It is not our ABILITY that He desires, but our AVAILABILITY.
The Lord teaches us to trust Him by commanding us to do that which is beyond our means to do.
God delights in using the little that we have to do great things. He uses the shepherd staff of Moses to divide the Red Sea and to conquer the Pharaoh of Egypt. He uses the little stone in the sling of David to bring down Goliath. He whittles down Gideonís army to a little band of 300 to defeat the hosts of Midian. And He is ready to use your little things, too.
THE EVIDENCE OF ABUNDANCE
And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full. (Luke 9:17).
When it is all over, the disciples begin cleaning up. Twelve disciples. Twelve full baskets of food. One for each disciple. Do you see the lesson? It is a lesson in abundance. Jesus is not just sufficient for our needs. He is ABUNDANTLY SUFFICIENT.
The reason that the disciples are assigned this cleanup duty is so that they will learn this lesson. They had wondered earlier where they would get enough food to feed the multitude when there was barely enough food to feed themselves. They may have thought, "If we give what we have to everyone else, then we will have to go hungry." Instead of going hungry, each disciple will end up with a load of food.
The disciples were being taught a lesson. It is the same lesson that we need to learn. It is the lesson that Jesus is sufficient for our needs.
The story is told of Dr. David Livingston, the famous missionary-explorer to Africa having a medical condition which required a regular diet of milk. He kept a goat which supplied the necessary milk. Dr. Livingston was praying one morning and he told the Lord, "Everything I have is Yours, Lord."
Iíve been a Christian long enough to know that when you tell God something like that, He is going to bring something into your life to test that resolve. Livingston was visited that same week by the tribal chief and he noticed that the chief was eyeing his goat. Desiring to show God's love, he took the goat and gave it to the chief. In return, the chief presented him with the staff which he was carrying.
Later that day, Livingston confided in one of his friends, "I donít know why I was so stupid as to give my goat away. All I have to show for it is this stupid stick." His friend replied, "You donít understand. That isnít just a stick; it is a scepter. You no longer own one goat. Now you own all the goats in the village."
When we come to the Lord in faith, giving Him our lives, we find that He has given us a scepter in return. And we have been walking around, thinking that it was just a stick.
Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost
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