Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle between the birth and death of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels (Mark 6:44; Luke 9:14; John 6:10). This fact tells us this was an extraordinarily important event in Jesus’ public ministry.
It was a watershed moment, in which Jesus, the 12, and the crowd revealed their true colors. A whole lifetime can be summarized in one climactic moment.
For at least 5,013 people, the story in our text defined them. 5,000 deserted Jesus. The 12, though the crowd left, heroically chose to remain faithful to Him.
As for Jesus, the four Gospel writers caught the true significance of this event in His life. It was the climax of popular enthusiasm for Jesus until His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This was His chance, His opportunity, the electric moment. He could have been King, but would not be detoured from His role as a suffering, rather than conquering, Messiah. This was Christ’s defining moment.
Matt. 14:15 (Holman) When evening came, the disciples approached Him and said, “This place is a wilderness, and it is already late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus cared about people. Do we? Do we see the crowds accurately–as lost ones precious to Jesus, who grieves because they’re absent at the banquet table?
The common people loved Jesus because He loved them. They were so eager to be with Jesus that they forgot about eating. Though they had no food with them, they followed Him to a place without grocery stores. This wilderness contained very little that was appealing, but Jesus was there, and that was enough.
Luther said, “I had rather live in Hell with the Word, than in paradise without it.” Do we feel this way? Is He dearer to us than our daily bread? Are we living lives attractive enough to cause others to feel the same way? We are the salt of the earth. Are our lives salty enough to make others thirst for the living water?
In assessing the crowd’s dire situation, the 12 were pragmatic, logical, good mathematicians: 5000 of them is greater than 12 of us plus zero grocery stores.
Their error was in underestimating Jesus–not so much by not thinking He could do a miracle, but by not consulting Him as to what they should do.
They spoke without praying. They quickly said what could not be done, and were obviously out of touch with what Jesus intended. Learn a vital lesson here. When in doubt, wait. Pray as long as you can. Consult. Talk to Christian friends.
The Twelve’s haste to speak was probably made faster by a desire to cast off a burdensome responsibility. We often do the same. Rather than praying about people’s problems, and considering what God’s will might be, it’s easier to say, “Dismiss them. Let someone else deal with them. I’m busy. It’s beyond me.”
Matt. 14:16 “They don’t need to go away,” Jesus told them. “You give them something to eat.”
“Whoa!” Jesus said, “Don’t move so fast.” Trying to get rid of people in need is no solution. Had the crowd been sent away now, they would have left empty-handed, with nothing to show for having been with Jesus. This won’t do.
This dilemma is faced by all people in ministry. The number of requests coming our way is staggering. It is logistically and economically impossible for any church to help everyone. In the same breath we admit we cannot say yes in every situation, we hasten to add we don’t want anyone to leave with a flat no.
In all cases, we must try to convey some type of a blessing: a kind word, a prayer, a phone number, a referral. Why should anyone have to walk away empty handed from the One who can fill everyone? He gave abundantly and freely when He was here, and wants to do the same now through His body, the Church.
Matt. 14:17-18 “But we only have five loaves and two fish here,” they said to Him. “Bring them here to Me,” He said.
Common fare for common folk. The fish were probably sardines, to give flavor to the bread. The loaves would have been flat and round, like a pancake.
Bread and fish, the food of the poor, were merely common everyday items, until Jesus touched them. Early Christians quickly began using bread and fish in art, as symbols of our faith, expressing the fact we serve a miracle-working God.
The 12 saw the impossible with 20/20 vision. Don’t imitate them. Avoid despair. Whatever obstacle you are facing, the huge mountain looming before you, lay it before God. Is it health, bills, struggling to tithe, giving up tobacco, broken relationships? Let God decide whether or not it is insurmountable.
King Hezekiah did this. The Assyrians, some of history’s cruelest and most successful conquerors, surrounded Jerusalem and wrote an ultimatum saying no other nation’s gods had been able to save them. Hezekiah took the threatening scroll to the temple and spread it out before the Lord (2 K 19:14). The king let the final decision be not His, but the Lord’s. In difficult times, never stop praying.
During hard days, we tend to obsess on the difficulty, the worst place to focus our sights. In tough times, knowing what we have is not as important as knowing what we don’t have. We have knowledge, but not enough to solve this enigma. We have fortitude, but too little to hold up victoriously under this burden. We have power, but not power sufficient to do what needs to be done.
We must first do inventory of how ineffective our inherent assets are. Then we have to accurately analyze what we lack, and remember God has what we don’t have. If we do this we’ll come to God with the fervency required to enlist His aid.
A sense of helplessness can be our best ally. The Gospel song says it well, “God likes to work when nothing else will.” Jesus allowed the disciples to feel exasperated. He knew desperation was the only condition in which the Twelve would turn to Him. Our Master knows the same is too often true of us.
The 12 deemed their cause as hopeless: 5000 mouths, 5 loaves, 2 fish, zero grocery stores. To their credit, they did bring the little bit they had to Jesus.
They showed little faith. Their offer was apologetic, but all Jesus needed. Often our faith is small, as small as a mustard seed. Bring it to Jesus anyway.
The song is true, “Little is much when God is in it.” John MacArthur says God has always used little to do much. A baby’s cry moved Pharaoh’s daughter and saved a nation. A shepherd’s staff worked miracles in Egypt. A donkey spoke truth. A slingshot killed a giant. A young girl led to the healing of Naaman.
A person yielded to the Master will with one talent do ten times more for God than will a person with ten talents not yielded to Jesus. My favorite Sunday School teacher could not read or write, but loved and respected us rowdy boys.
In nothing do I more feel desperation than in our commission to witness for Jesus to the ends of the earth, beginning next door. When I was born, the world’s population was 3,000,000,000. Today more lost people live on our planet than we had total population back then. The percentage of born again believers is up, but the aggregate number of unbelievers is too. Untold millions remain untold.
Brothers and sisters, we have precious little to offer in this. What are we, compared to so much? Are we regularly praying for our city, our state, our nation, our world? If not, then what in Heaven’s name are we praying for? Without a systematic prayer schedule, we revert to our default, “Me, my four, and no more.”
Don’t tell me Second Baptist is too weak in itself to win the lost. I know that. Don’t inform me I’m not strong in this area. I know it quite well. Let me hasten to repeat, what we have is not as important as knowing what we don’t have.
Yes we are weak, but God can use our yielded weakness to affect the world. He doesn’t need much money, many people, or a slick organization–no, no, no–He seeks consecrated people who are yielding everything, all 5 of their loaves, and both their fish, to Him. If we trust Him to make us mighty, we shall be mighty.