Luke 9:10-17 – Jesus Feeds Five-Thousand

The Feeding of the Five Thousand by John Reilly, 1958

When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him, and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing.

Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (New International Version)

Jesus feeding five thousand people is not just an incredible story that happened a long time ago. Today, Jesus is still in the miracle business because he is still in the kingdom business. Christ still takes our meager resources and turns them into something that has a large impact on a lot of people. 

For that to happen, all we need do, is follow the Lord’s simple instructions: “You give them something to eat,” and, “Bring them [five loaves and two fish] here to me.” Jesus, using a simple act of obedience by his disciples, did one of the most famous miracles in history.

Jesus can multiply whatever little we possess to accomplish his kingdom work through us. 

It is true that Jesus most certainly can do miracles without us. And yet, Christ chooses to use us simple folk to participate in his work. God uses our simple prayers for the miracle of a transformed life. The Lord uses our imperfect speech to bring new life to others. Jesus takes our miniscule bank account to bring a river of financial resources to many through a small act of giving. 

Faith is our true work – to believe God can do the extraordinary through our ordinary loaf of bread and piece of fish.

The Compassion of Jesus Motivates Him To Do Miracles

Jesus withdrew to a solitary place. The crowd, however, did not leave him alone. But rather than being annoyed by the situation because this interruption was not on his divine day planner, Jesus looked at the large group of people and had compassion on them. 

Christ’s heart went out to thousands of people, so he set about the work of healing the sick. Please know that God does not begrudgingly deal with you, as if you were an interruption to his day; the Lord has compassion for you.

The Desire of Jesus is For Us to Participate in the Miracles He Does

After a full day of healing, Christ’s disciples came to him as if he was unaware of the people’s need for food.  They had a very rational and realistic answer to the problem of hunger in front of them; dismiss the crowd so they can go out to eat. 

Jesus calmly responded, “They don’t need to go away; you give them something to eat.” 

I detect perhaps a hint of sarcasm and a slight eye roll in the reply of the disciples, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish.” But their math was way off because they did not count Jesus. 

The Five Thousand by Eularia Clarke, 1962

Jesus simply said, “Bring them here to me.” My friends, if we have ears to hear, Jesus is still saying this today to us – bring them here to me. Through simple prayer and active obedience, we must give Jesus what we have, no matter how little or insignificant.

Most of what happens in Western Christianity, much like the ancient disciples, is a reasonable doing of rational ministry. Many ministries have little to nothing to do with the impossibility of faith and seeing God work in ways that are incomprehensible to our modern sensibilities.

The earthly miracles of Christ were not an isolated instance. God has always been taking the impossible and making it possible.

Now there was a woman who had been married to a member of a group of prophets. She appealed to Elisha, saying, “My husband, your servant, is dead. You know how he feared the Lord. But now someone he owed money to has come to take my two children away as slaves.”

Elisha said to her, “What can I do for you? Tell me what you still have left in the house.”

She said, “Your servant has nothing at all in the house except a small jar of oil.”

He said, “Go out and borrow containers from all your neighbors. Get as many empty containers as possible. Then go in and close the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all those containers. Set each one aside when it’s full.”

She left Elisha and closed the door behind her and her sons. They brought her containers as she kept on pouring. When she had filled the containers, she said to her son, “Bring me another container.”

He said to her, “There aren’t any more.” Then the oil stopped flowing, and she reported this to the man of God.

He said, “Go! Sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what remains.” (2 Kings 4:1-7, CEB)

What if we were to live as if God was interested in doing the miraculous? Would it change the way we pray, and the way we act? 

What if we understood just enough of Jesus, of what he can and wants to do, that we are bold to say:

  • “This might sound crazy, but what if we found out the names of everyone in our community who needs food and go love on them and feed them?” (instead of only the rational means of a food pantry)
  • “This might sound crazy, but what if we used our property to create a community garden and help people grow their own food?” (instead of only the rational means of government aid) 
  • “This might sound crazy, but what if we prayed for one-hundred people, by name, to be healed?” (instead of only the rational means of relying on the pastor to pray)

Most of our plans are humanly possible and doable. Maybe we ought, instead, to seek the impossible.

We may often do nothing out of a sense that God either cannot or does not want to use me or what I have. However, it just won’t do to stand afar off and expect God to work without us giving what we have, whether that something is time, money, conversation, food, hospitality, or whatever. 

Our excuses won’t do for Jesus – my home is too small, I don’t have enough money, I am not smart enough, my schedule won’t allow it, I don’t have enough resources…. In God’s economy you don’t need much, at all. Just a mustard seed worth of faith will do. Jesus wants us to be a part of the miracles he is doing.

Conclusion

I can visualize the disciples befuddled by Christ’s words. I can imagine hearing their excuses. “You want me to do what?  Feed thousands?  Lead someone to Jesus?  Pray in front of others?….” 

The miracle for many a believer is to be open, real, and transparent enough to believe that Christ can do the impossible through confessing sin, participating in ministry, having a spiritual conversation with an unbeliever, or just naming out loud what one actually thinks and feels.  

The question is never, “Can God use me?” The real question is, “What miracle does God want to do through me, and through us as a community of faith?”

It is no accident that when Jesus distributed the bread, it sounds a lot like communion. The Lord’s Supper may seem to be irrelevant – only something we do to remember Jesus, or a mere ritual. But God’s design is much bigger. The Lord wants to do a miracle. 

God wants our observance of Christian communion to bring a healing which the world cannot give. It appears irrational that Jesus can use a small Table to feed and reach thousands. Yet, we don’t serve a God who is limited to work through rational means. 

O God, our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth. Increase our faith and our reverence for the mystery of life. Give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future, no matter whether it makes sense, or not, in accordance with your goodwill, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Welcome, friends! Luke 4:14-30 is the account of Jesus reading the words of Isaiah the prophet to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for prisoners. How Christ used those words caused a huge commotion, and still does. Let’s find out together what happened. Click the videos below and let us consider Jesus….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 4:14-30

Gracious God, you bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and free prisoners from jails. Please come to us and send us out, as forgiven people, to the poor, the brokenhearted, and the imprisoned. Amen.

Luke 4:14-30 – Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Jesus Unrolls the Scroll in the Synagogue, by French artist James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (New International Version)

Jesus was the hometown boy of Nazareth, the rising star who was putting the small village on the map. He walked into the synagogue on the Sabbath with the people all watching with pride, their chests puffed with delight over one of their own making it to the big time. 

It just so happened that on that day the Old Testament reading was from the prophet Isaiah – a prophecy of grace and healing that fit the budding ministry of Jesus. Here was the hope of Israel. It was all bunnies and butterflies, until Jesus decided to say a few words to them all….

Jesus took the prophecy of Isaiah about proclaiming liberty to captives and the oppressed and then applied it, not to his fellow Jews who were present, but to, of all people, Gentiles! 

Jesus just had to open his mouth and point out that in the days of Elijah, the prophet was sent to a Gentile woman. In addition, Jesus let everyone know the prophet Elisha cleansed a Gentile. The gathered synagogue worshipers understood exactly what Jesus was doing – claiming to be the ultimate prophet, sent for those people. 

It was too much for the people gathered for worship. All hell broke loose as the “worshipers” became so angry and insolent that they drove Jesus out of town and tried to kill him. Jesus had that kind of effect throughout his earthly ministry by saying and doing the unexpected. 

The people of Nazareth seemed to have always interpreted the message of Isaiah and the prophets as being for themselves, not others. Whenever any believer or church loses sight of a biblical message and re-interprets it as being for only us, then we end up like the Nazarenes of old who did not recognize Jesus for who he really is and what he really came to do. 

Some believers and churches need a question asked of them: Are you ready to throw Jesus off a cliff?

Our faith is not merely individual; it is meant to impact the world. In the beginning the earth was created by God and it was good. Yet, it didn’t take long for things to go sideways. The fall of humanity into sin and disobedience brought death and decay to the world. Ever since, the human condition has been dominated by guilt, shame, indifference, violence, taking advantage of others, pride, and selfishness.

However, God did not leave the world to its own demise. The Lord began the process of reconciliation, culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And now, Christians are a new society, the community of the redeemed, the church. As the people of God, we are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Jesus came to save us from our predicament, and to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for those oppressed by others. The kingdom of God is to extend over every square inch of this earth, every nation, every race and ethnicity, every institution and organization, and every individual. It all belongs to God’s rule and reign in Christ.

Jesus has made us, his disciples, ambassadors of reconciliation. Ever since the fall of humanity, God is reclaiming and redeeming, even now, all of creation back to himself. The Lord is seeking to bring people back into the harmony that existed in the Garden of Eden. Although this will only be fully realized when Christ returns, we presently now have the responsibility to be gracious agents of God’s kingdom, restoring all areas of this world and all people to their rightful place, at peace with God.

There is every reason to hope because a new world began emerging at the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. As Christians, we accept struggle and hardship in this life and endure all things because, even though disease, destruction, and death claim so many lives, the love of God in Christ will never change nor die.

Because of the risen and ascended Christ, who is the light for all people everywhere, Christ’s disciples are able to respond to the great mass of human suffering with compassion.

This is important since compassion might not be our initial reaction to human suffering. Like the villagers in Christ’s hometown of Nazareth, we can chafe at the thought of compassionately reaching out to the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. We might either resist ministry to the “other” because we believe they caused their own poverty and adverse situation, or because we simply don’t believe we are wired for ministry to them.

If you knew me before I was a Christian, you might not recognize me. I didn’t love anybody. I had no compassion for anyone. It wasn’t until I experienced the love and compassion of Jesus Christ that my life turned upside-down. I began responding to human need with a deep concern. I sought to connect with all kinds of people. I wanted to make a difference in the world.

Back then I was (and to some degree still am) something of an agitator. Maybe that’s one reason I am so drawn to the compassion of Christ. For compassion is actually a radical form of criticism, declaring that our pains and our hurts are to be taken seriously, that they are not to be accepted as natural but abnormal and unacceptable for the human condition. It’s not supposed to be this way!

The compassion of Jesus needs to be understood as a totally subversive action against the kingdom of darkness, a bold and daring affront against all that keeps people locked into systems of oppression and poverty.

The world needs to experience the Church everywhere as a place and a people of good news – expressed in both word and deed – in which they are hospitably invited into the very life of God and experience the fullness of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. In other words, we are not only in the personal transformation business, but we are also in the business of transforming society so that the common good of all persons is upheld.

As the church proclaims and seeks to establish the kingdom of God, it comes to see that all human need is important – whether it is spiritual, physical, mental, or emotional. We “do justice” by helping others experience the reality of God’s love in Christ and compassionately meet their holistic needs. We “love mercy” by showing hospitality and inviting folks very different from ourselves into our lives. We “walk humbly” with our God by emulating the compassionate ministry of Jesus to all people.

What is your “compassion quotient?” That is, how much compassion do you have in your life right now?

What are some tangible ways we can work on raising our level of compassion and demonstrating compassionate action to those around us and in our city?

It is questions like these that enable us to sync our lives with the heart of Jesus, who still desires to bring good news to the world.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for sending your people in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by many prayers and labors, and that your people share in your mission of restoring all people to unity with yourself and one another in Christ; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

John 13:31-35 – Love One Another

Stained glass by Edgar Miller (1899-1993)

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (New International Version)

The Church was formed to represent Christ on earth. The Church is a new community of believers in Jesus, called and empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission.

Christianity was never intended to be just a personal faith; it was designed by God to be the community of the redeemed. Christian community is vital to every individual’s faith.

“No one can have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.”

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Loyalty and commitment to God translates to having a dedicated and devoted spirit to one another in the church. 

One of the last commands Jesus gave to his disciples before he went to the cross was to “love one another.” The Old Testament instructed the Israelites to love each other (Leviticus 19:18). Yet, Jesus gives new meaning to the command through four distinctions of loving one another.

A New Model of Love: Jesus

Our Lord’s life and teaching gave new meaning to the command to love each other. Notice what Jesus did in the Upper Room just before giving the command to love one another:

It was almost time for the Jewish Passover festival. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go back to the Father. Jesus had always loved the people in the world who were his. Now was the time he showed them his love the most.

Jesus and his followers were at the evening meal. The devil had already persuaded Judas Iscariot to hand Jesus over to his enemies. (Judas was the son of Simon.) The Father had given Jesus power over everything. Jesus knew this. He also knew that he had come from God. And he knew that he was going back to God. So while they were eating, Jesus stood up and took off his robe. He got a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet. He dried their feet with the towel that was wrapped around his waist. (John 13:1-5, ERV)

Jesus modeled a service-oriented love of compassionately meeting the need of another, regardless of who that person is. It is instructive to us that Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, along with all the other disciples. 

Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us.

Romans 5:8, GW

We are to love everyone in the community of saints, and not just our friends or the ones we like. Loving one another also means we will be realistic in understanding that community is messy and downright hard work.  

A New Motive: Christ First Loved Me

Jesus has loved us with a love that took care of our brokenness once for all. Because of that love, we are now motivated to love each other. John would later say in his first epistle: 

God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. (1 John 4:9-11, GNT)

Love is an attitude and a frame of mind. The motivation for the Christian is different than anyone else’s motive:  We are so thankful for Christ’s love to us, that we cannot help but extend that same love to one another in the church. 

This kind of love transcends human willpower. This is love as a grateful response for the grace shown us in Christ.

A New Motivator: The Holy Spirit

The Spirit energizes and enables us to love each other. Jesus also said in the Upper Room: 

If you love me, you will do as I command. Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. (John 14:15-16, CEV)

There are times when we may lack the ability or spiritual energy needed for the work of loving each other. It is in those times that we need to check our spiritual electrical box to make sure we haven’t tripped a breaker by trying to live the Christian life on our own strength. 

We need the Spirit. The Spirit gives us the zeal we need to love one another. 

We typically don’t do anything in life unless we have the motivation for it. The Spirit is like the Christian’s personal trainer – encouraging, exhorting, getting in our face, comforting, and spurring us – toward the new way of love. 

A New Mission: World Evangelization

All people will know we are Christ’s disciples if we love one another. The way we treat each other in the church is foundational and fundamental to the mission of loving our neighbors who don’t know Jesus.

“Mission is putting love where love is not.”

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

When the church has a healthy and even supernatural dynamic of loving one another, they joyfully proclaim the good news to every person that Jesus is the answer to the terrible brokenness of this world.

Community is necessary to mission. Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) was a British missionary to India for forty years. After retiring and returning to Britain, he found his homeland was very different than when he left. He was astounded to find Britain had become very less Christian and was now predominantly un-Christian. It was clearly a post-Christian society. What to do about it? Here is Newbigin’s response:

“I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation.  How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? 

I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel [the only way society can discern who Jesus is] is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel – evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one. But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.”

Conclusion

The implications of community for our faith are significant. If we keep other Christians at a distance and give them the stiff arm, we are really giving God the stiff arm. Jesus identifies so closely in love to his people, that to love them is to love him.

The late African-American preacher E.V. Hill told the following story about an experience with a white Christian leader in the 1950s:

“As a freshman at Prairie View College (part of the Texas A&M system) I was actively involved and was one of two students selected to go to our denomination’s annual meeting in Memphis. The trip through the South was by car—three whites and two blacks traveling together. I had no idea how we’d eat or how we’d sleep. So great was my anxiety and hatred over how the trip might turn out that I almost backed out entirely …. In all my experience I had never seen a white man stand up for a black man and never felt I would. 

But then Dr. Howard, the director of our trip and a white man spoke up. ‘We’ll be traveling together,’ he said. ‘If there isn’t a place where all of us can eat—none of us will eat. If there’s not a place all of us can sleep—none of us will sleep.’ That was all he said, but it was enough! For the first time in my life, I had met a white man who was Christian enough to take a stand with a Christian black man.” 

May the Spirit give us the courage together to love one another.

Gracious Lord, I pray for those who will believe in you through the good news of forgiveness in Christ. I pray that all of them may be one just as you are one. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent the Son, Jesus, and have loved them even as you have loved us. Righteous God, may you help us make you known in the world so that the love you have for us may be in them through the cross of Christ. Amen.