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.

1 Samuel 17:1-49 – Faith in Action

The story of David and Goliath is one of the best known stories in the entire Bible. It’s a classic example of what can be accomplished through one person who chooses to exercise faith. Puny David taking on giant Goliath has served as one of the greatest inspirations for believers through the centuries – seeing God give victory to people against dramatically overwhelming odds.

Whereas the New Testament exhorts us to live by faith, this Old Testament narrative demonstrates what can happen when a person of faith decides to put that faith into action.

Old Testament stories are framed in a way to help the reader or listener discern the differences between the characters of the story – to understand the contrasts between good and bad. So, then, the account of David and Goliath revolves around four character contrasts so that we will learn the lessons of faith God wants to teach us.

First Contrast: David and Saul

David is brave. Saul is fearful. In the ancient world, a typical tactic of warfare, when the battle lines were drawn, was to choose a champion from each side. They would fight together, just the two of them, on behalf of the entire army. It was a fight to the death, and the losing side would submit to the winning side. 

This was a way of preventing the terrible carnage of war. It also created some incredible individual champions.  A champion would be selected not only for his ability to fight, but also for his impressive stature so that there was an intimidation factor to it all.

Saul was the King of Israel. He was the logical choice for the combat since he was a head taller than all the other Israelites and a rather impressive looking soldier. But compared to Goliath, Saul looked like a midget.  The intimidation factor worked. Saul was downright afraid and not about to put himself out there to face a giant.

David is brave because he has faith in God. Saul is fearful because he is not a man of faith in God. The opposite of faith is not unbelief, but fear. As the muscle of faith grows through trusting God in the daily stresses of life, fear is better confronted and managed. The development of faith is a process, and it takes time.

Considering this story in light of Father’s Day, Dads have the daily opportunity of being a hero to their kids through faith in God. That means dealing with two great fears: being found inadequate; and, being controlled by another person or circumstance.

Those two fears were evident in Saul. He felt inadequate because he compared himself to Goliath. He felt controlled by the situation because the Philistines were picking a fight. So, he froze. There are many men who would rather do nothing than be labelled as inadequate or controlled.

David, in contrast, had plenty of practice facing down foes as a shepherd – the bear and the lion – who threatened the sheep. David was often out in the countryside all by himself, guarding the sheep, and his skills were improved in a place where no one was looking.

The way to progress our faith is to be assertive in owning our relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading (or listening on a Bible app) on a daily basis. It’s something everyone can do.

Second Contrast:  David and the Israelites

It was not only Saul who was intimidated by Goliath; the entire army of Israel was hiding behind the battle lines cringing in fear. David, however, discerned no reason to avoid this bullying blowhard. It appears he is the only person able to see Goliath as a small person in comparison to a big God. By faith, David understands Goliath is no match for God.

So, we see that one person full of faith can accomplish the impossible – whereas an army full of fear cannot accomplish a thing. 

We might tend to believe everything has to be large with a big splash to it – that only then can we accomplish big things for God. But really, if we want to achieve something for God, we need to step out in faith and do it – instead of recruiting an army of people or hiding in the group, nursing our fears and anxieties.

No one can do your personal faith work for you; you must do it. The Beaver Cleaver philosophy of life says, “Gee, Wally, if I get in trouble or in a pickle, I’ll just ignore it and hope it goes away….” But Goliath is not going anywhere. He will still be there tomorrow.

Third Contrast: David and Goliath

Goliath represents the other extreme to the fear of Saul and the Israelites. He had absolutely no fear, including any fear of God. Goliath trusted in himself, his abilities, and his stature. David, however, trusted in God alone.

The story gives a detailed description of Goliath’s weapons and physical appearance because Goliath trusted in his aptitude and the ancient technology of his day to face down the Israelites. Conversely, David was small and too young to even be considered for military service. He was too small to wear anybody’s armor. But David did not need any of that – he just needed his faith.

Humanly speaking, David appears insignificant; there is nothing about him that caused anyone to think there was something special or different about him. Goliath, however, was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day, ready to terminate anybody who got in his way.

It can be easy to trust in ourselves, another person, or our technology to accomplish something in the face of insurmountable odds, instead of looking to God. The battle is not ours; it is the Lord’s.

Most things in life take a great deal of bravery – especially parenthood! It takes more than copious Dad speeches (and I had a lot of speeches for my kids). Fatherly courage requires modeling for boys what they are expected to become and modeling for girls what they should expect from males.

Children need to observe men who have courage to do the right thing, even when it has personal cost. They need to see them bravely shouldering responsibilities – even when they don’t feel like it. Kids need to see men who demonstrate the courage to be vulnerable, as well as strong and self-disciplined. They need to experience fathers and men with courage to pay attention to them – even, and especially, when those men are angry or disappointed with their own choices.

Fourth Contrast:  David and Eliab

Eliab was David’s big brother. Eliab was a soldier in the army. David was just a kid. It did not matter he was a kid; David was concerned for God’s name and glory. In contrast, Eliab was concerned about his little brother being an embarrassment and superseding him.

When we choose to step out in faith and act, there will likely be opposition, even among family and fellow believers. But David did not let a little criticism stop him. Criticism and opposition will inevitably happen. David was determined to please God, not his brother. He did not wilt and was not deterred from his concern to face down Goliath.

Conclusion

If we want to be brave in the Christian life; if we desire to live a life full of faith in Christ that deals with problems; then, the story of David and Goliath will serve as an inspiration in those times we feel less than mighty for God. 

Goliath was defeated and fell because David trusted God. The issue is not how much faith we have, but in whom our faith is placed. David trusted God. Saul did not even acknowledge God. Goliath trusted in himself. Eliab was too busy quibbling about things that didn’t matter. 

What is your response?

1 Samuel 2:1-10 – From Weeping to Singing

Stained glass window of Hannah offering her son Samuel to the Lord by Phil Watkins

Then Hannah prayed:

My heart rejoices in the Lord.
    My strength rises up in the Lord!
    My mouth mocks my enemies
        because I rejoice in your deliverance.
No one is holy like the Lord—
    no, no one except you!
    There is no rock like our God!

Don’t go on and on, talking so proudly,
    spouting arrogance from your mouth,
    because the Lord is the God who knows,
        and he weighs every act.

The bows of mighty warriors are shattered,
    but those who were stumbling now dress themselves in power!
Those who were filled full now sell themselves for bread,
    but the ones who were starving are now fat from food!
    The woman who was barren has birthed seven children,
        but the mother with many sons has lost them all!
The Lord!
    He brings death, gives life,
        takes down to the grave, and raises up!
The Lord!
He makes poor, gives wealth,
    brings low, but also lifts up high!
God raises the poor from the dust,
    lifts up the needy from the garbage pile.
    God sits them with officials,
    gives them the seat of honor!
The pillars of the earth belong to the Lord;
    he set the world on top of them!
God guards the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked die in darkness
        because no one succeeds by strength alone.

The Lord!
His enemies are terrified!
        God thunders against them from heaven!
    The Lord!
    He judges the far corners of the earth!

May God give strength to his king
    and raise high the strength of his anointed one. (CEB)

This is the song of Hannah, a woman unable to conceive children and then offered a heartfelt petition to God for a child. Her prayer was answered. A thousand years later, Mary took this same song, reworked it, and personalized it, to voice and sing her own praise to God. (Luke 1:46-55)

Hannah dared to hope. It might seem from the perspective of one who has never struggled with being childless that offering a prayer for children is easy. However, when hope has been dashed and all seems impossible, putting oneself out there to ask, even to beg, is downright hard. In a fear of having what little hope remains be crushed, it is far easier to stay away from God and keep the prayers to oneself.

Hannah actively sought divine help and risked praying and emoting. The Lord heard. Hannah’s weeping turned to singing. And, like Mary’s Magnificat, Hannah quickly moved from her own experience to the experiences of people everywhere. In short, Hannah focused on the God of the impossible and the divine accessibility which exists when we become vulnerable and put ourselves out there in risky hope.

The great reversal of Hannah’s condition from barren to fertile gives hope for the weak to become strong, the hungry to be filled, and the lost to be found. In a world in which God is Sovereign, nothing needs to stay the same – nothing is carved in stone.

Since no part of our existence as humans is outside the purview of God, there is always the possibility of change, of a reversal of fortunes.

The underdog has a champion with God. The misfits, the exploited, and the downtrodden – those who cannot lift themselves or pull themselves up by their bootstraps – are precisely the persons whom the Lord raises up. God’s providential care shall oversee them, and justice will be dispensed with perfect equity.

It is one thing to hope; it is another thing altogether in daring to hope against all odds and while others poo-poo your dreams. Godly hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation that God will show up and be gracious, merciful, and kind.

The place of crying and weeping is important because it is our tears which find a better way. Anyone can offer cheap praise but the person who sits with their sadness and feels the heart-wrenching agony of a hope unfulfilled is the one who is able to give genuine praise and to sing with authenticity. Since their hope was planted and watered with tears, their joy in the harvest is abundant and plenteous.

As we move to the expectant close of Advent and realize the Christmas hope fulfilled, allow the daring hope of Mary and Hannah to conceive a fresh hope in your own life so that you will give birth to new life.

God of hope, in these times of change, helplessness, and uncertainty give us courage to overcome our fears, and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share together, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-10 – All I Want for Christmas Is a Savior

Welcome, friends! Advent is upon us. May this season spark faith, increase hope, stir up love, and surprise the world with joy. Click the video below and let us acknowledge the coming of the Christ child…

Isaiah 11:1-10

For the Scripture set to song…

And for a traditional Advent hymn…

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Shannon Wexelberg

May the light of Christ lead us to the joy of his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.