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.

What Will It Take?

Don’t blame God when you are tempted!  God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn’t use evil to tempt others.  We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us.  Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead.
 
 
 
 
            Many times we face adversity because of situations beyond our control.  But sometimes we face suffering not because of the circumstances which God brings in our lives, but because of our own unwise response to difficulty.  We compound our problems by blaming our troubles on others, and refusing to face-up to what God is trying to teach us.  It started in the Garden.  Adam said to God:  The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. (Genesis 3:12).  He implies that he would have remained innocent if God had not put Eve in the garden with him. The blame-shifting in the Garden continues today. Our bruised hearts send us desperately looking for someone else to point to when we are confronted with our own trouble. There must be someone else—our spouse, sibling, parent, boss, co-worker, pastor, friend, or even God who is to blame. 
 
            We are sometimes so desperate to justify ourselves that we believe illogical and irrational things. You have likely heard these statements, and even said them yourselves (at least in your head): 
  • “I wouldn’t lose my temper if my co-workers were easier to get along with, or if my kids behaved better, or if my spouse were more considerate.” 
  • “I would be a patient person if I didn’t have so many things to do, and if the people around me weren’t so slow and incompetent!” 
  • “I would not worry about the future if my life were just a little more secure—if I had more money, and no health problems.”
  • “My spiritual life would be so much more better and I would struggle with sin less if the music in the worship service was more lively, or if the pastor did a better job.”
  •  “I would submit to my parents if they were not so out of touch.”  Or, “I would follow if we just had some decent leadership.”
  • “It’s not my fault that the people around me don’t know what they’re doing!”
  • “If you knew what I’ve been through, you would know that I could never forgive that person [or God].”
  • “It’s the people around me who start the conversations. There’s no way to avoid hearing what others happen to say. And when others ask me questions, I can’t avoid sharing what I know.” 
  • “I’ll never be happy as long as so-and-so is in my life.”
  • “I would be more generous if God gave me more money.”
The Holy Spirit has been bringing to me one question over and over this week:  What will it take?  We need to fill in the blanks of that question: 
What will it take for our churches to stop making excuses? 
What will it take to quit blame-shifting on others? 
What will it take to trust God and step out in faith and share Christ with our neighbors?
What will it take to stop worrying about what other people think and start doing what God thinks? 
What will it take to look at faith as a dynamic relationship with Jesus instead of just a static thing you possess? 
What will it take to read our Bibles as if our lives depended on it? 
What will it take for church members to serve instead of sit? 
What will it take to reach our communities with love for Christ? 
What will it take to grow in Christ?  What will it take? 
If you are in a circumstance you don’t like, what should you do about it?  What will it take to face down the difficult stuff you don’t like in your life?
 
Don’t blame God.
 
            God cannot be tempted.  God hates sin and disobedience; it does not appeal to him in the least.  It is a moral impossibility for God to even consider attempting to do evil because he is perfectly holy.  Since God cannot be tempted by evil, he therefore cannot tempt people toward evil.
 
            We practice blame-shifting because it is a cheap, easy, and pathetic way of absolving ourselves from responsibility for our own unwise choices, words, and actions.  There are only two ways of living with guilt:  either we humble ourselves through confession and repentance; or, we blame the sin on someone else.
 
            God does test us to improve our character and to bring us toward greater spiritual maturity, but he does not force us to make bad, immoral, or evil choices because of hard circumstances.  God may have very well brought the trial and testing into our lives; but how we respond to it is up to us.
 
The source of temptation is us.
 
            The real culprit behind temptation is one’s own personal desire.  It is our own strong intense have-to-do-it, have-to-say-it, and have-to-have-it desires which are at the root of temptation.  We all have legitimate needs and desires for love, security, companionship, and to make a difference in the world.  But we can often seek illegitimate means to satisfy those needs.  We are “enticed” to meet our needs through temptation toward sin.  Temptation lures us to satisfy our legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. 
 
            Temptation comes in many forms, but it always gives us amnesia about who we really are, and pushes out any thought of consequences.  It just looks like such a good way to deal with my anger, my anxiety, my impatience, my spiritual apathy, my bitterness, and my lack of spiritual growth.  Ah, blame-shifting feels so good; it gets the guilt-monkey off my back – at least for a time.  But like a bad addiction, blame-shifting has to occur in a bigger dose after a shorter duration of time.  Before you know it we are hooked.  The temptation has enticed us and we have taken the bait.  Like a fish-eyed follower of evil we succumb to the lust for ambition, revenge, sex, power, fame, and money.
 
The result of giving-in to temptation is ultimately death.
 
            Temptation, like a smooth operator, comes along and gives us a slick pitch about how our troubles can be taken care of through blaming others, even God.  And, all of sudden, like a hungry fish looking to be satisfied, we take the bait and go to bed with the idea.  We give in to sin.  Now it is within us.  Like a fetus, the small sin grows and grows inside us.  Eventually, this pregnancy must end.  But instead of giving birth to life, there is the agony of death.
 

 

            Every single one of us struggles in some way with some sort of temptation.  We do not all wrestle with the same demons, but we all are tempted in some manner.  The cycle of guilt and separation from God can only be broken through humility and submission to Jesus Christ.  The glory of the gospel is that it breaks the power of sin.