Although the story of the feeding of the 5,000 appears in all four Gospels, John’s version has a slightly different meaning. In fact, John includes only seven of Jesus’ miracles in his Gospel, and in each miracle the believer is brought closer to God. Each miracle invites us to reflect on what the miracle says about Jesus.
John most likely included this version of the feeding of the 5,000 to provide additional information that was not recorded in the other three Gospels. For the early Christians, this story got to the heart of something they knew was important about Jesus, about who he was, what he was up to, and what he found to be important. John’s recording of this miracle showed the creative power of Christ and set the stage for Jesus’ talk about the “bread of life” in the remaining verses of Chapter 6. The purpose of John’s Gospel is to show that Jesus is the mind of God in human form, so the signs in John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 are designed to show God at work in the lives of his people.
The miracle, like all of the miracles recorded in the Gospels, is all about who Jesus is. He is the new Moses, the Messiah, again supplying manna in the wilderness. John makes this connection explicit as he goes on to mention Jesus speech about the bread of life, which I will talk about next time. In an indirect sense, the story of the feeding of the 5,000 has something to teach us about multiplying resources, and I will come back to that point in a few minutes.
This miracle took place shortly after Jesus learned that his cousin John the Baptist was executed by Herod. It’s quite likely that Jesus was filled with grief and a sense of loneliness as He prayed to God. John the Baptist’s faithfulness and courage cost him his life. It’s quite likely that Jesus wondered about His approaching death.
Unlike the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s Gospel doesn’t include the institution of the Last Supper on the night before Jesus’ death. The feeding of the 5,000 is John’s version of the Last Supper. Just like the Last Supper and Jesus’ death give us hope for the future, the feeding of the 5,000 was a sign of that later eating and drinking that would be God’s saving provision for our salvation. Holy Communion is a community meal, and we are reminded that it is not just about our personal salvation. We are saved and fed as a community, and as a community we are called to feed others.
The feeding of the 5,000, Samuel’s anointing of David as King of Israel and the parable of the mustard seed are examples of the old saying, “Big things come in small packages.” What seemed like a little became so much. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things, including the little boy and his lunch. Little is much when God is in it, and little is much when placed in God’s hands. The feeding of the 5,000 is a demonstration of grace: God doing in and through us things we could not do through our own efforts. God moves mountains when we have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed.
Jesus used this opportunity to test the disciples. He saw an opportunity to let them fail so that He could teach them a lesson and strengthen them. We see the reactions of two of the disciples to Jesus’ instruction. Philip saw the need for a miracle and calculated the odds. He tried to prove that it could not be done. How many times are we like Philip? How often do we fail to see what God is doing because we are focused on our selfish desires and needs? Philip looked at the problem in terms of meeting the minimum requirements. If “a little” for each person was impossible, the abundance was not even worth considering. Pessimists think like that.
Andrew, on the other hand, set out to try to solve the problem, and the solution he found is the key to the first part of this story. He considered the possibility that the people might provide for themselves with a little leadership. He searched for food among the people, but he found only one small boy with a small lunch that seemed inadequate for the task at hand. We have to give credit to Andrew for at least trying to find a solution to the problem.
Barley was a staple part of the diet for the poor. The loaves were small, flat wafers. The fish were the size of sardines. The meal was barely enough for one little boy, let alone sufficient to satisfy the appetite of a grown man. When Jesus accepted the boy’s gift, he blessed it, and in the blessing the small became great. There was suddenly enough bread because Jesus saw the people and wanted them to be fed, just like Jesus saw the fear in his disciples on the sea. He loved the disciples and the crowd and gave both groups the peace of his presence.
The boy wasn’t just armed with the food Jesus needed to feed others. He also had a humble heart and generous spirit. He was best positioned to give because someone empowered him to do so. His mother not only packed his lunch, she also taught him some good manners as well. In the end, it resulted in many being nourished.
How did He accomplish the miracle? He used a simple formula:
- The disciples gave it all.
- Jesus took it all.
- God blessed it all.
- Jesus broke it all.
- The disciples gave it all.
- And the entire multitude was fed.
The miracle of giving is that it produces a ministry of giving. Money is a miracle because it increases when we give it away, especially when we give it away to God so he can use it to do his work in our world. Jesus gives us ample resources, but we have to receive them before we can share them with others. This story has to do with faith in Jesus rather than His compassion. It is also about God’s ability to take too little and change it into more than enough.
Jesus intended for his miracle to point people to God. That included his disciples and everyone he met. The people realized that the food they had eaten was a sign from God and that they might believe in Jesus, and they did. They realized he was the long-promised Messiah, but he wasn’t the type of Messiah they were looking for. They were following Jesus for the spectacle, not because of who he was. They were enamored with his words and what he might do for them. Coming to God on the mountain was a fearful experience, yet it was full of expectation at the same time. Why? Because God was seen at this time in history as a mighty and exalted God.
Jesus told the disciples to collect the leftovers in wicker baskets. Each basket was big enough to carry one person’s provisions for a journey of two or three days, and there was one basket for each of the disciples. The disciples should have learned a lesson. Nothing is impossible with God, but we often think in terms of what we have to offer and what we can accomplish through human means. The disciples failed to understand what they saw or heard, but they chose to believe God in Jesus.
Jesus tested the disciples in this passage, and He often tests us. What are the tests we face? Do we face the needs of family, friends, church, and the world and feel overwhelmed or crowded by them? How can we meet their needs? The answer is to turn them and our resources over to God and let Him go to work.
As long as we think we have to come up with the solution, we will be anxious, stressed, irritable and frantic. Once we realize that we aren’t adequate for the task, that Jesus will have to step in, and we turn to Him, then we have peace as we wait for His plan to unfold.
When Jesus sets before us a task that seems to be impossible, He knows what He is going to do. He watches us and tests us to see how we will react-in fear, confusion or faith. Jesus offers us enough resources to do His work in our world, but we have to receive them from Him in order to give them to other people. God starts with what we have. We can give God everything in our lives-our hearts, our reputations, our pasts, our presents and our futures.
Jesus demonstrated His power to meet spiritual and physical needs. If we want to have eternal life, we have to be fed with His Word, drawn to Him and be united with Him. These are the most important spiritual needs that we have. Abiding in Christ means making His love our home. What are your expectations of how God will meet you in your life?
A colossal testing often follows a colossal success. The real proof of discipleship is how closely a person follows Christ when his or her needs are not immediately satisfied and the winds start to blow. Jesus watched the disciples put all of their strength against the oars, but the wind resisted them for hours. After He walked on the water and stepped into the boat, they arrived in Capernaum. By telling the disciples, “It is I; do not be afraid,” Jesus was identifying Himself as the Great I AM. He comes to all His followers in their storms and reminds them of the same.
The point is clear. Jesus once again brought His power to the rescue of human inadequacy. He turned an impossible situation into an opportunity to teach and strengthen the confidence of His believers. Can we trust Jesus even when the circumstances seem impossible? Will we give to Him all we have so that He can do big things in our lives? When we show that we are willing to trust Him and not hold back, He will do great things in our lives.
This story shows the difference between two types of churches-missional and maintenance. Missional churches welcome all situations and see the potential while acknowledging the challenges these situations create. Maintenance churches focus on creating committees that make decisions and not disciples. Maintenance churches distance themselves from problems because they are too busy having committee meetings. Maintenance churches are filled with tension because the members don’t know what’s going to happen or how to respond. They do just enough to get by. Missional churches look for things to do, even when their members are already doing things. They believe that because God is in what they are doing, God will provide everything that they will need. Maintenance churches are paralyzed by the size and scope of the task before them, but missional churches break the task down into manageable parts. They do not try to do everything all at once because they know they can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. Jesus accepts their limitations and only expects them to work with what they have and with the next people they meet. Which type of church would we prefer to be?
The great multitude was following Jesus for the spectacle, not because of who He was. They were enamored with His words and, more specifically, with what He might do for them. He felt compassion for them even when they became a nuisance. Because of Jesus’ miracle-working power, many wanted to make Him their king. They thought that if Jesus could provide their daily bread, He could set them free from Roman rule. Jesus rejected this in favour of His purpose of purifying and dying for us. He knew the people were motivated by their stomachs rather than their hearts.
The crowd only saw Jesus as a provider for their earthly needs. They did not see the signs as indications that God would provide for their heavenly needs and their spiritual needs. Jesus wanted the people to live in Him and partake of His spiritual food, but the people wanted Jesus to stay with them so they could continue to enjoy the physical food that He offered.
The story of the disciples in the storm is a picture of our lives. We often face problems that don’t seem to have any human solutions, relationships that have broken down, and violence and anger that are becoming the rule instead of the exception. Everything seems to be out of control. It’s a dark, stormy night in the sea of life, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the boat who can save us.
How often do the needs in front of us loom so much larger that our available resources? Is the stack of bills you owe standing taller than your chequebook balance? Does keeping both family and job going require more wisdom and stamina than you have? Welcome to reality! It’s tough!
Jesus entered our reality. His response to a tough situation was to stop and give thanks. He lifted His attention to what God provided, even if it seemed to be insignificant. When we stop and give thanks to God for what He has given, we’re reminded that He is for is, not against us. When Jesus gave thanks and then went on to feed the 5,000, we saw that God cares about our needs. Reality is tough, but gratitude opens our eyes to Jesus’ extravagant love.
The feeding of the 5,000 reminds us that when we have faith in Jesus we have resources beyond belief. Five loaves and two fish can feed a multitude. Divine multiplication brings abundance from what we see as scarcity. What would happen to us and our congregations if we anticipated God’s blessings? What would happen if we believed that our generosity could be multiplied to help others? Our gifts and bounty, dedicated to God’s vision, bring results beyond our expectation.
Day-to-day heartache is our routine and problems seem to have a permanent place in our lives, but we hold on to both our faith and God’s faithfulness. What God is doing to us is what Jesus did with the loaves and fish. Jesus broke the bread and out of the brokenness He multiplied the blessing so that thousands were fed.
It hurts to be broken, but sometimes that’s part of God’s plan, especially if He wants to feed us and bless us. It’s a way for our faithfulness to grow. Out of our brokenness, the blessing can be bestowed on more than we ever dreamed possible.
When we have a problem that challenges God’s work, we must consider the following steps:
- Acknowledge our inadequacy and the Lord’s omnipotence.
- Be certain the challenge before us glorifies the Lord, obeys one of his commands from Scripture, or helps to fulfill a spiritual mandate.
- Give the challenge back to the Lord as a chance for him to accomplish it on our behalf and receive glory for the victory.
- Do what we can, supply what we have, put forward our effort, then let God multiply it at his discretion.
The two parts of this story are linked by Jesus’ doing something totally unexpected, and it changes the lives of those around him. This story tells us that there are things in life that will catch us off guard, but nothing will catch God off guard. God sends the storms of life that we face. These storms have been engineered to strengthen us, teach us something and cause us to grow deeper in our faith. God knows what we are dealing with before it happens. He also knows how we are going to get out of the situation. He still allows the trial to happen because it will be for our benefit. When we face the storms of life, we must remember the words of the hymn, “Will Your Anchor Hold?”
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Stedfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.
Jesus is the “bread of life’ and can satisfy our deepest hungers. He walked on the water once, but he continues to calm our fears and enable us to have compassion for other people who are still burdened by sin, ignorance and confusion.
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