Have you ever had to prepare a meal for a large group of people with little or no advance notice?
When you prepared that meal, did you ever stop to wonder how you would do it, especially if you realized that you did not have enough food and you did not have the time or money to go to the grocery store? If that is the case, perhaps you can sympathize with the disciples in the story of the feeding of the crowd, which is written in John 6:1-21.
Jesus had been teaching the crowd all day, and it was almost time for the evening meal. The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the people so they could go and buy food in the neighbouring towns and villages. Jesus had other ideas. He told the disciples to feed the people.
We saw 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?
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 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.
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?
Jesus can take anything we give him, no matter how big or how small, and multiply it to be used to do his work in the world. My own ministry and spiritual life are good examples. God has taken the talents and gifts I have (and have offered to him) and used them to spread the good news and do his work both locally and world-wide through the worship services I lead and the sermons I post on my blog.
All life and all good gifts come from God. Jesus comes to open our hearts and our hands to those around us. We can do that only because he opens our eyes to his own presence as the grace-and-peace-filled “I” in the middle of the storm.
When Jesus sets an impossible task before us, he knows what he is going to do, but he wants us to see how we will react. Will we react in fear, confusion or faith? Jesus tested the disciples. He wanted them to fail so that he might strengthen them. Jesus also tests us for the same reason. Failure gives us strength. We and the disciples should have learned a lesson from this story. We must never gauge the size of a challenge in terms of our capability. God calls us to commit whatever we have, and he will use it for his glory. When we give ourselves into God’s hands, we become instruments in his service. We can then serve many people who are hungry physically and/or spiritually. When we come to the end of our resources, God comes in with his resources. In Jesus, there is more than enough for everyone.
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 enamoured 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.
Because he could work miracles, many people wanted to make Jesus a king. They thought that if he could feed them, he could free them from Roman rule. They wanted an earthly king who would protect them and provide for them. Instead, Jesus was a humble, servant king who would restore their relationship with God. They wanted a Messiah who would provide for their physical needs, but Jesus was the type of Messiah that would provide for their spiritual needs. He wanted their undivided attention, just like he wanted the disciples’ undivided attention. Jesus got the disciples’ attention thanks to the storm. He wanted them to make him their chief focus even when the storms of life take over. He also wants us to pay attention to him, especially when we face the storms of life.
A colossal testing often follows a colossal success. The real proof of discipleship is how closely a person follows Christ when his/her needs are not met right away and the storms of life are raging. Jesus’ walking on the water is a sign of his power over the living spirit of the sea-a living spirit that is dangerous and unpredictable. By telling his disciples, “It is I; do not be afraid,” Jesus identified himself as the Great I AM. He comes to all of his followers in their storms and reminds them that he is the Great I AM. When Jesus walked on the water and told his disciples not to be afraid, he showed his power to rescue human inadequacy.
The story focuses on how the disciples will respond to the tests Jesus gives them. We are also being tested as we apply this story to our own lives. The test for us is how we will do the work Jesus wants us to do, especially when the task seems impossible. We must not concentrate on what we lack. We must concentrate on what we have. Jesus gives us the resources we need, but if we want to get them, we have to get rid of our earthly habits. We must starve judging and feed on kindness. We must starve indifference and feed on compassion. We must starve isolation and feed on community.
There will come a time when we will face a test that we declare to be impossible. When that happens, we need to take 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.
Our job is to involve Jesus in any problems we are facing and to count on his presence and power. Jesus is present and ready to help in any situation of need. All we have to do is come to him in faith.
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