MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM
BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC.
In an almost tongue-in-cheek manner, the pastor asked the question, What is the only word Jesus didn’t understand? In response, several answers were given like fear, apathy and doubt.
And the answer given by the pastor as he explored the passage we are considering today was what Andrew states – ONLY. As in ‘only a small boy, only 2 insignificant fish, only 5 lunchtime loaves’.
Our ‘onlys’ actually speak to how we understand God and the vibrancy we allow Him to have in our life. Only a student; only a bus driver; only a small gift; only a small thing said OR - all those only’s placed in God’s hand. In some ways the scene we are looking at this morning, the Feeding of the 5000 is pivotal to how our faith plays out. This miracle is one of only 2 miracles recorded in all 4 gospels, the other being the resurrection of Jesus. That fact suggests that something about this miracle struck the disciples differently than others, differently than: a sickness made well; an infirmity made new; the broken made right; the empty made full. All of these miracles in some way, making the wrong, right. In other words, those were miracles of RESTORATION but the feeding of the 5000 is a miracle of CREATION - making a previously ‘wasn’t’ into an incredible IS. An abundant IS. This was doing something only the Creator could do - creating something out of nothing. But not just something – but a gargantuan, I saw it but still couldn’t believe it something. This miracle, often described as the multiplication of bread and fish is so much more than this. Nothing could explain this.
In some ways, it would seem the disciples needed to learn something even greater than the spectaculars already seen like the lame made to walk, the sick healed, the blind given sight. Greater than these is hard to imagine. Word of these things had already made a huge impact, the news spreading like wildfire, a trickle of followers becoming a rushing flow of the needy, the hopeful, the sick. Those coming who needed their lives fixed.
So many coming that :3 tells us the disciples had become dog tired, not even finding time to eat. So Jesus and his disciples have gone away from the people into the mountains to retreat. Along with the fatigue, they are also emotionally challenged, having just heard that John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, has been killed. But as we soon see, any rest and retreat will be brief.
Because Jesus and the disciples can’t escape the inescapable mass of need coming to them, on this day, a multitude has gathered - 5,000 men and because women and children are not included in the count, it is likely that the crowd is more in the range of 15,000 - 20,000 people. A multitude the disciples are ill-equipped to meet.
Amplifying the need, there is almost certainly a sense of desperation. Passover is just days away when everything Jesus has been doing will come to a halt which means as far as they can see, no gathering and most importantly, no healing. Urgency heightened because the likelihood of Jesus remaining in Galilee is slight. The Temple in Jerusalem was where He would almost assuredly go. As things turn out, this was the only occasion we are told that Jesus would celebrate Passover away from Jerusalem. Little did they know that next year’s Passover would be Jesus’ last. After today would He ever come into their lives again? So with these in play, the time to encounter Jesus couldn’t be put off. And so driven by what they had seen or by what they had heard, they came from far and wide – desperate to see Him.
I wonder how often do I come to Him with the same sense of urgency, the same sense of the imperative? With even a fraction of that sense of need? Our need, is not so much to learn more about Jesus but to move closer to Him. Discovering Him with new eyes, looking at Him as if I’ve never seen. Coming to Him in worship, allowing that worship to open me / open us to WONDER. Coming and seeing Him as so much greater than anything we’ve ever thought.
Which is in part what happened to the disciples in the miracle they are about to witness for in this miracle there is no distinction between the sick and the well. No categories of the needy and the ‘together’. Different from all miracles done before, there are no spectators, only participants – from the disciples to the boy who provided the fish, to the father who sat in the crowd, to the young girl who drew bread from the basket. Each person in this huge crowd, is an eyes-open, hands-on, stomach-filled participant. Not a single spectator among them.
Jesus puts before each person gathered a truth He invites them all to see but a truth, not all will be willing to see. That each one was needy, not an exception among them. Just as is the case with us.
So let’s look at how events unfold, beginning with the first 3 individuals we see on center stage: Philip, Andrew and a small boy.
Our first look is at Philip – the pragmatist. As Jesus looks to the crowd, He turns to Philip and asks, What about food for the multitude? Philip responds with ledger-like understanding, Jesus, have you taken a look? 200 denarii (2/3 of a year’s salary) won’t even begin to provide anything more than morsels. I’ve run the numbers and the columns just don’t add up - the numbers too great, the needs too many, the resources too few. We’re not equipped for anything like this so send them on their way.
Jesus, look around you – this is a matter of practicality. The appetite of need can’t be satisfied with a bread-crumb here and a bread-crumb there.
His answer is logical. His answer is clinical. His answer is optical. As far as Philip was concerned, the need is far greater than anything faith can address. The faith required for something like this is beyond any resource we have, or any solution we can bring. Simply put, the numbers don’t add up. Despite things previously seen, Philip is still bound by what his mind understands.
Yet as we are told, Jesus asks Philip what He does to test him. Jesus needs to take him past pragmatism, past the logical, past the practical, to lay hold of an understanding of the radical – that Jesus is God in flesh standing before him. For Him nothing is impossible.
Do we ever do what Philip did and forget who Jesus is? Forget what Jesus can do? Forget who it is we worship and instead see our need, and our situation as far greater than our Resource?
Then there’s Andrew – one who flirted with faith - There’s a lad here! You get the feeling that for the briefest of moments he thought back to times recently experienced of a lame man’s legs restored and all the sick who have been healed. So perhaps? Glimmerings of faith. But then reality kicks in - those were just 1 person at time interventions – the magnitude of need before them not even close to anything like this.
And so with one more look at the crowd and one more look at 5 small loaves and 2 fish – the hard reality – perhaps feeling foolish for suggesting what he had, he retreats into the safety of reason, But what are these among so many? It’s only. We’re only. I’m only.
Turning their eyes to the multitude, Philip and Andrew couldn’t reconcile the need and the resource.
But as brief as it was, at least Andrew entertained the possibility of an answer before retreating to a more logical view – if the resources can be found; if the caterers are within hailing distance, if a city were nearby. Faith in what can be measured and understood like:
if the best surgeon is gowned up; if the expected bonus comes through
Faith that has a fallback, ‘pull, in case of fire’ plan.
Both Philip and Andrew - practical men giving practical perspectives, calculating the need but doing so without Jesus. Doing what we usually do, ‘after we’ve done all, then Jesus’ plan. Listen we should be wise in what we do and careful in how we evaluate. Nothing wrong in that but if practicality causes us to determine what we do on the resources we have on hand and in that, missing Jesus then yes, we have a problem – a problem where we are living by sight not by faith.
Living by what they can see is what the Israelites did that we are told about in Exodus. They had experienced undeniable supernatural deliverance from the Egyptians and yet, days later they are complaining in the wilderness that they don’t have any food, to which God provides manna. Seeing desert all around and no sign of any resources, they conclude God doesn’t care and God isn’t enough. It wasn’t that they stopped believing in God, rather it was that they stopped believing and trusting God.
And with Philip and Andrew concluding that the numbers didn’t add up, they failed to recognize that the God who provided bread for 2 million in the desert was the God who now stood beside them.
Then you had the 3rd person prominent in the scene, a young boy, whose lunch gets him in front of Jesus, giving Him the little he had.
Three snapshots – one who looked at the immensity of what surrounded and concluded, no miraculous here. Another who flirted with faith then succumbed to practicality. And one who had little to give but who left that place with a story he would tell for a lifetime.
Those are the three who will be active participants in what is to come but they will soon have many with them, most prominently the disciples. Before we get there, I want you to observe that Jesus didn’t need what He was asking of these three. Verse 5 tells us, that He already knew what He was going to do. Which tells us He:
Wasn’t caught off guard by the needs that came to Him
Jesus had already seen the need before it presented itself.
Wasn’t surprised by the appearance of a boy’s fish and bread lunch
Jesus had already packed the boy’s lunch long before he picked it up from home
Wasn’t alarmed that a strategic plan wasn’t prepared and in place
Jesus had already written catering and seating plans before the multitude needed to be fed
So too, Jesus had already pre-arranged how He would open the hearts of His disciples so they would more fully understand the ONE they had left nets and businesses to follow. With this miracle, Jesus does several things: IT LOOKS BACK paralleling God’s provision of bread in the wilderness, IT LOOKS FRONT AND CENTER where Jesus now makes His first, I AM declaration that He is one with the Father and IT LOOKS AHEAD to a time when He will be revealed as God’s broken bread whose body will be broken, the Saviour of the world.
As He prepares to do this, He has the disciples sit the multitude down where He would give them a powerful object lesson in faith that would surpass things they’d already seen. Jesus making it clear that our faith needs to be in Him not in what we see, not in what we calculate, not in what we understand.
In this, you and I are also to understand that Jesus isn’t limited by the strength of our faith. No, He just wants a heart that is willing to believe, that responds to Him in obedience. Not trying to conjure up faith but holding onto Him in faith – not faith in the outcome but faith in Him. Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief. Mk 9:24 God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine Eph 3:21
Jesus tells the disciples to sit the multitude down in groups of 50 and 100. In a group of this size, each person in this huge crowd is given, upfront, hands-on participation in the miraculous. For a moment, imagine yourself as one of the crowd.
You have the good fortune to be in a group closest to Jesus and the disciples. Your family is with you as one of the groups of 50. Yet your hope for much is small as you see the disciples deliver a single basket into your group. Before your turn will ever come, 49 other pairs of hands will have dug in to get their fill of bread and fish. The expectation of much left over for you - is pretty small. To the credit of those first getting the basket, some people showed some restraint knowing there were many others in the group still waiting. Better to take a small amount to satisfy the worst craving than be considered greedy by taking too much.
But as you, the last person in the group are served, there is still abundance, so much so that as you pass the basket along, those who first dug in, now don’t hold back as the basket cycles around again until everyone eats their ‘fill’. That fill still overflowing as the disciples keep returning to Jesus, the baskets then passed onto another group where this same miracle plays out again and again.
Were it not for dividing groups this way, the thousands far back in this massive crowd would have no idea of the miracle playing out. Though they might have heard the cries of astonishment far from where they were, they wouldn’t have had any understanding of why, though they would soon learn.
Each and everyone saw a miracle that had to be seen to be believed. More than that they are participants in what was happening. Not one person among the multitude unaware of what had happened, not one just an observer. And putting an exclamation mark on what just happened, baskets overflowing even after the last hand had taken enough to satisfy their need.
As spectacular as this has been for the crowd, it the far more spectacular for the disciples as Jesus moved them from a BELIEF people to a BELIEVING people. Don’t miss the distinction, a belief people will often look back at a moment in time but a believing people, focused on Jesus working in our here and now. God in the present.
Jesus wants to create in us a believing people – faith-filled, Cross-centered, Spirit-led, exploit-ready people who will speak hope and life into a world of need that surrounds us. Speaking not according to our resources but empowered with His. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t pass out one piece of bread to the multitude. His disciples did. Jesus chose them, Jesus has chosen us, to take the gift of His life to those around us. God meeting the needs of the multitude surrounding us in the places we work, we school, and we live. That’s why Jesus chose you. To impact your world that cries for need but has no answer for that need. In that challenge, we will feel just as small, just as resourceless, just as ill-equipped as that young boy. Only 5 loaf and 2 fish people in a world that craves far more than anything we think we have to offer. But our reminder?
Every time the disciples went back to Jesus needing more, there was always more. In abundance. Though Jesus could have dropped basketfuls of sun-baked bread and filleted, ready-to-eat fish in each group that would have bypassed the disciples. But He chose to work through the disciples. In that way, He also spoke powerfully to the one. And it was to the one Jesus came.
This miracle ends off with a poignant message for the disciples after the physical needs of the multitude are met - 12 overflowing baskets of leftovers. Jesus underscoring that He doesn’t just meet needs, He supersedes them. Some suggest this collection of leftovers is to show there are no wasted leftovers with God. Perhaps but I doubt it. I think it hardly a stretch that there is one basket left in each disciple’s hands. Each disciple holding evidence that Jesus didn’t come just to give bread, but to make known that He IS bread. I AM the Bread of Life, who comes down from heaven. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry. Jn 6:35
What’s tragic is that many missed the significance of the miracle that happened on this hillside. Sure they hadn’t missed the provision of bread. How could they? In fact, we are told that many came the next day wanting the event to happen all over again. The truth is they wanted more bread. More provision. More things. The problem was they hadn’t moved past what they saw and what they took from the basket. They couldn’t get past an, “I’m needy, give me”; “I am sickly, heal me”, “I’m hungry, feed me”; or understanding of Jesus.
These, are not so much in search of Jesus as in search of miracles. They want more bread… but not more Jesus who came not to give bread, but to be bread.
And it is that I AM the Bread of Life that Jesus wants all of us to know – that He is a multitude feeding, basket overflowing, need superseding Lord who stands beside us. Jesus, God of creation who takes our ‘wasn’t’ and turns it into His incredible IS. In His presence and with His power - His 5 loaves and 2 fish people in whom and through whom Jesus is waiting to work His miraculous.