Date: January 6, 2019 Audio: Transcript:
The Sunday School teacher asked her class of first graders, “What is your favorite Bible story?” One boy raised his hand and said, “I like the one where everyone loafs and fishes.”
Well friends, I suspect the story of Jesus feeding over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish is, indeed, a favorite of many, but maybe not for that reason. When I was a kid, it was one of my favorites, and not just because food was involved!
This is one of a very few stories about Jesus’ ministry recorded by each of the four gospel writers. The Christmas story, for example, is found only in Matthew and Luke, but if you read through the New Testament, you will read this story four times.
It is also the type of story that sticks in our minds. That Jesus was able to feed over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two small fish is, indeed, amazing! Yet, even though many of us are somewhat familiar with this story, it doesn’t seem we always get the point.
For example, only in John’s gospel are we told that Jesus obtained the five loaves and two fish from a little boy, through the Apostle Andrew. In the other accounts, including our text today, it just says Jesus has these loaves and fish to feed the crowd.
This means if we think the main point of the story is that we should share our food with others like the little boy shared his lunch, we are focusing on a part of the story three of the four gospel writers don’t even mention.
Our text today is Luke 9:10-17 (page 866). Today, I hope we are able to move beyond seeing the feeding of the 5,000 as just a nice story, and instead will hear God speak through his word in a way that will impact our lives. Let’s pause and pray that will happen.
Let’s read our text and see what occurred.
Luke 9:10 – When the apostles returned they reported to Jesus all that they had done. He took them along and withdrew privately to a town called Bethsaida.
After a busy time of ministry, it seems Jesus wants them all to get some time to rest.
Luke 9:11 – When the crowds found out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
The plan for rest is interrupted; but rather than being irritated, Jesus welcomes the opportunity to teach and serve people in need. Then a little problem develops. The people listening to Jesus are getting their souls filled, but their stomachs are empty. They are getting hungry.
Luke 9:12 – Late in the day, the Twelve approached and said to him, “Send the crowd away, so that they can go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging, because we are in a deserted place here.”
Luke 9:13 – (Jesus suggests) – “You give them something to eat.” (The disciples reply) – “We have no more than five loaves and two fish … unless we go and buy food for all these people.”
Again, it is in John’s gospel that we learn the loaves and fish are actually a lunch donated by a little boy.
Buying food for everyone might seem like a good option, but…
Luke 9:14a – About five thousand men were there.
And apparently there were women and children, too. Probably hundreds, if not thousands of additional mouths to feed. The disciples certainly didn’t have enough money to go and buy food for everyone. It seems the people will just have to go hungry. But … Jesus has another idea.
Luke 9:14b-15 – Then he told his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did what he said, and had them all sit down.
He does this, apparently, to make it easier to serve the crowd.
Luke 9:16a – Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke them.
Jesus is giving thanks to God before a meal.
I always like the story of the old farmer who went to a posh restaurant in New York City. After the waiter brought the food, the man bowed for over a minute, thanking God for what he was about to eat. A sophisticated young man, watching from the next booth, called out, “Hey, old timer, does everyone do that where you come from?” The farmer replied, “Well, no, the pigs don’t. When they get their food, they just dig right in.” Friends, it is always a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, and mealtime is an especially good time to do that.
Luke 9:16b-17a – He kept giving them (the loaves and fish) to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate and was filled.
Each of the 5,000 men, plus women and children there, was given a generous portion. Still, after everyone had eaten as much as they wanted…
Luke 9:17b – They (the disciples) picked up twelve baskets of leftover pieces.
None of the food is wasted. Each of the twelve disciples gets a basket full of food. It all started with five loaves of bread and two little fish. Absolutely amazing! Of course, plenty of people insist it is too amazing. Unbelievable! It could not have happened! The story is something you might read in The Weekly World News, which had a story about a chimp who spoke German.
Liberal Bible teachers suggest what really happened was this: When people in the crowd saw the boy giving his lunch to Andrew to be shared with others, they, too, decided to share the food they had. Somehow, this resulted in plenty of food for everyone and twelve baskets of leftovers. No, the math doesn’t add up.
Frankly, I have more respect for hard skeptics who maintain this story is just a myth, something that never happened than I do for so-called Christians who attempt to explain away Jesus’ miracles to make the gospel accounts easier for modern people to swallow.
I am convinced Luke gives us a completely accurate report of what happened that day. Jesus used his power as the eternal Son of God to perform a miracle. He took a small lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish and turned it into a feast for over 5,000 people. It is a wonderful demonstration of Jesus’ power. Though some cooks can do a marvelous job of stretching a meal to serve additional people, no one is a match for Jesus.
It is also a clear demonstration of Jesus’ compassion. He cares about people who are hungry. He makes sure everyone in that huge crowd gets a good meal.
So, what lessons does God have for us from this true story? When the Lord inspired each of the four gospel writers to include this story in their account of the life and ministry of Jesus, what did he intend our response to be?
Well, certainly we should be impressed by Jesus’ power. This amazing miracle points to Jesus as the Messiah and eternal Son of God. It shows Jesus is, indeed, worthy of our praise, adoration, trust and obedience.
We should also notice Jesus’ compassionate concern for the crowd. And yes, like that little boy, we should indeed be willing to share our food with others.
When we hear reports of starving people in sub-Saharan Africa, it should break our hearts enough to maybe break open our wallets to help combat that hunger.
Those are all good lessons from this passage. Yet, as I have been thinking about this text, I was struck by something else. It is an essential truth that is sometimes ignored or forgotten, both in the church and in my own life. The most important lesson the disciples learned that day was this: Jesus Christ is able to meet any need and solve any problem. That is who Jesus is and what he can do.
Let’s go back to the situation the disciples faced that afternoon. They are starting to feel a bit anxious. There is a huge crowd. It is getting late. People are hungry. There is no food around. I can imagine the disciples huddling together trying to figure out a solution to this problem.
One of them, Andrew, says, “Hey, a kid offered me his lunch. It is just five little barley loaves and a couple of fish, but if we announce that those with some food should share with one other person, maybe everyone will get something to eat.”
Peter responds, “That won’t work. Look at the crowd. Most of them don’t even have a tiny piece of bread.”
James pipes up, “Hey, let’s just go buy food. Maybe there is a Chick-fil-A nearby.”
Matthew replies, “Get real, James. Even if there was a restaurant around here, we don’t have enough money to buy even a fraction of the food we need.”
Bartholomew says, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s just dismiss the crowd, and they can go into the villages and buy their own food.”
Judas, the treasurer of the group, quickly agrees. “Yes, we will let the folks spend their money, not ours.”
Pretty soon they all agree that this is what should be done. So they tell Jesus…
Luke 9:12b – “Send the crowd away, so that they can go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging.”
Jesus says, “No, that is not what we are going to do. I will take care of the problem. Trust me.” He then proceeds to take those five loaves and two fish and feeds over 5,000 people. Whatever the need, he is able to meet it. No problem is too big for him to solve. That truth has some important implications for us:
#1 When we face a tough situation, the first place we should turn for help is to the Lord.
The Old Testament book of 2 Kings has a story, a true story, which reminds us of this important lesson. 2 Kings 1 tells us about King Ahaziah who takes a nasty fall and is injured.
2 Kings 1:2b – So he sent messengers, instructing them, “Go inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover from this injury.”
This is a pagan god, who is not really god at all. Eventually, the Prophet Elijah confronts the king:
2 Kings 1:16-17a – This is what the LORD says: “Why did you send messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether you will recover? Is there no God in Israel to answer your question? Therefore, because you have done this, you will never leave the bed you are lying on; you will surely die.” So Ahaziah died, just as the LORD had promised through Elijah.
Friends, we must not make Ahaziah’s mistake. Whenever a problem arises, whenever we have a need, the first thing we need to do is turn to the Lord.
Now, that doesn’t mean he will perform a spectacular miracle to help us. For example, if you get sick with pneumonia – rather than an instant healing, the Lord usually uses medicine, physicians and the body’s natural healing process to enable you to regain your health. Yet,
it is still important to turn to the Lord first and pray for his help, even before we consult a physician.
When we as modern Christians have a need, we often turn somewhere other than to the Lord to meet that need.
For example, my friend Joe has been feeling emotionally down lately, struggling with depression. He went to the doctor last week and asked for a prescription for some medication that is supposed to elevate his mood. Was that wrong? No, as long as Joe has first turned to the Lord and asked for his help.
Doctors, counselors and medications can be wonderful tools that God will use to help us. Yet, when we see these things as the source of encouragement, rather than the Lord, they have become idols that can do great harm to our souls.
It frustrates me that many pastors have a tendency to turn to secular culture rather than the Bible in an effort to supposedly cure what ails the church. Someone once told me, “What the church needs is more pastors with MBA’s instead of Theology degrees.” In other words, a pastor needs to understand business principles more than he needs to understand the Bible.
Friends, I just don’t buy that. Yes, churches and pastors can certainly learn things from business leaders that will be helpful in ministry. Yet, what we really need to hear is not the wisdom from a New York Times Best Seller, but a word from God. And folks, that comes to us through the Bible.
If we want to know how our church is to glorify God, which should always be our #1 goal, the Bible is where we need to turn. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, and he is the one to whom we need to listen.
Remembering we should first turn to the Lord Jesus is also important when it comes to individual spiritual health and growth. Numerous times, someone has come to me and said, “Pastor Dan, everyone in the church needs to attend this seminar, read this book or be a part of this program.” My short response is always, “No, they don’t.”
Oh, seminars, books and programs can be helpful, but when it comes to spiritual health, there is only one thing we really need, and that is Jesus. And the way to grow closer to the Lord Jesus is through reading and studying his Word, the Bible; through spending time in prayer; and through meeting with other Christians for corporate worship, coming to church.
Those are the three basic essential ingredients for a healthy spiritual diet: Bible, prayer and church. If those are not part of your life, seminars, books and programs are of limited value.
Friends, our main point this morning is that as Christians, whenever we have a problem, the first place we should look for help is from the Lord. Yes, God uses all sorts of people and things to help us in difficult situations, but these should never become a substitute. We should turn to the Lord first, ask him to help us in any way he would choose, and then be grateful for whatever and however he provides.
#2 Whenever we do turn to the Lord for help, we can be confident he will meet our needs.
Once the disciples turn to Jesus, he basically says, “Trust me. I will take care of it.” At that point, the problem was over. Can you imagine the disciples coming back and saying, “Well, with those five loaves and two fish we fed 4,000 people; but we don’t have enough for the rest.” No! Twelve baskets are left over after everyone has enough to eat.
Jesus fully met the need that day. And he will do the same for us. One of the themes of Luke’s gospel is the absolute power and perfect compassion of the Lord Jesus. He is always able and willing to work on our behalf. He will never fail us. He will never let us down.
Oh friends, that doesn’t mean we will always get what we want. One basic lesson in life is that wants and needs are not the same thing.
Friends, I pretty much always want good health, plenty of money in my bank account, and children whose choices always make me happy. Oh, and sunshine and mild temperatures would be nice, too. And I surely want to lose some weight, even if I am eating everything I like. And a Super Bowl victory for the Packers next year would be good. And…well, I could go on for quite a while listing things I want, things which would make my life easier, more comfortable and convenient.
The reality, however, is that few, if any of the things on that list are things I actually need. Good health is one many would consider a need, but the Lord often uses health issues to help us grow in our character and become the person he desires us to be. And friends, that is one need we actually have – by God’s grace, we need to become who he has called us to be.
As many of you know, I had an appendectomy on November 13. My recovery went pretty smoothly. Yet, if things would have happened as I wanted, I would have skipped the whole thing, and I would have a nice, healthy appendix still in me.
Yet, I am confident God had a purpose for allowing the appendectomy, a purpose that includes his glory and my ultimate good. I may never know exactly what the purpose was, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good reason for my appendectomy. I suspect the reason maybe involves helping me become the person he has called me to be, someone with a character more like Jesus than I was before.
Friends, let me assure you, if you are going through some tough stuff right now, it is not because the Lord doesn’t care, not because your problems are too big for him to solve, and it is not because he has been sleeping and doesn’t know your situation.
He will meet your needs – in his way and in his time. I don’t know his reasons for allowing these difficulties, but I know part of the reason is to either bring you to faith in Jesus Christ or to help you grow stronger in your faith. And friend, that is the biggest need any of us have.
Stephanie Fast was abandoned by her family when she was four years old. In the 1950’s, that was the horrible, but not unheard of fate of a child in Korea, whose unknown father was an American soldier.
Stephanie survived the next three years sleeping in barns and ditches and eating whatever food she could find, including locusts and field mice. Living on the street, this young child was beaten and sexually abused.
At the age of seven, she was found by a Swedish missionary and brought to an orphanage. Two years later, she was adopted by an American missionary couple. Her remarkable story is told in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Grace.
Now in her mid-sixties, Stephanie makes this statement: “I can honestly say there is no event in my life that I would be better without. Why? Because everything in my life brought me to Jesus.”
Friends, I realize you may not be able to say the same thing about some things in your life. You may believe there are certain tragedies or traumas that cannot possibly fit into a good plan for you. And it’s okay if you
think that. You know a lot more about your life than I do.
But, I pray the Lord will enable you to keep an open mind. Even though, like Stephanie, your life has not been easy, I pray you, too, will realize that the Lord Jesus has always met your needs, though sometimes in ways you would never choose or expect. And why wouldn’t he?
As the feeding of the 5,000 reminds us, Jesus is always able and willing to help those who turn to him. That is something to celebrate, and we do that now as we sing…