A bit of Bible trivia for you. A little factoid that is anything but trivial.
There is one miracle, and only one miracle, that Jesus performed that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Only one such miracle. And you are going to hear all about it here, it this PODCAST.
If you didn’t know anything about Jesus, if this discussion was the first time you ever heard of Jesus, if this was the first thing you ever heard about Jesus, you would walk away from this podcast with a heart filled with love for Him, overflowing with an irresistible desire to get to know Him better.
That is how powerful this story is.
Which may well explain why of every miracle Jesus ever performed, every mighty deed that Jesus ever did, the miracle embedded within this story is the only one that is included in all four Gospels.
Which is quite a statement, really, when you consider the fact that the Apostle John concludes his Gospel account with this observation:
“The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book… If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”
An observation which begs the question: So why in the world did each Gospel writer choose to include this miracle?
Obviously, the biblical writers — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — and the Holy Spirit who inspired them — wanted you and wanted me to make a special note of this story. And so we shall. Right now. In this podcast.
Welcome to The Feeding of the Five Thousand, The Miraculous Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
Let’s begin by reading Mark 6:44
A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.
It would seem that never in Jesus’ life was there a day where he was more popular, more optimistic, more excited about the ministry taking place. But looks could be deceiving. If you were to isolate this story, where the crowds enthusiastically pursued Him and adored Him, you would think that everything was perfect. But that’s not the entire picture of that point of time.
The truth is that there were forces at play here that were threatening to tear Jesus apart. These forces are not typically evident to the casual reader, if you simply read this story out of context.
On the surface, taking a look at this one scene like a snapshot of Jesus’ ministry, you would see what appeared to be a festive event. You would see a crowd numbering in the thousands – it could have been as many as 25,000 men, women and children. They were pursuing Christ. He wasn’t running to them, they were running to Him and kept following Him wherever He went.
The truth is that, as Jesus laid His head down to sleep that night, He was exhausted, feeling the whole weight of the world collapsing upon Him. He loved the people He ministered to and tried tirelessly to redeem them. Yet He knew that many of these same people were about to turn, walk away and reject Him.
We see a glimpse into this perspective when we look at Luke’s recounting of the story of when Jesus miraculously fed the multitude. He had just sent His Apostles out to preach God’s message and heal the sick, and they had just gathered back together to debrief, as we read in Luke 9:10 – 17:
“When the Apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done. Then he slipped quietly away with them toward the town of Bethsaida. 11 But the crowds found out where he was going, and they followed him. He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick.
12 Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, “Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.”
13 But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Or are you expecting us to go and buy enough food for this whole crowd?” 14 For there were about 5,000 men there.
Jesus replied, “Tell them to sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 So the people all sat down. 16 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. 17 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers!
Jesus was slipping away toward Bethsaida because His beloved cousin, John the Baptist, had just been executed, and Jesus wanted to get away and mourn the loss. Not only that, but Herod was now after Jesus as well, and Jesus’ hometown, Capernaum had rejected Him. So, the next logical place to go was the hometown of four of His disciples – Bethsaida.
Part of the story is missing in Luke’s account, though. We read in John 6:2-4 this little detail:
A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. 3 Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. 4 (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.)
For those of you who are having a hard time putting it all together, Jesus knew that only two Passovers were left before He would be betrayed and crucified. He knew that the end was drawing near. The clock was ticking. There had only been about two and a half years since He was baptized, and only one year was left before He would be killed.
Yet, all the while, Jesus’ compassion for the crowd trumps His caution.
There was a need to be met, and He will meet it! He welcomed them and saw them, compassionately, as sheep in need of a Shepherd. So, he spent the entire day teaching, healing, and meeting the needs of those who showed up. As the day drew long, Mark writes:
35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
38 “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Now, these bread cakes were made of the grains that the poor people would make bread of. Therefore, these were just common people, not elitists, that were surrounding Jesus that day. Also, the fish that was most likely found were small, pickled fish. So, they basically had one boy’s sack lunch at hand.
John continues the story, revealing one of many lessons Jesus was about to teach at that mealtime:
Turning to Philip, He asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” 6 He was testing Philip, for He already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” (John 6:5-7)
Now, don’t miss this: there are two divine attributes that Jesus puts on display here in this story. They make no room for mistaking that we are dealing with the Almighty God here! The first is Jesus’ omniscience. He already knew how much food was available. The second was His omnipotence – His unlimited power. Out of one sack lunch, He was about to create enough food to fill the stomachs of all 25,000 people there, and have leftovers!
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. (Matthew 14:17-19)
When Jesus prayed over and broke the bread, He was offering to all the people there, in a symbol dating all the way back to Moses, to be their Shepherd – their Messiah. It was as if He was saying, “Let me be your God!”
With each piece of bread that He broke off, He offered to the thousands His message that we find in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
But, the people there missed His teaching point, as we see in John 6:14-15:
14 When the people saw Him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, He is the Prophet we have been expecting!” 15 When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by Himself.
They wanted a king to overthrow Rome and make their lives easy. They weren’t interested in a God… even a loving, gracious, saving and shepherding God. The very next day, the crowds would come back. But they were there for only one reason – they wanted another free meal… not a saving God.
So, when Jesus called them out and told them that He wasn’t offering a free lunch that day, but instead something more significant – something eternal – they, one by one, turned and left.
We read in John 6:66-70:
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
This is the burning question that each of us have to confront in our hearts and souls as well. When we offer up a prayer and He doesn’t grant us what we wish, are we “what have you done for me lately” followers as well? Or, instead, will we answer like Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”