In this morning’s lesson, I see not just one but two miracles. The first miracle is one we’re all familiar with. We’ve all heard and thought about the miracle of Christ providing enough food for 5000 people from a few loaves of bread and fish. But where is the second miracle in the Gospel this morning? It’s what I call not the Feeding of the 5000 but the Feeding by the 12. The hidden miracle in the feeding of the 5000 is that God chooses to work through His people, the Church. Through us, He feeds a spiritually hungry world.
Right before the 5000 need to be fed, Jesus sends out the 12, and they preach and heal through the power of their Master. Always ready to use whatever the Father has happened to provide, Jesus is eager to teach His disciples another lesson about life in His Kingdom.
After they have returned to Jesus, He takes them aside privately to a deserted place. Perhaps He wants to teach them again or debrief them after they have gone out and flown solo (or “duo” as the case may be) for the first time. But the people, and the Father, have other plans. The multitudes hear about where Jesus is, and they come to find Jesus.
There’s a good chance that they have heard about what the disciples have taught and how they healed, and now they want to find the Master Himself. He receives them and teaches and heals them Himself, just as He had sent His disciples to do.
But as the day wore on, the people became hungry. Not yet having learned all their lessons, the disciples simply wanted to send the people away. After all, it had been a long day, and who wouldn’t want more private time with Jesus?
The people were hungry. This is the brute fact of this passage. Try to imagine 5000 men – even more including men and women – all sitting, having come to hear Jesus. Gathered around Jesus and His disciples was a hungry city of humanity. They had traveled far from home and had nothing to eat, and if they were sent away, they would faint.
This is a spiritual picture of the world. Around you is a city of spiritually hungry people. They have not been fed the Bread of Life which is Jesus Christ, the only way to salvation. God has put us in the middle of spiritually hungry cities. There are 1000s of people who need the spiritual food of Jesus Christ. Here in the southern part of the U.S., most have heard the Gospel and many are Christians, yet many are still spiritually hungry.
They are all around you in the downtown city, in the nooks and crannies of your town, in WalMart, in your neighborhood, and even in your church. I’ve had innumerable conversations and shards of conversations with people that reveal a spiritual hunger. They are all around you. The lesson of the Gospel this morning is that if we send them away without feeding them, they will faint and perish.
God wants to feed those who are hungry. We all know people who can do it all by themselves: it would have been easier, better, and more sure if Jesus had simply done it all Himself. He could have instantly fed everyone intravenously and immediately, if He had wanted to. But like training kids to clean house, He took a more difficult way in order to teach His disciples. And if He hadn’t taught them, where would they be after He had ascended and left them? Where would we be?
When Jesus works, it is usually through His Church, His disciples. In this miracle, Jesus told His disciples to help Him feed those who were hungry. The disciples were the ones who got the people situated, who took the food that Jesus had blessed, and who gave it to those who were hungry.
I suppose that Jesus could meet every spiritual need of every person in Hot Springs, Arkansas; Tyler, Texas; and in every other city at the snap of His finger: but He’s chosen to do it through you. Why do you think God has allowed us a part in feeding a spiritually hungry world? Because we are the Body of Jesus Christ. We are His presence on earth. He is in us, and we in Him and, therefore, He works His miracles through us!
Jesus knew that one day He would ascend to the Father and send the Holy Spirit so that His disciples could continue to do the things that He began to do and to teach. So He starts here, by sending them out and by having them help feed the 5000, by His grace.In Luke 9, the disciples don’t know how to feed the hungry. So Jesus showed them; He provided all that was necessary. We also don’t know how to feed the spiritually hungry among us, and we can’t do it by ourselves. But we also know better than the disciples where to find spiritual food and the grace of God. We don’t always know the details of how to make disciples or of how to feed the spiritually hungry. So we worship and live and pray together and appeal to the Lord who fed the 5000.
We know the source of food, even when the disciples didn’t. We know that Jesus not only provides food for a spiritually hungry world but that He is the Food, the Bread from Heaven that gives eternal life.
In His mercy, Jesus started with what His disciples had. He fed 5000 men (not including women and children) from five loaves of bread and two fish: that was it. What we have may be similarly small, but God will multiply what He has given. If we are good soil, the Lord will raise up an abundant harvest that will be more than enough to feed the world. If we are faithful with the five loaves and two fish that we do have, and don’t grumble about those we don’t have, then the Lord will bless and multiply what we have to the blessing of those around us, our neighbors. For the Lord blesses what He has given us and makes it completely sufficient for what He asks us to do each day.
As with the disciples, Jesus feeds us first. Though the passage doesn’t actually say the disciples ate first, it is a reasonable supposition, and Jesus did give them the food first to distribute. It’s like the instructions they give whenever you’re on a plane, that parents with young children should give themselves oxygen first so that they are then able to minister to their children and save them.
If you want to be in a position to feed the spiritually hungry, you must first be a disciple yourself. How can you show them the heavenly food, if you yourself do not know where to find it or, knowing, refuse to eat? How will you have the strength to feed others, if you are hungry and weak yourself?
After they had eaten, they set the Bread of Life before the hungry world. God has chosen to work through us – that’s the second miracle in this lesson. It is our service before God and man – our love of God and love of man – that is the mission of your local church, for the Lord has asked you to feed those who are hungry. It was easier in a way for the disciples in Luke 9: they could see who was physically hungry. But we can’t always tell who is spiritually hungry by looking at them: we have to get to know them and love them. This only means we have to implore the Lord that much more to help us.
Your city is a miracle waiting to happen. The spiritually hungry are all around you: they are even in your own church. There are many of them, and they are starving for God and His Word. And God has called you and me to feed them.
But to do this, you must first learn to be a disciple. You must first be so strengthened by the heavenly Bread, Jesus Christ, that you are full of life and can direct them to the source of life.
There is a miracle waiting to happen in your church and in your town, and God desires to perform it through you.
Prayer: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the world, who has caused bread to come forth out of the earth. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of heaven and earth, who has caused the Bread of Heaven to come into our lives. Give us this day our daily bread that we might eat and grow strong and in Your Name may go and feed those who are hungry. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Thank God for feeding you with the heavenly food of His Son.
- How well have you been using the strength God gives you to go and feed those who are spiritually hungry?
Feeding of the 5000 – U.S. Public Domain