FEEDING THE 5000

Lessons for Today

Feeding the 5000, one of about three dozen specific miracles of Christ described in the New Testament, is the only one recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 14:15-21; Mk. 6:35-44; Lk. 9:12-17; Jn. 6:4-13). It is significant because of the number of people who witnessed it, because of the creative power displayed in it, and because of the deeper meaning and broader application it has to all the servants of Christ.

(Matt. 14:15-16) When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food." But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
“Send the multitudes away.” The disciples are saying to Jesus, “You are responsible here. Do something.” And their limited comprehension of His powers suggests this as the best course. But awareness of a need always brings with it an element of personal responsibility. They have observed the problem, and the Lord calls upon them to act. “You give them something to eat” (and the “you” is emphatic in Greek).

Their initial response, given to us by Mark is, “Shall we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?” (Mk. 6:37). The denarius was a day’s wages for the common Roman soldier. It is doubtful the disciples together had anything like that on hand. So this was a way of showing the impossibility of their doing anything to solve the problem. If there were 5,000 men present (Matt. 14:21) with women and children, the total could well have been over 10,000 people. Even half a year’s wages would buy those present only a “little” (Jn. 6:7).

When we face a seemingly insurmountable difficulty, the human tendency is to reduce the size of the problem–“send the multitudes away” to find an answer for themselves. That is not always the wrong approach. But here the solution was to rely on the Lord to use the resources they had. It is at least the secondary reason for every command the Lord gives us (sometimes the primary one) that we discover afresh our own inadequacy (vs. 17). Since the days of Adam, God has lovingly worked to cure us of our naive self-sufficiency and rebel independence.

This incident provides for us a clear illustration of how service for Christ is to be accomplished.

1) He gives a command (vs. 16).

2) His followers recognize their inadequacy (vs. 17).

3) They are told to yield what they have to Him–which was theirs from the Lord to begin with, at least indirectly (vs. 18).

4) Jesus gives it back to them, multiplied many times (vs. 19a).

5) They distribute what the Lord has provided to others in service for Him (vs. 19b).

6) The people are satisfied (vs. 20a).

7) The disciples themselves are blessed–each having his own personal basket filled with food (vs. 20b).

(Matt. 14:17-18) And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." He said, "Bring them here to Me."
It was Andrew who found this small stock–“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish” (Jn. 6:8-9).

Jesus had not asked about fish, only bread (Mk. 6:38). With what tone of voice was that, “and two fish” added? It is unlikely the response was given in joyful faith. It was not: “See, we have fish too! Praise the Lord! We are richer than we thought!” More likely, there was a mist of doubt and perhaps a tinge of sarcasm in the words: “Here is all there is. What on earth can we do with this huge stock?” But the Lord graciously takes and uses what is given–possibly in spite of their attitude.

A great miracle was wrought through the boy’s willingness to part (temporarily, as it turned out!) with his lunch. Warren Wiersbe comments, “The practical lesson is clear: Whenever there is a need, give all that you have to Jesus and let Him do the rest.” But think of what the boy might have done. (And surely we can see our own attitudes in Christian service reflected somewhere here!) He might have been:

1) Careless, and lost it on the way

2) Wasteful, and thrown it away

3) Selfish, and eaten it himself

4) Exclusive, and shared it only with a friend

5) Neglectful, and not used it at all

6) Half-hearted, and given only a part to Jesus

7) Greedy, and insisted on selling it

8) Deceitful and said, “I have nothing”

9) Independent and said, “I’ll do this myself”

10) But instead, he was generous and cooperative, and gave all he had to the Lord.

Actually, the five loaves and two fish were unnecessary to Christ. He could have commanded that the very stones be made bread–or simply spoken the word and removed any physical hunger the people had. But as F. W. Grant points out, “He would rather lower the miracle than set aside those whom He would identify with Himself and use in service.” We see here a pattern for our own service. That which comes to us by natural means is humbly offered up to Him to be used in a supernatural ministry. God must be the intermediary in all effective service.

(Matt. 14:19-21) Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Lk. 9:14 says the Lord told the disciples to seat the multitude in groups of fifty. This would have made serving easier (and avoided a greedy race to grab the food from Jesus’ hands).

If there were indeed about 10,000 present, counting women and children, that would suggest each disciple was responsible for 16 groups of 50, in total about 800 people. It is not an impossible task to pass out food to that many, but it would have taken some time. It is possible the disciples in turn appointed one or two in each group of fifty to assist them.

“He...gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude” (Lk. 9:16). The power and authority came from Christ, but He enlisted the disciples to extend His ministry to the multitude. The disciples had seen and evaluated the need in relation to their own capacity to meet it. But Christ multiplies their ability, as He does with His own today, by His Spirit (cf. I Cor. 2:1-5; 3:5-7; II Cor. 2:6; 3:5).

Two Great Feasts
“They all ate and were filled” (Matt. 14:20). The conclusion of one of Christ’s greatest miracles provides a stark contrast with another feast held earlier (Matt. 14:6-11; cf. Mk. 6:21-28). In the first, Herod gave a party to celebrate his birthday and invited prominent people. In the second, the meal is provided by the Lord Jesus to meet a basic need. Likely, those He served were mainly common folk, and they came as families.

In the earlier feast one can imagine palatial surroundings and rich food. The second occurred in a deserted place. The people sat on the grass and ate bread and fish. (Small pancake-sized loaves, and small fish like sardines–enough for one boys’ lunch, but multiplied by a gracious hand.) In the first instance, the people would have come to Herod to demonstrate or secure their rank in society. In the second, the people came in great spiritual need, and Jesus taught them.

At the first banquet, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets was killed. In the second, the people wanted to make the Lord Jesus their King (Jn. 6:15), though that was neither God’s way, nor was it His time for the coronation. The most memorable feature of the first meal was a sensual dance and the careless largess of a foolish king. But what is still remembered of the second is the miraculous power of the Lord that fed the multitudes.

Cf. the promise of Jehovah God in Ps. 132:13-15 to bless Israel: “For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread.’” Little wonder the people said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world (Jn. 6:14; cf. Deut. 18:15).