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JESUS FEEDS THE FIVE THOUSAND

Luke 9:10-9:17
Key Verse: 9:13a

Jesus feeding the five thousand is the one miracle, apart from the resurrection, recounted in all four Gospels. With the account of this event, Luke’s coverage of the Galilean ministry ends. The next event in Luke’s gospel is Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who you say I am?” and Peter’s confession of Christ. Luke thus omits in between other miracles such as Jesus walking on the water, and Jesus feeding another large crowd of the four thousand. It seems that as for Luke, the miracle of Jesus feeding five thousand is sufficient to deliver the message Luke intended. Among the four gospels, Luke’s version of this event is shortest. Luke, the historian and evangelist, abbreviates many small details so as to say more succinctly that Jesus is the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, God sent manna down from heaven and he thus fed more than six hundred thousand Israelites. At that time Moses was leading the people. This was a great miracle, but the way Jesus fed the five thousand was different. Jesus did not have bread come down from heaven to feed the crowd. On another occasion, Elisha fed a hundred people with 20 loaves of bread (2 Kings 4:42-44). This event might have been too small to be recognized as a miracle, yet this is a foreshadow of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. Let’s think about the meaning of Jesus feeding the five thousand, and particularly about the way Luke describes his doing so.

First, Jesus welcomed the crowd and spoke to them about the kingdom of God (10-11). Look at verse 10. “When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done…” As we studied in the previous passage, the twelve apostles sent by Jesus went from village to village and preached the gospel and healed people everywhere. At their gospel campaign, even Herod the tetrarch was shaken, guilt-ridden at having killed a righteous man. We can imagine their excitement in their report to Jesus: people’s repentance of their sins and acceptance of Jesus, the driving out of demons, the healing of incurable diseases. What they had done was none other than the vivid work of God through them. Jesus must have been happy to see their obedience and their experience of the power of God in their spiritual battle.

Then Jesus took them with him, and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida. Luke specifically wrote that the site they went was the town of Bethsaida situated north of the Sea of Galilee and east of the Jordan River, a remote place. By unambiguously mentioning this place, Luke stresses the event that follows as a historical fact, fulfilling the important "where" requirement of the "5W1H". Jesus knew that by this point, after their hard work in the fieldwork training, the disciples needed rest and refreshment in this remote and quiet place. In Mark’s gospel it is written, “…because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (6:31). Also, at this time Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, where suffering and crucifixion awaited him. Before the crucifixion, he wanted to have time with them enough to explain the meaning of his coming suffering, death, and resurrection.

But what happened when they came to Bethsaida? Look at verse 11: “but the crowds learned about it and followed him.” According to Mark, the people ran on foot and got there ahead of Jesus and his disciples, even before they had landed onshore (6:33). They were really a demanding and annoying crowd. We all don’t want to be bothered by others at lunch time or break time, especially after hard work. Also, we don’t want to be annoyed by sudden phone calls at midnight, or when we are very busy with our own scheduled work. This crowd seemed too selfish to think of others at all. It seemed that they were so demanding and so annoying that they had to be stopped. Yet, one thing was clear: that they were so desperate to solve their own problems. They were like the refugees in Iraq, who desperately ran to get onto the helicopter that had been sent to rescue them. To them, it was really the matter of surviving or not.

Jesus understood them, their desperateness, and welcomed them. This was an expression of the heart of the Messiah Jesus. Then welcoming them, what did Jesus do next? Jesus knew they were hungry and poor and that there were many sick people. Yet, he spoke to them first about the kingdom of God. We have learned that Jesus himself travelled from one town and village to another and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. And he sent his disciples to preach the kingdom of God in fieldwork training. Here now, when the crowd came unexpectedly, with so many needs and problems, he again spoke to them about the kingdom of God. On the cross he invited a dying and repentant criminal to the kingdom of God. In Acts 1:3, after his resurrection and before ascension, he appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

As for the crowd who came to Jesus so desperately now, this would be the last chance for them to have time with Jesus, since Jesus’ Galilean ministry was closing, and Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem. Luke placed this event as the last in the Galilean ministry of Jesus. They were like children who had one last chance to see their parents. It seemed that they needed the security to live in this world. No doubt they had many urgent needs in order to live in this insecure and troubled world. And they seemed too downtrodden to turn their attention from the earth to heaven, from earthly things to things above. Yet, Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God, knowing that this is the best thing he could give them. Here again we learn that what people of this world need most, no matter in what human condition they might be, is the kingdom of God--that is the replacement of Satan's rule in each one's heart for God’s reign, and the hope of the heavenly kingdom beyond this world.

After speaking about the kingdom of God, Jesus healed those who needed healing. Jesus did not ignore physically sick people. God wanted them well, both spiritually and physically.

In this part we see an image of the Messiah who welcomed the crowd and spoke to them about the kingdom God. The Messiah Jesus came to this world to plant God’s kingdom in the hearts of the people and bring them into the eternal kingdom of God.

Second, “You give them something to eat” (12-14a). Look at verse 12. “Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’” Most probably the disciples understood that Jesus had welcomed the annoying crowd and was serving them. But now it was late in the afternoon, and to their common knowledge the practical problems of food and lodging had to be solved. However, Jesus did not seem to have this in mind. Surely the disciples had endured and endured, and they themselves became very hungry. Their patience ran out and they could not endure anymore. They presented Jesus their most reasonable idea: the crowd had to be sent away to the places where there were shopping malls and motels, that they might solve their food and lodging problems. The disciples were very reasonable people, having correct information about their situation and that area, and what they suggested was quite understandable.

But how did Jesus respond to their suggestion? Look at verse 13a. “He replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’” What a command, unexpected and totally unreasonable! At this command the disciples responded right away, saying, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” This was like their protest. In their situation, they could not give the crowd something to eat. Certainly, Jesus had known that. But still Jesus had said, “You give them something to eat”. Then what does this mean? Was Jesus just imposing tremendous responsibility on his disciples? Of course not. Why did Jesus give such a command to them? The disciples’ problem was that they reasoned and calculated without Jesus. When Jesus said, “You give them something to eat,” Jesus wanted them to know that they can give something to eat if they include Jesus in their calculation. Jesus challenged their mind-set, their habit of thinking without Jesus. Jesus wanted to change their way of thinking so as to think that though they cannot by themselves, they can do anything, even humanly impossible things, with Jesus. In other words, this was faith training for them. Jesus wanted to teach them that they could do everything with faith, faith in Jesus that is faith in God. We remember what Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Jesus wanted his disciples to grow up to that point. This should be our motto: I cannot, but God can.

Also, when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat,” Jesus wanted them to participate in his shepherd heart for the crowds. Jesus had welcomed them and was taking care of them with the message of the kingdom of God and the healing work. The crowds were like spiritual orphans to Jesus. So he could not abandon them, but took care of them without even being aware of how much time had passed. Jesus gave no hint that he would send the crowd away, even as dinner time approached--and the disciples sensed this. It was so clear to them that they felt they needed to bring the matter and their suggested solution to Jesus' attention. Jesus' heart and intention was thus clear to them. In that sense, whether the disciples could feed them or not was the second matter. Even if they had to starve together, sending the crowd away should not have been an option for them, because for Jesus, it was not an option. Jesus wanted them to stay with the crowd together, until each one's needs were addressed. Considering this, the disciples could have sought another solution to the problem, for as the saying goes, “Where there's a will, there's a way.” In other words, Jesus wanted them to take responsibility for the crowd and learn his shepherd heart for them. A shepherd heart would bring a miracle. Jesus wanted this to be the attitude of the Twelve, whom Jesus had called as the new Israel for God’s world salvation purpose.

We are living in an individualistic society. Most people are indifferent to others. No one wants to get involved in others’ problems. Many young people are coming to U of T for their academic pursuit, and with great hope for their future. They are the smartest group of people in Canada. Yet, who can be concerned about their spiritual life? What might their future be without knowing God and their Saviour Jesus? The devil seems to aim even more at smart people, in order to occupy them and use them for his evil purpose. Last Tuesday I happened to watch “America’s got talent” for a moment in our condo gym. I was surprised to see the piano performance of a 9-year old boy, Adrian Romoff. He showed himself as a prodigy pianist and said that he is also talented in science, for though he is only 9 years-old, he is going to grade 10. A commentator said, “England has Harry Potter, but America has you.” However, if he becomes his own man, not knowing God and Christ Jesus, if he does not have a shepherd who can guide him into the truth of God, what kind of future might be waiting for him? Watching his performance and people’s praising him, I was reminded of Michael Jackson, who was a genius singer. But look at Michael Jackson's influence to the world, and the way his life ended. Last Tuesday Robin Williams, the Oscar-winning comic and actor known for his quick wit, improvisational humor and versatility as a dramatic actor, died after hanging himself in his home. He was 63. Why such a death of such a person? I realized that intellectual and talented people, even more so than other ordinary people, need shepherds who can lead them to the truth of God and Jesus the Saviour, for the devil seems to aim at them more. There are only two kinds of lives: to be saved and used by God, or to be occupied and used by the devil. May God have mercy on us to have a shepherd heart for coming freshmen and serve some of them through Bible study so that they may come to the Creator God and the Saviour and Lord Jesus and be used by God for his great purpose.

Third, Jesus fed the crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish (14b-17). Look at verse 14b. “But he said to them, ‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’” The disciples had said that they had only five loaves of bread and two fish and had been very negative about their situation. But Jesus began the work to feed the crowd. Jesus told his disciples to have the crowd of people sit down group by group, with each group consisting of about fifty. To the disciples this was a hard command to obey, for there was still no food for the crowd. Maybe the smartest guy, Philip, repeatedly said to himself, “This is ridiculous. Ridiculous. If we cannot feed the crowd, they will laugh at us.” However, surprisingly, the disciples obeyed this command, and had the people sit down. The seating formation was to be 50 by 50, not 30 or 70 or any number simply according to convenience. There would be 100 groups. By the disciples’ instruction, everybody sat down. In this environment Jesus would work. What did Jesus do next? Look at verse 16. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them.” Jesus did not ignore the five loaves and the fish the disciples had and had thought would be too little for the huge crowd. No, Jesus took them and gave thanks to God. Then he broke them and gave them to disciples to set before the people. At this point a miracle took place. The result is written in verse 17, “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” Probably some people could not finish their serving. So there were leftovers, and the disciples picked them up. God’s blessing upon the five loaves and two fish was overflowing.

Here we learn two important things. Firstly, Jesus is willing to accept and bless abundantly what we may think too small or little. We are encouraged to offer our five loaves and two fish to the Lord Jesus. Our UBF ministry has been the ministry of offering five loaves and two fish to Jesus. When one student had no money to offer, he donated his blood and made some money to offer to God. Some saved bus fare. These were their heart-offering to God. The Bible teachings of many of UBF members were not perfect but they gave their imperfect yet sincere Bible teaching to God. Some offered their broken hearts when their Bible students left them. God accepted all their hearts and really blessed the work abundantly, working in his own way. There are many inspiring great messages on the internet. But I have offered my weekly message to God as my five loves and two fish, which is like mom’s homemade food different from a luxurious restaurants’ gourmet food. I want to offer it continually by God’s grace. May we learn all the more the secret of receiving God’s blessing, that is, to offer our five loaves and two fish to him.

Secondly, Jesus had his disciples distribute the food to the crowd, group by group. We can imagine Jesus breaking the bread and giving them to his disciples and the disciples distributing and setting them before the people and returning to Jesus again and again. Jesus did not make one big heap of bread and have the crowd come and eat. No. His way was the process of repeated breaking and giving and distributing until the food was set before the five thousand people. From Jesus’ viewpoint, he broke the bread to feed them one by one. We can worry about how to feed so many U of T students with the word of God. But God wants us to do it one by one and he will bless the work.

Jesus feeding the five thousand can be the picture of the kingdom of God. The Bible talks about the feast in the kingdom of God, which is like a great banquet (Lk 14:16; 15:23). It is because of Jesus’ abundant heart. He came to feed all the hungry souls of this world and bring them to the kingdom of God. He is the Messiah.

May God help us to accept Jesus’ word, “You give them something to eat” and take responsibility and learn his shepherd heart for his flock at U of T and partake in his messianic work with faith, offering our five loaves of bread and two fish to him. May God’s kingdom come into the hearts of freshmen and his kingdom be expanded in U of T through us.

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