MESSAGE DELIVERED: FEBRUARY 12, 2017
This is probably one of the most recognized stories in the Bible. It seems like everyone, even those who have never opened a Bible or darkened the doors of a church, still have somehow heard of the event we just read. In fact, a little boy in a Sunday School class was asked what his favorite Bible story was, and he answered “I like that one where everybody just loafs and fishes”.
So everybody knows the story. What amazes me is how many people that KNOW it, don’t BELIEVE it!
But, the story itself is pretty straight-forward. Jesus had just received the news that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been murdered by Herod. We know from Luke 1:36 that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John, were related, so Jesus and John probably were cousins, even though there is no clue that they had ever met before Jesus showed up where John was baptizing.
But Jesus was well aware that John was the Heaven-sent HERALD, that was to announce the arrival of the Messiah, and He was saddened by John’s necessary but brutal death, and had gone to this place to be alone with the Father as he grieved for John.
So Jesus had gone out alone to grieve, not even the disciples had gone with Him, although they would soon follow, along with the crowds. Jesus has sought for solitude, but the crowds wouldn’t even allow Him that small kindness. Jesus had a reputation as a healer of all sorts of maladies, and the people were not the least bit concerned about HIS needs, all they want is for THEIR needs to be met.
So the crowds follow Him. And this was likely a spot the disciples knew of, so when the crowds came looking for Jesus, the disciples had simply led them here, to where He was.
But I’d like to point out a common mistranslation that occurs in many translations. It says that the place where Jesus was, was a “deserted” place, but that should actually be a “DESERT” place. That’s a small difference, I know, but I think it is an important one. A place can be DESERTED, and still offer the possibility of foraging for food. But this was a DESERT place, where there was NOTHING!
And when Jesus saw the crowds, He could have been angry at them for disturbing His PRIVATE grief. And He could have been angry at the DISCIPLES, for telling the crowds where to find Him. But He did neither of those things. Instead, He looked at the crowds of people, and He saw the ILL, and the MAIMED, and the BLIND, and even the DEMON-POSSESSED, and He was MOVED with COMPASSION for them.
So He came down from the high place where He had gone to be alone with God, and He HEALED them. From morning to evening, He HEALED them!
Jesus had come to this desert place, to deal with His OWN pain…the pain of knowing that John had had to suffer such agony, for HIS sake!
But still, He put away His own pain, to deal with the SELFISH needs of these who had interrupted His grieving.
So all day long He healed all that came to Him, and when evening had come, the disciples came to Jesus saying that it was time to send the crowds away. There was nothing in this place, so the people would have to go to some distant village to buy food for themselves.
We really have no idea where this place was, other than it was desert. Luke says it was near Bethsaida. The last physical place we’re told of was Nazareth, Jesus’ home town, where He had been rejected. And from the village of Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee was about 12 miles, and to reach THIS place, Jesus had taken a boat, so the disciples said the people had to be sent away so they could find food.
But Jesus told them “No. YOU feed them”. And the disciples knew that was not possible, they had come here simply to show the crowds where to find Jesus. They probably didn’t expect this marathon of healing, so they hadn’t brought any supplies, even for themselves. And this crowd numbered in the thousands!
In fact, the only food they had was the LUNCH one small boy had thought to bring with him as he came to watch the show. Two small smoked fish, and five loaves of bread. And don’t think MARKET loaves, like you might buy. These were more like BISCUITS. And what was THAT, even among the DISCIPLES, let alone all those thousands of hungry people?
But I want you to understand the IMPORTANCE of what is about to take place. The event is SO important, that all FOUR of the Gospel writers relate it. And it is in JOHN’S Gospel that we find the fact that this food WAS a small boy’s lunch.
So, as the day wore on, we can probably assume that the people who were gathered here had begun to wonder where they were going to FIND food, but nobody wanted to LEAVE, because the HEALING was still going on.
And this little boy, was ALSO moved with compassion, but for JESUS!…while the OTHERS were only concerned about themselves…so he gave his lunch to Jesus. But the disciples looked at that meager meal, and said “What good is THAT, when there are so MANY people”?
But Jesus was moved by the plight of so many hungry people, in such an inhospitable place, and also moved with tenderness, that the little boy was willing to give up his own food.
So He had the people seat themselves on the ground, and He held the tiny bit of food up high, and blessed it, thanked God for it, then He broke the fish in half, broke the biscuits in half, and gave half of them to Philip, and half of them to Thomas, then He gave another half to Peter and still another half to James…and so on, until all the twelve had received a portion, and they then went among the crowds passing out those portions. But the more they gave away, the more they had.
And they kept giving those portions away, until everyone had received a share (including the small boy who gave it in the first place. Even though he gave away all he had, he still had it! That’s a truth about giving to the Lord that a lot of people don’t seem to grasp…you CANNOT out-give the Lord!)
So everyone was fed, as much as they wanted, each one ate his/her fill…and when the fragments were gathered up, there were TWELVE BASKETS FULL that remained. Far more than they had when they started. And I’m gonna say that it was likely the very BEST bread and fish that crowd had ever EATEN, because they will soon come back looking for more, but that’s for another story.
The plain facts of the story are: what they had was TOO SMALL to meet the need, and yet everyone got all they wanted, and there was far more LEFT than they STARTED with…and THAT is where all the disagreements come in. I told you at the start that many who KNOW this story, don’t BELIEVE it, and I was not talking about the HEATHENS.
Many otherwise staunch men of God…raise OBJECTIONS to all this, and attempt to EXPLAIN AWAY this MIRACLE that God wants us all to know about! Men like Albert Schweitzer, a man who gave his life to serve as a doctor and missionary in Africa, healing bodies and spreading the Gospel…for all the wonderful and good things that he did for the cause of Christ, could not accept this simple truth!
He thought he had to have a rational explanation, so he came UP with one! Schweitzer decided that everyone was so impressed with Jesus, that when the food was passed out, each took only a tiny CRUMB from the bread and fish, and were satisfied.
We’re told there were 5,000 men…plus women…plus children. Do you think you could divide five biscuits among maybe 15,000 people? Each small biscuit divided into 5,000 individual pieces?
Another ‘common explanation’ is that everyone there secretly already HAD brought food with them, and when they saw the small boy’s generosity, they brought out their own food and shared that. So the whole thing turned into a “pot-luck supper”. But if you’ve ever been TO a pot-luck supper, then you know the idea of having more food left over than you started with is pretty farfetched!
There was a third, even more farfetched attempts to explain away this miraculous event, according to a Dr. George Lamsa. He claimed the REAL miracle was the timing of the arrival of a CARAVAN of pack-animals, loaded with food, sent by a thoughtful merchant from a nearby village.
He offers as PROOF of this, the question: “It says there were twelve baskets of food gathered up. So, where did those BASKETS come from?” Now, obviously, I have fallen for mistranslation in the past, so now I always try to check. And I was once TOLD, that the word used for ‘basket’ in the 14th chapter of Matthew, is the same word used in the 9th chapter of Acts, where it speaks of Paul being lowered over the wall of Damascus in a basket.
THAT would have to be a very LARGE basket, for sure. But when I checked I found that instead of using OPOVIUS, as in Acts, Matthew used KOPHINOS, which is a small, flexible basket, more like a SATCHEL, such as a woman might use on a trip to the market. So, of the 15 or 20 thousand people here, probably at least half of them would have such a basket with them.
It pains me when learned men like Dr. Schweitzer and others, cannot accept the SIMPLE, and FANTASTIC truth, that God is ABLE to meet our needs. Instead people search for “rational” explanations, rather than accept that the God who created Heaven and Earth in the first place, HAS the ability to DO the UNdoable!
Instead, those men stretch their own credibility by trying to explain away the UNexplainable, while refusing to embrace the miraculous.
I don’t even want to think of how empty life would be, if I did not have the FAITH to accept that God CAN DO the IMPOSSIBLE!: the God who MADE us, LOVES us, and is MORE than capable of supplying our needs. He KNOWS our needs, and He WILL meet them, if WE will have Faith!
I mean, He supplied the Israelites with bread, every day for forty years, in the wilderness, but people try to explain THAT away, too.
In Bristol, England, a man named George Mueller established an amazing orphanage. He was a man that knew that God could supply all needs. As long as he served as director of the orphanage, they never had to resort to fundraising drives, or appeal to the public for money, and the necessary funds always arrived, when they were needed.
One of the stories told of that orphanage went like this: An assistant came to Director Mueller an hour before dinner time to say “We have no bread for the children”. Mueller said “Have no fear. The Lord will provide”.
Half an hour later the assistant came back, saying “There is still no bread and it’s time to get the children started getting ready to eat”. Mueller said “Get the children washed up and ready. The Lord will supply.”
Then the children marched into the dining hall and stood at their places, and the assistant is now frantic, saying “There is no bread! What can we do”? Mueller said “There will be bread. Have the children say Grace”.
As the children finished reciting their prayer with a loud “Amen”, two trucks pulled into the driveway. It seemed that a merchant in the city was facing the weekend with an OVER-supply of bread, and rather than see it go stale, he said he had felt an ‘URGING’ to donate it to the orphanage, where it arrived JUST in time for the evening meal.
There’s also an interesting sequel to this story. Mueller later that same evening called that assistant into his study, and informed him that he was being let go. Mueller said “I can’t afford to have someone in my employ who would doubt God’s ability to provide, three times in the space of a single hour”!
Haven’t YOU ever been in a desperate situation like that, where time was running out, and saw God’s help arrive, just in the nick of time, and probably from an unexpected source? God IS ABLE to help us!
And, as we see in this miracle of the “loaves and fishes”, God in CHRIST IS concerned about people.
One of the most beautiful things about Jesus is His compassion for people. All through the Gospels He calls out to the TIRED, the HUNGRY, the HURTING…saying “Come unto Me”…and when He encounters the afflicted, like old blind Bartimaeus, He says “Bring him to Me”.
Often we are told when Jesus saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them. Jesus came here with ONE purpose in mind, to seek and to save that which was lost.
We have a Savior who knows our every need and care, because he has experienced them, first hand. Jesus has compassion for us because, first, He loves us, and second, because He has already experienced everything that we can possibly experience.
He has been doubted…denied…betrayed, and completely BROKEN in body. He has experienced hunger…thirst…mind-numbing fatigue, anything that we can experience. So when we hurt, He understands.
But, there is a PRINCIPLE involved in this story…God does His best work, when we are willing to GIVE Him something to work WITH! Maybe it’s a little bit of fish and bread…maybe it’s a TRUCK-full of bread…but when we give God something to work WITH, He can do WONDERS in our lives.
So let me ask you a question this morning…do YOU have some loaves and fishes that you could bring to the Lord, so He can use them in a miraculous way? And wait a minute before you say “no”…and take stock of your life for a bit. Do you have a POSSESSION…or maybe a TALENT, or some ABILITY, that maybe you are thinking is TOO SMALL for God to use?
Well, what were FIVE LITTLE BISCUITS, in the face of maybe 20,000 people? In the Hands of Jesus, they were MORE than ENOUGH! So the real QUESTION I’m asking you is…DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT?
Faced with the familiar story of the feeding of the multitudes, many people, even many who should know better, will try to EXPLAIN AWAY the mighty workings of God, rather than accept the simple truth: GOD IS COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE…AND HE IS MORE THAN ABLE TO MEET OUR NEEDS…AND, HE IS WILLING TO MEET OUR NEEDS!
Do you want to take a life that is EMPTY…and DREARY…and FILL it with WONDER and AMAZEMENT? Then let the SIMPLE but AWESOME TRUTH take root in your heart…that the God who LOVES you enough to let HIS OWN SON “DIE” in your place, also loves you enough to FILL all your NEEDS, and to UNDERSTAND all your HURTS!
If you will give Him whatever it is that you have, He will magnify it, and multiply it…and create wonders with it. And like that small boy that gave away his lunch, but still got to EAT it,…there is NO WAY you can lose…unless you selfishly or unbelievably, try to hang ON to it, and refuse to allow it to help others. In which case the Lord will simply make ANOTHER way to meet that need, and the only LOSER will be the one who REFUSED to BELIEVE.
Jesus took all your SINS, and GUILTS, and SHAMES, and BORE them on Calvary’s Cross…and in their place, He gave you His SALVATION, FORGIVENESS, and ETERNAL LIFE in GLORY!
In exchange for all that, are you willing to give HIM your little biscuits, that He might use them to bless MULTITUDES, and YOU, at the same time?
That’s going to be your invitation this morning. Number 333 “His Way With Thee”…and the first thing I need to ask you is, have you ever opened your heart and let the Savior come in, in the first place? Are you SAVED from the world of sin that surrounds us? And do you WANT to be? I don’t know why ANYone would refuse to accept the precious gift…but I know that so MANY people DO…for reasons I can’t begin to understand.
So I’m pleading with you today, to let him come into your life, and clean up the mess you’ve made of it…let Him set you on the path that leads to Glory and Peace.
Or, if you ARE already saved, are you stubbornly hanging on to some small thing that keeps you from fully EXPERIENCING the JOYS of that Salvation; maybe something that in the Lord’s Hands can work wonders?
Or are you harboring some secret SIN…or ANGER…or SHAME? You can be FREED of that today, if you will just come to Jesus and GIVE Him that which is HOLDING you back.
Will you finally today, let Him have His way with you? Because HIS way is the BEST way!