Our study of the Word of God again this morning is taken from the fourteenth chapter of Matthew, that first gospel. Matthew chapter 14. And in our study today, we come to a high point in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ: a familiar account we know as the feeding of the 5,000. Matthew 14, beginning at verse 13, and we’ll look all the way down to about verse 22.
This particular miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded by all four gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and thus we conclude that it is of unique quality. Each writer, in fact, not only includes the miracle, but puts it at a point of climax in the life and ministry of our Lord.
When the Lord began His great Galilean ministry, it was a ministry in which He sought publicity. He sought the crowds. He sought the populous in the cities. He sought to make known to them His name. He sought to demonstrate to them His power through mighty works. He sought to teach them the words concerning the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven.
He sought the crowds. He sought the open places. He desired the publicity. He wanted to manifest Himself as the King offering a kingdom. And as we have seen Him do that, we have begun to note that the religious leadership has rejected Him; and there is a rising hostility along with this increasing publicity that our Lord has sought.
Now as we come to this particular miracle, His popularity reaches a pinnacle. In fact, the result of this miracle is that the people in general in Galilee want to take Him by force and make Him the king. They are enamored with Him. They are fascinated by Him. They are in awe of Him. They willingly follow Him. This is a high point.
But it also marks the beginning of His withdrawal, because just prior to this very high point of popularity has been the murder of John the Baptist. And so there now is not only religious hostility from the Pharisees and the religious leaders who manifested that, as we saw in chapters 11 and 12, but there is political hostility as well. Herod is the petty monarch who rules the area of Galilee, who is very threatened by the Lord Jesus, as he was by John the Baptist. And so because of the hostility of both the religious leaders and the political leaders, the Lord now begins to withdraw following this miracle.
It is clear that even with those who see Him as the King, there is great superficiality, there is great shallowness. And so in a very real sense, He is under threat by His enemies: the Pharisees, and the Herodians. And He is even under threat by His would-be friends – the crowd – who want to push Him into some political monarchy, which is not at all in God’s design, as was made evident by the words of our Lord in John 18 when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” not on the terms of men’s kingdoms.
So because of all of these converging pressures, this is the pinnacle of His popularity, and at the same time, marks the departure into seclusion that begins from here on; until finally, as we move through this, the last year of His life, He spends most of His time only with the twelve disciples, readying them for what is about to happen in His death and resurrection, and preparing them for the task at hand, as they will be the foundation for the building of the church. So all the writers then mark out this miracle as a very, very climactic moment in the life of Jesus Christ. Now as we flow through this miracle, I want you to just see a series of points which overrule one another that’ll take us through the understanding that we need; and then we’ll talk about the lessons that are taught by this wonderful account.
Now it all begins in verse 13 with what I’ll call, “The desire for privacy. The desire for privacy.” “When Jesus heard, He departed from there by boat into a desert” – or wilderness – “privately.” Now here we see the Lord’s desire for privacy. It says at the beginning of verse 13, “When Jesus heard.” When He heard what? “When He heard not only that John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod, but that Herod also believed that He” – that is Jesus – “was John risen from the dead, He then withdrew.”
Why? Was He afraid of Herod? Not at all. But He would not expose Himself needlessly to the imminent danger of such a person as Herod, whom He later called a sly fox. But if Herod was intimidated by John the Baptist, and so intimidated not only by John, but by his own wife, and by the people around him, that he murdered John the Baptist, he would stop at nothing to murder the one whom John the Baptist announced as the True King. Jesus knew full well that Herod’s father, Herod the Great, had murdered every male child in the vicinity of Jerusalem and Bethlehem in order that he might stamp out one who was supposed to be a king. And this, his son, would perhaps do no less if he were convinced that Jesus was a threat to his reign. And so our Lord withdraws privately by boat across the Sea of Galilee to a wilderness place.
I think it’s important to understand that the Lord knew that the people also saw the Messiah as a political ruler, as a king who would overthrow the Herodian dynasty, and overthrow the Roman monarchy, and establish independence and freedom for the land of Israel. And because our Lord knew that that was the people’s perception, He knew that’s what would come back to Herod, and only complicate and endanger both He and His disciples to a greater extent. And so He sought privacy.
Now it wasn’t easy to find privacy in Galilee, to be honest. The area is very small. It’s 50 miles long and 25 miles wide; and there were 204 towns, the least of which had 15,000 people in it. So it was very densely populated, thick with humanity. And to find a place of seclusion would indeed be a very difficult thing. But our Lord sought it out, a wilderness place, and He went there by boat privately.
Now it wasn’t only because of the threat of danger imminent in the situation regarding Herod, He went there for some other reasons. I believe He went there also because He needed refreshment; He needed rest. He needed solitude with the Father. He needed time to contemplate the meaning of the death of John the Baptist. He knew now that the cross loomed imminent in the future. By the way, it was only a year now till He would be crucified.
It also is indicated to us by Luke and Mark, who write of this same incident, that His disciples were with Him. They had now returned from their short-term mission of preaching and teaching the kingdom, healing diseases, casting out demons throughout Galilee. And they had come back, and it was time for fellowship. It was time for them to report to Him. It was time for a debriefing, if you will, on the mission. It was time for further preparation for what was now ahead of them, as the hostility had mounted, religiously and politically. And the people’s misguided direction to make Him a king was also a pressure. It was a time of important instruction for them.
And so it says in verse 13, “He departed from there,” – there being Capernaum, the city where His ministry had centered in Galilee – “and He went by boat into this wilderness place. After the unceasing ministry, the business of that time in Galilee, He sought a private, secret place. He tried even to go secretly, but was unsuccessful, because the crowd was constantly watching Him.
Now as to what place He went, Luke 9:10 tells us He went to a place called Bethesda, or Bethsaida. And, basically, there were two of those: one on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and one on the western. The one on the east was identified as Bethsaida Julia, because it was named by Philip the tetrarch for the daughter of Augustus Caesar. Luke says that’s where He went.
About a mile south of that particular town, there was a grassy hillside which swept up from the plain by the Sea of Galilee to a high mountain. Jesus took His disciples, got out of the little boat, and ascended that slope, and found seclusion, no doubt, in the trees up the hill; and desired time with them: time in prayer, time in planning, time in instruction, time in rest and refreshment. But the desire for privacy is overruled, and it is overruled by the second point we want you to see: The design of the people. The design of the people.
Verse 13: “And when the people had heard, they followed Him on foot out of the cities.” The cities – as I said, 204 of them: towns and villages, and so forth in Galilee – began to empty their people into an accumulating mass of humanity, walking; that is traveling by foot across the northern end of the Sea of Galilee to go to the place where they had noted Jesus was going in the little boat.
One of the other writers tells us that some were even there already when He arrived – the fast ones, the ones who ran. The lame and the blind, and those who were diseased and ill who had come for healing, would have arrived much later. And so even though there were some who were there before He arrived, He went beyond them into the mountain with the twelve, and sought the time of solace and quiet.
But the crowd begins to collect. And John 6:2 tells us why, very simply. It says that, “They followed Him out of the cities, because they saw His miracles which He did on those who were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there sat with His disciples.”
The next verse say, “The Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.” And so you had, no doubt, not only the people collecting out of the towns and villages, but pilgrims on the way to the Passover who would have swelled the crowd in addition. They were definitely impressed with Jesus. They had seen Him heal diseases; that was very impressive. That’s what attracted them. People are always drawn even to would-be false healers, to say nothing of one who legitimately had banished disease from their land by His multiplied healings. And so the crowd begins to accumulate from Capernaum, and Chorazin, and Bethsaida west, and Bethsaida Julia, and all the other little towns and villages around Galilee.
Frankly, the majority of them were thrill-seekers. They sought Him, not because they wanted to believe what He said; they sought Him, not because they wanted to worship and adore Him; they sought Him for the simple reason they saw the diseases that He healed, and they wanted to get in on the wonder-working; maybe have it applied to their own disease; surely to at least be fascinated by it. We might say that they are like the shallow soil of the parable of the soils in Matthew 13; and they are like the weedy or thorny soil. There is an initial curiosity. There’s an initial, sort of, interest and excitement. And believe me, this group is excited.
Before this event is over, they want to take Jesus by force and make Him the king. They really are saying to themselves, “This may be the Messiah. But we’ve not seen such power displayed ever.” And so there is a certain kind of curiosity. The seed has taken some root in the ground, but the soil is very shallow and very weedy; and their love of the world, and their love of riches, and their desire not to pay any price at all in such an enterprise causes them ultimately to vanish from the scene, and walk away from Jesus Christ.
Their perspective is totally self-centered. They are self-indulgent. They want to follow Him for the healings. They would like Him to pull off a revolution and throw out their oppressors. They would like Him to establish a utopia.
They are like the thrill-seekers today who follow Jesus for their own self-indulgent purposes. And they also are not the true worshipers whom the Father seeks. And their commitment is choked out by the love of indulgence and by their shallowness. And so we see the design of the people.
But even in spite of that, we see a third point here that overrules the design of the people, and that is the deeds of pity. God even pities and extends compassion and mercy in Christ to these thrill-seekers, these very shallow people – again revealing the heart of God toward all men, even those who do not understand, will not believe, and ultimately reject the truth.
But notice verse 14: “And Jesus went forth.” That means He went forth out of that mountain place where He was with the disciples. The crowd by now had become swollen. The accumulation ultimately, verse 21 says, reached 5,000 men. And you can be assured that there would be at least 5,000 women, and very likely even more than that; for women were uniquely drawn to Christ.
And then in addition to that, the multiples of children would be beyond the ability to number or calculate. In those days, children were a blessing from the Lord in the sight of the people; and they desired to have as many as possible in most cases. And there may have been 25,000. That may be conservative, including the men, the women, and the children.
And so a great crowd has found its way to the soft, grassy slope down by the Sea, as Jesus comes out of the mountain. And it says, “He saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion.” That means “to suffer with.” He felt their pain, He felt their hurt, He felt their need, and He went forth toward them, “and He healed their sick.”
I suppose humanly speaking, we would have said, “Go away. We’re having a meeting that’s not open to the public.” Or, “Go away. We need refreshment. We need time to ourselves.” Or, “Go away. God has called us apart, and this is His plan for now, we’ll deal with you later.”
But the text says, “He was moved with compassion.” That means His heart went out to them. It wasn’t so much a cognitive thing. It wasn’t so much analysis. It wasn’t so much that He just reasoned what was the right thing to do in the divine mind, and stepped out and did it. It is the term, basically the root splagchnon, which speaks of the visceral area, the bowels. He felt the pain.
Jesus Christ, though God, was not coldly calculating and analytical in terms of the needs of men; He was passionate. He felt the pain in His own heart. And the Hebrew always identifies emotion in the bowels, or the visceral area, because anxiety and trauma and compassion and emotion has an effect on our stomachs. It hits us here.
And so Jesus felt pain, genuine emotion, as when He stood over the city of Jerusalem; and tears ran down His cheeks. And He said, “How oft I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her brood; but you would not.” Or as He stood over the grave of Lazarus. And again, the tears coursed His cheeks, as He wept over the identification of pain and emotion in the death of one whom He loved and whom His friends loved.
He represented God, just as Jeremiah did in chapter 13 when he called to Israel to repent, and said, “If you don’t, Mine eye will run down with tears, and I will weep for your destruction.” He wept, as it were, in heart, like Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 11, who was in mourning, and in weariness, and in anxiety so often in his ministry as he saw the needs of men.
And I really believe that this is a mark of God. As we read in the beginning of our worship this morning from Psalm 146, God’s heart goes out to those in need. And it is not an issue of whether they will respond or reciprocate by believing; it is that God’s heart goes out to those in need anyway. And I believe that’s why, in chapter 10, the Lord said to the disciples, “I’m going to give you the power to heal diseases.”
It was not just that that would demonstrate divine power; He could have demonstrated divine power by having them fly, or leap tall buildings in a single bound, or walk on water, or create food, or any number of ways to describe and demonstrate divine power. But the reason He gave them the ability to cure disease is because He was not only demonstrating divine power, but divine compassion, and the heart of God toward those who hurt.
And so Jesus felt pain in His splagchnon, in the visceral area. His heart was grieving when He saw the crowd. And, of course, the grief was spurred by the perfect perception of hell that He had in His mind, and the genuine reality of the state of man, which He saw without any hindrance. So He suffered with them, and He moved away from the time with the disciples. And the Bible tells us in verse 14 He healed their sick.
The word “sick” is a special word. It means “the strengthless ones,” “the ones without strength,” who, no doubt, had made great sacrifice to even be there. How they had made it in this foot journey speaks of their concern, speaks of their hope that they’ll find some healing when they get there; and they did.
And so our Lord healed them. He sets aside His rest. He sets aside His refreshment. He sets aside His priority of time with the disciples. And that is such a wonderful thing, because it gives us hope in our need, that God is never too involved in the running of the universe and all of the biggies of the priority plan; but that He can set it aside to stoop to one who has a need. And so the deeds of pity overrule even the design of the people.
But the deeds of pity are overruled too in the story. We just sort of bask in the wonder of our Lord’s compassion, and we are faced with the dullness of perspective in verse 15. And we read, “It was evening,” – nearly so – “and His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘This is a wilderness place, and the time is now late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.’”
Now the disciples are very concerned with the feeding of this group. They have had a long journey, and that has incited their hunger. There has been a busy, busy day – and you don’t see that in Matthew’s rendition of the account. Between verses 14 and 15, there is an interlude that you must know. So turn for a moment to John 6, and we’ll fill in that gap. In the sixth chapter of John we have John’s account of the same event.
Jesus steps out of that position with the disciples on the hill and starts to do His healing. And at that very juncture, John fills in the narrative in verse 5: “When Jesus lifted up His eyes, and saw a great company come to Him,” – He’s just stepping out, He’s going to go down and heal them; and He initiates something with Philip – “He comes and says to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’”
Now He plants a problem in Philip’s mind. “This is a real problem. Now, Philip, I’m going to go down, and I’m going to spend the day with these people.” And Mark and Luke, by the way, add that He not only healed them, but He taught them concerning the kingdom of God. So He spent the day healing and teaching, healing and teaching, all day, giving Himself, out of compassion, to the multitude. But before He even started that, He plants a question in Philip’s mind: “Where are we going to buy bread to feed this group?”
Now there are several reasons why He asked that to Philip. Number one reason is, because Philip was from that area – it’s most likely – and would have known the resources, the places where such food might be gained. And, secondly, “He asked Philip” – verse 6 says – “to test him.” Philip basically was like a lot of us; he was thick. I mean it took him a long time to get the picture.
In John 14, “Philip says, Show us the Father.’ And the Lord says, ‘Have I been so long with you, Philip, and you still don’t know? If you’ve seen Me, you’ve’ – what? – ‘you’ve seen the Father.’” And so this is a test for Philip.
“Now, Philip, I’m going to heal, and I’m going to go down, and I’m going to take care of the teaching of the kingdom. You just work on this problem: How are we going to feed the people?”
Philip must have gone and reported this to the other eleven, and said, “Hey, guys, we’ve got to figure out a way to feed these people while the Lord is doing all this.” And they wracked their brain all day and never came up with an answer.
In fact, Philip said, “Look, we’ve 200 denarii. We’ve got 200 days wages.” Probably that’s what they had in their little treasury that they used to buy their own resources. “We’ve got this, and that’s all we’ve got. And even if we could find a place to buy enough, this wouldn’t do it. If we used all of this, we wouldn’t get enough for people to take small bites. So there’s no resource.”
Andrew comes, and he sort of tongue in cheek says, “Well, Lord, I’ve been through the whole group. I found one kid with five flat barley cakes and a couple of pickled fish.” They used to take those little barley cakes – barley being the cheapest grain; and the poorer the people, the more likely they would be to use barley, and make little bread cakes like a cracker kind of thing. And then they would take the fish – and they were commonly pickled – and then use like a relish on that little bread.
“And that’s it. I mean so there’s two problems, Lord. One, we don’t have any food; two, we don’t have enough money to buy any food.” And so they have a whole day to stew over this. This is a day-long test, and the Lord goes on about His business of healing, and bringing the people the knowledge of the kingdom. And they’re fuddling around, trying to figure out how to solve the problem.
Finally, evening comes, and they are no closer to a solution than they were at the first; and verse 15 then picks it up. The Jews had two evenings: one was 3 to 6, the other was 6 to 9. This was the first evening, prior to the setting of the sun. “And the disciples came to Him, and they said, ‘This is a wilderness place, Lord, and the time is now late. And You’ve got send the crowd away so they can get into the villages and buy some food before it’s too late.’” That was their solution. Good, huh? “Just get rid of them. Send them away.”
Now I confess to you that if you wanted to believe anything, you would have to believe that the twelve, who had seen Jesus walk into Galilee and heal everybody in sight, who had seen Him create wine at a wedding, who had seen Him raise the dead, who had seen Him and calm the sea and control the wind, who had seen miracle after miracle, who had seen Him do the same through them in their recent ministry, at least the twelve would have said, “Lord, You can do it. Just say, ‘Food,’ and it’ll all appear.” I mean it doesn’t seem like too much faith when you’ve seen as much as they’ve seen.
But they are thick. It’s like a man standing in front of Niagara Falls asking if anybody knows where he can get a drink. The power’s all there, they just are too blind to see it.
And before you criticize them too strongly, remember in your own life how many times in the past God has met your needs, and how in the last crisis, or the present one, you’re struggling, trying to figure out where the resources are going to come from. And so they come, and they have no answer. “Send them away, Lord. Get rid of them.”
Verse 16, I love this. “The Lord says, ‘They need not depart. Give them food.’” “Give them food; sure. We don’t have any food.” He knew that. Why would He say that: “Give them food”? Very simple. He is making them face the fact that they don’t have any food.
You say, “They already knew that.” Yeah, He just wanted to be sure it was really solid in their knowledge, the admission of no resources. “Give them to eat.” And they said, “All we have is five bread cakes and two fish; that’s it.” I mean infinitesimal bites, you can’t get it around 25,000 people. They’re baffled. And they’re right where the Lord wants them, see.
It’s very important that they say, “We haven’t got it, and we can’t get it. If you look at what we’ve got, it isn’t enough. If you look at what we could get with what we’ve got, it isn’t enough either. So we haven’t got it, and we can’t get it.”
Great spiritual lesson for all who serve God. You haven’t got it, and you can’t get it, any more than they could. It’s a dullness of their perspective. And it’s strange that nobody said, “Hey, guys, the Lord could just create it.” But there’s none of that.
And then He adds another interesting command as we come to the next point. Their dullness of perspective is overruled by His display of power; and this is just incredible. Here we come to the great part of the story. There dullness of perspective is overruled by the display of power. And in verse 18, He says, “Bring them here to Me. Bring Me those five little bread cakes and two fish.”
Now in a sense, He’s saying to them, “Now you don’t have it, and you can’t get it; but what you do have, give Me, so that you really have nothing.” And you can imagine that they’re sort of sitting back, saying, “We’ll never be able to feed this crowd, but maybe we can hang on to the five loaves and two fish, and the little kid will get lost, and at least we can eat. I mean it won’t be a lot, but it’ll keep us alive.” But He says, “I want that. Give Me that, the bread and fish.”
And then verse 19, He does a very strange thing: He commands the multitude to sit down on the grass. It is the spring of the year, the grass is green. Oh, what a lovely spot, the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
I’ve been there several times, and it’s absolutely beautiful. And the grass sloping down to that little plain would be a beautiful place to sit. You’d have the sun setting over there in the west, and the little whitecaps starting to ripple up as the breeze comes across the Sea of Galilee in the evening. Oh, a wonderful time in the spring. The air is cool, and they’re all in the nice grass, and they’re going to have a picnic.
And Mark tells us that they were told by the Lord to seat the people in groups of 50 and 100 with aisles in between, so they could serve them. And, of course, the disciples are obeying the Lord, and they can’t figure anything out. They still don’t know what is going on.
It’s a wonderful thing that Mark says. Mark says, “He sat them prasia, prasia,” garden bed by garden bed, which is a very vivid description. The green grass, the little aisles in between, and in groups of 50 and 100, clustered were these people in brightly-colored oriental garments, which would have looked like little garden beds of flowers in among the green grass, if you saw it from God’s perspective.
And so they’re all seated, wonderfully in order, prepared to be served; only thing is, there’s nothing to serve them. And then this is even more interesting: “He took the five bread cakes and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and thanked God.” And you’ve got to know the disciples are peeking during this prayer to see where the delivery truck is. He’s thanking the Lord for these things in His hand, as if we’re all going to have a wonderful feast; and this is it.
By the way, it says, “He blessed.” In the same indication in John 6:11, it says He said “thanks.” Therefore we conclude that saying thanks to God and blessing God are the same. And so we bless the Lord; we say thanks to the Lord. “And then He broke the little barley cakes, and He gave them to the disciples; and the disciples gave them to the multitude.”
Now the miracle is almost hidden, isn’t it? There’s no fanfare. It doesn’t say He got up on top of the mountain and said, “Food.” Doesn’t say that angels flew all over, and trumpets blew, and the earth shook. He just started handing out bread and fish, and they just never stopped. He just created them.
And it must have been good, because it had never been touched by the curse, you know. The best bread they ever ate, and the best fish; and it just kept coming. But He gave it to them, and they started passing it out.
And you say, “Well, how much was there?” Well, verse 20 says, “They did all eat, and were chortazō” You say, “It doesn’t say that in my Bible.” Oh, yes, it does; you just didn’t know it.
Chortazō is the word used of an animal who’s into the feed trough for all he can get, or a horse who’s in the feed bucket. It means foddered up. They were all foddered up. They all ate as much as they wanted. And you can know that if it was uncursed barley cakes and uncursed fish, they had a lot. It must have been the best stuff they ever ate. And they were totally satisfied. They had all they wanted.
Isn’t that like the Lord? He doesn’t say, “Now, now, just a bite or two.” “All you want. The supply was exactly equal to the demand.
“And after everybody had gotten foddered up,” – by the way, that’s the same word used in Revelation 19:21, where you see the birds that come to the great day of the Lord, and they gorge themselves on the flesh. It’s a word that is used in Matthew 5:6, “Of those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, they shall be” – what? – “filled.” That’s a very, very abundant concept.
And, of course, there was some left. And how interesting. When they collected all the fragments, how many basketfuls did they get? Twelve. Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t that interesting.
How many disciples were there? Twelve. Amazing. As great a wonder as the ability to create was the ability to create exactly the amount that satisfied everybody, with exactly twelve baskets left over for the disciples. Now that’s the economy of God. He doesn’t waste His miracles.
You say, “Well, what about the Lord? There wasn’t any for Him.” Yeah, and that was going to be another lesson for the disciples. If He was to eat, guess where He’d have to get it? From them.
Well, what was the reaction? Verse 21 says that, “They that had eaten,” – the Greek participle “they that were the eaters” were 5,000 men and women and children. What was the reaction of this group? I’ll tell you what it was. John 6:15 says they tried to make Him king. They tried to take Him by force and make Him a king.
That was all they needed – free food. Talk about a campaign promise. I mean He could not only heal all their diseases, but He gave free food, and the best-tasting food there ever was. Anybody who could heal all the diseases, cast out demons, raise the dead, and give free food, could overthrow the Romans, bring a revolution, bring a utopia – the ultimate welfare state. This has got to be the king, and so their political aspirations reached a fever pitch, and they tried to force the issue.
And then verse 22 says, “Jesus constrained His disciples” – which means they must have sort of fought against it. They now get the message, by the way, that He had the power. “He constrained them to get into a boat.” They didn’t want to leave Him, I don’t think. “But He sent them away before Him; He’d come later. And then He had sent the multitudes away.” And verse 23 says, “He went into a mountain privately to pray. And when the evening” – that’s the second evening – “was come, He was there alone.”
Now the dull disciples were gone, the enthusiastic crowd was gone. He was in the solitude of the Father, alone. He had just put on a display like the world has never seen or will never see until Jesus comes again. He had demonstrated such incredible power; and they had been there, the whole crowd, and seen it all.
Now in conclusion, listen carefully. There are some lessons here that are the sum of what the Lord wants to teach us in this incident. I call them “the divine purposes.” We’ve seen the desire for privacy give way to the design of the people, which gave way to the deeds of pity, which gave way to the dullness of perspective, and then to the display of power; and now there’s some divine principles.
The Lord was teaching here. All of this was a massive lesson. And there are three groups in this crowd. There are the twelve; and this was for the training of the twelve. And there is the elect remnant, and this was for the confirmation of the faith of the elect. And there is the rejecting, shallow thrill-seeker; and this was the unmasking of the thrill-seeker. All of these were in view. Let’s take them one at a time.
What did Jesus teach here in the training of the twelve? He was always involved in training the twelve. He was always involved in doing things that they might learn. What did they learn from this? What practical lessons that they could apply to their ministry, that you can apply to your ministry, that I can apply to my ministry, as disciples of Jesus Christ called to serve Him? I listed some. Listen to them, and think back through the story and see if you can’t identify where they fit.
Lesson number one that I see here is He taught them to withdraw from needless danger. There’s no virtue in a martyr complex. Sensibility says you withdraw from needless danger.
Secondly, He taught them that it was important to seek rest and solitude for refreshment and the restoration of strength for the task. The Lord needed that, and He knew they needed that, and He knows you need that – that place of solitude, that place of quiet, that place of solace, that place of refreshment.
Thirdly, He demonstrated to them how important it is to spend time with those who labor with you. He took the twelve; they needed time together. There was a mutual stimulation there, a mutual strength. That was all part of discipling, was to share His life with them, and they with each other.
Fourthly, He taught them the lesson about compassion for those in need. He showed them the heart of God, which was a heart broken over the needs of men; not just spiritual needs, but even physical needs reached the heart of God.
Fifthly, He then taught them that sacrificing rest and sacrificing leisure to meet others’ needs demonstrated the caring heart of God. It was a great lesson, because it’s easy to get to the place where you feel your priority right is the right to leisure, when our Lord demonstrates that the priority is to meet needs; and you sacrifice leisure for that.
Number six: I believe He taught them very clearly in this incident, that while you’re meeting physical needs, you’re also teaching the truth of the kingdom, that you can’t just have “a social gospel,” that it is not enough to do just that which men need physically. But while He was healing, He was teaching them the things of the kingdom of God. He would take them at face value in terms of their physical need, but not without trying to turn them to an understanding of their spiritual need. When you reach out to meet someone’s physical need, it is with a view to turning them to the spiritual dimension.
A seventh lesson: I believe He taught the disciples to learn to obey, even if they didn’t understand why. Can you imagine this group of guys organizing all these people into units of 50 and 100 to serve them food they know they don’t have and can’t buy? But they did it. And I imagine when it was all done, they said, “Boy, we want to be sure when the Lord tells us to do things that we don’t understand, to go ahead and do them anyway, because something wonderful might happen.”
Number eight: I think there’s a great lesson here about doing things orderly. God is a God of order. Paul tells that to the Corinthians when he encourages them to do things decently and in order. God is a God of great order; and God doesn’t want any stampede for food. And it’s marvelous how the Lord Jesus sets everybody in the right little garden bed by garden bed, and then has all the disciples moving among them. The God of order. The place for order.
Number nine: God also demonstrated His economy of stewardship. Nothing left over, except enough to fill twelve baskets full, which would have fed the disciples, leaving nothing. Not a waste. God is a steward of His miraculous power. God is a steward, if you can imagine, of infinite treasure. How much more are we to be stewards of finite treasure? No waste.
He also taught them that God was generous. Everybody got all they wanted; everybody was stuffed. Everybody ate as much as they cared to eat. God is not a God who doles it out piece by piece, but a God of abundant supply. And so in ministry should we come to men’s hearts with the heart of God, which is a heart of abundance.
An eleventh lesson: I think He taught them that ministry is looking to provide for others, not yourselves. “Give Me what you’ve got, and we’re going to give it to them.” And they didn’t even get anything to eat until they had fed everybody everything they wanted. And you can imagine them saying, “How long is this going to keep coming I mean if they run out before we get ours?” But there was enough; they had to go around and collect it. But it was there in exactness. The lesson that we are called to provide for others, and God will be sure there’s provision for us.
That’s what He told them in chapter 10, when He said, “Don’t take two coats and two staffs, and don’t take a bunch of money when you go. Just go, and you give yourself away, and charge no man anything; and I’ll make sure your supply is met.”
I think a twelfth lesson: Learn to share with those who have not. I think the Lord didn’t take a basket, because He wanted them to learn to share with Him; and that’s a great lesson.
From all He gives us, we must give back to Him. Isn’t that how it is? He’s given us time; He wants a return. He has given us talent, He’s given us spiritual gifts, He’s given us money, He’s given us possessions, and all of it has come from His creative hand; and He asks that we share it back with Him. That’s what stewardship is. Great lesson.
A thirteenth lesson: Learn to trust the power of God to provide what seems impossible. Learn to trust the power of God to provide what seems impossible. I mean they’re saying, “We don’t have it, and we can’t get it,” and He says, “That’s right where I want you. Now what I want you to learn is, when you come to the point where you don’t have it, and you can’t get it, trust Me to supply it.”
Boy, I think about that in terms of ministry. You know, the responsibility to feed you spiritually, the responsibility week in and week out to represent Christ, to stand between Him and the world, as it were, Him and the church, and to feed the church. And I know basically two things: I don’t have it, and I can’t get it; and that’s why I depend on Him to provide it.
And the real key, people ask me all the time, “What’s the key to preaching?” The real key to preaching is studying the Word of God with diligence, and waiting on the Lord to put the meal together. And you give Him all you’ve got. “Lord, I’ve exegeted the passage. Lord, I’ve read all the stuff on it in theology. Lord, I’ve figured out a few good illustrations. Lord, now will You do something with all this? Here.” And you give Him your five little bread cakes and your two fish, and you say, “Now will you take this and feed the multitude?”
And that takes us to a fourteenth lesson, which is, “Begin with your own available resources.” And even though it’s little, trust God to make it much. As the song says, “Little becomes much when it’s placed in the Master’s hand.”
And it’s amazing you think you have nothing, and you wind up feeding thousands. God can use small things. He used the tear of a baby to move the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter. He used a shepherd’s stick to work mighty miracles in Egypt. He used a sling and a stone to conquer a nation.
He used a little girl to lead Naaman to Elisha. He used a widow with a little meal to sustain a prophet. He used a little child to teach His disciples the meaning of humility and salvation. He used Balaam’s ass to preach His truth, and He used the jawbone of another ass to slay a thousand men. He can use a small thing for a great end. Jesus likes to have the weak; that way, when things happen, we know it’s His power.
A final lesson. Listen carefully to this one: God wants to provide for people through you, through you. When He took the little that He had and broke it, who did He give it to? He gave it to the disciples, didn’t He. They stood between Him and the multitude.
And we stand between Him and the multitude; and God wants to feed the multitude through us. It’s our availability. It’s our heart of service. We stand between Christ and a needy world. This is a spiritual lesson for every generation. The hungry multitude is always present; and there’s always a little band of disciples who haven’t got it, and can’t get it. But there’s always the compassionate Savior who wants to multiply it through us if we’re available. And so it was a training of the twelve time.
Let’s look at group two. This would be the faithful remnant. You know, in that crowd, there were true believers who said, “This is the Messiah.” There were those who really believed, who really saw that this was the Messiah. There were some who even asked the question in John 6, “What must we do to work the works of God?” And Jesus says, “No man comes unto Me except the Father draws him.”
But He also said, “Him that cometh unto Me, I’ll in no wise” – what? – “cast out.” And He says, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and I’ll lose none of them; but I’ll raise him up at the last day.” In other words, He knew that in that crowd were the gifts of the Father, the elect remnant, the true believers. And this was for them. This whole day was for them.
What did they see in it? Just think about it. They saw divine power in this man Jesus Christ. They saw before their eyes, creation; for this was a creative miracle. They saw divine compassion. They saw the heart of God in that individual. And those were representations of deity. And they saw that great integrity – no waste. False charlatans, those prophets who feigned to represent God, would be wasteful, flaunting their supposed power. There is an economy here that speaks of the integrity of God.
They also heard kingdom teaching. They heard words that were inexplicable in coming from a human mind, that spoke of the mind of God. They also saw a symbol of the Lord’s ability to meet spiritual needs, as they who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be as filled as they who hungered and thirsted after food. And so the elect remnant were taught, and were given enough to confirm their faith. So there was an establishing of the twelve, and there was a confirming of the believing remnant.
That brings us to group three, and that was the rejecters: the shallow soil; the weedy, thorny soil; the thrill-seekers. And they were revealed. They were manifest. John 6 tells us the next day, the crowd showed up. Jesus went across the Sea. The disciples took a boat; He walked across the Sea, met them in the middle, and they went to shore.
The next day, the disciples, they’re all there, the crowd is back, and Jesus says, “You seek Me not for My sake, but for the sake of” – what? – “food. It’s all you want.” Self-indulgence.
And He said, “Unless you’ll eat My flesh, and drink My blood.” In other words, “Unless you will take in all that I am, all that I say, all that I do; unless you totally and fully receive Me, you have no part with Me.” And at that point, it says, “Many of them walked no more with Him.” They were gone. The whole thing just revealed the thrill-seekers. Many of them walked no more; but it doesn’t say all of them. Some of them continued to walk; that was the remnant that stayed, John 6.
And then there were the disciples, and the Lord said, “Will you go away?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou and Thou alone hast the words of eternal life.” And then he said this great statement: “And we believe, and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Isn’t that great?
You know what this did for the disciples? It made them sure; and for the elect remnant, it brought them to believe and continue to follow. For the thrill-seekers, they turn around and left. And so there was some good soil. Many left; a few stayed.
The disciples were sure. Powerful miracle; monumental, climactic point in the life of the Lord. The multitudes have gone. From now on, the Lord concentrates on the few, on the twelve, as He moves toward the cross.
And I suppose the question that is obvious to be asked of you today is, “Which group are you in? Are you an already-committed disciple? And doesn’t this add surety to your faith? Are you one who has sought with an open heart to know the Lord Jesus Christ? Does this not convince you that He is God, and elicit from you true saving faith? Or are you a thrill-seeker, and have you been following Jesus only for what you can get; and when the pressure is on and the demands are made, you’re gone?” Let’s bow in prayer.
We know, Lord, that You know every heart, and You know what group each of us fit into. You know those of us who are Your disciples. Sometimes we’re thick. Sometimes we don’t understand. Sometimes we don’t apply the history of Your revelation to the current problem, and we need to be tested and strengthened. And we have been strengthened today. We’ve learned principles to better serve.
Father, we pray that You’ll make of us who are disciples all that You want us to be. We pray for those who are a part of that remnant, that elect that the Father gives the Son – none of whom the Son will ever lose, but all of whom will be raised at the last day. Draw even this day that true heart, that pure heart, that open heart Christ. And then for the thrill-seekers, Lord, may they be unmasked as shallow soil, thorny ground – where there appears a little interest but no fruit, they turn to walk away.
Father, we pray that each of us would examine our hearts to see where we are. If we find ourselves in group three, that we’d move rapidly move to that second group, confessing sin, and embracing Christ.
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