Matthew 14.13-21 (NRSV)
Feeding the Five Thousand
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Of all the miracles of Jesus, this is one of the few that is mentioned in all four of the gospels. Yet, many people find it difficult to accept and have tried to rationalise it. But, as Balmforth writes:
It is best on the whole to admit that no easy 'natural' explanation can be given, and to leave the door open for an acceptance of the story as it stands ... [There is] nothing irrational in the supposition that our Lord worked such a miracle.
There were more than likely many more people there than five thousand. In chapter 9, verse 14 Luke states that there were 5 000 men. With their wives and children, there would have been a vast crowd of possibly 10 000 people or more.
Jesus started with what the people had - a few loaves and fishes, probably received from a small boy who was willing to share his meagre lunch. Jesus got the people to sit in groups of 50, said a blessing and gave the food to the disciples to distribute to them. Verse 20 concludes: ‘And all ate and were filled’. Note the last comment - What was left over filled twelve baskets. Everybody had enough and even the 12 disciples, after their work was completed had their needs supplied.
In this miracle it is obvious that Jesus cared for people's legitimate physical as well as their spiritual needs. From this passage, the modern church learns its obligation to minister to those who are hungry and who have other physical needs as well. But more importantly, Luke (and the other evangelists) places this incident with the disciples' confession of Jesus' Messiahship - which will form the focus of the next study.
Jews believed that the coming of the Messiah would be heralded by a large banquet - which was an image Jesus himself used in his teaching. Miller writes:
The feeding of the five thousand, then, is an enacted parable announcing the arrival of the Messianic Age.
The majority of people, however, were only concerned with their physical needs and did not see the greater significance of this wonderful event. And this remains true for many today.
The following day, in John's account of this miracle, Jesus spoke about himself as 'the bread of life' and urged the people to receive him in the same way as they had received the bread and fish the previous day. Wiersbe comments:
But the people were more interested in their stomachs than their souls, and completely missed the spiritual impact of the miracle. Their desire was to make Jesus king so he could give them bread for the rest of their lives! (John 6:14-15)
If I had to stand in church and promise people material prosperity, all the money and material goods one would ever need - and if I could deliver on these promises, we would never be able to build sufficient places to contain all the people that would flock to church. People are willing to risk everything placing a higher value on their bodies and material goods than on their souls, by emphasising their physical well-being at the expense of their spiritual well-being.
Humankind is powerless and spiritually starving. Jesus is ready, able and willing to provide for all people's needs. And the food Jesus offers is Himself - the bread of life and in large helpings as contained in His Word - the Scriptures. We are appointed to set before all people the provision that Jesus Christ has made for people's souls. The majority of people refuse to eat the bread at all - and so they die. Many others maintain starvation rations and so battle to survive.
We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. And this faith comes from hearing the message. Paul writes in Romans 10:17: ‘No one can have faith without hearing the message about Christ.’
Jesus explained in the parable of the sower, how important it is to hear the message with openness and receive it like a seed being sown in good soil. And this seed needs to be nurtured and cared for. Coming to Christ is described as being 'born again'. Unless the new born person is nurtured and cared for they too will die. Even adults, if they do not get enough food, will find themselves becoming increasingly physically compromised - able to do less and less. Spiritual adults also require a balanced diet of spiritual food.
How are we doing spiritually? Are you barely surviving by coming to hear the word of God on rare occasions? If so, it should not be surprising that you are battling to cope. You need more food. Even if you come to church every Sunday, don't expect to know the fullness of spiritual life, if that is all you do - because it is impossible to expect to grow on one meal a week. We need to dine daily in our personal study of Scripture and prayer. If we want to grow spiritually, we need to take every opportunity to feed on the Bread of Life. Bible study groups should be bulging at the seams; the prayer times in the church should be so crowded that people should be requesting more opportunities. Instead of having only a few faithful one's coming to the evening service, people should be requesting yet more services on Sundays, and even during the week.
There are opportunities to eat your fill. There is no need to starve or even go hungry. There is no need for desperation, there is no need for depression, there is no need for frustration, there is no need for guilt, there is no need for worry, there is no need for anger - in short, there is no need for any of the sin that causes us and others to suffer because Jesus defeated sin on the Cross, when he was raised from the dead. But coming to Christ is only the beginning. The faith that saves us needs to be nurtured and cared for. When Christians, start seeing sin manifest in their lives it is a sign that they need to have a spiritual meal. When this happens we need to draw aside and eat of the ‘Bread of Life’.