Did you know that this is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels? Whenever something is repeated in the Bible, it signals that God is emphasizing it for us. Obviously all that God says in the Bible is important, but the death of Jesus, for example, his resurrection, his incarnation and birth—all of these are recorded multiple times so that the main things of the Bible are the plain things, and so that the reader doesn’t miss what God wants him to notice and see.
I wouldn’t say that the feeding of the five thousand is on the same level as Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection in theological importance, but it is interesting that Mark and John don’t even record Jesus’ birth, and yet they do take the time to record this particular afternoon in Jesus’ life. We’re not going to read too much into that statement, but we are going to give the feeding of the five thousand the attention it deserves. Clearly, the Holy Spirit wants us to.
Surely, one reason why God chose to highlight this episode in the life of Jesus is because it deals with our two basic concerns as humans: survival and comfort. Food is necessary for survival and going without it for too long makes us uncomfortable. And we could say that food here, although it is real food that Jesus provides in this miracle, is representative of our entire physical life. Our physical survival and comfort are the number one thing on our minds at any given moment. It’s not that we are consciously thinking about how we are going to find food. But our never-ending focus is on how to obtain, this, that, or the other so as to survive and thrive here on earth.
For some in this world, survival is at the forefront of their mind. For others, especially in the West, the issue of survival has already been addressed, and so the focus is on thriving. We want to be full not empty. We seek abundance and not scarcity.
Jesus is teaching us many things through this miracle: that He is the Son of God, that he provides for our daily needs, that he has compassion on us as people, and so forth. But I want to look at this miracle from a higher altitude as it were. I want us to grasp a big-picture teaching of the Bible that this miracle underscores, namely: that humans have limits and therefore tend to see only their problems. God, however, has no limits, and always sees possibilities.
Now, that may sound like positive psychology, but I assure you that it is not. Jesus is not telling us to look at the bright side of life and think our way into a better future. He’s pointing out the very opposite. He’s saying, “As humans, there are many things in life that you cannot resolve. And the reason for that is because you are human. You have limits.”
So, let’s look at the problem facing the disciples in our text today. It is very straightforward. They need to eat, but they are in an area in which there is no access to food. That is the problem. It’s not even the biggest problem the people could possibly have. It is not as though they were going to starve and die.
But most of our problems are like that in nature; they’re not life threatening. The people could have returned home on an empty stomach, and yet Jesus uses this problem to open the eyes of his disciples to the endless possibilities that exist wherever God is present. On the flipside, wherever God is not present, the possibilities drastically diminish. Therefore, where God is NOT present in your life, you will tend to see only problems. Because life is full of problems.
The real problem in this text wasn’t a lack of food. In the same way that the real problem in your life isn’t whatever has you worried and stressed right now. The real problem is to go through life with a small amount of understanding and trust in God. Make no mistake. The real problem is always a lack of faith. Not your circumstance. Not the people around you. You! The real conundrum is not whether I am capable of fixing this or that; it is, can I fix myself? Which the Bible makes abundantly clear, “No, you cannot.”
Notice how Jesus uses this occasion to impress this upon his disciples. The disciples say, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus answers them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples reply, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” “We can’t!”. Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.” “I can!”
What an illuminating discourse! Indeed, all of life can be summed up in this brief interaction between Jesus and his disciples. “You have a problem? Go fix it.” “We do have a problem, and we cannot fix it.” “Yes, that is right, you do have a problem. Bring it to me;” God says, “I can fix it.”
Does he charge the disciples or the people for his help? Does he dismiss the crowd saying, “Now, remember, I did this for you, so you do this for me!”? Does he test them first to see if they are even worthy of his help? No. He just invites them to bring the problem to him free of charge. He is teaching his disciples: “You can’t, but I can.” This is the biggest lesson we can learn in life.
Because we think we can. And most of the time, we think we can without Christ. We turn to secular and humanistic psychology to fix our marriage. We turn to the government or our employment to give us our daily bread. Do we give thanks to the government or our bosses before we eat? Of course not! Do we give thanks to God before we eat? Well, don’t answer that out loud. It might be embarrassing for you.
We say, “I need some rest. My problem is that I’ve been working too hard, and so I need to take some time for myself.” Jesus answers, “The rest you’re seeking can’t even compare to the rest that I can give you. What don’t you take some time for me Sunday morning? Why don’t you bring your problem to me and be amazed at all that I can do for you?”
I’ll tell you why we don’t; it’s because we don’t believe it. Plain and simple. And that is the greatest problem. So sometimes Jesus presents us with a problem so great that we are forced to realize, “This is too big for me. This is to big for anybody else.” Like the disciples we bring our problem to God somewhat skeptically. We have no idea what he is going to do with it. And then He does something greater, and more spectacular than we could have ever imagined. He turns the scarcity of the problem into an abundant blessing.
Can you imagine the dumfounded look on the disciples’ faces as they saw the miracle and handed out the food to the people? It’s not that Jesus fixed the problem with a snack. He did so at the level of the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Creator of the universe.
Now, this is why Paul, the apostle, is able to confidently say to the Roman Christians, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). “In all things.”
You think of Joseph in the book of Genesis and the problems he had. First from his brothers when they sold him into slavery. Then from Potiphar’s wife when her lie sent him to the dungeon. If there was ever a person who might have been justified in only seeing life’s problems, it was Joseph. And yet, all along the possibilities that God was in the process of creating for Joseph were such that the human mind could not imagine.
It was only later in his life that Joseph understood. He told his brothers, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth an to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:4-8).
Second in command to Pharaoh. At age 30 controlling one of the greatest empires the world has ever known. But look at how God did it! Through problems that, at the time, only Joseph could see. But all the while God saw the possibilities.
So also, with you. Do not think you are destined to become a millionaire, the vice-president of the United Sates, or the beneficiary of some other worldly rise to fame. Your story is not Joseph’s story. And do not think that when you open your refrigerator this afternoon that it will be overflowing with the finest of foods. That is little stuff for God.
What he has prepared for you is so amazing and beyond imagination that you and I are unable to picture it, even if we try. We are going to heaven! And while we know that there is no heaven on earth, we nevertheless believe that heaven is real and that it follows our life on earth! And so, we can be sure that it is ours.
What to do then while we are still on earth? Bring your problems to God. Bring your sins to God. Think of this: out of the greatest problem—death as punishment for sin—God used the death of his Son Jesus and foresaw that greatest possibility. His death in place of our death. His punishment to pay for our sin. His resurrection, turning the tables on the devil and overcoming death for all. So, problems aren’t the issue. God is the issue. “Bring them here to me”, says Jesus. God is always the issue. Do you trust him?
Well, if so, you will go to Jesus, and you will keep going to Jesus. For without Him there are only problems. But with Him there are eternal possibilities. Amen.