When I was in my first church, in Kaikoura, at one point I asked people to write down their questions, put them in a box, and I would try to answer them in a series of sermons. I got a number of good questions but the only one I remember now was “What colour is grass?” I presume that was from a teenager!
I wanted to answer these questions from the Bible. I wanted people to learn to look to God’s Word. To my delight, I discovered that Mark’s gospel says that Jesus instructed the crowd to sit down on the green grass. Consequently, I was glad to be able to give the biblical teaching on that important issue.
This miracle is so important it is in all four gospels. The central message is that it was a staggering sign of who Jesus is. It is an amazing miracle that echoes God’s miraculous gift of manna in the wilderness. In other words, it shows Jesus to also be God. But I want to look at it from the point of view of faith.
One of the key areas in which we are called to exercise faith is our ministry – serving one another and serving our community. The disciples here were told to serve. “You give them something to eat.”
They had just returned from a period of mission. Jesus had given them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. On returning, they gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. They were pretty excited.
They were tired. Jesus took them across the lake to a remote place for a break but the crowd followed and Jesus welcomed them and ministered to them. However, as evening drew near, the disciples got worried. This was a huge crowd – 5000 men so maybe at least 10,000 in total – the place was remote; the people had no food; something needed to be done. The crowd needed to be sent away so that they could get food.
Then Jesus said something mind-blowing: “You give them something to eat.” What were they supposed to do? Jesus knew they didn’t have food. So, why did He say it?
Could they obtain food? Well, not easily. There were surrounding villages but how long would it take them to get enough food for a crowd of 10,000?
Think of the cost! Actually that was their first thought – as it often is with the people of God! Nearly a year’s wages! And that would be enough for only a bite each!” So, why did Jesus say, “You feed them.”?
John tells us. Jesus was testing them. He already knew what He planned to do. Jesus was already planning a miracle but, with virtually no natural resources, would they think of that?
Isn’t it interesting that they had just come back from a mission in which they had been instrumental in casting out demons, healing the sick and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. They were excited about what God had done through them. They had seen God move. Wouldn’t you think that they would have been primed to immediately think “Yay, another miracle”? But no. They could think only in terms of their physical resources and the expense. And on that basis, Jesus’ command was impossible.
It was a test of their faith and the only possible conclusion is that they failed. Did they believe in miracles? I guess so. Did they expect a miracle? No. They looked at the situation and said, “It’s impossible” which it was humanly speaking. Imagine how different the experience would have been if one of them (only one) had said, “Wow, Jesus! Really? OK, there’s no possible natural solution, so I am guessing you are hinting at a supernatural solution. I can believe for that. We’ve seen incredible things in the last few weeks. We have seen You heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, preach God’s word, teach with incredible authority. You gave us power and authority to do the same things and God used us in ways that have blown our minds. I have got a sneaking feeling You are wanting to do something again. Well, I’m your man. You just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” Imagine if the miracle had happened because of their faith.
It did happen but only because Jesus took over. And, in the end, the disciples were part of it. Jesus gave them a second chance. He asked what they had. What were their natural resources? 5 small buns and two small fishes. To feed a crowd like this? Pathetic! And yet Jesus He gave thanks for them.
He then broke them and gave them to the disciples. What were they supposed to do now? Do the maths. Assuming there were 10,000 people, each one would get 1/2000th of a bun and 1/5000th of a fish. They were only small fish – like sardines. I googled this. An average sardine weighs about 150g. (Although I don’t think the sardines we know are that big.) Anyway, on that basis, the disciples were offering each person 0.03 of a gram of fish! Next time you are in the supermarket, ask for 0.03g of fish, and see what sort of look they give you. That was the sort of look the disciples were expecting, only mixed with anger because these people were hungry and it looked like Jesus was mocking them.
But as they obeyed, the food multiplied in their hands. They were part of the miracle. Jesus used them.
They all ate and were satisfied. This wasn’t a snack to tide them over. They had plenty. In fact, there was more left over at the end than there had been to start with.
Like all of the other stories we have looked at, there was an impossible situation, risk – the real possibility of looking silly if nothing happened – a negative attitude and an inclination to trust in physical resources rather than in God. It was about believing what they couldn’t see; about trusting God enough to act. And, again we see a staggeringly amazing result because someone trusted God. In this instance the failure of the disciples stands in contrast to Jesus’ faith in God and 10,000 people went home not only physically satisfied but having witnessed the power of God.
All Christians are called to serve. Last week we mentioned Ephesians 2:10 which says that we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do. God has already chosen some particular ways for you to serve. What God asks us to do will be as challenging as this situation was for the apostles. It will test our trust in God. Will I? Won’t I? Do I see this as impossible or as possible in the power of God?
Everything God calls us to requires faith. He doesn’t call us to do things we can do by ourselves. He calls us to trust Him and to step out to do the things we cannot do by ourselves. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. It is faith that pleases God. The righteous will live by faith.
There is a huge difference between what people can do and what God can do. But I suspect that when we look at the church often all we see is what people can do. How often do we see miracles?
There is a temptation for us to do exactly what the apostles did: to think only in terms of the natural. What can we accomplish? What resources do we have – as opposed to what does God want to do if we just make ourselves available? We do the things we can do. We can run worship services and organise social events and care for one another pretty well. We can manage our money and keep our programmes busy. But what does God want to do?
When Jesus said, “You give them something to eat” the apostles had 3 options. One was to say, “No”. Let’s assume that they weren’t going to be that blatantly disobedient. That leaves two options. They could organise food themselves or they could trust God for it. They could do it or God could do it.
Which of those would take more effort? Clearly, organising it themselves. Imagine the logistical and economic nightmare of organising food for 10,000 people in a remote place with night falling. Imagine the relational nightmare of pacifying all of those hungry people while they waited. Honestly, it was virtually impossible, and that is what the apostles concluded.
Which of those two (doing it themselves or trusting God) would have produced the better results? At best, if it was possible at all, organising emergency supplies might have provided some food for some of the people. At worst, it would have produced nothing other than angry, disenchanted people.
But look at the actual result that emerged from trusting God: everybody ate and was satisfied. There was even food left over. John tells us that Jesus didn’t want to see any wastage so presumably that food was put to good use – maybe feeding poor people in the surrounding villages. And God received the glory and for 2000 years the story has continued to bring glory to God.
God would not have got the glory if the disciples had relied on their organisational skills.
Consider how this story perfectly illustrates the words of…
Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
- God did immeasurably more than the disciples had imagined.
- He did it by His power which was infinitely greater than theirs.
- And therefore He, not they, received the glory.
Isn’t that what we want? To see God do immeasurably more than we have asked or imagined? Don’t you want to see the power of God at work? Do you want to see God glorified – God receiving honour?
That happens as we serve in the power of God – when we contribute only our 5 buns and 2 fishes but God’s power is at work. The more we trust Jesus, the less it depends on us. What a relief! The remarkable things is – and this story illustrates it – we get infinitely better results when we do less. ‘“It is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit”, says the Lord.’ (Zechariah 4:6).
That doesn’t mean we do nothing. God will use us like He used the apostles. For example, what if we had frequent praying meetings? We need to cry out to God asking that we will see His immeasurably-more-than-all-we-can-ask-or-imagine power. The Bible says that every Christian has received one or more gifts of the Holy Spirit (Rom 12:6, 1 Cor 12:7); things such as healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, tongues, the interpretation of tongues, knowledge, teaching, giving, leadership, mercy. These are supernatural. We are not talking here about people being naturally compassionate or having natural organisational ability. We are talking God working supernaturally through ordinary people. We are talking about people being healed, being set free, coming to faith. We are talking about God doing immeasurably more than we could ever do. And as I say, every one of us has been given one or more spiritual gift.
It is about God doing the work. I can’t heal people. I can’t perform miracles or have supernatural knowledge about someone. I just cannot do it. My 5 buns and 2 fishes are laughably inadequate. But God can heal and perform miracles and give supernatural knowledge and bring people to repentance and give discernment. God can make my hospitality or my administration supernaturally effective.
So what is required of me? God still does ask for those 5 buns and 2 fishes. And He is still thankful for them. I have to believe it when God says that He can use me to do supernatural things. And I have to be willing to use my gifts – take the risks of looking silly; take the risks of praying or speaking or serving. In other words, this is where faith comes in. Do you believe that God wants to do miracles through you? Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? Are you using them? Does your faith include action?
When we let God work through us, the world sees God, not just us. Are we willing to simply be people through whom God can work supernaturally – people through whom God can do what He has already planned to do?
For the type of work God wants to do, what we can offer will always be laughably inadequate. 5 buns and 2 fishes for 10,000 people! Ha ha ha! That doesn’t make it impossible. It simply calls us to believe in miracles; to trust in the power of God, not in ourselves. And to offer the little we have for Him to use. The results will be bigger. God will receive the glory. And we will be blown away.