If I did my chart right, the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. It’s a powerful miracle which reveals a lot of how we should respond to God when we feel overwhelmed and how we should respond to people even when we can’t get away. This one is a little long, but that’s because there’s so much in it (and I’ve only scratched the surface). Let’s dive right in to Mark’s version:
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. – Mark 6:30-44, ESV
The first thing I hope you see is that the apostles were harried and had no time, not even to eat. Jesus’ response is telling: let’s get away to a desolate place. In other words, when life is hitting you from all sides, it’s time to get away, just you and the Lord. Many great men and the women of the faith have found that the more they have going on in their lives, the more time they need to spend in prayer to deal with it all. This is essentially what Jesus is saying here. This may seem counter-intuitive at first glance, but it’s not. If you don’t take the time to get alone with God, you are effectively dealing with all that additional stuff on your own with your own strength, your own skills, and your own experience. The more things pile on, the more inadequate we are to deal with them. If, however, we instead take them to God in prayer, if we spend more time with Him, what we are saying is, “Lord, I have so much to do, and I can’t do it all. My yoke is heavy and yours is light. Help me, Lord, to get done all that needs to be completed and to tackle those issues in my life that are truly of importance. Give me the help I need to meet all that is important and to not worry about those things that aren’t. Give me the wisdom to discern between the two.” This is a far better approach than standing there like a lone wolf and screaming (or whimpering), “Bring it on!”
Now the apostles listened and tried to get away, but the people figured out where they were going and followed them there. John’s version (John 6:1-15) tells us that the people were in need of healing. Jesus could have responded, “Look, you all, I need some me time, too. Come back tomorrow!” But He didn’t. Instead, the text tells us He had compassion because of the state they were in. They needed guidance and leadership. They needed someone to protect them and care for them spiritually. As a result, He began to teach them. This is an important example and the second thing I’d like to point out. There are some times when we just can’t get away. Everything seems to be coming to a head and the one thing we want to do is belt out, “Leave me alone!” But if we are Christians truly dedicated to following our Master’s example, that’s exactly the opposite of what we need to do. Instead, we need to remember that Jesus had compassion and helped. He saw that they had no guidance. We need to be the same way. Again, this seems counter-intuitive, but it goes back to the first point of taking things to God in prayer, and spending more time in prayer the more that we have stuff in our life weighing us down. God will show us the priorities. He’ll show us what the real needs are. And He’ll enable us to meet them.
The third thing I hope you’ll see today is that we don’t just go at our problems any old way. When it came to feeding the people, look what Jesus did. He ordered them into groups to make the food distribution easier. He took charge and got things organized. We need to be organized, too. That goes back to that first point. “Lord, what is most important?” is a question that we need an answer to in order to organize our effort properly. If we go about willy nilly, something important is going to be missed or delayed too long. Likewise, something that may not be a real priority or need will get attention when it should have been left back in the queue. When Jesus commanded us not to worry about tomorrow in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), He didn’t mean we should throw out any plans for the future. Rather, He was asking us to not let the future issues so consume us that we forget to attack what we needeto today. And we can only figure out what we need to attack if we are properly organized according to His will.
The fourth and fifth things that this miracle show really go together. First, note that Jesus used what was on hand. Five loaves and two fish can’t feed fifty people, much less five thousand. You and I do not have everything we need to accomplish and deal with everything that is in our lives. We just don’t. The sooner we come to understand that, the faster we get to that first point. And that means relying on God to deliver the rest. That’s exactly what happened here. Those five loaves and two fish fed everyone sufficiently. How? God made it happen. Use what you’ve got. If God has called you to do something, don’t hesitate to get started because you don’t think you can do it alone. You aren’t doing it alone. That’s what God is for. And when God delivers, He always delivers in abundance. Note that when they took up the leftovers, there were twelve baskets of bread and fish. How do five thousand people eat five loaves and two fish and end up with twelve baskets of leftovers? God delivered more than what they needed.
The more we have in our lives, the more time we should be spending in prayer. Just because we have a lot going on doesn’t mean we neglect the folks around us who are in need. And when we have a lot going on, our Savior wants us to get organized to deal with the issues (the excuse of, “I’m just not an organized person,” doesn’t cut it). Finally, we go with what we’ve got and we depend on God to deliver the rest. We trust Him because He always delivers in abundance enough and more to meet the need. That’s a lot to pick up today from this miracle, but hopefully at least one of those things sticks with you.