Friday, April 25, 2014

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

Life of Christ 73

          We have arrived at the last year of Jesus' ministry. The next six months, through the summer and fall, will find Him primarily in Galilee, though He will take four separate trips away from Galilee, not down to Judea, but into neighboring territories. I think this is because the heat had been turned up, so to speak, both by Israel's religious leaders and her political leaders. We have seen the increasing hostility of the Pharisees, and now this hostility has practically turned into open warfare, at least in Judea (John 7.1). Additionally, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who ruled over Galilee, was also showing signs of aggression. He had recently murdered John the Baptist, and taken notice of Jesus (Matthew 14.1). Jesus, of course, wasn't afraid of opposition, either religious or political, but He knew the crisis point was still a year away, and in wisdom He avoided provoking that crisis until it was time.
          To prevent this unwanted attention Jesus and His disciples, who had recently returned from a preaching trip (Luke 9.1-6), leave Capernaum and head to the closest place outside of Herod's jurisdiction, Bethsaida, on the eastern border of Galilee. They traveled by boat, but word had somehow gotten out about where He was going, and a whole bunch of Jews from the Capernaum area traveled the relatively short distance overland along the top of the Sea of Galilee to find Him there.
          His original intention had been to spend some private time with the Apostles, but that plan was foiled by this large crowd that followed Him there. I have mentioned before that Jesus' life was marked by compassion, and this compassion drove Him to minister to this crowd of people all day long, preaching and healing (Luke 9.10-11).
          As evening drew on people began to be hungry. The Apostles wanted to send them away from the deserted area in which they found themselves toward the closest town, Bethsaida, in order to get something to eat (Luke 9.12). Jesus, on the other hand, instructs His Apostles to feed the people. Their reaction was incredulity. After all, they only have five loaves and two fish on hand. Purchasing food wasn't an option either, not only because they weren't standing next to a grocery store, but because they didn't have the money necessary to do so.
          Jesus proceeds to completely ignore their logical protest, and to instruct the Apostles to divide the large crowd up into manageable sections so that they can be fed. You know the story. He takes the small supply and continues handing it out to the Apostles until everyone has as much as they want with plenty left over.  
          What is the point? Was it just to dazzle the people into finally accepting Him? No, as evidenced by His actions afterward which I will discuss next time. Was it just to feed people in need? Partially, perhaps. His life was marked by compassion, certainly. But I think there was a larger purpose here, and one that was directly aimed, not at the crowd, but at the Apostles. In my opinion, almost everything He does from this point forward is aimed at growing the Apostles, and when you realize that this was the original purpose of the trip anyway this comes into even clearer focus. If I'm right then what core lesson is seeking to teach the Apostles? Simply this: God can give you what people around you need.
          Jesus has to get the Apostles ready for His absence, and ready to carry the weight of the infant Church. In the process of using them as the human foundation for the Church (Ephesians 2.20) He is going to ask them to do some things they aren't going to think is either reasonable or possible. He needs to convince them that, when He does, He will provide what is necessary to meet the need. To me, this is the lesson He is seeking to get across to them, and one I think is useful for us as well.
          God calls us constantly to minister to people who are in great need. Often, though, we find ourselves in the position of not having on hand what those people need. I think of the story in Matthew 17 of the man afflicted with the demonically possessed son. He brought his son to the Apostles but they couldn't cast the demon out. So many times when people come to me for help, whether their need is money, health, courage, wisdom, faith, or companionship I find that I don't have what they need.

          At the same time it is also true that God does have what these people need, and, just as with the Apostles on that deserted hillside outside of Galilee two thousand years ago, I can go to Him in order to get what they need. I love the way the Holy Spirit phrased it in Hebrews 4.16: 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.'
          Someone around you has a great need. In your humanity, you won't find within yourself the wherewithal to meet that need even when you have the desire to do so. Beloved, allow me to urge you to go to the Lord and ask Him to furnish you with what they need. If they won't believe Philippians 4.19 for themselves then do it for them.
          I say again, the great lesson I draw from the story of the feeding of the five thousand it this: God can give you what the people around you need.

If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 42, 'The Feeding of the Five Thousand'.

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