You Feed Them.
Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17
“Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.’” – Mark 6:35-36 NLT
This is a very familiar story for most of us. But most of us don’t know its context. Over the years it has become an isolated event – a Sunday School story – floating on its own, somehow removed from the timeline of Jesus’ life and isolated from the immediate context of all that was going on both before and after. But in reading and studying the Scriptures, context is critical, especially when studying the life of Jesus. The context surrounding this event is that Jesus had just recently received news of the death of John the Baptist. As a result, He had spent some time alone in mourning while His disciples were away on their first official assignment. He had sent them out “two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits” (Mark 6:7 NLT). Luke tells us that Jesus had given them “power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases” (Luke 9:1 NLT). They had returned fired up and excited to tell Jesus all the wonderful things they had done. Their faith should have been at an all-time high. Jesus attempts to get them away for a little R&R, but the next thing they all know, the crowds have found them once again. There were so many of them, Jesus and the disciples didn’t even have time to eat. Jesus felt compassion for them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34 NLT).
But as the day got late, the disciples, still worn out from their short-term mission trip, came to Jesus and told Jesus, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat” (Mark 6:35-36 NLT). They were tired and hungry. They were also probably a little sick and tired of the constant presence and pressure of the crowds. This would have looked like a good time for Jesus to get rid of them. It was dinner time. But instead of sending the crowds away, He turned to the disciples and simply said, “You feed them.” Now this is where context becomes important. They had just returned from an assignment given to them by Jesus where they personally experienced the power and authority of God in their lives. They had been able to cast out demons – just like Jesus. They had been able to heal all kinds of diseases – just like Jesus. But when faced with this statement from the lips of Jesus, they didn’t know what to do. And I have to think that part of their problem was that, while they had experienced the power and authority of Jesus, they still did not have the mind of Jesus. They did not yet have the heart of Jesus. When Jesus looked at the crowds, He felt compassion. When the disciples looked at the crowds, they saw a problem. Jesus saw an opportunity. They saw an impossibility. Just look at their response. “‘With what?’ they asked. ‘We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!’” (Mark 6:37 NLT). Remember, they had been given power and authority. Their capabilities were limitless. It was their imaginations that posed the problem. In their minds, what Jesus was asking them to do was impossible and illogical. It made no sense. It was out of the question.
But Jesus simply responded, “How much bread to you have? Go find out.” (Mark 6:38 NLT). Reluctantly and without much confidence, they did as they were asked and returned with the bad news that they only have five loaves of bread and two fishes. Their doubts were confirmed. Not enough food for so many people. They had been right all along. Jesus was going to have to send the people away to find food somewhere else. But instead, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them a valuable lesson. He would show them how He sees things. He would reveal to them His though process when confronted with what appear to be insurmountable odds. Jesus took what little they had and did something unbelievable. He used His God-given power and authority to meet a need. He fed the hungry, rather than send them away. He provided for their need, rather than demand that they fend for themselves. And what is important is that Jesus used the disciples as the means by which He distributed the food to the people. They became the conduits of blessing as they took the fish and the bread from the hands of Jesus and distributed it among the crowds. They would have had to have looked at all those faces. They would have seen their hunger and heard their words of thanks and amazement. And they would have noticed that every single person had more than enough to eat, including themselves. And surely it’s no coincidence that there were exactly 12 baskets of food left over when it was all said and done.
When I read this story, I can’t help but think about the words of Paul: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). We must have the mind of Christ, the attitude of Christ. Paul goes on to describe Jesus’ humility and servant’s spirit. Jesus loved others to the point of death. In his famous “love chapter” Paul reminds us “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT). The disciples had experienced the power and authority that Jesus possessed. But they still lacked love. They did not yet share the heart of Jesus. To be able to cast out demons and heal all manner of diseases would be wasted if it could not be done with love. Jesus did all that He did out of love. He was motivated by love. He was empowered by love. He fed the 5,000 because of love. He died because of love. Before we long to experience the power of Christ, we must learn to love like Christ.
Father, thank You for the lives of the disciples. We are so much like them. Their transparency is refreshing, because it reminds me of how often I can lose sight of what makes Your heart beat fast. Continue to teach me to have the same attitude that Jesus has. May I grow more and more in my love for others. May humility and servanthood mark my life more and more. Help me to view the world and others through the eyes of Christ. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men