Feed My Sheep.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:13-21 ESV

Even in the face of mounting opposition and rejection by His own people, Jesus did not lose heart or abandon His mission. He remained faithful to the task given to Him by His heavenly Father. And He continued to restore the sick and teach all those who would listen, displaying the compassion He felt for the masses who flocked to Him for healing and hope. In Mark’s account of this same story, he records Jesus describing the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV). They were lost, confused, and hungry for the truth. And Luke records that Jesus “spoke to them of the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:11 ESV). Whether they realized it or not, here was the Great Shepherd of Israel, standing right in front of them. They were in the presence of the Messiah, the one for whom they had long waited and hoped for. But they would fail to recognize Him and so, they would refuse to accept His offer of the kingdom. Jesus had told the disciples that the stubborn refusal of the people was in direct fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy found in Isaiah 6:9-10.

When you hear what I say,
    you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
    you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
    and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
    so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and let me heal them.  – Matthew 13:14-15 NLT

But Jesus continued to perform miracles and proclaim the message of the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because He was preparing His twelve disciples. In fact, the events in this passage, recorded by all four of the Gospel authors, were done for the benefit of those whom Jesus had called.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. – John 6:5-6 ESV

This whole scene was intended as an object lesson for the disciples. Jesus would use it to test their faith and to expose their inadequacy. The disciples saw the crowd as an obstacle to be avoided, while Jesus viewed the situation as an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson on God’s provision.

The disciples, weary from a day full of ministering to the needs of the people, begged Jesus to send the crowds to one of the nearby towns to eat dinner.

“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” – Matthew 14:15 NLT

But Jesus had something else in mind, demanding that the disciples feed the people. This command was met with incredulity by the disciples. Philip responded, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” (John 6:7 NLT). Andrew, assessing the situation and the available resources at hand, told Jesus, “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” (John 6:8 NLT).

From the perspective of the disciples, the crowd was too large and the resources were too small. There was no way they could fulfill the demand Jesus had made of them. It was impossible.

These men, who had seen Jesus restore sight to the blind, cast out demons, and even raise the dead back to life, were unable to envision a solution to the problem facing them. In their humanity, they were left looking for earthly solutions and found themselves to be lacking the resources necessary to meet the need. Andrew’s discovery of the young boy’s meager meal of five loaves and two fish was totally inadequate, or so he thought. There were more than 5,000 men present in the crowd, and that doesn’t take into account the women and children who were there.

But Jesus was nonplused by the size of the crowd, the lack of financial resources or the inadequacy of the food on hand. He simply instructed the people to sit down and then took the five loaves and two fishes, blessed them, then had the disciples distribute them among the people. Don’t fail to notice that it was the disciples who were tasked with the distribution of the loaves and fishes. They took what Jesus gave them and shared it with the people. And Matthew records, “they all ate and were satisfied” (Matthew 14:20 ESV). The needs of the people were met – in full. No one was left hungry. No one did without. Not only that, when the disciples picked up what remained uneaten, there were exactly 12 baskets full of leftovers. Each disciple held a tangible proof of God’s power and provision. While they had doubted, Jesus had trusted, turning to His heavenly Father to provide – food for the people and faith for the disciples.

Jesus was preparing His disciples for their future ministry, the one that would begin after His death, resurrection and ascension. In fact, John records that on one the occasions when Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected body, He ate breakfast with them by the Sea of Galilee. And the meal Jesus prepared for them was a familiar one.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. – John 21:9 ESV

The disciples had been fishing all night, but had caught nothing. But Jesus, appearing to them on the seashore, had instructed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Failing to recognize that the individual speaking to them was Jesus, the disciples did what they were told and John records, “So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish” (John 21:6 ESV).

This time, Jesus served the disciples.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. – John 21:13 ESV

After eating, Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions, each time repeating, “Do you love me?” And the third time Peter responded,“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And Jesus simply stated, “Feed my sheep.”

After Jesus returned to heaven, the food the disciples would end up distributing to the sheep would be spiritual in nature. They would take what Jesus had given them, eternal life, and share it with all those who would believe. They were to feed the sheep who lacked a shepherd. They were to take the bread of life, broken for them, and distribute it among the spiritually hungry, making available to the people the gracious provision God had made available through His power.

47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 Yes, I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” – John 6:47-51 NLT

The miracle the disciples witnessed that day by the Sea of Galilee was a foreshadowing of what was to come. The people walked away with full stomachs. But the day was coming when those who accepted the message of the disciples would receive permanent relief from their spiritual hunger and thirst.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. – John 6:35 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Day 54 – John 6:1-14

A Lesson In Limitlessness.

John 6:1-14

“Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, ‘Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?’” – John 6:5 NLT

John gives us a unique insight into this familiar story. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that as the day grew late, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him to send the crowds away. It was getting close to dinner time and they would have to find someplace to eat. John gives us the added insight that “it was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration” (Luke 6:4 NLT). Which means that there were more people in this vicinity as Jews were making the long trek to Jerusalem for Passover. So that explains why the disciples mentioned the crowds having to find somewhere to buy food rather than simply return to their own homes. Many of these people would have been pilgrims, just passing through on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. Inns were few and far between. There would have been few places to eat or sleep. This only intensifies the need of the moment.

At some point, Jesus turns to Philip and asks, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” (John 6:5 NLT). We’re not told why Jesus singled out Philip, but it was probably because he was from the town of Capernaum, which was about nine miles from where they were standing. He would have known all the towns and villages in the area. Interestingly enough, Philip’s response didn’t bring up the fact that there weren’t enough places around there to buy food. Instead, he pointed out that their real problem was a lack of resources. They didn’t have enough money to buy the food to feed that many people. So he simply responded, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” (Luke 6:7 NLT). We don’t know why the other Gospel writers didn’t record this exchange. It may have been that Jesus did it in private and only John was there to overhear it. John had a unique relationship with Jesus and always seemed to be at His side. So he could have been there when Jesus had this conversation with Philip. But we’re told that Jesus was simply testing Philip, to see what he would say and do, given the circumstances. Jesus already knew what He was going to do. Remember, the disciples had just returned from their short-term mission trip where they had experienced first-hand the power and authority given to them by Jesus. They had cast out demons and healed all kinds of diseases. Now they found themselves facing a new kind of problem, a different kind of need. How would they respond? What would they do?

Philips response is totally normal and natural, but it reveals a limited perspective. He was judging their capacity to solve the problem based on human and physical limits. There were too many people and not enough money. Case closed. The need outweighed their resources. Even when they found a young boy with five barley loaves and two small fish, Andrew said, “What good is that with this huge crowd?” (Luke 6:9 NLT). They had limited resources. But Jesus was about to show them new way of looking at things. He was going to change their perspective by taking what little they had and doing much with it. The real lesson was going to be that nothing can limit God. Jesus had everyone sit down. We don’t know the exact number of people, but chances are, if there were 5,000 men alone, there were probably at least an additional 5,000 women and children present. So at minimum, there were 10,000 plus people in the crowd that day. Jesus took the fives loaves and the two fish, gave thanks to God, then began breaking them apart, giving them to the disciples to distribute among the people. “And they all ate as much as they wanted” (Luke 6:11 NLT). John tells us that Jesus did not stop until everyone was completely full and satisfied. This was not a case of careful rationing of what they had. It was a miraculous multiplying of what appeared to be not enough. Jesus used the limitless power of God to produce a limitless supply of food. Nobody went without. And nothing was wasted. Jesus had the disciples pick up what was not eaten and there were twelve baskets filled with the leftover scraps the people didn’t eat. No money was used to solve this problem. There was no pooling of resources in order to produce a solution. Surely the disciples could have come up with a plan to take up an offering and then use that money to go and buy food for the people. And if they had succeeded, they would have taken credit for having solved the problem on their own. But Jesus wasn’t really interested in how or what they could do. He was trying to get them to understand that God solves human problems by heavenly means. I have to believe that there was subtle message from Jesus to the disciples in all of this. He was breaking bread and handing it to the disciples, who then passed it out among the people. The day was coming when Jesus, the Bread of Life, would be broken on a Roman cross, and the disciples would be tasked with passing on the message of His death and resurrection to people in need all around the world. And the day right after this event happened, Jesus would say, “The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33 NLT). The people responded by asking Jesus to give them some of this bread. To which He replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT). Jesus would go on to tell them, “Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh” (John 6:48-51 NLT).

The real message on the hillside that day wasn’t just about Jesus being able to miraculously feed thousands of people with next to nothing at His disposal. It was about something far greater and more important. The people who ate the food that day would have been hungry again in just a few hours. Their satisfaction would only have lasted a little while. They were amazed at Jesus had done and wanted to crown Him king right then and there. But they had yet to eat of the Bread of Life. They were still spiritually needy and condemned by their own sin. But not long from this moment, the disciples would be handing out a new form of sustenance and salvation that would have the potential to change the lives of these people forever. Jesus would give His life so that others may live. He would be broken so that others might be healed. He would suffer so that others would not have to. That’s the real message behind the miracle. We can’t save ourselves. Our resources are limited. But God has a plan to meet our need, and His name is Jesus.

Father, thank You Jesus. Thank You for providing a solution to my problem. My sin was great, but Your solution was greater. You provided a way to satisfy my spiritual hunger and give me life when I was faced with certain death. Never let me lose sight of the real message of this story. It isn’t about bread and fishes, but about the Bread of Life – Jesus Christ – the only answer to the spiritual hunger of the world. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men