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THE GOSPEL MIRACLES: The Feeding of the 5000



by Ted Schroder

The feeding of the five thousand men (besides women and children) is the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels (Matt.14:15-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:5-14) It is a miracle of multiplication: turning five loaves and two fish into a meal for a multitude, and leaving twelve basketfuls of broken pieces over.

Jesus had refused to turn stones into bread when he was tempted to do so by Satan in the wilderness. What he would not do to feed himself, he would do to feed others. But this time he used bread and fish rather than stones. In so doing he demonstrated his care for the physical wellbeing of those who followed him.

The kingdom of God may not be a "matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit", but that does not mean that you can ignore the physical needs of those around you. "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:15-17) Feeding the hungry and taking care of the physical, social and emotional needs of the poor and abused is a moral imperative for the Christian. That is why we support ministries that make that their mission. Jesus Christ ministers to the whole person. Salvation is holistic: concerned for the body and the soul.

The multiplication of seed through sowing and harvest follows the laws of nature. Seed sown on good soil produces a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times. Natural too, is the multiplication of fish. Every season they spawn in the seas and in the rivers. C.S. Lewis comments: "The ancients had a god called Genius; the god of animal and human fertility, the patron of gynaecology, embryology, and the marriage bed...But Genius is only another mask for the God of Israel, for it was He who at the beginning commanded all species 'to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth'. And now, that day, at the feeding of the thousands, incarnate God does the same: does close and small, under His human hands, what He has always been doing in the seas, the lakes and the little brooks." (Miracles, p.223)

Central to this miracle is that Jesus worked through his disciples. "You give them something to eat." They profess their inability to feed the multitude. He presses them on what they have. "How many loaves do you have? Go and See." After he organizes the people and gives thanks for what they bring him - "he gave them to the disciples to set before the people." In other miracles Jesus acted directly. Here he worked with inadequate men in spite of their unbelief. He took what they brought, gave thanks for it, and used it through them.

The lesson here is that our inadequate resources become adequate if we surrender them into the hands of the Savior. Ronald S. Wallace: "What matters is not so much the greatness of the gifts as the completeness of the surrender. If the task is His will, let us prove Him by setting out to do it, and as we go ahead in faith, the promise of this miracle is simply that He will do it with us and will complete it in glorious adequacy. 'Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you, and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.'" (Malachi 3:10) (The Gospel Miracles, p.94)

It is not the size of what we have to offer in Christ's service that matters, so much as the willingness to give, and to use what we have. Jesus commended the poor widow "who put in more than the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in all that she had to live on." (Luke 21:4) The miracle is that God can multiply what we might consider quite inadequate, to do a mighty work. Jesus told a parable about the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed - the smallest of seeds. Yet when it grows it becomes a tree that gives shelter to all. (Matthew 13:32)

We might consider that we have few gifts, little to commend us. We look back on our lives and wonder what we have accomplished, whether we have made any mark at all, whether we have left anything of lasting value. Yet, Jesus can take what we have and multiply it to the blessing of multitudes. The disciples were convinced that they had nothing that could make a dent in the hunger of the thousands. Yet after they shared what little they had, they all ate and were satisfied.

All too often we shrink back from offering what we have because we think that we might be ridiculed for our paltry offering. It takes faith and obedience to the call of Christ, to step forward and set before others what we have. It is a risky business to make oneself vulnerable in that way. It is much easier to do nothing.

Not only did Jesus use the little that they had to the blessing of all, he also provided enough leftovers to feed the multitude on their return journey home. God does not want anyone to go hungry. That anyone does so in this world is shameful and unnecessary. It is certainly not God's will.

No one who was fed that day would have missed the significance of what Jesus did. They would have thought back to the wanderings of the people of Israel in the wilderness, when they were hungry, and God sent manna to feed them. They associated Jesus with Moses, the Prophet who is to come into the world. Jesus used the occasion to teach them who he was. "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of heaven is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

"I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. The bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:32-35,48-51)

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a sign of the kingdom of God. Jesus came to feed us, to satisfy us, to use our inadequacy to satisfy others, with the gift of eternal life, through his sacrifice on the Cross. Only God can do all this.

If Jesus could do this through his disciples, with the little they had, what could he do through you? For what do you hunger and thirst? What do you desire?

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;

and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." (Isaiah 55:1-3)


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