Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, “Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.” [Luke 9:12-13a (NLT)]
Other than His resurrection, the feeding of the 5,000 is the only one of Jesus’ miracles recorded in all four gospels. Wanting some quiet time, Jesus and the disciples went by boat to a remote area near Bethsaida. Because the crowd followed them, Jesus spent the rest of day healing and teaching. When the disciples asked Jesus to send the people home so they could eat, Jesus said to feed them. All four accounts agree that only five loaves and two fish were available, that 5,000 men (along with women and children) ate as much as they wanted, and that the left-overs filled a dozen wicker hand-baskets.
We understand why the gospel writers included the resurrection in their record; without it, Jesus was just a good man who died. But why is this miracle the only other one each one thought essential to the narrative? The easy answer is that no one but God could have performed a miracle of such magnitude. Rather than the size of the miracle, however, perhaps it was the enormous size of the crowd! With the addition of women and children to the 5,000 men present, there probably were 10,000 or more people who not only witnessed but partook of this miracle. That’s the sort of thing people don’t keep to themselves—they probably told their neighbors, friends, children, and grands. If someone who lived near the north shore of the Sea of Galilee wasn’t there that day, they knew someone who was! While we can’t know for sure, Mark’s gospel was written in the late 50s to 60s, Luke and Matthew’s prior to 70, and John’s around 80-85 AD. Can you imagine the number of witnesses still alive who could refute or verify this miracle as proof of the gospels’ validity? The inclusion of this miracle gives credence to the rest of the gospels’ accounts!
There is more to this story than God’s amazing provision but, because we’re so familiar with it, we tend to miss some of its subtler messages. The reason Jesus took a boat across the lake was to find a remote area away from the crowd so he and the disciples could be alone. John the Baptist had recently died, the disciples had just returned from their mission trip, and the men were hungry and tired. Jesus wanted peace and quiet but the people wanted Him! Seeing them as sheep without a shepherd, He put the needs of others before His desires. What a beautiful example of the compassion of Christ. Are we so willing to do the same thing?
While a Gentile might miss it, a Jew would see that this miracle evokes two earlier miracles found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Both the manna for Moses and bread for Elisha foreshadow Jesus’ miracle of provision. The story of manna in Exodus probably doesn’t need repeating but you may not be familiar with Elisha’s story in 2 Kings. During a famine, a man brought Elisha some grain and bread. When Elisha told his servant to feed the 100 prophets who were with him, he protested there wasn’t enough bread for those many men. The prophet assured the servant that everyone would eat and there even would be leftovers; indeed, they did and there were. For people who considered Jesus a mere prophet along the lines of Moses and Elisha, His feeding of the 5,000 was irrefutable proof that He was far greater!
Having been told to take nothing with them during their ministry tour, the disciples learned about receiving since they depended on the hospitality and provision of others. Could this have been a message about giving? It certainly showed that ministry is more than preaching; it is providing. Feeding the sheep means tending to the flock’s practical needs as well as their spiritual ones.
Of course, we can’t forget about the boy. While Philip saw what they didn’t have (money), Andrew went looking for what they did have! Even though he knew it wasn’t enough, Andrew saw possibility in the boy’s basket and his willingness to give up his meager provisions. This insignificant boy played an essential role in one of the most significant days in Jesus’ ministry! May we always keep our eyes open to possibilities and remember that, in God’s hands, our inadequacy becomes more than enough!
The four accounts of this miracle are found in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15. Today, consider revisiting this old familiar story by reading all four accounts of this amazing miracle with fresh eyes!