So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
-- John 6:10-11
"The feeding of the five thousand" (which was actually about 20,000, counting women and children) is the only miracle of Jesus reported in all four Gospels. It takes us with the Lord to four places.
On the road with Jesus
Most of Jesus' miracles were offered in Galilee, so by now a large number of Galileans were interested in Him. It was time for the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, which all God-fearing males and their families were supposed to attend, which also helps explain the unusually large crowd. At the beginning, the large crowd was due to Christ offering free health care. At the end, it was because Jesus was giving away free food.
People tend to want a Savior who can give them money, or save them money by giving them other things for free. Most of those on the road with Jesus were using Jesus to get what they wanted, not following Jesus to see what He wanted. They would make marvelous modern Christians.
In the classroom with Jesus
When it became clear to Jesus that the crowd was following Him for what they could get and not what they could give, the Lord actually acquiesced. The Lord knew what He was going to do and how He was going to do it, but He wanted to teach a lesson to His disciples in the process. The Teacher gave the first question to Philip, and I suppose we could give him is a "D" for doubting. Then Andrew raised his hand. We'll give him a "B" for bringing people to Jesus. Then, the unnamed boy gave Jesus all he had. That get's an "A" in God's classroom every time.
Christians live constantly in the classroom of Jesus Christ. The Lord is always testing us to strengthen our faith. Every time we are tested we should simply look to the Lord and say, "All I have is Yours, take it and do what You will." That's what the boy did, he gave, and I think at the end of the day he ate more than he brought.
In the lunchroom with Jesus
My favorite class in school was lunch. I only wish Jesus would have been there in person to make the portions bigger. Jesus made food, miraculously. This was not a magic trick nor a ministry trick. I've never seen the televangelists even try this one. Jesus made the food, transformatively. God takes what He has made and transforms it into some better. Jesus made the food, personally.
In the first miracle in John's Gospel, Jesus made wine. In this miracle, the emphasis is on the bread. Bread and wine. Jesus was giving the people Himself, the bread of life, the wine of forgiveness. Sadly, the hungry crowd did not seem to notice the parable in the miracle.
In the church with Jesus
The Gospels and the gospel are for the church, to edify and evangelize. So what does this sign say to the church, and through the church to the whole wide world?
Jesus is good. He feeds the hungry. He cares for the poor. He gives common grace to all of mankind made in His image. Jesus is God. Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God can take something He has made and transform it into something better. Only God can take sinners, and transform them into saints. Jesus is King, but not the kind of king most people want. Most people, then and now, want a God like Santa Claus, to grant their wishes and give them their best life now. Jesus is not that kind of king.
Jesus is the kind of King that cares about our empty stomachs, but He cares more about our eternal souls. So He performs this sign, and all signs point to Heaven. They lead to a road to walk on with Jesus, a classroom to learn from Jesus, and lunchroom to be cared for by Jesus, and a place before the throne to bow the head and bend the knee before King Jesus, Lord of all. For if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs. He is a graduate of Valdosta State University, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has served churches in Arkansas and Georgia, and preached the gospel across the United States and other countries. Email him at [email protected]