Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all that needs to be done in serving the Lord? We are needy people serving Christ in a needy world. It’s not unusual at this time of year to hear of thousands who have lost everything due to a hurricane, and that doesn’t take into consideration those in the world who live every day from meal to meal.
I often think of the millions who have yet to hear about the Savior who came to earth ‘just for them.’ We likely feel overwhelmed with the immensity of the task and with our own inadequacy. How can I possibly meet the needs of this church, let alone the massive needs of this hurting world?
No passage of Scripture has had a more profound impact on our service for Christ than the gospel accounts of the feeding of the 5,000. It could be argued that it is the most significant miracle Jesus performed, since it’s the only one God saw fit to record in all four gospels….with the obvious exception to the resurrection. I find myself coming back to its lessons again and again.
The Lord used this incident for the training of the twelve. We see this in His pointed challenge, “You give them something to eat!” John’s account (6:6) tells us that Jesus was testing them (especially Philip), knowing what He was about to do.
The miracle itself is almost passed over. We are never told exactly how Jesus did it. The focus is not on the spectacular nature of the miracle, but on what it teaches those who serve Jesus about how He meets the needs of others through them.
Christ will give us His adequacy to meet the needs of people if we yield our inadequacy to Him.
Three things stand out in this story: the needy multitudes; the inadequate disciples; and the adequate Savior.
1. People are needy.
The apostles returned from their first preaching tour and gave an account to Jesus of all that they had done (9:10). Jesus withdrew with them to the vicinity of Bethsaida, on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee. Mark’s account (6:31) tells us that the purpose of the getaway was rest.
The fact that this many people would go to this effort to be with Jesus shows how needy they were. If you had taken a survey of the crowd, many would have said that their greatest need was for physical healing. There were blind, deaf, lame, diseased and dying people there.
By the end of the day, others would have said that their greatest need was for food. There was nothing to eat in that desolate place. But whether anyone recognized it or not, each person’s greatest need was spiritual.
Jesus could heal their bodies and fill their stomachs, but that was only a stopgap measure if they perished in their sins. So Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God, how they could rightly be related to Him: Luke 9:11 (ESV) When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.
2. We are inadequate to meet the overwhelming needs of people.
Did you notice the contrast between Jesus’ attitude toward the multitude and that of the disciples? Jesus welcomed them (9:11), but the disciples said to Jesus, “Send the multitude away” (9:12).
Jesus said something utterly ridiculous: “You give them something to eat” (9:13). There were 5,000 men, plus women and children. If there were 2.5 children for each man and woman, we’re talking about providing dinner for a crowd half the population of many cities in Alabama!
All the food the disciples could come up with was five loaves and two fish, which came from a little boy (John 6:9). The entire incident underscores the utter inadequacy of the disciples to meet this overwhelming need.
The manner in which Jesus performed this miracle is significant. He could have called down manna from heaven. Calling down manna would have fit the situation. It would have been easier on the twelve. It would have been more efficient.
The Lord could have spoken the word and a loaf of bread would have miraculously appeared in each person’s hand. Everyone would have been more awed at Jesus’ power than they were with the quiet way this miracle was done.
Jesus could have called angels who could have taken the bread from His hand and flown directly to each group and given them the food. People would have been amazed. They would have talked about it for the rest of their lives.
But how did Jesus do it? He used the disciples to distribute the bread and fish to the people. I’m convinced that the Lord did the miracle that way to teach the disciples that His method for meeting the needs of a lost world is through people. Christ meets the needs of people through people. But note carefully the kind of people He uses: Inadequate people!
Jesus uses tired, emotionally drained people. The disciples had just returned from their first preaching tour. Jesus knew they were tired and needed a rest. But their only rest had been the short trip across the lake. True, Jesus let them rest all day as He taught and healed the multitude. But, still, their tiredness and emotional condition comes through in their request, “Send them away.”
Jesus uses busy people. They didn’t even have time to eat because of all the people coming and going. I thought that our hectic schedules were unique to our culture, but apparently not! I have worked as a banquet waiter, so I know that once they started handing out the food to this huge crowd, they were busy men! But invariably the Lord doesn’t use people with extra time on their hands. He uses those who are busy and He keeps them busy. I’m sure that they didn’t have time to eat until that entire crowd had been served.
Jesus uses people who lack resources. The disciples’ comment about buying enough food for all these people was no doubt said with some sarcasm. They didn’t have nearly enough money to do that. The other gospels report that they did a quick calculation and told Jesus that 200 denarii (seven to eight months’ wages) would not be enough to give each person just a little bread. Obviously, the disciples didn’t have anywhere near that much cash in hand. Besides, they were in a desolate place. Even if they went to Bethsaida to buy bread, there wouldn’t be that much bread available. They were ridiculously lacking in the resources to meet Jesus’ demand to feed the multitude.
Jesus works through people who choose to serve. He works through His servants. Servants serve when they’re tired, emotionally drained, busy, and lacking in adequate resources. Servants serve because they’re under obligation to their master.
How do we do it? By yielding our inadequacy to the Master to use as He pleases. Five small loaves and two fish, a boy’s lunch—not much to feed such a crowd.
3. Christ will give us His adequacy when we yield our inadequacy to Him to use as He pleases.
A. We must yield what we have, not what we don’t have.
That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But so often we make up excuses about what we don’t have and we fail to offer to Jesus what we do have. “If I just had more money, I’d give regularly to the church!” “If I just had the gift of evangelism, I’d witness more!” “If I just had the ability that others have, I’d serve the Lord.” “If I just …”! But Jesus didn’t use all the bread in Bethsaida, which the disciples didn’t have. He used the five loaves and two fish that they did have. Jesus doesn’t ask you to give Him what you don’t have. He asks you to give Him what you do have.
B. We must yield our inadequacy to Him to use as He pleases.
The disciples weren’t giving the orders here. They were following Jesus’ orders: “Have them recline to eat in groups of about fifty each.” “Eat what, Lord?” “It won’t work, Lord!” “I’ve got a better idea, Lord.” No, they did what Jesus commanded. We need to yield ourselves to Him and let Him do as He sees fit. What Jesus did with this boy’s lunch is what He does with us when we give Him our inadequate abilities and resources:
- Jesus blesses.
Without His blessing, we’re wasting our time. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1). Do you covet God’s blessing in your life and labors for Him? Everything in God’s work depends upon His blessing. If it is there, even an insufficient amount is sufficient; if it is lacking, the greatest resources and efforts in the world will not be enough.
- Jesus breaks.
Blessing and brokenness go together. You won’t find God’s blessing apart from God’s breaking. You can see it in the lives of every person God has used. Abraham and Sarah had to be past their ability to produce a child before God gave them Isaac. Jacob had to be crippled in his hip before he prevailed with God. Moses had to fail in his own strength and spend 40 years tending sheep in the wilderness before God used him to deliver Israel.
Vance Havner observed, “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”
- Jesus satisfies.
Jesus “kept giving them to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they all ate and were satisfied” (9:16b-17a).
We hear a lot about “burnout” in our day. While we need adequate rest and time off, we can test our labors for the Lord by this: If we’re burned out, there’s a good chance we’ve been trying to meet human needs with our inadequate abilities and resources. But if we come away tired, yes, but with the satisfaction of the fulness of Christ left over in our souls, then the Lord’s blessing was on us.
God may not call us to preach to thousands. But if you’ve tasted His mercy, He does call you to serve Him in some way. He wants to use you to give the Bread of Life to those who are hungry.
The requirement is that you see how inadequate you are to do anything for Him. Then, yield your inadequacy to Him to use as He pleases. He will use you to help meet the needs of a hurting world. And He will give you a basket full of leftovers for yourself besides!