Scripture : Luke 9:7-17
Speaker : John Johnstone
Jesus’ identity is a theme we find throughout the gospels, and rightly so, because everything hinges on the answer. If Jesus is just an ordinary man who taught some profound things, then we can choose to ignore him and it doesn’t really matter. However, if Jesus is God, and if he is the Saviour of the world, then we cannot and must not ignore him. For a start, he deserves our worship as God, and our allegiance as our King. And if he made us for a relationship with him, then the truth is, we will never be satisfied in life, never be at peace, until we enter into that relationship.
When Jesus calms the storm, what is the reaction of the disciples? In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’
This is the great question: who is Jesus Christ? When Jesus’ twelve apostles are on their first mission trip, healing the sick and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, what is Herod’s question?
‘But Herod said, I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about.’ (Luke 9:9)
And after this feeding miracle, what questions does Jesus ask the disciples?
‘Who do the crowds say I am? Who do you say that I am?’ (Luke 9:18-20)
1. Once again, Jesus reveals his identity
In verse 11, we find Jesus doing what he did so often, healing the sick and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But the day was wearing on and perhaps the sun was beginning to set. The crowd was extremely large. Verse 14 tells us that there were 5000 men, and if women and children were there too, it could have been closer to 20,000 people. These people were hungry and knowing this, the disciples suggest to Jesus that they be sent away to fend for themselves. What else was there to do?
We all know what happens next. Jesus takes 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and performs a miracle before the crowd, by supernaturally bringing food into existence which had not existed before. In doing so, Jesus reveals his identity as the Lord of creation. This is nothing less than the work of God.
He is the one who has infinite resources. He is not perplexed by the hunger of a huge crowd, because he has the wherewithal to meet their needs. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16) Jesus, who we know to be the Creator of the universe, creates bread when there was not enough bread, and creates fish to feed thousands.
I love JC Ryle’s comment here: “The same hand which sent manna from Heaven in the wilderness to feed Israel, was the hand which made 5 loaves and 2 fishes supply the wants of 5000 men.”
There’s a strong echo here of God providing manna for Israel. The crowd are in a ‘remote’ place, which is a similar setting to when Israel was fed by manna. Also, Jesus has the people sitting in groups of 50, which is reminiscent of the way the people were often grouped in the wilderness in Moses’ day. It was the LORD who fed his people manna in the desert; and it is the LORD who fed this crowd. Jesus is revealing his identity once more. We cannot and must not ignore Jesus.
2. The hunger of humanity
This miraculous feeding is also an acted parable, showing us the true human condition. Just as this vast crowd is hungry, and lacks the resources for the food that is necessary, so the human race has a deep hunger of the soul, which only a relationship with Jesus can satisfy. We live in a day and age of real wealth and prosperity in Scotland. We have more today that we have ever had before. There are more homeowners, better medicines, far more technology and more entertainment than ever before, but are people satisfied deep down? Are people at peace with themselves, with other people and most importantly, with God? Sadly, they are not. Yes, you can drive a lovely car, enjoy your hobby, spend time with your family and friends, and do well in business, and we can enjoy those things for a time, but they will not provide ultimate satisfaction. They will not supply us with meaning or love or truth.
“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” (Augustine)
It’s no wonder people are spiritually hungry when they remain unforgiven and have to carry that guilt around with them each day. It is no wonder this hunger exists in our culture of materialism, which gives no explanation of who we are, what the point of life is, or why human life is significant. And all the substitutes for God we try and satisfy ourselves with do not work.
Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. (John 6:27)
Perhaps you know something of this hunger today. Be assured of this: only a relationship with Jesus Christ will bring lasting satisfaction. And you can have just that today! Ask him to enter into your life. Pray to him. It may be that you are already a Christian but have been binging on material things for a long time, and are dissatisfied with life. You know what you need to do: return to Christ and feed on him. Open your Bible and give time the eternal things of life. Focus on Christ and marvel at who he is and what he has done. Make it your goal once more to live to please him, and not self, and then you will find satisfaction once again.
Sometimes, Christians can lose much of their spiritual appetite. They no longer crave reading the Bible like they used to, or desire attending church, or relish praying to God. These desires have become weak. Of course they have! That’s what happens when we spend months or even years feeding on the wrong things. But let me tell you from experience, it is possible to regain a healthy appetite. When we return to God in repentance, he rekindles our spiritual desires once more. He changes our appetites, desires and longings, so we find satisfaction in him once more. Don’t give up.
3. Jesus, the true Provider
‘They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.’ (Luke 9:17)
I love picturing this enormous hungry crowd and the disciples passing the food around and then gathering up a large amount of leftovers. And I love the words, ‘They all ate and were satisfied’. Yes, the hunger of the people is satisfied. They all have their fill. But as we have seen, this is an acted parable with a deeper spiritual meaning. Jesus is telling us that he’s able to enrich us and fill us in a way in way in which the things of this world simply cannot. He is the true Provider.
Jesus himself is the bread of life. Only he can forgive our sins through his death on the cross. Only he can give us eternal life. Only he can give us the ability to be contented in the most difficult of circumstances. He can give us joy and peace, through his Spirit within us.
Jesus doesn’t just provide us with the basics, but he supplies in abundance. Our cups are running over. His food doesn’t spoil but endures to eternal life. No one will ever love us as Jesus has, giving his life for us. No will ever be as patient with us. No one will ever understand like he understands us. No one will care as much as he cares. If we have Christ, we are rich; we have everything we need for this life and the life to come.
One of the greatest human tragedies is when people turn away from Jesus the true Provider, and seek fulfilment in the wrong things. ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ (Jeremiah 2:13)
4. Jesus uses his people to feed the hungry
We know that the disciples want Jesus to dismiss the crowd, and they don’t see any other option. The reply of Jesus is so striking: ‘You give them something to eat.’ (Luke 9:13)
Jesus’ command is designed to get his disciples to think about the need once more, and how that need can be met. Remember, these disciples have just returned from a successful mission trip, where they have been healing the sick in the name of Jesus. They’ve seen Jesus perform miracle after miracle, meeting one need after another. However, they don’t even ask Jesus what he can do to help, or what they should do in order to provide for the huge crowd.
The disciples take a stock-check. There’s not much to go on – 5 loaves and 2 fish. They conclude that the task is impossible. It would take 8 months wages to feed everyone. The disciples are right in concluding that they lack the resources necessary. But they are wrong to forget the power of Jesus.
Jesus could have performed this miracle without the help of the disciples. But he involves them. He instructs them to organise the people in groups. It is the disciples who give out the food and who gather in the leftovers. Even though they lack the resources, Jesus uses the disciples in his work.
What a lesson this is for us today. We are all surrounded by the spiritually hungry – those who do not know Christ. Most of them seem so hard-hearted and uninterested in the things of God. It’s easy for us to be like the disciples and think, what can we do to help them? Perhaps you think that about yourself – God would never use me in bringing someone else to faith.
What does Jesus want from us? He wants us to bring the little we have, our small gifts and opportunities, and bring them to him, and ask him to bless them in his service. And what shall Jesus do? He shall take these things which seem so weak and feeble, and multiple them, and use them in ways beyond our imagining. When you place the things Jesus has given you at his disposal, in faith and obedience, he will multiply the blessing.
“He sanctifies, blesses and increases our talents and powers, everything consecrated by us to his service.” (Geldenhuys)
Do you believe that? There are spiritually needy people in your circles and Jesus says to you: ‘You give them something to eat’. You tell them about Jesus.
There are needy Christians in this church and Jesus says to you today: ‘You give them something to eat’. You can pray for them. You can carry their burdens. You can forgive them. You can encourage them. It’s the disciples who end up feeding the crowd. Today, Christ uses his church (he uses us) to feed the spiritually hungry.
I don’t have the resources on my own to help anyone and neither do you. But when we take what we have been given to the feet of Jesus, acknowledging our inadequacy, but trusting in his resources and his adequacy, then great things can happen.
5. How will we respond to Jesus?
Shortly, we’ll all go home and begin another week. Before long, as in every week, we’ll come up against all kinds of problems. We might face temptations. We might struggle with depression or feelings of hopelessness. We might have problems in our family. What are you going to do? Well, you have a choice. You can look for strength within yourself, as our culture encourages us to do. We’re told ‘Look inside yourself’ and ‘You can do it’. Self-reliance. Or, in prayer, we can rely on the everlasting supplies of Jesus. We can ask him for our daily bread.
We can trust in the promises of God. ‘Young lions may grow weak and faint and hunger for their food, but those who wait upon the LORD will not lack any good.’ ( Psalm 34:10:)
‘He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40:29-30)
‘Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ (John 6:35)
Only Jesus can satisfy our hunger. Please don’t look anywhere else.