Theme: Withdrawal of the King
This week we see how God can use us, despite our empty hands.
Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; hsend the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.
The second point of the story is clear in each of the gospels though it is introduced in different ways. It is this: in spiritual matters we can do nothing apart from Jesus Christ. Jesus said it himself in John 15.5, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.”
In one way or another each of the gospels indicates that Jesus pressed this point on the disciples himself. In John, Jesus initiates the lesson by asking Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5). The next words explain, “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do” (v. 6). The story continues by showing how Philip assessed the situation from a human perspective, replying, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite” (v. 7), and it is after this that Andrew brings forward the boy with the “five small barley loaves and two small fish” (v. 9), which Jesus then uses for the miracle of the feeding. The emphasis is upon the poor quality of the bread, only barley bread, and the smallness both of the loaves and fish.
Mark repeats the assessment that it would take “eight months of a man’s wages” to buy food for so many people (Mark 6:37) and in Luke the disciples say, “We have only live loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd” (Luke 9:13). The first three gospels also record the disciples’ opinion that it would be best to send the people away so they could go into the surrounding towns and villages and buy food for themselves (Matt. 14:15; Mark 6:35, 36; Luke 9:12).
What seems to have stuck out most clearly in the minds of Matthew, Mark and Luke is the particular emphasis that Jesus placed upon the disciples doing something to help the situation themselves when he said, “You give them something to eat” (Matt. 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13). The emphasis does not come across as forcefully in the English translation as it does in Greek, but in Greek there is the added and usually unnecessary pronoun “you.” So the emphasis seems to have been: “You, you do it – why do you come to me?” Since Jesus knew the nature of the problem and was already aware of what he was going to do, the only reason he could have said what he did was to impress on the disciples that they could do nothing by themselves.
What a lesson for us to learn! We tend to think that we can do at least something and that at worst all we really need is some specialized help from Jesus. We need to remember what Martin Luther said when he was reflecting on our “nothing.” He said that our nothing really is nothing and not “a little something.”
Although Moses could do nothing with the staff, God used it to effect the miracles that led to the emancipation of the people
Yet we do have what God has first given to us. And although we can do nothing of spiritual value with it by ourselves, we will find that it is useful and sufficient if we place it in Jesus’ hands. That is what happened here, of course. The disciples could do nothing. But they had found five small loaves and the two fish, and when they gave them to Jesus they found that they were all that was necessary.
What did Moses have when God sent him to Pharaoh with the demand to “Let my people go”? All he had was the staff in his hand. But although Moses could do nothing with the staff, when he gave it over to God, God used it to effect the miracles that led to the emancipation of the people.
What did David have when he went up against Goliath? A sling and a few small stones. But they were enough when God guided David’s missile.
What can you do for Jesus? You know the answer to that as well as I do: nothing at all. But God has given you something that can be used effectively if you will place it in Jesus’ hands.
When I was preparing this message I came across a wonderful quotation from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, relating the matter of the loaves and fish to his preaching. Spurgeon wrote, “Truly, he who writes this comment has often felt as if he had neither loaf nor fish,- and yet for some forty years and more he has been a full-handed waiter at the King’s great banquet.” It is like that for anyone who will recognize his own spiritual impotence and place all he or she has been given in Christ’s hands.
What is the second lesson of this story?
How is this lesson developed in John’s account?
What is emphasized in Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s accounts?
We do have what God has first given to us. And although we can do nothing of spiritual value with it by ourselves, we will find that it is useful and sufficient if we place it in Jesus’ hands.
Has God developed something of spiritual value through you? What did it take to get you to place your life in Jesus’ hands?