Vol. 10 — No. 13 March 30, 1969
After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
In Christ Jesus, who was and is concerned with every human need, Fellow Redeemed:
The story of our text, which is recorded by all four evangelists, brings our Lord face to face with the problem of hunger. It was not a matter of chronic hunger, as is found in Beauford and Jasper counties—which is currently receiving national publicity. It was rather a situation created by the thoughtlessness of the multitudes. A great multitude had followed Him into an uninhabited region “because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.” Their motives for following Him were not the purest. They wanted to see and to receive material blessings rather than hear and receive spiritual blessings. The Lord did not disappoint them; He gave them greater blessings than they had come for. He healed their sick, but He also taught them many things. And so the day passed and evening came. All through the day the bodies of the multitude had been burning up energy. Without being aware of it—because of the excitement of the day’s activities—their bodies were becoming hungry. By evening the audience of Jesus had become a hungry multitude of over five thousand—with no food supplies available. This was the situation. The evangelists report—
Earlier in the day before the hunger crisis developed, Jesus had said to Philip, “whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” After posing the problem; it appears that Jesus went about His business of healing the sick and teaching the multitude. It also appears that Philip shared the problem of feeding the multitude with the other disciples. When evening was come, the disciples had found no solution to the problem facing them of feeding such a great multitude in a desert place. So they came to Jesus and urged Him to send the multitude away so that they might, on their way home, buy food for themselves in the villages about. But Jesus responded to this suggestion by saying that there was no need to send the multitude away, He instructed His disciples to feed all of them. The disciples had considered that solution to the problem. Philip had estimated that it would take two hundred pennyworth of bread just to give each person a small portion. But there was no place near by where they could purchase such a large quantity of bread. The disciples had also made a survey of the available food supplies in the multitude. Andrew reported that they could find only one lad who had had the foresight to bring along five barley loaves and two small fishes, “but what are they among so many?” So the size of the multitude and the unavailability of food supplies either in the multitude or in the surrounding territory had led the disciples to make the recommendation that Jesus should dismiss the multitude and so let each one find his own food supply.
St. John reports that when Jesus originally posed the problem to Philip, “he said this to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.” The situation lent itself to testing the faith of the disciples. They all failed the test. They had considered very carefully the size of the multitude. They had made a survey of the available food supplies within the multitude. They had figured up the cost for a minimum solution of the problem, but they were baffled by the problem of logistics—the problem of procuring the necessary food supplies in such a desert region. With all their figuring they had failed to take one important element into account—their Lord. The evening of the storm upon the Sea of Galilee they had made the same mistake. They had seen the wind and the waves and their boat being filled with water and Jesus, but they only saw Him sleeping and apparently unaware of their peril. As the Lord awoke and arose to give them safety on that occasion, so He calmly spoke a prayer of blessing to solve this hunger problem for the disciples.
The Lord used the hunger of the multitude to test His disciples. In this emergency He was concerned with the spiritual growth of His disciples. Whether they would suffer hunger pangs temporarily or not was of less importance than this that their faith should grow and increase. So also the Lord deals with us. Possibly none of us know what hunger really is, but we may have experience with other forms of physical and emotional and mental pains. The Lord frequently permits us to experience such pain in order to test our faith—to purify and strengthen it. Such testing is necessary for our Spiritual growth.
Our Lord’s first response to the hunger crisis was in the direction of His disciples’ spiritual welfare, but then—
Jesus told the disciples to make the men sit down, and the disciples arranged them in orderly groups of fifties and hundreds. Then we read that “Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.” There was no big fanfare, no big demonstration—just a simple prayer and an orderly distribution of the food to the hungry multitude. Again we see the self-assured confidence of Jesus in meeting any human need, be that hunger or disease or peril by sea or death itself. In every time of need He is always a very present help.
What we want to notice is our Lord’s concern over the hunger problem and the fact that He used His divine power to relieve this so very human need. He was concerned—long before the problem arose. He anticipated it earlier in the day. He did not want to send the multitude away hungry. He wanted them fed.
If our Lord was concerned with the problem of hunger, we should also be concerned. The Church has always been concerned with such basic problems as hunger. We find that the first Christian Church in Jerusalem had a welfare program. At first the apostles were in charge of it, but it became too large for them to handle. The Grecian members of the congregation were murmurring because their widows were neglected because of the undue attention given the Hebrew widows. So at the recommendation of the apostles seven deacons were chosen to supervise this work of the congregation. The first general fund raising undertaking of the congregations founded by the apostles was for the relief of hunger conditions in the mother congregation at Jerusalem. Relief of hunger is a legitimate concern of the Church. Our Lord was concerned with the problem. The first Christian churches were concerned with the problem. In the parable of the last judgment our Lord made feeding the hungry one of the proofs of saving faith. Lack of such concern for the hungry is evidence of a lack of faith.
What do these things mean for us? They mean that we should be concerned with the hunger problem in our own country and elsewhere in the world’ They mean that we should support the efforts of our government to solve this problem. They mean that we dare not refuse an opportunity to help personally when such an opportunity presents itself.
Our Lord’s response also took another direction—
Each one in that multitude of five thousand men plus also women and children were given all that they wanted and needed to eat. Then we read, “When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten”
This is a small detail, but it’s very important for us in our affluent society. Jesus created food for five thousand men. He could have created enough for one hundred thousand. He would have no difficulty creating food for the millions and millions of hungry in the world. Yet He was concerned about waste. Food is to be eaten, not wasted. It would seem that this would be elementary, but it isn’t. It must be taught. Children must be taught to take only what they can eat and to eat what they take—not to waste food. Adults can best teach by setting a good example. The amount of food that is wasted at the school lunch programs, at restaurants, in the military and by families who refuse to make use of “left-overs” would go a long way towards feeding the hungry of the nation. To receive and waste is to reject the example of the Lord. It would appear from the text that after the multitude had eaten their fill, the disciples ate the left-overs, the Lord with them. Let us not sin against the bounty of our God by wasting that which He has given us!
The final verses of the text bring the reaction of the multitude to the miraculous feeding that they had just experienced and then the response of Jesus to their reaction. His response was that—
The reaction of the people was vocal and then a grassroots movement. They said, “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” They correctly identified Jesus, but they mis-understood the nature of His mission to earth, for they wanted to “come and take him by force, to make him a king.” The passover was nigh. The people wanted to compel Jesus to go to Jerusalem and be acclaimed king, for what better king could there be than one who could supply limitless quantities of food without any effort on their part and who could heal all manner of sickness and disease?
Think of this in modern terms. If there would arise a politician who would not merely promise, but would actually demonstrate that he could solve the hunger problem and the medical and hospital problems of the people by healing any and every disease, he would be elected by the biggest land-slide in history. There is no such man available, but the churches keep on insisting that Jesus should be drafted. They keep on doing what the multitude did here in our text. They keep on trying to compel Him to be some kind of a Welfare King. How? By shifting the main thrust of the church from the problems of spiritual welfare to those of social welfare. The entire story reveals our Lord’s concern with the problem of hunger. But the story also reveals that our Lord used the situation of hunger to test the faith of His disciples and so strengthen them spiritually. He also emphatically refused to make social problems His main concern. He said “no,” and He said it even though He knew He was thereby alienating the multitudes.
The modern churches fail to learn from what our Lord did and what He refused to do or become. I have read brief, clear, concise statements by church leaders of today on the mission of our Lord to redeem and save mankind from the demonic powers of sin and death. I have read statements on the primary function of the church—evangelism, the work of bringing Christ to individuals and teaching them to bow the knee in faith to Him. But what is professed and taught in such clear and concise statements is thrust aside by the continual effort to crown Christ welfare King of the world by making the solution of social problems the chief concern of the churches. The problems of social justice, of man living with his fellow man, are made to overshadow the basic problem of the sinner getting squared with his God. We oppose this inversion of emphasis. We consider the chief task of the Church to be that of proclaiming Christ as the Savior from sin, death and hell. This is and must remain THE message of the Church. But let us not fall into the trap of becoming immune to or unconcerned about the physical needs and suffering of our fellow man. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.