By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him, and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who had need of healing. When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the people away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions, for we are in a deserted place here.”
But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. Then He said to His disciples, “Make these sit down in groups of fifty.” They did so and made them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them and gave them to set before the multitude. So, they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.”
- Luke 9:10-17 (KNJV)
The Lord Jesus had healed a woman with menstrual issues that had plagued her for twelve years, had raised a young girl back to life, and had commissioned the apostles to go preach, cast out demons, and heal the sick, spreading His message to other towns and territories that had probably heard about Him but had not been witnesses to His teachings or works (Luke 8:40-9:9). The scene picks up after the apostles had returned from their missionary journey. They reported to Him what had happened. Their work had produced spiritual fruit, being a type of praise to the LORD for working through them. Now, at Jesus’ insistence, they withdrew from the crowds and rested from their labors. This work that they had undertaken at Jesus’ command prompted them to rest and reflect on what had occurred through their obedience and faith. In turn, their own faith grew and gained strength and was a means by which the Lord Jesus opened their eyes to the supernatural.
They head back to the town of Bethsaida, which was the home of Andrew, Peter, Philip, and probably Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel (John 1:43-51). Tragically, this town and others would incur the wrath of the Lord Jesus for their unbelief amidst the powerful works of God that they witnessed yet remained indifferent and spiritually blind (Matt.11:20-24; Luke 10:13-16). In the meantime, the crowds who desired to hear more from Jesus grew, a sign of spiritual hunger and an obvious sign that they were sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:35-36) and in need of care (John 10:14-18, 28-30).
Jesus, who always had time for everyone who came to Him, began to teach the people the good news of the kingdom of God and healed those who were sick as well. This intimacy that is demonstrated by our LORD should encourage us to always seek Him and come to Him when we need assurance, comfort ,or a need that cannot be obtained by our own attempts (Psalm 84:11; 37:23-25). No one on earth can supply our needs when the times of troubles appear. The acts of a government can only go so far in giving assistance, and they are all broke. A relative’s act of compassion is limited at best and their resources do not last. We look for peace in the political realm and put our faith in people who have clever phrases but no real solutions. Most are part of a chorus of fools, possessing empty words and little if any action.
Religion, as defined by the world, does not help. Apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ, all our efforts to gain spiritual insight or redemption is nothing more than an exercise in works-based futility. All religion, save from Christ, tells someone that they earn favor with their deity by their own efforts before anything can happen. Only the Lord Jesus Christ comes to us and takes us as we are, reaching out to us, and allowing Him to transform us, redeem us, and open our eyes to His will and direction as well as supply our needs (Phil. 4:19). Only Jesus can give us true and authentic freedom and life (Luke 11:14; John 8:32, 36; Romans 7:25; 8:2, 21; Gal. 5:1).
As the crowd around the LORD grew and congregated, the apostles saw a problem. These people were not just spiritually hungry, but there was a need to fill physical hunger as well. Concern over this situation is expressed in verse 12. They suggest to the LORD that the people leave to go to the nearby villages and towns to purchase food from the local vendors and farmers. Jesus in return tells them to provide food for the crowd, and the meager meal of bread and small fish they did have would not suffice, or so it seemed. Why did Jesus ask them, then?
Think for a moment. These men awhile ago had done mighty works in the name of the LORD in healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching the Gospel to people all throughout the regions. Surely, they believed that the situation they were facing at that moment could be solved, but not in their own power or strength. The apostles were just getting a notion of what Jesus would provide them with and expect them to demonstrate when the time came to carry on the work of Jesus after He went back to heaven. Right now, though, they were still thinking of solving these problems in their own strength. Their faith still needed to mature, and they also needed to know that they were in the presence of the very God who would provide them with such power.
The Lord Jesus asks the apostles to organize the crowd into groups of fifty, which would be far easier to handle than would a big uncoordinated group. The Scriptures tell us that five thousand men were there. No doubt their wives and children made up the crowd as well, so the total number was a few thousand more. As the apostles began going around and asking everyone to get into the smaller numbers, the fathers and husbands there would gather their families and have them all together, which shows that common sense played a part in what was about to occur. After the organizing was completed, there were probably a thousand groups of fifty.
Jesus took the loaves and fish and gave thanks to God for the provision. He supernaturally began creating fish and bread and gave the abundance to the apostles for distribution. No doubt other men in the crowd assisted with this task, giving the food to their families and others. If they were hungry, the LORD created the food to satisfy their need. These people were eyewitnesses to a genuine compassionate act of the Sovereign God for their benefit and to show that He was the One Who cares for the welfare of His creation if they would simply trust and ask Him for what they need and not doubt that it would come to pass. After everyone was full, there were enough leftovers for the apostles to enjoy as well. They certainly deserved it.
While there were people who saw this act as one of compassion and a means to strengthen their faith, a lot more saw what had happened as a free meal ticket and hung around the next day to see if Jesus would do it again. They would then take Him by force to make Him their king. Consider their point of view. He would provide an endless supply of food, be able to heal rebel Jewish soldiers of all wounds and bring them to life if they were killed in battle against the Romans, and rid the land of Caesar and his paganism. The new king, Jesus, would then establish a renovated Israel with Him as the Davidic Messiah, conqueror of their enemies and ruler for all time (John 6:22-40).
Their vision was shattered when the Lord explained to them that He was the Bread of Life, more concerned with their souls than with the establishment of an earthly dynasty. They ended up abandoning Him, showing that they loved their stomachs more than their eternal destinies, which would be a common reaction to many who encountered Jesus. The same attitude is present in today’s “name it and claim it”, or “prosperity” teachings that false teachers proclaim to the greedy and gullible crowds who see Jesus as a “sugar daddy” instead of the Almighty Lord and Savior worthy of worship, praise, and reverence. I have written about the abomination of the “prosperity gospel” in past articles, so I will not repeat myself and I have not changed my mind on the subject.
I end this study with a question that you really need to consider. Who is Jesus to you? A miracle maker? A performer of signs and wonders? A meal ticket? A good man? A figure in history? A great teacher? Or do you bow before Him in awe, reverence, and humbleness and declare Him Lord and Savior? You had better have that figured out and settled before you take your last breath (2 Cor. 6:2).
Don was born and raised in the true Cajun Country of Louisiana. He holds a Bachelors Degree in History from Louisiana College, a Masters Degree in Christian Education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Theology from Andersonville Baptist Seminary in Georgia. Don has served as a pastor, interim pastor, high school teacher, and hospital chaplain over the past thirty years. He currently serves as a volunteer chaplain (2008-present) with St. Francis Hospital and also served as the pastor/teacher from 2013-2016 at the Gospel Rescue Mission, both of which are here in Muskogee. He was called to Meadowbrook in February 0f 2017 and began his ministry in March of that year. He has also served as President of the Muskogee Baptist Association’s Pastors Conference, which is a weekly meeting that presents speakers and ministry ideas and concepts to church leaders in the greater Muskogee area.
Don’s top priority is to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is shared with our lost and hurting world and that the people of God are taught sound doctrine and preparation for our Lord’s soon return.