JESUS PROVIDES BREAD (LUKE 9:10-17)
The feeding of the 5,000 is a very important miracle in the New Testament. Except for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is the only miracle that appears in all four gospels. Furthermore, as we will see, the Gospel of John spends a lot of time in John 6 explaining its significance.
Remember that Jesus had sent the twelve apostles out on their very first missions trip. We aren’t told how long that they had been gone. I think it may have been quite some time, because as soon as they returned, Jesus takes them to a private area to rest—
Luke 9:10 And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.
Bethsaida was the home of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (John 1:44). It was about three miles west of Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida, by the way, means “house of fish,” a perfect name for a town of fishermen! Sadly, in the next chapter, we will find that the Lord declares Bethsaida and Chorazin as worse sinners than Tyre or Sidon (Luke 10:13).
At any rate, here Jesus and the disciples just expect to rest and debrief. Perhaps Jesus was anticipating spending time evaluating their performance and offering encouragement. However, their rest was interrupted.
Luke 9:11 And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received [dechomai: welcomed, accepted] them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.
Crowds of people found out where Jesus had gone and followed him to the remote location where they were having their private meeting.
How does Jesus respond to this interruption? Luke says that “…he received them…” This word “received,” means that he welcomed them. It’s not a half-hearted welcome either, like when someone comes to your door in great need late at night and you sigh and say, “All right, come on in.” Jesus was glad they were there. He had again the opportunity to teach and to heal people.
Luke 9:12 And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place.
As evening approached, the disciples saw a very practical problem. They were in a remote, desert area—feeding the crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children (Luke 9:14; cf. Matthew 14:21) would be impossible in the area.
Just imagine the scope of the difficulty here—let’s say that there are a total of 10,000 people. Imagine 10,000 people coming to our town of 2,000 and wanting supper in a restaurant! Imagine the lines at the grocery store and the gas stations! And where would they stay the night?
Even in our modern day and age, this would be difficult, but in those days there weren’t restaurants and grocery stores and hotels like we have today.
They would have to buy food at a small local food market, or from individuals. They would have to gather at a shelter (it couldn’t be called a hotel by any stretch of the imagination), or find room in someone’s home, or even sleep under the stars.
The disciples were right to be concerned. Perhaps the disciples were tired and a bit selfish, but a logistical nightmare had presented itself. These people would have to walk to nearby towns and farmhouses and find shelter and a meal for the night.
If the disciples did anything wrong here, it was that they failed to ask Jesus what to do about the problem. Instead, they presented the problem and their solution in one fell swoop. Jesus understood the problem—people need to eat—however, he didn’t think much of their solution.
Luke 9:13a But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat.
Can you just imagine the looks on their faces? Can you see the deer-in-the-headlights looks that they must have had when Jesus told them to give them to eat? After a moment of stunned silence, they respond:
Luke 9:13b And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people.
Luke 9:14a For they were about five thousand men.
The “five loaves and two fishes” we learn in John 6:9 came from a young boy. It’s probably best to think of the loaves as something the size of biscuits, not the big loaves of bread that we find in the store today. The amount of food available wouldn’t even feed Jesus and the twelve disciples!
They suggest—sarcastically, I think—that they would have to go out and buy food for everyone. In Mark 6:37, we learn that they threw out a quick cost estimate “two hundred pennyworth.” The word “pennyworth,” translates the Greek word denarii, which was about a day’s wage for a common laborer at that time. Eight months of wages would be required to buy bread for everyone!
I don’t think the disciples really thought that they could go buy enough food for thousands of people. It would be difficult enough for us to do in our day of modern grocery stores and vehicles to haul the food. For them, we’re talking nearly impossible. But that’s what Jesus wants them to see.
Luke 9:14b And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company.
Luke 9:15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.
Jesus tells the disciples to prepare the crowd for supper by sitting down in groups of fifty. We can’t be certain why he had them do this, but it would have made distributing the food more organized. It would have made space for the disciples to walk around.
Luke 9:16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
If ever you wonder if there’s a biblical basis for praying before you eat, look no further than the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. He looks up and gives thanks. Now we give thanks to God for providing (through farmers and ranchers and grocery stores and jobs and cooks) our food—and that is appropriate. God is the ultimate source of our food. But Jesus here is giving thanks for the food that God is going to directly provide!
What happens next is speculation. Did the baskets that the disciples used simply never go empty as they walked from group to group? Or did they return to Jesus each time the baskets ran out and have him refill them? Some say that the Greek grammar suggests the latter. Whatever the exact procedure, Jesus miraculously fed the multitude.
Some have wrongly suggested that the miracle here was that Jesus got the people who had thought to bring food to share their picnic lunches. They might even go further and say that it was the young boy’s example that inspired everyone to share—Jesus is minimized. A careful reading of this passage shows this isn’t the case.
First, in verse 12, the disciples were worried about sending the crowd away to find food—the disciples could see that there wasn’t a lot of picnic baskets in the crowd.
And then in verse 13, they say, “We have no more but five loaves and two fishes.” Certainly, they would have mentioned the dozens of picnic baskets if there had been any. But the nail in the coffin for this false idea is verse 17—
Luke 9:17 And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if some of the people who brought lunch shared with those who didn’t and all were “filled,” there would be no leftovers! This is not a moral lesson in sharing. It is an example of Jesus’s power to create food from thin air for a crowd of thousands.
And, as a bonus, he provided the disciples with their own provisions for the next several days.
1. We Can Depend On The Lord For Our Needs
One application we can draw from this account is that we can depend on the Lord for our daily needs. This is one of several provision miracles recorded for us in the Bible.
We are reminded of the manna God gave to the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16). And then Elijah and Elisha also experienced miracles where God fed them and others, like the widow and her son (1 Kings 17:7-16; 2 Kings 4:1-7, 42-44).
Now, don’t assume that the Lord will provide your meals each and every day; that you’ll go to the fridge, grab a tiny container of leftovers and, “poof,” there will be a whole plate of food. Jesus didn’t even do that for his disciples!
But what you really need in life, what you cannot work and provide for yourself, he will give. I read about a teenager who suddenly started having anxiety attacks. It got so bad that she had to quit school. When she went back to school her mother attended with her. When her parents went somewhere, they had to be sure to be in cell phone range.
Of course, she saw all sorts of doctors and did all sorts of therapy. Somehow, she made it through high school and actually went off to college. While there, she finally found what she really needed.
As her father says,
…she began to discover piece by piece that the most essential key to healing had nothing to do with doctors, deep breathing or getting more sleep. She needed Christ.
And, in her words,
…as I struggled to be on my own, I learned I’m not ever truly alone. I learned how to look towards heaven and take comfort in the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and the unconditional love of Christ. (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/05/05/how-my-19-year-old-daughter-overcame-her-crippling-anxiety.html)
We can depend on the Lord for our needs, whatever they might be.
2. We Should Care About The Physical Needs Of Others
Years ago, liberal Christians, not believing in the spiritual reality of God’s Word, turned to helping people as their main focus. This focus became known as the Social Gospel. Fundamentalists saw this and threw the baby out with the bathwater. Both the Social Gospel and helping the needy became an evil thing. Only spiritual truth was important.
While we have recovered somewhat from that overreaction, it’s still hard for some Christians to care about the physical needs of others. But Jesus’s example here shows us that we must care. The disciples were ready to send everyone off to fend for themselves, but Jesus wanted to feed them.
James, Jesus’s half-brother, would have to rebuke some Christians for ignoring the physical needs of others:
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (James 2:15–16)
As we share the gospel with unbelievers we need to be concerned about both their spiritual and physical needs. Someone once said, “A hungry man has no ears.” We can babble on and on about Jesus, but get nowhere if they are struggling with a physical or even emotional issue that we’ve ignored.
3. We Need To Receive Jesus As The Bread Of Life
The most important application we want to draw from this passage is this: Jesus is painting a picture of himself as the bread of life. Yes, physical needs, like food and water, are very important. But they are not most important. What is most important for every human being on planet Earth is to eat of the bread of life.
In John 6, we find the account of the feeding of the 5,000. The next day, the crowds caught up with Jesus again. Jesus accuses them of seeking a miracle like the one he had performed the previous day:
26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you…(John 6:26–27)
Well, that sounded good to them, so they ask how they might be involved.
29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John 6:29)
Okay, fine, that’s good. But then they ask for a sign so that they can believe Jesus. After all, Moses gave our fathers bread from heaven when they wandered in the wilderness.
32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:32–35)
What is Jesus saying? Why does he call himself the bread of life? Simply this: in order to live physically, we must eat. We need to have food and water or we will die.
Spiritually, we are all born into this world dead. That’s what Paul says in Ephesians 2:1 where he describes us as “dead in trespasses and sins.” It’s why Jesus says in John 3 that we must be “born again.” Spiritually, we are dead because of our sins (Romans 6:23).
Jesus, as the Lord’s Table reminds us, died for our sins. He could do this because he is sinless. He died as a perfect sacrificial lamb without blemish. And he didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead as evidence that his sacrifice was pleasing to God.
Now, what do we have to do to be saved? We need to eat of the bread of life which is Jesus. He is the one who can give us spiritual life, just as eating food gives us physical life.
How do we eat the bread of life? What does Jesus say in John 6:35?
35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
Come to Jesus…believe on him…that is how you eat the bread of life. When you do, you will have eternal life. You will never hunger again spiritually. Jesus is all you need.
As we partake in the Lord’s Table together (and if you are a believer in Jesus you are welcome to join us), let’s remember what this is about. As we partake of the bread and the cup, we are reminding ourselves that Jesus is the only bread of life that will give us spiritual life. His body—like the bread—was broken for us. His blood—the cup—was shed for us.