Five loaves & two fishes
As we continue our study of Matthew's Gospel this morning, we come to a very familiar story which teaches us lessons that constantly need to be re-visited.
The account happened immediately after Jesus received the news of the death of John the Baptist. John’s followers had come to Jesus and reported the news to him. What happens next is one of the most notable stories in the earthly ministry of Jesus. It is so important, in fact, that it’s one of the few stories told in all four gospel accounts.
The Holy Spirit moved upon each of the Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—to tell this story. Each tells this story in his own way, and records different elements and details about the same story. Remember they did not know each other, they didn’t swap stories. It cannot be dismissed as a mere 'parable'. It is reported to us as a historic event. Jesus truly did feed a large multitude of people with a few loaves of bread and a few small fish.
One reason the Spirit went to such great lengths to preserve this story for us is because it affirms to us that Jesus Christ is who the Bible tells us that He is, the Son of God in human flesh, and the Saviour of the world.
But I suggest that another reason the Spirit has preserved this story for us is so that we will learn to respond to the seemingly impossible situations of life by trusting Jesus in them. This story is here to remind us of something that believing people have found to be true throughout the centuries: that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God”.
I believe that what we are to do with impossible situations of life can be summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel. Jesus says, “Bring them here to Me.” He doesn't give us a magic formula to solve our problems on our own. Rather, He gives us Himself; and invites us to cast our cares on Him.
The first principle the story teaches is . . .
DON'T DESPAIR OVER THE SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE
As you heard the Gospel, did you pick up on a sense of despair on the part of the disciples over the seeming impossibility of their situation? Matthew tells us that the number of people needing to be fed was “five thousands men, besides women and children”. If you count the wives and children of five thousand men, this hungry multitude could easily have been over twenty-thousand people! Apparently, they were so eager to go to where Jesus was and hear Him teach that they forgot to bring food! And all that the disciples would have had to feed this multitude was “five loaves and two fish.” It wouldn’t take long for even the most optimistic person to conclude that it simply couldn’t be done!
But Jesus knew the impossibility of the situation. He wasn't caught off-guard by the tremendous need of the multitude. And when we read John's account, there is a fascinating insight into Jesus' intention with impossible situations. John writes, "Then Jesus lifted up His eyes and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little."
Do you ever “despair” ?
First, they despaired over what they didn’t have. Philip quickly sized up the crowd and said that it couldn’t be done financially. It would take more than “two hundred denari”—which was the rough equivalent of eight to nine months wages—to feed such a crowd. They just didn’t have the money to do what Jesus was suggesting. And even if they did, Bethsaida was a tiny little town. There weren’t enough stores and markets to buy the goods.
Second, they despaired over what they did have. All they had was the lunch that a little boy had brought—nothing more than the ancient equivalent to a “Happy Meal”. A Bible teacher has said—“among the truly great miracles in this story is that a little boy was willing to give up his lunch.” I would add, and that he hadn’t eaten it already!
Third, they even despaired over the humble nature of what little they had. It wasn’t just five loaves and two fish, but, as John tells us, it was five “barley” loaves and two “small” fish. Barley loaves were pretty poor things to offer to people. Barley was cheap, and was usually reserved only as animal feed. And the word used to describe the fishes is one that refers to a tiny fish that you eat whole, much like our whitebait. And they only had two!
And finally, they despaired over the enormity of the task. “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food”
As a result, the disciples clearly didn’t want anything to do with this problem. And on a purely human level, who could have blamed them? The disciples were simply being realistic. The situation was humanly impossible.
The disciples summed up the situation and decided that the best course of action would be to send them away. They were focused on the resources . . . and not on the people, or on their needs. But Jesus was “moved with compassion for them.”
When we face a challenge that is bigger than we have the resources to accomplish, and when we simply don't know what we are going to do, stop and remember that Jesus knows about the challenge, and waits to see whether or not we will trust Him to guide.
The story tells us that even though Jesus was tired and needed rest, his great concern was the people and their needs. When He turned to the disciples and told them to give the people something to eat, it was more than just a test to the disciples. It was an expression of His real, genuine love for the people who had come to Him. He cared about people’s needs. People mattered to Him more than His busy schedule, and even more than the seemingly impossible task of feeding them.
I believe this is one of the greatest challenges, not the impossibility of the situation, rather, it is whether or not we trust Jesus with it.
What a difference it would be if, in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation—rather than panicking and saying, “Oh no; Lord! What are we going to do?”—we instead had the spiritual maturity to turn to the Lord in prayer and say, “Dear Lord; please teach me what your concern is in all this. Make my heart like yours."
Jesus said ,"Bring them here to Me."
Jesus took that little picnic lunch and multiplied it into a meal for thousands of people. He satisfied the hunger of a stadium-sized crowd with it; and even multiplied it so much that there were twelve baskets-full of left-overs. How could Jesus multiply a few loaves and two small fish to feed a huge crowd of people? I don’t know the mechanics of how it happened. But I know that Jesus is the Son of God; and as the Son of God He can do the impossible. Jesus said “Bring them here to Me,” and helps us to understand that once we do so, the impossible becomes possible.
It’s fascinating that, when they brought that small lunch to Jesus, He didn’t simply wave His hand over it all and—Bam!—turn it all into a huge seafood restaurant. His use of the meagre resources that were given to Him could have been immediate, and marvellous, and very dramatic. But instead, He seemed to go through a process that took time.
First, He had the multitudes sit down so that as they ate they would be able to talk together about what they were about to see Him do.
Second, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them. He took the time to give thanks to God and to acknowledge Him for His provision. And finally, He divided it up and gave it to His disciples. And just think of that. They were the very one’s who were complaining that all this was impossible; and no doubt, they were even still thinking that it was impossible as they were told to distribute the food. At most all they would have started with was half a roll and a fish head or tail each – it must have stretched their faith to the limit to give out the first portion and watch it multiply time and time again.
What great principles this passage teaches us about Jesus! When we're challenged with the seemingly impossible, – don’t despair –bring what we have to Jesus. For nothing is impossible for Him.