(May 21, 2022) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, reminds us a great truth regarding our almighty God…
There are almost 40 miracles of Jesus recorded in the four gospels and John mentions seven of them. The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 is so significant that all four gospel writers mention it… but there are some notable differences between John’s account and that of the others.
What a crowd gathered on the hillside that day. In John 6:10 we read that there about 5000 men. In his account, Matthew’s adds that there were also women and children present (Matthew 14:21).
Jesus and His disciples had gone there initially to relax and enjoy some privacy. Can you imagine, therefore, the stress the disciples would have felt when this great crowd arrived? Despite this ‘inconvenience’, we are told by Luke that Jesus preached to the crowds and healed those who were sick (Luke 9:11).
That day an amazing thing happened. With five small loaves and two small fish Jesus fed the hungry crowd and when they had eaten their fill, there was a surplus of twelve baskets of pieces of the five loaves. John wrote, ‘The people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did’ (6:14).
When Matthew, Mark and Luke referred to miracles, they used the Greek word dunamis whichrefers to an act of power and force and it is the root of our English word ‘dynamite.’
But John used a different word to describe Jesus’ miracles. His word was sēmeion which means a ‘sign.’ Every miracle John wrote about were not primarily viewed as dynamic, spectacular events – rather he quite deliberately referred to them as ‘signs’ whose significance was greater than the events themselves.
Let me explain what I mean. The main value of a ‘sign’ is that it points to something beyond itself. For example, if you are driving along a road and you see a yellow sign with the image of a black kangaroo on it, you don’t stop to admire it as a piece of art! You rightly know that the sign is indicating that there are often kangaroos to be found on that road. So, signs inform us of deeper realities.
There is, therefore, so much more to the miracle of the feeding of a great crowd of people with an impossibly small amount of food, amazing though that was!
So what does this miracle, this sign, tell us? It…
1) Informs us of the compassion of Jesus
Despite His own exhaustion, Jesus was concerned about the wellbeing of the many people who had travelled to that hillside to hear Him preach and possibly to see Him heal those who were ill. He had compassion for them all. This was a significant characteristic of Jesus. He cared about all people and He often showed acts of compassion that crossed the traditional restrictions and taboos of the day.
He had compassion for…
- The lepers, the social outcasts of the day.
- The woman religious people wanted to stone to death because she had committed adultery.
- The man who had been blind from birth.
- The grief-stricken mother at Nain whose only son had died.
- And so on!
His compassion was seen for the hungry people who had gathered on the hillside that day and He decided to do something about it. In John 6: 6 we read that Jesus already knew what He has going to do when He asked Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’
This miracle challenges us truly to examine ourselves about the compassion, or lack of it, that characterises us. Would others consider us as compassionate people? Would each of us consider ourselves as compassionate? If we want to reflect Jesus in our lives but are aware that we are lacking compassion, what are we going to do about it?
2) Indicates what we consider to be obvious is not the limit by which God acts
Philip’s reply (John 6:7) was based on a very practical evaluation of the situation. For Philip Jesus’ proposal wasn’t an option and he answered Him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’
In the other three gospels we are told that the answer of the other disciples to the problem presented by the hungry crowd was, ‘It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves’ (Matthew 14:15 GNB).
In Matthew we also read that Jesus told His disciples, ‘You give them something to eat.’ I would have loved to have seen their faces when Jesus said that!
Nevertheless, Andrew found a young lad who had his picnic lunch that his mum had probably prepared for him. It wasn’t much – just five small loaves and a couple of small fish. Obviously, that would never feed the thousands of people there!
Our perspective on things is often based on what we think is obvious. And our view of the ‘obvious’ often places limitations on our thinking and actions.
Let me share a personal example. As a young man in my early 20s it was obvious that I would never be a pastor. Everything was against it! Based on the ‘obvious’ I had very limited ideas of how and where I would spend my life. But God had other plans for me! And now 60 years later, I have pastored churches in England, America and Australia, and taught theology and biblical studies in various Bible colleges. And I am still preaching God’s word!
My ‘obvious’ limitations were over-ruled by God’s plans. God doesn’t limit Himself to what we consider the ‘obvious’ and nor should we place such limitations on God. Before Jesus was born an angel told Mary, ‘Nothing is impossible with God’ (Matthew 14:15 GNB).
On the hillside that day we see that truth again being worked out. How were so many thousands of people going to be fed with a small picnic lunch? It would take a miracle to feed them all – and that is what they got!
The expectations of the disciples were limited by what they considered were ‘possible’ and their limitations reflect our own limited perspective on what God can do. God is not restricted by what appears to be obvious!
Almost 200 years ago the Baptist pastor and missionary William Carey made this profound statement, ‘Expect great things from God… Do great things for God.’ Carey was an ordinary man, but he understood that God can take the ordinary and do extraordinary things through them. Do you believe that? A little can become a lot in the hands of Jesus!
3) Demonstrates the extravagance of God
John 6:13 tells us that after the thousands were fed, the disciples filled 12 baskets with the remaining bread! This verse speaks of the amazing generosity of God. I am sure that all of us suffer from a very inadequate understanding of who God really is and what God really can do.
Paul encouraged the Christians in Ephesus to get a better grasp on the amazing liberality of God. He wrote in Ephesians 2:7 about ‘the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.’
And in Ephesians 3:20 Paul wrote about our God who ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.’
Can you grasp that? Some years ago the late biblical scholar J.B. Phillips wrote a book called Your God is too Small. Even if you have never read that book, you need to lay hold of what the title is stating – ‘Your God is too small!’
The parable of the feeding of the 5000 is a revelation of the character of Almighty God and it encourages us to open our eyes, minds and hearts to the truth that there is an extravagance in His love, generosity and grace.
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
His helpful book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, is offered free as are all of Dr Jim’s highly recommended writings – such as Grace Revisited. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com
Thanks Jim for sharing your personal experience within the context of this very refreshing and challenging meditation.