Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000 is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. In fact, it’s His only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. But since it’s so familiar I think that our awe over the outcome can blind us to the process that unfolded to get there – which is dangerous because that’s where abiding dependence on Jesus is forged: in the process of whatever He’s doing in or among us. And as such, I believe this great story presents those of us who are serious about following Jesus with three pivotal questions.
Question #1: Do I see people the way Jesus sees them? (vv.33-34)
The feeding of the 5,000 occurred on the heels of a grueling ministry season for Jesus and His disciples, and their exhaustion was compounded by grief over John the Baptist’s recent death. So in Mark 6:32 Jesus invited His disciples across Lake Galilee for a couple days’ rest. But in v.33 Mark says that when the people saw them going, “they ran there together on foot from all the cities and arrived ahead of them.” Meaning what? No rest. And in the moment, I’m guessing that the disciples weren’t pleased.
But not Jesus! Mark says that He “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34), because Jesus saw them as they truly were: needy, vulnerable, and lost. Now, the interesting thing about the Greek word for “compassion” is that it’s only ever used by, or in reference to Jesus. Meaning that it’s a supernatural resource! So, if you and I are going to see those around us the way Jesus sees them, so that we can love them the way Jesus loves them, we must come to Him and get it from Him! In humble, even repentant prayer, we must be willing to say, “Lord, help me see others the way that You do. Grant me the supernatural resource of Your compassion so I can love them like You.”
Question #2: What kind of logic do I apply to my problems? (vv.35-37)
“When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, ‘This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go…and buy themselves something to eat” (Mark 6:35-36).
Ever done that? Ever taken your troubles to God and after laying them all out, prayed, “So as I see it, Lord, You’ve only got a couple options.” Here it was to either send the crowd away or pool their own meager resources and hope everybody got a bite. And while we might give the disciples half-credit for at least taking the problem to Jesus, He didn’t! Why? Because they’d already applied human logic to the dilemma and determined all possible outcomes.
So in v.37 Jesus gave them a hard word: “You give them something to eat!”, which is often the most loving thing Jesus can do. Because how should they have answered? “We can’t do it, Jesus. We don’t have the resources!” And Jesus would’ve said, “Exactly, guys. That’s the whole point. But I do. In fact, I have supernatural resources you’ve never even considered!”
What a powerful lesson on prayer. Because while many of us do know enough to bring our problems to Jesus first, what’s harder is approaching Him with empty hands: asking, not instructing; seeking, not suggesting; knocking, not insisting. We need to recognize whose logic we’re applying to our problems and trust that His supernatural resources infinitely outweigh our own hastily-drawn conclusions.
Question #3: What do I expect when I go to Jesus? (vv.38-44)
I don’t know what the disciples expected Jesus to do in the moments just before this miracle happened, but it probably wasn’t much, given that all He had to work with was one boy’s lunch for a crowd that, including women and children, may have numbered 20,000. They were probably thinking, “This is impossible”, as I so often do.
But don’t we all have stories of great things God has done when we’ve placed the meagerest of offerings in His hands? Haven’t we all experienced the Lord’s surprising, supernatural provision in moments when humanly speaking, all hope seemed lost? Remember what happened here:
“He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces and also of the fish” (Mark 6:41-44).
Did you catch that? Not only did everyone get fed, there were actually more leftovers at the end than there was food to begin with! Better still, because the leftovers filled exactly 12 baskets, each of Jesus’ disciples found himself holding tangible evidence of Christ’s supernatural provision.
So let me ask the question again: What do you expect when you go to Jesus with your needs? I’m not talking about presumption. Nor am I diminishing the disappointment we feel when God delays. I’m just saying (from personal experience) that sometimes our expectations of Jesus are far too low and as such, our prayers are far too timid. They’re so wrapped up in ways to let God off the hook that I think we risk astonishing Him at our lack of faith in His ability to solve our problems and meet our needs.
Jesus really is the Lord of supernatural resources, and we all love it when He comes through for us. But again, it’s not so much in the outcome as it is in the process of getting there that the greatest spiritual lessons are learned. And maybe the most important lesson we can take from this story is that the primary reason the disciples learned these lessons is because despite their confusion and presumption, they were still, in fact, close to Jesus. And it was in His presence, where the process unfolded, that a deeper dependence on Him was forged. Have you spent time in His presence today?
Copyright © 2018 Aaron Telecky. All rights reserved.
Aaron Telecky serves on Strategic Renewal’s Transformational Ministry Team as part of our 180 Days To Church Transformation process. Aaron is also the Senior Pastor of Maranatha Bible Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.