Do you ever have problems so large, you can’t cope from your own strength? What do you do? Where do you turn? In the story of Jesus and the miracle of feeding the five thousand, the disciples and Jesus were facing a problem that required supernatural power to solve it.
Jesus had just been rejected in His hometown of Nazareth and said that He could do no miracles there because of their unbelief. He also just learned that His soul mate – His cousin John the Baptist (the forerunner to the Messiah) – had been beheaded by the king because John the Baptist confronted him for the sin of sleeping with his brother’s wife.
Jesus was grieving the death of John the Baptist. But the crowds, it says in the Gospel, still came. Large crowds with great need. The compassion of Jesus was stirred for them, so He healed the sick and taught about the kingdom of God. All through the day, they still came with their tremendous need.
Jesus was tired, and now there were 5,000 men – if you counted women and children, it may have been up to 15,000 people – in a desolate wilderness area without food. That’s a problem. The disciples, perhaps because they were tired or indifferent, said to Jesus, Send these people away to the nearby village so they can eat. We can’t feed them.
Jesus said, They don’t have to go away. You feed them. There is a contrast here between the attitude of the disciples – indifference or dismissal of the problem, not wishing to deal with it at all, running from it – and Jesus’ compassion – engage the problem in a practical way and offer help.
I can understand the attitude of the disciples, not only what I meet problems in my life so big I can’t cope with them, but even when God calls me to do something about world issues that feel too big for me. If I hear on the news of a child who has been abducted and missing, I grieve. If I see a video on TV about a poor, starving person, I know the complexities of the problem are so deep that a few dollars offered isn’t going to solve it, and yet Jesus asked me to do something about it.
When I hear stories about white supremacists who literally believe they should rule or dominate and control and put down other people because of the color of their skin or their nationality, I get angry at the injustice, at the prejudice. But I’m blind at the prejudices that operate in my own soul. Or I hear stories around the world of terrorists who have put innocent people to death senselessly, like not long ago in Barcelona, Spain. I wonder, Where will it end? and How can I fix it? I’m kind of like an ostrich that puts his head in the sand and says, ‘It’s not my problem.’ My resources are limited. I can’t fix it. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t want to deal with it. Send them away, Jesus. But Jesus in compassion says, ‘You help them. You love them.’
So I ask you again, when you face life’s problems, do you focus on your limits and your lack of capacity, or do you look to Jesus and invite His power to be released into the problem or into the context of the challenge? Remember the verse in Ephesians 3:20, “God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we ask or think according to His power that works within us.” Maybe you’ve heard this faith quote, “God is never at His extremity. Therefore we are never at our extremity.” We put our problems and our lives into the hands of Jesus, and then miraculous things can happen.
In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples bring five loaves and two fish, but protest, “What is this among so many?” They are focused on their limits. But remember, they are in the presence of the all-powerful Lord Jesus. From John’s telling of the story, we actually learn that it was a boy who brought the five loaves and two fish to the disciples. This boy’s generosity becomes the means by which Jesus turns the impossible into the possible. When we put our problems into Jesus’ hands, He does miraculous things for us and with us. We actually are invited to become participants in Jesus’ miracle to bless the people.
God uses imperfect, limited people to experience the thrill of having God work through us. God is never at His extremity, therefore we are never at our extremity. We have learned in the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation that God takes impossible circumstances and reveals His power and grace are possible for a word of hope for all people.
Remember when Abraham and Sarah were promised a child who would be the beginning of a great nation? Twenty-five years later when Abraham was one hundred and Sarah was ninety, a child was born. A miracle. They named him Isaac, which means, “He laughs.” The Lord had asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” The answer, of course, is no!
Moses stood before Pharaoh, the most powerful leader of Egypt, who refused to let his country’s slaves (God’s people) go. Ten supernatural plagues later, God’s power convinced Pharaoh to let them go. They no sooner left Egypt when they were confronted by yet another problem – the Red Sea as a barrier. But then, by the calling of Moses and the people, the Red Sea divides and they cross over into the promised land. Now that, which was the problem, becomes the very means God uses to defeat Pharaoh and his army and give them the victory.
David slays the giant Goliath saying, The battle is the Lord’s. And of course, in the incarnation story of sweet Jesus Himself, an all-powerful God takes on limits in an emptying of His power and glory. A child is conceived within the womb of a virgin named Mary. God becomes a man, and the impossible becomes possible in the context of human history.
Jesus goes on to live a perfect life; He goes to the cross on false charges. He dies for the sins of the world of all time; and God raises Him from the dead so that in His name the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to all who would believe. That is how the impossible becomes possible in individual lives like yours and mine as we are invited to be reconciled into a relationship with the living God.
God is in the business of the impossible becoming possible. An extraordinary God lives in the hearts of ordinary people to do miraculous things. This miracle shows us He truly is the Son of God. One man feeding five thousand, everybody eating until they are satisfied with twelve baskets left over, shows us the power of Jesus – that He truly is the Son of God. He is the Lord. He is the Savior of the world. Just like God fed His people in the wilderness with manna, now Jesus as the bread of life satisfies the soul of all people.
The miracle also shows us the compassion of Jesus that always meets us at the point of our need.
What is your problem today? Where do you struggle? You can invite Jesus into that very point of life, and His compassion will release power and love into your life context.
The miracle also shows that Jesus desires to come into our lives and bless us abundantly, to lavish His grace upon us. The same compassion that released Jesus’ power to feed the five thousand, took Jesus all the way to the cross. The ultimate need of humanity was that our sins would be forgiven so we could be reconciled into a relationship of love and peace with the Creator God who made us. We can place, not just our problems, but our very lives into the hands of Jesus Christ.
We can pray as intercessors for other people who have needs inviting God’s power to work for them.
I love the story told by Bill Bright in his magazine Campus Crusade for Christ. The article was called, “How You Can Pray With Confidence.” He tells the story from the mid-1950s of the Mau Mau terrorist uprising in the country of Kenya. This uprising was a terrorist plot to overthrow a certain segment of the people. During that time, missionaries located in Kenyan named Matt and Laura Higgins had to drive through the heart of Mau Mau territory on their way to the city of Nairobi. They were well aware that many had met a violent death at the hands of terrorists in that very area.
It was after dark, and they were still 17 miles from Nairobi when their Land Rover stalled. Missionary Matt tried in vain to repair the vehicle in the dark, but he was unable to get it started. Fearfully the couple locked themselves in the car and prayed aloud Psalm 4. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone make me dwell in safety.” When they awakened in the morning in the daylight, Matt repaired the Land Rover and they were able to get to Nairobi.
The following week, a local pastor – their friend – told Matt and Laura what happened while they slept. Three Mau Mau terrorists, in fact, had crept up to the car intending to do them in, but they saw sixteen men surrounding their vehicle, and so they fled in fear. Matt, and Laura were thrilled but bewildered by that strange story. “What sixteen men?” they wondered.
Sometime later, they were on furlough back in America, and the rest of the story came to light when Matt’s dear friend asked him, “Have you been in any danger lately?” Matt told his friend about the Mau Mau rebellion, their stalled vehicle, and the sixteen men. The friend nodded excitedly. “Yes! It was March 23!” he said. “God burned my heart for you. I called the men of our church, and sixteen of us met for emergency prayer, praying on your behalf.”
Now, God does not always work that way in our human lives. He does not always release miraculous power to deliver us from all harm or spare us from all suffering, but in this particular case, the intercessory prayer of dear friends delivered those missionaries. We can, in prayer, put our life problems in the hands of Jesus.
Author Stephen Ambrose in the book, Band of Brothers, told the story of an American paratrooper unit during World War II. One of the stories was about one Sgt. “Skinny” Sisk, who was one of the few to survive from beginning to end. After the war, Skinny Sisk had a hard time shaking his wartime memories. In July 1991, he wrote a letter to explain to his old captain, Dick Winters, what happened after the war. My career after the war was trying to drink away the truckload of Krauts I had stopped in Holland, and the diehard Nazi as I went up into the Bavarian Alps and ended his life. Old Mo Alley made a statement that all the killings I did was going to jump into bed with me one of these days, and they surely did. I had a lot of flashbacks that haunted me after the war, and I started drinking.
Then my sister’s little daughter, my four-year-old niece, came into my bedroom. I was too unbearable for the rest of the family – either hung over or drunk. So she came in the bedroom and told me that Jesus loved me, and she loved me, and if I would repent God would forgive me for all the men I kept trying to kill all over again. That little girl got to me. I put her out of the room, and sent her back to her mommy. But there and then I bowed my head on my mother’s old featherbed. I repented of all my sins, and I asked God to forgive me for the war and for all the other bad things I had done down through the years. I later was ordained into the gospel ministry in 1949.
I love that story that skinny Sisk tells about how the Lord redeemed him, because it tells me two things: the Lord is still in the business of redeeming lives. Jesus is still pouring grace and power into lives to redeem us and start over again. But also it tells me that even a little four-year-old girl can be the one who shares the message of Jesus Christ.
In prayer, we can place our problems and our guilt and our very lives into the hands of Jesus Christ, and when we do, powerful life-changing things happen. Amen.
Pastor Lee Laaveg