Just prior to this story Christ had sent out the disciples in pairs to preach and cast out demons. They came back exhausted but exhilarated. In Mark 6:31, Christ said “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest awhile.” We need to balance work with some recreation. Apart from the resurrection, this is the only miracle that is recorded by all four gospel writers. This event took place in the spring just before the Passover. Every miracle reveals something about the Lord and in this case, it is His faithfulness.
First we see Jesus’ faithfulness in teaching (6:1-4). Jesus and the disciples were exhausted. The rest and retreat Jesus had planned never came to pass. Emotionally, Christ was drained, in part because of the news of John the Baptist’s murder by Herod. Physically, Christ was worn because of the ministry demands. Famous people often have little privacy and pressing demands. Verse two tells us the multitude followed because of the miracles and healings, not because they believed He was the Messiah. Spiritual opposition was mounting.
But Jesus was spiritually committed. Our occupation makes us look at people differently: a barber or beautician evaluates people’s haircut, a salesman sees potential buyers, a counselor classifies individuals as problem types, but Christ the Great Shepherd saw the people as sheep–sick, hungry, and in need of a Shepherd. Christ grew weary in ministry but never stopped ministering to people. Love for Christ and compassion for people will keep us motivated to serve. Jesus saturated the multitudes with His teaching. Teaching is one of the thrusts of the Great Commission, and one of the three most important spiritual gifts (I Cor 12:28). Jesus was the epitome of the pastor-teacher (Eph 4:11).
Next we see His faithfulness in training (6:5-7). Jesus inquired of Philip where to buy bread; he was from nearby Bethsaida. But Christ wasn’t looking for information, just faith. When Philip first met the Lord, he told Nathaniel that he had found the one of whom Moses wrote (John 1:45). Would Philip remember Moses gave bread to the Israelites in the wilderness? Would he understand that someone far greater than Moses was here, someone fully capable of meeting their greatest need? Two hundred denarii was eight months wages for the common man. It would drain their resources! Ministry is costly, but money is not the solution to every problem, especially spiritual ones!
The disciple’s response in the other gospel accounts was, “Send them away,” “Get rid of the problem.” In Mark 6:37, Jesus said, “You give them to eat.” That should be emblazoned over the entrance of every church–our mission is to feed the spiritually hungry! But the disciples were looking at the circumstances instead of looking to Christ. When we leave Christ out of our calculations, we will always come up with the wrong conclusion. One constant challenge for the Christian is to see his obstacles through the eyes of faith. The disciples had knowledge; they had sat at the feet of Jesus; they had experience; they had witnessed many miracles; but they still lacked faith, an essential in successful Christian living.
Finally we see Jesus’ faithfulness in tending to the people (6:8-14). Great needs, little faith–the stage is set for a miracle. Barley loaves were flat cakes and the fish were probably similar to sardines. Not a lot to work with? Put it in the hands of the Savior. Jesus specializes in adequacies. Little is much when God is in it! Barley cakes were poor people’s food, simple and crude fare (Ezek 13:19). Sometimes in the local church people do not share their lives or their homes because of embarrassment as they compare their fare with someone else’s. Let me encourage you to invite others over, to utilize what you have! Christ taught and He healed, and was hospitable, often feeding His guests.
Obeying Christ’s words, the disciples direct the 5,000 men and unknown number of women and children (most commentators estimate around 20,000 people) to sit in groups of fifties. They must have been nervous like going grocery shopping on faith. Jesus gave thanks publicly and so should we! By that act he reminded the people that God is the source of all good and needful gifts. Then he gave the lunch to the disciples, He often uses others to be channels of His blessings. This was not some sacramental fragment as some would teach. Nor did the boy giving his lunch to Jesus shame the rest of the crowd into sharing their food with one another. This was a miracle great enough that the crowd wanted to make Jesus king (15). The people ate as much as they wanted and 12 baskets were left over! The disciples gathered up the leftovers, which was good stewardship – nothing wasted. There is a divine abundance of the Bread of Life too. The atonement is sufficient for all who will believe!
In conclusion, what is your hunger today? Many that we meet are lost and gnawing in their souls, looking for something to fill the void of their emptiness, loneliness, and meaninglessness. Jesus is the provision. Everyone in the story in John 6 got hungry again, but all who partake of the Bread of Life will never hunger!