Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2014
Dear Friend in Christ,
This letter is about seeing what the Lord can do when we are unable to meet the sometimes difficult situations that we face, and it is about what we should do when those situations arise.
Luke 9 begins with Jesus giving authority to His apostles over all demonic forces and the ability to heal diseases. He sent them out to the surrounding villages to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Furthermore, He told them to live by their ministry. This they did and good things happened everywhere. It must have been an amazing experience for the common men to see the authority of God in operation as they gave what they had received.
Later, the apostles (“sent forth ones”) returned to tell Jesus what had happened. They were weary, but excited. Testimonies of God’s work through us to others are always exciting.
A Deserted Place
Rather than building upon that excitement, Jesus did something that He often does with His servants; he took them to a deserted place. I don’t know what it was like exactly, but there were no villages or stores nearby. Jesus was well-aware of the rejuvenating power of being alone with God.
But word got out that Jesus and the apostles (who were now becoming famous), had gone to that place. People came by the thousands! Hunger, whether physical or spiritual, is a driving force. So they sought and they found; Jesus continued to preach the Kingdom all day and heal the sick. Finally, it was getting late. Everyone was tired and hungry.
Send Them Away
The disciples saw an untenable situation – the need vastly exceeded the supply. More than 5000 men were there in a place with no resources. If the women and children had been included in the count, it would have been no doubt many thousands more.
“Send them away” seemed like the right thing to do. Many of us have surveyed the need and our limited supply and felt the same way. A “deserted place” adds to our desire to just be left alone. It is a bad feeling when you see the need but have no ability to meet it. And, we should remember that they had just returned from exhausting ministries all over the region. Then Jesus said something impossible, “You give them something to eat.”
Jesus’ command seemed incomprehensible. They had already examined the situation and told Him the obvious, but He had a different plan: “You give.” You give when there is little to give. You give when the need is greater than your supply. You give when you are weary and want to be alone. You give when you are tired of giving. Why? Because that is when you see the power and compassion of Christ.
So they went searching for something to give, and according to the apostle John, they found a little boy’s lunch: five loaves and two fish. Returning to Jesus, they told him what they had, all they had, which was not even their own. I often wondered how the little boy felt. He must have been excited when he saw his lunch in Jesus’ hands. He gave, and then the apostles gave to Jesus before anything else happened. Until we give what we have to Jesus, we will never meet the unending needs of multitudes, and we will not see His Glory.
“Make Them Sit Down”
Miracles do not happen because we are anxiously engaged in trying to meet needs. “Be still and know that I am God” is the first step in seeing His power. Until we are seated in Christ, we will not see His glory. Miracles are not the result of our efforts, only our obedience.
I am not sure why Jesus organized them as He did, into groups of fifty people each. Perhaps he wanted order out of chaos. Or perhaps He wanted them to experience a more intimate sharing of food. Whatever the reason, I believe that the Lord wants us to have small groups even in large crowds. After all, He sets the solitary in families (see Psalm 68:6). After Pentecost, the Church broke bread and fellowshipped from house to house, in small groups.
Whether the apostles understood or not, they obeyed, and the crowd did as well. They were quiet, orderly, and anticipating what Jesus would do.
Jesus took the loaves and fish and also took charge of the situation. Until we are quiet and obedient before Him, He will not act.
Then, he looked toward heaven. Apparently, He did not look at the crowd, the apostles, or the small lunch. That is too often where we look. The source is in heaven with the Father (see Philippians 4:19).
To be honest, I am, by nature, prone to look at and analyze situations, but I have never found faith there. Faith comes by hearing God. I have been in deserted places, short of supply. I have seen needs and demands that exceeded my ability. Miracles have come only at God’s initiative when I was waiting before Him. Then I knew that it was God who did it.
It was a solemn moment when Jesus took the small lunch into His hands. Many thousands of eyes were fixed upon Him. There was silence. Then He lifted up His eyes and blessed the loaves and fish.
What is a blessing? This is an important question. He transferred the power and favor of heaven to the bread and fish. An action took place: the invisible acted on the visible. The creative power of God hit the bread and fish. The Word of God that created all that is, acted upon the cell structure that was in his hands.
Then Jesus began to break it. Breaking usually follows blessing. Until it was broken, it could not meet the need. So it continues to be. God often blesses then breaks what He has blessed in order to feed others.
Then He gave what was broken to the apostles who themselves would one day be blessed and broken bread to feed the multitudes, as Jesus Himself would be.
The disciples had a part to play: give what they had received. That is our role. There is no record that they immediately ate to their own fill. That would be a problem. What they received was for the multitude first; the servants ate later.
Those who receive from Jesus only to meet their own need will soon see the miracle cease. Those who receive and immediately begin to give will see the miracle continue. The miracles we see today are among those who have been blessed, broken, and are giving what they have received.
So they were all filled! They ate all they wanted, and there were twelve baskets of lunch left over! Twelve is the number of government; God’s government multiplies. It was also the number of apostles. There was a basket for each apostle. I don’t know what they did with the baskets, but my guess is that they too had their fill after the others had eaten. The one who gives will also receive after they give. Jesus turned a deserted place into a resource place of blessing and He still does. He does not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain (see Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Timothy 5:18).
Miracles are sometimes just enough, but often they are much more than enough. When the Spirit of giving comes upon people, they do not want to stop because of the joy and amazement that flows with the miracle. Moses had to tell the people to stop giving to build the tabernacle because they gave too much (see Exodus 36; 1 Chronicles 29).
So, Who Is Jesus?
Luke records that it was after the feeding of the thousands that Jesus went alone to pray. Then His disciples followed Him. That is when He asked them who the crowds thought He was. The disciples repeated the speculation: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets risen from the dead.
I am amused at the answers given then and now to the question, who is Jesus? A good man, a prophet, or someone else. It seems so hard for many to say, “Son of God.” Perhaps it is because they and those since have expected someone different; perhaps someone more aggressive, ambitious, or political.
Peter gave the correct answer, “You are the Christ (Messiah) of God.” There was a lot that Peter and others still did not understand-the suffering that would come later. But they saw Him for who He truly is. He is more than another good man, a prophet, or simply a worker of miracles. As John later said, “He is the Word made flesh and dwelling among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; see also Hebrews 13:8).
It is amazing what faith in Jesus can do. Sometimes, we have to find ourselves in a deserted place where our efforts are not enough in order to discover Who He really is. Sometimes, we have to see our lack before we can see His supply. It is only in those moments of our vulnerability that we see His power. It is in our moments of quiet that we hear Him speak, and our relationship with Jesus becomes the central focus of our lives.
We are a busy people whose lives are filled with many voices. We are like Martha, weighed down with activity. The sounds of daily life obscure the “still small voice.” We may be waiting for Heaven to shout at us, but that would be too late. If we can be still, sit down, and be quiet, I believe that God has a Word for us. I hope that somewhere in this letter there was such a Word for you.
Scripture Reference: Luke, Philippians, Deuteronomy, Exodus, 1 Timothy, 1 Chronicles, John, Hebrews