Luke 9:10-17, “The Power of the Creator”
The power to create is the power of God. When Jesus multiplied the bread & fish for 5,000 men in Galilee, He showed Himself as the powerful Creator God – something that was seared into the conscience of the 12 disciples with Him that day (not to mention countless others in the crowd).
John Martin writes in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, “The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus which is recorded in all four Gospels. In many ways it is the climax of Jesus’ ministry of miracles. It was designed to produce faith in His disciples.” Have you ever wondered why this is? What makes the feeding of the 5,000 so important? Why would this be the climax? Why not His various instances of raising the dead? (Other prophets had raised the dead.) Why not the Transfiguration? (That was witnessed by only a few of the apostles.) Why not Jesus walking on water, or calming the storm? (Likewise, only the 12 apostles were present to witness it.)
Multiplication of food was not unheard of among the prophets – Elijah and Elisha both did something similar (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4). What was new was the scale of the miracle. Feeding a single woman and her child was one thing; feeding a crowd of a minimum of 5,000 was another! A miracle had not been done on this scale since the days of Moses, when entire nations had witnessed the work of God. Combine this singular massive miracle with the myriad of other signs and wonders Jesus performed, and you have powerful evidence of Jesus’ deity. What Jesus does here puts Him far beyond the category of the prophets…He jumps to a brand-new category altogether!
Keep in mind that Jesus had been doing more than miracles – He was teaching and preaching the entire time. If, during all of this, Jesus had never claimed to be more than a prophet, perhaps this would not have stood out as much. Certainly, if Jesus had refused to be worshipped, this miracle could be seen in a different light. But that’s not what happened. Jesus repeatedly claimed deity for Himself, referring to Himself by the Divine Name (YHWH), and using titles such as “Son of Man” & “Son of the Father.” Jesus made it perfectly clear who He claimed to be – which is why the Pharisees & scribes were consistently so opposed to Him. Everyone knew He claimed to be God, and that is who He is.
This too, is why this particular miracle stands out. The One claiming to be God demonstrates the full power of God, in plain sight of thousands of witnesses. They saw Him create something out of nothing. They new had all the evidence they would ever need (prior to the cross & resurrection) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
The key to remember in all of this is that the feeding of the 5000 is more than a story about a bunch of people receiving lunch. It’s even more than a story about the compassion of Christ (though it is certainly on display). This is an account of the power of God – and it is indeed a climax to the previous displays of Jesus’ power over the past two chapters. First, Jesus showed His power/authority over the natural realm as He calmed the storm upon the Sea of Galilee. Next, He showed His power over the spiritual realm when He cleansed the demoniac of thousands of demons. Following that, Jesus showed His power over the physical by healing incurable diseases & raising a girl from the dead. On top of all of this, Jesus showed that He even had the right to delegate His power, as He sent out His apostles all over Galilee, doing the same things He did. That is a lot of power to be invested in one Man!
That kind of power ought to compel us to take a closer look at Him – and that’s what happens when the vast multitudes are fed by Him. This is the pinnacle to everything else they had seen so far: Jesus is God, with all the power therein.
- The Setting (10-11)
10 And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.
- Chronologically, this takes place right after the disciples returned from their short-term mission trip. Jesus empowered them with the same power & authority to do the things He did. Just as Jesus cast out demons & cured diseases, so did the 12 apostles. Just as Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, so did they. Now the mission ended, and it was time to report & debrief.
- Can you imagine their excitement? Mission trips are always amazing experiences, and those who go can hardly wait to share the news. But the apostles got to tell Jesus! They had the opportunity to share in their excitement & joy with the Lord Himself. Of course we can do the same thing in prayer, but how wonderful to do it face-to-face! One day we will know Him in that same way, and it will be glorious!
- Upon getting the mission report, Jesus took the disciples away for some alone time. Matthew & Mark tell us that Jesus also received news of John the Baptist’s death – surely another reason Jesus wanted time apart with His disciples. Luke doesn’t mention John the Baptist, but simply ties this to the close of their mission trip. In any case, Jesus intended to have some privacy with the apostles. He never got it, but He wanted it just the same.
- It is good to set apart time for just you & Jesus! Jesus wants that time with you. It’s easy for us to get busy with busy-ness (even in regards to ministry), and simple quiet time with the Lord often gets left behind. Sometimes life intrudes…not even Jesus was exempt from that. But that quiet alone-time with the Lord needs to happen. It needs to be a priority. If we don’t make time to specifically talk to God & listen for His voice through prayer & the Scripture, when do we think it will happen? Intimacy never comes by accident. If we want a deep relationship with the Lord, we need to put some time into it.
- Where Jesus & the disciples went for that alone-time is what sets the stage for the challenge to come. There is a bit of textual debate as to whether the description of the “deserted place” belongs in vs. 10, or is an assimilation from the other gospel accounts, which is why the phrase isn’t included in the NASB & other translations. That said, vs. 12 makes it clear that they were in a desolate place, away from the surrounding towns & villages. That’s fine when you’re doing some small-group camping – not so much if you’re dealing with thousands of people. The closest city was Bethsaida, which wasn’t terribly far from Jesus’ home-base of Capernaum, but there was enough distance for Jesus to set He & His apostles apart. Enough, that is, as long as the crowds didn’t follow Him, which they did. Vs. 11…
11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.
- It was perhaps inevitable that the multitude would follow Jesus. With all of the displays of His power & authority, there was no telling what people might witness from day to day. Jesus and the 12 surely left Capernaum (or wherever) alone, but their absence was quickly noticed, and the crowds followed whatever leads they had, and soon caught up to Jesus in this desolate area outside Bethsaida.
- Knowing that Jesus had originally set out for alone-time with His apostles, we could easily understand if Jesus chose to hide Himself or even ask the people to leave – and He could have done either. Of course, it’s not as if Jesus was taken by surprise in these events. As the Son of God, He knew the people would come. After all, He reserved His most important miracle (apart from the resurrection) specifically for this time. Even so, Jesus had set out alone, and could have easily stuck to that plan & the expectations of the apostles. Besides, one of His closest ministry partners (and cousin) John had been killed. Why not send the crowds away? But He didn’t. Instead, He submitted Himself to the plans of His Heavenly Father, and welcomed the crowds that had come to Him.
- Three actions are seen by Jesus. 1st, He “received them.” Again, Jesus could have vanished or asked them to leave. But He didn’t. In His infinite patience, He took the people as they came, when they came. He didn’t tell them to leave, to clean up their act, to wait, or even to go back until He was ready. Those people were there, and Jesus recognized the harvest field right before His eyes. When the harvest is ready, the farmer doesn’t get upset or try to reschedule it to be more convenient for him – he simply goes to work. Likewise with Jesus. He saw the need & realized that the time was now. When the people were ready to hear the gospel & see Jesus, Jesus wasn’t about to command them to come back later. He was ready to receive them right then & there.
- That is still the same today. Jesus is ready to save the very instant someone is ready to see Him as Lord. He doesn’t tell us to clean up our act, change clothes, or go through elaborate rituals before He decides to save us. He simply receives us as we are…He simply saves. Yes, we are to repent of our sin, forsaking it as we turn to Christ in faith – but that’s something we do as we trust Him. It’s not a way we earn salvation. It’s what we do as He saves us, because He saves us.
- How many people have been told “Don’t step foot in church until you’ve cleaned up your act!”? How backwards & how wrong! We don’t clean up our lives in order to be saved by Jesus. Our lives are changed because of our faith in Jesus. It’s His power that does the work.
- 2nd, He “spoke to them.” The crowds likely came looking for miracles (and they would certainly see some!), but first & foremost, Jesus spoke to them about the gospel. This has been consistent throughout His ministry. Did Jesus address physical needs? Sure – but He did a lot more than that. Jesus had a priority in addressing spiritual needs. The physical is important, but the spiritual is eternal. When Jesus soon multiplies the bread & fish, He fills their stomachs for a night, but they would be hungry again tomorrow. Even if they died that very night, what good would it do them to go to the grave with a full belly, yet still have an empty soul? Each one of those 5000 men (and more) would one day stand before God for judgment. What good would a lunch from Jesus do them, if that was all they received? What they needed was the gospel of the kingdom. They needed to know how to be saved from their sin & how to be brought into eternal fellowship with God. That is exactly what Jesus told them.
- There are many good organizations doing a lot of good things in the world. But the ones that do the most good are those that put a focus on the gospel. Feed the poor? Yes – along with the gospel. Clothe the naked & help the orphan? Yes – but do it in conjunction with evangelism. Aid ought never be contingent on conversion (that’s forced & insincere), but that is the only way for humanitarian aid to have an eternal impact.
- 3rd, He “healed.” Again, Jesus had a wonderful combination of words & works. He preached the kingdom of God AND He healed the sick among them. Evangelism and compassion are not “either/or” actions among Christians; they are “both/and.” The New Testament is absolutely consistent on this. Paul writes to the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith…in order that we can do good works (Eph 2:8-10). James writes how our faith is demonstrated by our works (Jas 2:18). John writes who those who abide in Christ walk in obedience to Jesus’ commands & pattern of His own walk. (1 Jn 2:6) To repeat: not an “either/or,” but “both/and.” We need evangelistic ministry, but we also need physical acts of compassion. In fact, one often leads directly to the other.
- In all of this, notice what Jesus was doing: working. He was engaged with the people all day long. There was work to be done, and not a moment to lose. Jesus was meeting with people right where they were, giving every single person the opportunity to come to faith in Him. (That opportunity is still there. Take it!)
- The Problem (12-14a)
12 When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”
- As the people came to Jesus, a problem soon arose: eventually they would need to eat. That’s not a big deal if the people had brought provisions for themselves, but aside from one young boy out of thousands, apparently they left everything behind. It might not have even been an issue if they were close to a major city like Jerusalem. Jerusalem was accustomed to having thousands of visitors during the times of national pilgrimages and feasts – but that’s not where they were. Jesus, the disciples, and the multitude were in the wilderness. The closest city was Bethsaida, and it is uncertain how many travelers they could accommodate.
- Thus the solution proposed by the 12 was logical: send the crowd away, let them split into their various directions of travel, and they would all go to different “surrounding towns,” thereby sharing the load. What the disciples suggested was reasonable, practical, and feasible. Any one of us might have come up with a similar suggestion, and without any additional information, this would likely be the preferred solution for us all.
- What’s the problem with it? It doesn’t require faith. This is a human solution to a human problem. Not that this is inherently evil – but at what point would God need to be involved? Remember that Jesus was standing in their midst – the Son of God incarnate among them. The disciples had just returned from a mission trip where they had preached of His kingdom & demonstrated His divine power. By this point, there ought to have been no question among the 12 of the things Jesus was capable of doing. And yet they did not even think to ask Him about the situation. They approached Jesus, yes, but they approached Him with their human ideas first, instead of seeking out the ideas & will of God. Keep in mind that is wasn’t as if Jesus was being discreet here – He was actively involved in preaching & healing. His miraculous power was currently on display. If there was any time to ask Jesus about a miracle, this was it!
- How often do we find ourselves in similar situation? We have a problem or challenge, and we stress out & spin our wheels attempting to come up with a human solution. It may be doable & practical, but it requires no faith. Then, we ask Jesus to bless our plan. At what point does He need to get involved? At what point have we needed to rely on Him? That’s not to say that God promises a miraculous solution to every challenge we face, but at the very least we ought to go to Him first for help. Instead of asking Him to merely bless our plans, we ought to seek Him first as we form it. Who knows? Perhaps God will provide a miracle – He might work in unexpected ways. But you’ll never know if you never seek Him.
13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. …
- Jesus tried to turn it back around to the disciples. He tried to get them to see through eyes of faith rather than mere feasibility. That was the point of telling them to “give them something to eat.” Jesus was not ignorant of the fact that the disciples had no provisions to distribute. It seems as if they didn’t even bring lunch for the 13 of them – much less have access to several truckloads of food in order to provide for thousands. Jesus gave them a plainly impossible task. What He wanted them to do was acknowledge the impossibility of it & then turn to the God who makes all things possible. Jesus gave them the opportunity to step out in faith; they didn’t take it.
- Not that we can blame them. We can be rather thick at times! How many opportunities has the Lord given you that you never even saw until later? Looking back, you can see all kinds of things you missed. It’s obvious in hindsight, but more difficult to see in the present. Why? Because we’re so used to listening only to ourselves rather than to the voice of God. The more we are filled with the Spirit – the more we listen for His voice & prompting through the Scriptures – the fewer opportunities to step out in faith will pass us by.
- As it was, all the apostles saw were the very slight provisions that were offered to them by a young boy (Jn 6:8). We might hear this description of the food & thing that although it may not be much, it’s certainly more than a ‘small’ lunch for a boy. We need to remember to look at this from the perspective of a 1st century Judean Jew; not a 21st century American Christian. These were not large loaves of sandwich bread as we might find in our grocery stores – they were small pieces of flatbread. It would be something more along the lines of a small wheat tortilla, or pita bread. Nor were these huge trout or catfish, but smaller fish, most likely the Kinneret Sardine (which is abundant in the Sea of Galilee). So there were two sardines & some tortillas – sufficient for one, but not exactly a feast. Yet this was all the disciples had. It’s no wonder they looked at it rather skeptically! (Of course, they should have been looking at Jesus, rather than the lunch!)
- To the disciples, unless the people were sent away, their only other option was to purchase food for the masses. They had neither the cash nor the ability to transport the supplies, so they’re flummoxed. After all, there were 5000 men present. The key word is “men,” which is specific in the Greek. There is another word that would have been used if the 5000 included women & children, but the specific word for “males” was used. Thus there was anywhere between 7-10,000 people present. 5,000 is bad enough, but try doubling it! Now think again of the flatbread & sardines. That would seem pretty hopeless indeed!
- Again, they were looking at the wrong thing. They were looking at their problem when they could have been looking at Jesus. They knew Jesus – had seen Him work – had witnessed Him surprise them in all kinds of ways in the past. They knew what He was capable of, and yet never once asked Him for help. In none of the four gospel accounts do we find the apostles appealing to Jesus for assistance. We would think that if Jesus gave them an obviously impossible command that surely someone among them would ask Jesus for help. Apparently not. So focused were they on their challenges that they missed the Christ right in front of them.
- Have you done the same? How often have we succumbed to panic because we got our eyes off of Jesus? We need to remember that our faith is real. We worship and serve a living Savior. Jesus may be in heaven, but He is just as alive and powerful today as during the days He walked the earth. Do we appeal to Him as if He is? Do we pray as if Jesus is alive, or as if He’s just a theory? We need to pray to Him as if He can do something…because He can!
- The Solution (14b-17
…Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.
- The first thing Jesus has the disciples do is to get the people organized. Instead of looking as a massive crowd of 5,000 men (7-10,000 total), He organizes everyone in groups of 50. Why? It’s purely practical. You’ve got to start somewhere, and Jesus started there.
- As an aside, this demonstrates that God is not opposed to planning and organization. Jesus wanted the disciples to walk in faith, but that doesn’t mean He wanted them to act chaotically. Some Christians have the idea that planning and organization are antithetical to faith – that those who do so are in danger of quenching the Spirit. Not so! Just look at all of the designs of the Tabernacle & Temples – God was incredibly organized in the design of how He wanted His people to worship Him. It’s the same here. God is a God of order; not confusion (1 Cor 14:33). To organize is faithful, as long as you’re relying upon the Lord in the first place. To not plan is foolish – inviting not miracles, but disaster.
- Notice that nowhere in all of this has Jesus yet informed the disciples of His plan (of course, neither have they asked Him). Yet Jesus had a plan all along, even if the disciples didn’t have a clue as to what it was. Jesus always has a plan – we just don’t always look to Him for it.
- To the disciples’ credit, they obeyed Jesus even without understanding everything that He was doing. That’s when the real miracle happened. Vs. 16…
16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.
- Here it is: the miracle in action! It may not seem like much, being that it is only one verse, but it is monumental. Already the supernatural power of God is on display, even though we haven’t yet gotten to the account of the leftovers. How so? The miracle would be seen with the very first group. Remember that the food given to Jesus was barely enough for one – but what Jesus gave to the disciples was sufficient for a full group of fifty. As soon as Jesus acted, the power of God was visibly at work – in full view of the apostles.
- Jesus did three things here. 1st, He “took” the food. He received what was offered to Him, and He did something amazing with it. He didn’t complain that it was such a meager meal – He didn’t mind that it came from a boy – He simply took it. Whatever the disciples had, that’s what He worked with.
- What is it we have to offer Jesus? Not much! But bring what you have. You might be amazed at what marvelous things He can do with so little. He is the Creator God, after all. If He can create something out of nothing, surely He can work with our meager lives. All He really needs is our willingness – He can create the rest.
- 2nd, He “blessed and broke” the bread and fish. What exactly He sad is unknown, though it seems likely He used a version of the traditional blessing spoken by Jews at mealtime: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” The actual words used by Jesus may have varied, but apparently they were common enough that none of the gospel writers recorded them. The point here is not the precise wording, as if we could invoke some kind of incantation; it’s that Jesus spoke them. He gave thanks for the food – He personally interacted with it & touched it. It wasn’t the words spoken; it was the Speaker. Jesus did the work, and miracles happened.
- Remember what took place during the 6 days of creation: God spoke, and things came into existence. That is exactly what happened here. Jesus spoke, and broke bread…and kept breaking & breaking & breaking over & over again. In His word is the power of God!
- 3rd, Jesus “gave” the food to the disciples to give to the crowd. What Jesus did, He did for all who were present.. What He did, He wanted His disciples to participate in. After all, Jesus could have simply made the multiplied bread & fish materialize among the groups of fifty – He could have rained manna from heaven for them. As the Son of God, Jesus did not need the disciples’ help in distribution, but He wanted it. That’s why He gave it out. The disciples needed to grow in their faith, so they needed to participate in the miracle. They needed to see Jesus do this over & over again, continually coming back to Him only to find Him creating more bread and fish from the initial batch. Think about it: how long would it have taken for 12 men to distribute food to 10,000 people? Hours! The image of Jesus as the Creator God would have been burned into their memories! (Just as it needed to be.)
- Can God work without us? Certainly. In fact, He would do things far more efficiently without us. But that’s not what He wants to do. He chooses to use us. He wants us to get involved. If for no other reason, in order that our own faith might grow. Did you ever work with your parents in a job? Usually they could have done the work better themselves, but they valued something else more: time spent with you, and the lessons you would learn along the way. Why would we think God to be any different? He wants to use you in His plan & work. (Are you available to be used by Him?)
- The work that was accomplished was amazing! Vs. 17…
17 So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.
- What was the result of the miracle? The people “were filled” – they were satisfied. Talk about understatement! They were able to eat until they could eat no more. There wasn’t only sufficiency – there was abundance! Originally, there was enough food for a boy, and not much at that. Now there was so much food that leftovers were strewn all over the ground. John tells us that Jesus commanded the pieces to be picked up (Jn 6:12), and when the disciples did it, there were 12 baskets of leftovers…one for each of them.
- Can you imagine what went through the minds of Peter, James, John, Andrew, Thomas, and the others? As they walked their individual baskets back to Jesus, they could look into each one knowing that what they carried alone was already more than what they had started with. They could think how they witnessed Jesus continually distributing food to them with ease. What had begun as such an impossible challenge was incredibly easy in the hands of Jesus. There was obviously no limit to what Jesus could have handed out – He was able to provide so much more than what was necessary. They had known that Jesus was different from anyone they had encountered in the past. By this point, the full scope of that was starting to be seen.
- Can our God provide in abundance? Absolutely! He can do more than we can ask or think! (Eph 3:20) Think of it in terms of our salvation. When Jesus saves, He doesn’t do it halfway – He doesn’t provide the bare minimum – He goes all the way to abundance! Not only are we forgiven our sins, but we are granted eternal life. Not only are we given life, but we are given the Holy Spirit for today. Not only are we given the Spirit as our guarantee & for power, but He also becomes our Spirit of adoption as we are brought into the family of God. And if being made a son or daughter of God were not enough, He even allows us to share in the inheritance of Christ Jesus Himself. For the Christian, there is no end to the abundant blessing of God!
What an amazing Jesus! He is the Incarnation of the Creator God! When Jesus walked among His disciples, they had God the Creator among them. Jesus had already demonstrated incredible amounts of power and authority in the past. What they now learned was that the authority of Jesus has no limits. He is the compassionate Creator God, and incredibly, He had chosen to involve Himself in their lives. There was no one better they could trust. He was deserving of all their faith.
He deserves ours as well. Like the 12, we have also seen the power of Jesus as the Creator in action. How so? If you are a born-again Christian, then you have been the recipient of a new life that Jesus has given you. Far better than lunch for an afternoon, Jesus has given you abundance for an eternal lifetime. What an incredible God we serve!
So – if we trust Him with that, why do we not trust Him with more? We face so many daily challenges & problems. Do we honestly think Jesus does not care about them? He cared about lunch for those who followed Him to the wilderness – many of whom may have never believed in Him as Lord. Surely He cares about the struggles & stresses of those who belong to Him by faith! Stop trying to handle things on your own & then ask God to “bless your mess.” Instead, go to Jesus first. Spend time seeking Him, then make your plans, knowing that He will guide & correct you along the way if you’re listening to Him. Trust Him as the living Creator God, for that is exactly who He is.