YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT
Key Verse: 6:37a
“But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat…’”
This morning’s passage is about the feeding of the five thousand. This event is included in all four gospels. What does this then mean to us? This means that it is a very important event in the ministry of Jesus. It means that we should pay careful attention to what Jesus is trying to teach us. In this passage, Jesus is training his disciples to no longer be spectators in his work but to participate in his work. He tells them to give the needy crowd of people who came to them to give them something to eat.
What happens next is a great miracle. However, this miracle was made possible when Jesus used this event to train his disciples in faith to be responsible shepherds for this needy crowd. We too, can experience many great miracles when we are willing to let Jesus train us to rely on him to be responsible shepherds for our generation. This morning, let’s see how this great miracle of feeding 5,000 people on five loaves and two fish came about. May God help you to learn from Jesus and have a responsible heart and a shepherd heart ready to give for all kinds of students this coming Fall semester.
Part I. He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (30-34)
Let’s read verses 30-31, “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” These verses relate to a previous event in which Jesus sent his disciples out two by two on their first discipleship training course. Mark 6:12-13 says, “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”
The disciples came back eager to tell Jesus what they had done. John was so out of breath with excitement telling Jesus the great changes in people’s lives when he drove out demons. James was happy that people repented simply when he rebuked them that they should repent. Even quiet Bartholomew had something to say for a change when he experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also shared in their joy and excitement. They laughed together and gave many high fives and said, “All right! Way to go!” At the same time he could see that they needed food, rest and relaxation after such a very intense mission trip. He knew of a great place that was quiet and secluded where they could get some needed rest.
Let’s read verses 32-33, “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.” Jesus and his disciples vacation plans were ruined when a crowd of needy people earnestly sought to catch up with them. They said, “Hey, where are they going? Let’s go after them!” Jesus and his disciples soon became encircled by this large crowd of demanding people staring at them with wide open eyes and in eager expectation for something.
How did Jesus view this crowd? Did he say, “Hey, who invited you people? Go away! Can’t you see I am busy with my disciples?!” No. Let’s read verse 34, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd…” It says that Jesus had compassion on them. What is compassion? Compassion is to understand someone’s suffering and have love for them. Compassion is God’s loving heart for sinners who are suffering in sin. We see here that Jesus did not think or care just about his own comfort and rest. He gave up his comfort and his plans and was ready to help this uninvited crowd with the great love of God. According to Luke’s account in Luke chapter 9:11, it says that he welcomed them.
How do we feel when our plans to relax or do what we want are all of a sudden disturbed by others? Sometimes we might become angry. We don’t want to be disturbed. We want to be left alone. After a long day of school or work, our desire is to hit the couch and turn on the TV or the stereo. We want to be left alone. So we might put on an annoyed face that says “go away!” We quite often expect others to recognize our desire for our own privacy and to just leave us alone. So it is easy to see someone or some people with our own eyes and not with Jesus’ eyes. However, Jesus did not see them like this .Jesus did not dismiss the crowd and say to them, “Come back at a better time. Can’t you see I need some rest?”
Jesus had compassion on this large crowd. Why did Jesus have compassion on them? It was because he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. Here we see the heart of Jesus. He did not see them as a nuisance. He did not see them as smelly and ugly people who were ruining his vacation plans. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. His heart was broken for these helpless and harassed people. He knew that their problem was not just having enough food to eat. He knew that their problem was not that they were materially poor or that the pagan Roman Empire was ruling their beloved land of Israel. He saw their number one problem was that they needed a shepherd. They needed a shepherd to lead them and to have rest for their souls and forgiveness of sins. They needed a shepherd who would guide them into the eternal truths of God. They needed a shepherd who could lead them out of hopelessness and darkness and out of the shadow of death to faith and eternal life. He knew that without a shepherd to lead them, they would all perish in their sins. They would be lost forever. So Jesus saw them with compassion. How lost they were! How helpless they were!!
The Bible tells us that we are all God’s sheep and that God is our shepherd. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 95:7 says, “for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care…” Sheep need a shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd don’t know where to go and graze for food. Since they are nearsighted creatures and only concerned what is closest to their mouths. That is, they mostly think about food. They don’t see imminent danger lurking ahead of them. Without a shepherd, they easily become lost and wander. Sometimes they can get hurt by falling in a hole, or fall off a cliff. Sometimes they get eaten up by hungry wolves.
When a person or people do not have a shepherd, they have no clear life direction. They don’t know what to do or how to live. They are deceived and led astray by the devil who is like a roaring lion waiting to devour them. But when a person has a shepherd who leads them to God through the Bible, they can become saved and have clear life purpose. They can be staisfied, and have a life full of hope. They can become great people who can experience the love of God and the power of God.
For example, when the Samaritan woman had no shepherd, she could only be a thirsty and lonely woman. She went through five husbands and five divorces. She felt condemned, dirty and hopeless. But when humble shepherd Jesus approached her and began to talk with her she began to meet the one in whom her heart really desired. Through her conversation with Jesus, she met the one in whom she could find true love. Through her conversation with Jesus, she began to drink the living water and wasn’t thirsty anymore. Then she went out and witnessed to the town and said with joy, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Jn.4:29) Many then came to believe in Jesus through her testimony because of Jesus.
This woman’s life was changed because of Jesus who was a shepherd for her when everyone had abandoned her. Wherever there are shepherds there is the great work of God because people’s lives are changed. Tinuke Jagan’s life was changed when Becky Woods came to her to invite her to Bible study. Through Bible study Tinuke became a new woman and a source of blessing to others. We can’t think about Tinuke without remembering Becky Woods shepherd heart for her. Also we see Inuke who was invited to Bible study by Maria Park. Maria Park became her shepherd. Now Inuke wants to teach others the Bible. We can’t think about this happening unless we see that Maria Park is growing to become a good shepherd like Jesus Christ.
It is the shepherd and his shepherd heart that makes all the difference. Wherever there is a shepherd there is a work of God. However, we each may have human shepherds who pray for us and try to help us, we also have Jesus as our good shepherd. He is the one who loves us and who takes care of us every moment. He is the one who gave his life for us on the cross, shedding his innocent blood for us. Remember the key verse from the Summer Bible Conference? John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Each of us must come to know how great is the love of Jesus our good shepherd and learn from him. When we know Jesus is our good shepherd who loves us and who watches over us and takes care of us at all times, then we can become good shepherds with God’s love in our hearts for any and all kinds of sheep. Becoming a shepherd comes out of this love of God we personally received. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” We don’t become shepherds because someone says “You have to be a shepherd!” It comes from knowing Jesus’ love for me, experiencing him as my personal shepherd. Then his love for me pours out for others. If we don’t personally know his love for us, then we only do things for church out of obligation or we think serving God is some kind of a law and it is easy to become exhausted, to feel burdened and give up. So then, how can we be a good shepherd like Jesus with his compassion? We must have this love relationship with Jesus and know him who loved us first and who saved us.
How did Jesus show his shepherd heart towards these people? According to the end of verse 34, it says, “…so he began to teach them many things.” Jesus could have helped them materially. He could have fed them right away with a delicious lunch with ice cream for dessert and sent them home. Then everything would be OK and he get some rest with his disciples. But this would not help them in he long run. What he wanted to do was to teach them the word of God and about the kingdom of God. This is why he came. Here we see how Jesus helps people. He came and planted in them God’s word. This was because he believed that the word of God had power to transform lives. God’s word is living and active. God’s word leads us to faith in Jesus Christ and to live a life of faith and mission. Especially God’s word leads us to have hope in the kingdom of God.
This is why we continue to focus on 1:1 Bible study. Now the Fall semester is coming soon. What should we do? We should ask God to help us prepare to teach the word of God. We can do many activities. We can have a lot of music and fellowship. This has been really great. It is great to hear and sing with all this music that the Praise Band does. They are really sounding like professionals. They are close to world class. They practice a lot and it sounds like they do. But this can’t be the priority. We have to prepare to teach the Bible and become world class Bible teachers. The YDJ team are the future world class Bible teachers. Thank God for their eager desire to learn and grow. May God help them to be good shepherds like Jesus this Fall semester by having Jesus’ compassion and teaching the Bible.
Part II. “You give them something to eat.” (35-44)
Let’s read verses 35-36, “By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. ‘This is a remote place’, they said, ‘and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding villages and buy themselves something to eat.’” By now the disciples had tried to remain quiet and listen to Jesus as he taught the crowd. Every time Jesus said something profound, they would shout loud “Amen’s!” But as time went on, they became weaker and weaker. As the sun drifted off into the horizon and it became near to sunset, the disciples stomach and patience ran out. They went to Jesus with a very reasonable request.
What was their request? They told Jesus that it was a remote place. It was late. They should send the people away so that they could go and buy themselves something to eat. This sounds good. However from their reaction we can see that they did not want to take care of this crowd. They grew impatient. They relied on their human strength to look good before Jesus and the crowd. But then they lost all their strength. From a human point of view, their request seemed reasonable. After all it was a remote place. There were no Safeway or Giant Super market stores anywhere nearby. It was also dinner time. They all must eat.
How did Jesus react to their reasonable request? Let’s read verse 37a, “But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat…’” Jesus did not listen to their request. He did not give into their desire. Instead, he challenged them and told them to give these people something to eat. Why did he do this instead of just taking care of the crowds himself? It was because now was the time to train his disciples to become responsible shepherds. Now they must begin to grow in faith and become the next spiritual leaders. At this time the disciples were too comfortable. They had enjoyed being Jesus’ disciples and receiving from him. They enjoyed the popularity and being recognized as being Jesus’ disciples. They had enjoyed much grace of God.
But now was the time to challenge them to come out of their limited human reasoning and thinking and depend on Jesus. It was also the time that they needed to begin to take responsibility for the needy sheep. This is a sign of our Christian growth. Do we just concern ourselves with ourselves and our immediate family? Or are we seeking to help those with whom we can’t get any benefit from? Are we seeking to go and find the lost and heal sick and take care of the wounded sheep?
Jesus challenged his disciples, “You give them something to eat!” It was a great request that probably shook them out of their robes for a second. They did not expect this. “You give them something to eat”, means to no longer just receive from Jesus and from others but learn to give and serve others. It is to take responsibility for those who are perishing in their sins. This is the heart of God. We heard in Dr. Joe Shafer’s message at the Bible Conference about his freshman year at MIT. When he missed one Sunday Worship service, Missionary Daniel Hong was concerned and went to his fraternity house and found him in his room. There he spoke the Sunday Message to Joe. Missionary Daniel Hong had a responsible heart for this sheep. He had God’s heart to give him something to eat and later it paid off.
By nature, man is selfish. He is irresponsible. He just cares for himself and his immediate family. Yet even sometimes this is hard to do. In Genesis chapter 4 we find that Cain did not even want to love his brother Abel. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” But now Jesus tells, not asks, but he tells his disciples to give the crowd something to eat. It is a great request. It is God’s desire God wants his people to learn to have a sense of responsibility. He wants us especially to give students something to eat.
What is it that we should give them to eat? Big Mac’s? or Pizza? No, Jesus is not necessarily talking to us about physical food. He wants us to give others the words of God. He wants us to tell others about the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If these people who came to hear Jesus did not get any food soon, they might just collapse. If he sent them on their way as the disciples insisted, then they would surely collapse. They needed physical food now.
Yet without the spiritual food, sheep will collapse and die. This is because man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt.4:4) We can’t sometimes see that students really need God’s word. From the outward appearance they may look fine. But inwardly, they need the spiritual food. Especially, no one knows the day of their death. Sometimes we think that college students because they are young, have a long time to come to learn about Jesus.
I remember in my last semester of college sitting behind one student in my class. Something inside me told me I should witness to him and invite him to study the Bible. This was always a few minutes before the class started that we just sat there and waited. But I never did. Then later that semester I heard that he died in a fire, and he was only 22 years old. About two years ago or so I witnessed to one sheep at GMU. At first I hesitated to go to him but then I went. I talked with him briefly and got his phone number. About a week later I called him to invite him to Bible study, but all I got was his voice mail. However I left a message for him and invited him to Bible study. I never heard from him. However, later that semester I read in the front page of the school newspaper that he was found dead in his dorm room. From these instances I realize I need to not be complacent but give others something to eat. I need to be responsible. Still it is a struggle to overcome my selfish desire when I am tired in the evening. So when I see my sheep Jonathon and Jake waiting for me to study the Bible in my tiredness I sometimes say to myself, “I am so tired, I wish they hadn’t come.” Yet this is not the responsible shepherd heart. I thank God that they are eager to study. I see their hunger for God’s word. They are eagerly waiting for me to give them something to eat. Likewise, many students are really waiting for you to give them something to eat. They are really hungry and thirsty for a shepherd to come to invite them to Bible study and to teach them the Bible. I believe this is true though on the outward appearance and their business may not seem to show it. If we take a responsible heart to give them something to eat, God will surely help us to feed them.
How did the disciples respond to Jesus’ request? Let’s read verse 37b, “…They said to him, ‘That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?’” Their reaction was like saying, “That is impossible!” What was their problem? They had what we call a “remote place” mentality. This means that they looked at the situation without Jesus. When they looked at the situation without Jesus, they just threw up their hands and made many excuses. They became overwhelmed. They immediately concluded that it was impossible and that Jesus was asking them to do something that was impossible and too demanding. “How can we feed this large crowd? We don’t have the money!” When we don’t look to Jesus and depend on Jesus or listen to Jesus, everything becomes impossible. We can easily find many excuses and then do nothing.
What was Jesus’ reaction to his disciples excuse? Let’s read verse 38, “’How many loaves do you have?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’ When they found out, they said, ‘Five---and two fish.’” Jesus did not seem to listen to their excuse. Instead he helped them to find what they had instead of looking at what they didn’t have. He told them, “Go and see.” “Go and see” means to find the resources to serve others with. When we have a responsible heart like Jesus we are always going and seeing what the Lord has given us. We are always seeking, looking up at Jesus, not putting burying our heads in the sand and giving up.
What did they find when they went to see? Look at verse 38b, “…When they found out, they said, ‘Five---and two fish.” What?! This looks so little!! Notice, in these words the author uses, “Five” and then the two dash marks “two fish.” It was almost if these fish were barely visible because they were so small.
In John’s gospel it is Andrew who brings them to Jesus and says, “Here is a boy with five small barely loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” From a human point of view, this looked ridiculous and foolish and even funny. But Jesus didn’t see it that way. To Jesus this was real faith because it was given to him. When we bring what we have and give it to Jesus, no matter how small it is, when it is done in faith, a great miracle will happen. Sometimes we ignore the small things because they look foolish and insignificant. We try to look for something big, but don’t have it. Then we give up and don’t do anything like the disciples. But Jesus is telling us to “Go and see.” He is telling us to bring to him what we have and he will certainly use it for his glory.
Without Jesus we can do nothing. But when we bring what we have to Jesus with faith, great things happen. We see this in the result of what happened when Jesus took the five loaves and two fish from his disciples. Let’s read verses 39-42, “Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.”
It was a great miracle! According to verse 44, the number of the men who had eaten was five thousand!! This miracle came from the equation: Responsible shepherd heart plus faith equals a miracle. When the disciples became participants in God’s work they became insiders who could know Jesus and his power. A great event happened when they overcame their remote place mentality to listen to Jesus and depend on him. Five loaves and two fish became enough to feed a large crowd and to have leftovers for the hardworking disciples. Look at verse 43, “and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces and fish.”
Today we are going to have a sending away ceremony for Shepherd Abraham Lee to China. He is like five loaves and two fish which we want to offer to God for world mission. He is going to a country that has over one billion people, the most in the whole world. How can this one person help them? It is possible when he has a responsible heart to give them something to eat. This is what the Chinese people need. Not better technology or living conditions. They need God’s word from Abraham Lee. In the past he had many fun and party demons. He relied on his parent’s faith and was taken care of by many people. Now he is going to China and will have to learn to rely on God alone. But we believe that God will use him there. He can be the 21st century’s version of Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China in the 19th century. This week, also, Lawson Glenn is going to Korea to meet his suitable helper. Lawson has faith in God to trust God in this important part of his life. He did not become impatient and chase women, but trusted in Jesus and had faith in God that God would provide. This small faith like 5 loaves and 2 fish will be a great source of blessing to him and others through him.
From this passage, let’s not remain satisfied with just being a spectator. Let’s become participants in God’s work and find what we have--- our five loaves and two fish and bringing them to Jesus. All of us received much love from God at the Summer Bible Conference. Soon, the campus will be filled with many students. They need you. They need a shepherd who wants to be responsible for their spiritual lives. Let’s not ignore them. Let’s go to them with a compassionate heart like Jesus and shepherd them and give them the love of God.