Luke gives us an account of the feeding of the five thousand. It is an amazing miracle described in all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; and John 6:1-15). Overall, the details are the same in each account.
Jesus and His disciples seek to escape the crowd and find rest. The crowd follows them on foot. When the crowd arrives, Jesus heals the sick, teaches them about the kingdom of God, and miraculously feeds everyone with only a few fish and five loaves of bread.
Do you wonder what it might have been like to be one of the thousands on that day? What was it like to follow Jesus, get healed, hear His teaching, and then be satisfied with fish and bread?
What if we were one of the twelve apostles? How might we remember that day? What might we find to be the most impacting moment of the day?
Let’s put our imaginations to work. Let’s take the description of the day given to us by the four gospels, and compile two stories. Let’s be a fictional young couple who encounter Jesus. We will picture in our mind's eye what it was like to be in the crowd.
After, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of one of the twelve apostles. We will imagine ourselves as Bartholomew.
We will create two stories from the descriptions of the day found in the four gospels. Think of it as historical fiction.
Our first story is told to us from the perspective of Simeon. Simeon is a common name (15% of men were named Simon or Simeon). Let’s imagine that they are telling Luke what happened that day.
My wife, Joanna, and I were making our way to Jerusalem. It was the season of the Passover. We were traveling from the region of Galilee with others from our synagogue. We travel together every year.
This year was different than many before. Everyone was talking about a man named Jesus. We heard stories about miracles and His teaching. People told us that He teaches like no other Rabbi we have ever heard. His teaching is profound and spoken with authority. I, and many others, believed Him to be a prophet.
We heard that entire cities were being healed. The lame walk, deaf hear, blind see, and lepers are cleansed. Jesus casts out demons. We even heard that in Nain, he raised a man from the dead. We were not sure what to believe because the stories were truly amazing.
I wanted to hear this prophet teach, and I was hoping he would heal my wife. Joanna was born with a lame arm. Her bones are twisted, and her muscles are weak because she cannot use her arm. Joanna never complains, and she does the best as she can with one arm. You would never know she has a bad arm with all that she does.
A murmur went up in the crowd. They saw Jesus down near the lake. He and His disciples got into a boat and headed south. Everyone is excited. Maybe we can meet with Him on the shore. Some people start running, and we walk as fast as we can with the hopes we will find Him should He get off the boat.
The crowd pursues Jesus. He will not stay in the boat all day, and we saw the direction he went. We stay with the crowd and follow the shoreline so we can find Him after He gets off the boat. After a time, we find Jesus outside of Bethsaida. He and His disciples are in the wilderness area outside of town. Jesus is on the slope of a mountain, and we see Him and hear Him speak. Jesus welcomes us all.
The word goes out that He is healing people. I grab Joanna, and we make our way toward Jesus. There is a line of people with varying illnesses. One by one, they are healed. You can hear the crowd ooh and aah with each healing. We patiently wait our turn. Finally, we find ourselves standing before Jesus.
Joanna falls before Him and asks, “Please, Jesus, can You heal my arm?” I will never forget the look of compassion on His face. He smiles, reaches out, and instantly her arm is restored. Both Joanna and I weep with joy and thank Jesus repeatedly.
The stories are true. This man is a prophet sent by God. Jehovah is with His people.
Sobbing and weeping, we make our way back to our friends. They look upon Joanna, and they too are struck. They weep as we weep. We all hug one another and give thanks to the Lord God. Joanna shows our friends how she can use her arm. It is awkward to see her use it since I am so used to see her accomplish everything with just one hand.
After all the healings, and there were many, Jesus began teaching. The crowd grew silent. Imagine thousands of people sitting quietly. It was so quiet; we could hear a bird in the distance. Jesus taught for a few hours. He spoke about sin and the need for righteousness to enter the kingdom of God. He spoke many parables.
Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man. I know of the passage in Daniel. The Son of Man is given authority by God over all things. Jesus taught that His works prove that He is the Messiah, sent by God for the glory of Israel.
Soon, it started to become dark. We could see Jesus talking with His disciples. He was questioning them, but we couldn’t hear much. The disciples began walking through the crowd asking for food. The crowd was very large, but the food was very scarce.
Near us, one of the disciples, we learned his name was Andrew, found a boy with two fish and five loaves of bread. The boy gave the food to Andrew. The disciples returned to Jesus.
Soon the disciples returned and told us to sit in groups of fifty. They were counting and pointing. Everyone sat down in groups on the lush grass beside the mountain.
The disciples returned to Jesus. We watched as Jesus took the fish and loaves, looked up into heaven, and appeared to say a blessing over the food. It seemed strange. It was as though Jesus expected to feed all of us with just that little bit.
The next thing we remember is the disciples walking out to each group and distributing food. We don’t know where the food came from, but there was plenty for everyone. Thousands and thousands of people began eating.
We sat with our friends and ate. As we ate, we talked about Jesus, the healings, His teaching, and we were wondering where the food came from. Joanna ate using the arm that Jesus healed.
We all ate and were completely satisfied. Soon, the disciples returned to collect the remaining leftover food. I asked the disciple, where the extra food came from.
He looked at me, smiled, and said, Jesus, multiplied the food. We looked at one another. We were in disbelief. We will never forget that day. We all agreed. “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. He is worthy of our worship and praise.
My name is Bartholomew. Let me tell you about the miracle in Bethsaida when Jesus fed over five thousand men, along with more women and children with just two fish and five loaves of bread.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was springtime in Israel.
After following Jesus for almost two years, hearing Him teach and watching Him do many miracles, Jesus sent us out. He told us we were ready.
We were to go to the remaining towns and villages in the region of Galilee. Jesus gave us His power and authority. It was both frightening and exciting. We went out as He commanded to our assigned areas to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons all in the name of Jesus.
My companion and I finished, and we made our way back to Jesus. It is never difficult to find Jesus. Just enter a city and look for the crowd. You will find Him in the middle ministering and talking to people.
Eventually, all twelve of us returned. We took turns telling Jesus of our ministry work. We talked about casting out demons, healing the sick, and about preaching the kingdom of God. It was exciting to hear how God provided for our needs during our time away. Not one of us went hungry. People opened up their homes for us to stay.
In most of the places we went to, people were receptive to our teaching. But, as Jesus predicted, there were some who were not. In those places, we did as Jesus asked and shook the dust off our feet when leaving.
We were tired. And the crowd was relentless. People were continually asking if they could see Jesus. The people were pressing in, and it was impossible for us to even eat. Jesus made a plan.
He said we need to go away by ourselves to a secluded place and rest awhile. We entered the boat and cast off. We headed towards Bethsaida.
It was nice to be in the boat where we could sit with one another in the cool breeze, relax, eat, and be away from the crowd. We stayed near the shore.
As we went along, we could see the multitude. One of the apostles commented that it looks as though they are following us. We were moving faster than they, but sure enough, they appeared to be moving in our direction.
We reached Bethsaida, secured the boat, and headed into the countryside toward the mountains. When we reached the hillside, someone pointed and said, “Look!”
The multitude was coming closer. Some were running. There was no place for us to hide. One thing we learned is that as long as there are people who are sick, they will seek after Jesus.
Jesus didn’t run away. He told us to stay. We were always impressed with the patience and compassion of Jesus. Later, He told us that the reason for His compassion was because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Instead of sending the crowd away, Jesus welcomed them. He asked if any were sick. As usual, we stood and watched as Jesus healed one person after another. It was a sight that never got old.
After healing all who were sick, Jesus began to teach. He spoke the truth with authority. His teaching was always refreshing and encouraging. Sometimes He spoke plainly. Other times He spoke in parables. He taught many things but always taught with the focus on the kingdom of God.
Evening came. One of the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
We shook our heads in agreement. It was a reasonable request. There was no place to purchase food on the mountainside. The multitude would have to go to the surrounding countryside and villages to find food.
Jesus looked at us twelve and said, “You give them something to eat!” We looked at one another in disbelief.
Jesus wants us to feed the multitude? He can see we have no food. Our boat was empty, and our sacks are empty.
Someone spoke up and asked if Jesus wanted us to take money from the purse. Should go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and to give them something to eat? Have you ever bought enough food to feed five thousand or more men and all the other women and children? What place will have enough food? How will we carry it?
We had no food and not enough money. The amount we had was a year of wages for a common laborer, but, as Philip said, two hundred denarii is not sufficient money to buy food for such a large crowd. Maybe we could feed five hundred men, but not five thousand.
Jesus said to take inventory of the food in the crowd. We went out among the people and asked for donations of food so we could feed everyone. Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, reported to Jesus that he found a young boy with five barley loaves and two fish. Obviously, there was not enough food. Everyone would still be hungry.
Later we found out that Jesus was testing us. He told us later that He was testing our faith. He knew what He was going to do. He wanted to prove He was capable of feeding these people. Jesus told Andrew to bring the five loaves and two fish.
Jesus told us to have the multitude sit down on the green grass in groups of hundreds and fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fish and looking up toward heaven; He blessed the food. We watched in disbelief. What is Jesus thinking?
We looked, and no longer was there only five loaves and two fish. There was an abundance. Jesus told us to gather baskets, fill them with the food, and bring the food to the people. I was amazed. I grabbed as much as I could hold and brought it to a group. The people took from the basket until it was empty. I brought the basket back and filled it again.
We repeated the process of going to group after group. As I was walking, I remembered Moses in the wilderness, and how God gave manna from heaven each day and fed the whole nation for years (Exodus 16; Numbers 11).
The manna fell from the sky, and the Israelites gathered it from the ground. In the same way, Jesus created food from nothing. He multiplied bread and the fish and fed the multitude.
Another story came to mind. In the book of Kings, Elisha fed one hundred men with twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain. Twenty small loaves and a few ears of corn from one sack fed 100 men, and there was food leftover. It was a miracle (2 Kings 4:42– 44).
My father and I talked of the great miracle done through Elisha. But today! This is no comparison. We had a fraction of the amount of bread and over fifty times the number of men. We kept going to Jesus for more, and He kept giving and giving more bread and more fish.
We fed everyone. When we were done, there was not one person hungry. We asked, “did you get enough?” The answer was the same. We are satisfied.
We returned to Jesus, and He told us to go and pick up the leftover food.
Each apostle walked among the multitude with a basket. We asked for the remaining food. When we returned to Jesus, we laid the baskets at His feet. Each of our baskets was full—twelve baskets of fragments of bread and fish.
On that day, we learned that Jesus is sufficient. Without Him, we are nothing.
We were starting to feel like we were quite something after our journey. We went out and cast out demons and healed the sick. When the crowd came, we felt better than them. We thought of ourselves as set apart from the crowd. We are the apostles with supernatural power.
We learned a valuable lesson. Without Jesus, we could not perform a simple task of feeding people. He said for us to feed the people, and we quickly realized it was something we could not do.
Even with all of our money, we could not go to the surrounding villages to buy enough food. We could not carry enough food to feed five thousand men. But, with Jesus, we fed thousands. We learned that day how much we need Jesus. It was a good lesson.
We are completely lacking and insufficient without Christ. It is Him who gave us power and authority when we went on our journey. Without His power and authority, we could not heal the sick or cast out demons. We lack the supernatural power to heal without Him. Without Him, we could not feed the world. He is the bread of life.
Our faith in the sufficiency of Jesus increased greatly that day.
What about us? Here we are a few thousand years later. We need to recognize that we are the same as Simeon and Joanna. We are no different than Bartholomew.
The reason we are the same is that we need to realize that without Jesus, we are nothing.
What about lunch today? Will we give thanks to God knowing that every morsel of food on our plate plates comes from His hand? Or do we believe we have food because of our hard work?
Do we thank Jesus for getting us saved, and then say, “I’ve got it from here?”
Do we believe our good works keep us in right standing before God? Do we congratulate ourselves because we read and study the Bible? Do we think we are special when we do what is right? Do we brag to others about our Christianity?
Or, do we recognize that God who began the work in us is the One who finishes the job?
If our children do well become adult Christians, do we pat ourselves on the back and say we did such a fine job raising them, or do we say thank you to Jesus for doing a work in their hearts? (I’ve heard too many Calvinists take credit for their child’s faith.)
Let’s not put faith in our sufficiency. Let’s not find ourselves in a situation when Jesus says, “You feed the multitude.” Statements like that bring us to our knees. Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have situations that bring us to our knees. We should already be on our knees (figuratively).
If we learn anything from Jesus feeding the multitude, let it be that we recognize without Jesus; we are nothing.
There is no distinction among us. There is none greater. We all have died, and our life is hidden in Christ. Every day, we need to start the day knowing that we need Jesus for everything. Jesus is our all in all. Without Him, we cannot eat, breathe, think, or move. There ought not to be one ounce of pride in our bodies.
We are to worship Jesus. He is our all-in-all.