Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Now we broach an account that is not only recorded in Luke, and not only in the three synoptics, this is the only miracle (save the ressurection) which is recorded in all four gospels. Apparently this miracle struck a cord with the early church; it diffused into their art (that is, the loaves and fish). There was something human with this miracle that connected with the people of the time. Some have suggested that it was a “farewell to fellowship” meal, in which Jesus is communicating to the Galileans that his time is short in the region and he must move toward Jerusalem. Others say it was an anticipatory symbol of the Messianic banquet, that is the feast of Messiah with his people.

Recently, this miracle has come under great scrutiny and not just from outside pressure; even among our own number, some have tried to explain away this miracle with human reasoning. Some have said that the display of the disciples to give up their own food stimulated the people and guilted them into producing the food they had secretly, hence, producing more than enough food. Thus, the miracle took place in the hearts of the people, not in Jesus really producing enough food for 5000 people. I mean c’mon, not even the Son of God could do that, right? Well, yes can and he did. That is what the four gospel writers unanimously agree upon – this was actual, factual history, a real historical account of what Jesus did. And Luke, a first rate historian bar none, records this event for us in 9.10ff.

Mission Success

Luke tells us that sometime after Jesus had sent out the Twelve, they returned to report everything they had done. The Greek says that they told the narrative to its completion, implying Jesus sat and listened to every word of it. He was interested in what his disciples had done. Imagine, put yourself in their shoes, and you get to tell Jesus all you have been on the mission he has sent you on…and he listens to every word. I suppose Jesus knew the toll such a mission would have taken on the disciples, so he intends to withdraw with them for some rest and relaxation.

However, the multitudes have different plans. They hear where Jesus is and go to him. Jesus does not drive them away, saying “my disciples need rest, come back some other time.” The text says he welcomed them. He embraced them and spoke the word of God unto them. He spoke about the kingdom of God and healed their sick. The success of one mission leads to Jesus furthering their success.

Mathematic Silliness

The day draws on and the vening approaches. The crowds are still there. Jesus is still teaching (it would seem). And the disciples are getting worried. The are in a “remote place” where the multitudes cannot find food. It is time for action. The Twelve come to Jesus and ask him to send the crowds. Where the disciples really concerned about the people? Or where they just tired of being around people? After all, this is supposed to be rest time. Maybe a combo of both. Maybe neither. Whatever the attitude, we know Jesus commands them, “You (emphatic) give them something to eat.”

With what, Jesus? There is no food out in this remote place. All we have are five loaves (John tells us they were barley loaves, the bread of the poor) and two fish (John also tells us they were small). Basically, all they have are some crackers and fish paste to use like jelly. This points to the scarcity of the food available. The disciples are making it obvious that they have nothing. In fact, they couldn’t even buy food for the multitude, they ae just too many. 5000 men alone…not to mention women and children. Some commentators say the crowd could have been upwards to 15,000, and that is entirely possible. It is silly to think, in the disciples mind, that we can provide for all these people. The numbers do not add up.

Multitude Satisfied

Jesus begins giving instructions about the seating arrangement of the people (groups of fifty). The disciples obey the order. Then Jesus takes the bread and fish, and “offers the blessing” (NEB). One commentator says it was probably the Jewish blessing which something like this: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the World, who brings forth bread from the earth.” When that is finished, Jesus begins the distribution process. We don’t know what it looked like when Jesus broke off a peice of the bread and handed it to the disciples. Did it miraculous grow back or form on the loaf? Who knows. What I would have wanted to see is the look on the faces of the disciples as they passed out the food which so recently had been so scant.

Everyone eats their fill, no one goes away hungry. The mathematical problem is solved by the greatest mathematician every. the loaves were multiplied so all could eat. This is nothing short of the divine hand of God working a miracle for mankind. Not only does everyone go away full, but the disciples also take up a collection of the left over peices, each getting a full basket.

Lessons

We walk away from this account with the fact that Jesus is able to take the scarcity of what we have, be it financial, numerical, spiritual, whatever, and turn it into something that can impact thousands. Just because the one talent man only had one talent did not let him off the hook; he still could have done much if he had done just something. Whether we are in a small congregation or large, God can still use our efforts and bless them to do great things in the kingdom. Whether we give much on Sunday during the collection or only a few “mites,” God can take those things and produce a great harvest ripe for the reaping.

With Jesus math, the numbers do not add up. I suppose there was more than one person who walked away from that evening meal scratching their head wondering, “Where did he get all that bread and fish?” “Where did those twelve baskets come from?” “How did he do that?” It does not make sense that 5000 people were fed on five loaves and two small fish. The numbers do not make sense and yet with Jesus, the unique Son of God, he does it. God steps into human history to make the impossible possible; he works a miracle. “With God all things (even feeding five thousand men) are possible.”

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The Twelve’s First Mission

As the old saying, “All good things must come to an end.” And for Jesus, the good ministry he is working in Galilee is winding down. The reasons may be two-fold: first, as seen with the demonic, the people may be forcing him out. Second, it is time for his ministry to head for the mission point, namely Jerusalem. He cannot stay home for his whole life if he is to be the Savior. Perhaps it is a combination of the two. Whatever the reason, it is now Jesus to move is operation elsewhere and to prepare his way, he is sending out the Twelve. They have seen the miracles; they have heard the messages. The question is “are they ready?”

The Men Jesus Equips

Remember that this is the curious band of men only Jesus could pull together. Tax collectors, Zealots, fishermen – these are the kind of men who gel very well. And, yet, Jesus is doing it. It is this band of men he gives “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.” He both qualifies them and authorizes them for their mission. What is their mission? “To preach the kingdom of God.” Curing sick people and driving out demons are signs of the authority they carry with them. They have divine authorization to speak these things concerning the kingdom of God.

But Jesus also gives them instructions. They are not to take anything – “no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” Jesus is explicitly clear that the Twelve are to focus on the task. That is, don’t worry about they other things, God will take care of them; you preach the kingdom. God will provide the houses to stay at. If you are not welcomed, shake off the dust when you are done preaching there “as a testimony against them.” Morris says concering this practice, “it declared in symbol that Israelites who rejected the kingdomwere no better than the Gentiles.”

Equipped with the qualifications and authorization, as well as the detailed instructions concerning their welcome or unwelcome in towns, in simple obedience the Twelve went out doing exactly what Jesus commanded them to do. Truly, we can learn from this example. We need not worry about the means of how we are going to be taken care or where the funds will come from for kingdom work – it will come, God will provide. We need only concern ourselves with the preaching of the gospel. Unlike the apostles who need their word confirmed, we have the word made more certain, already confirmed by apostolic testimony. It just needs to preached.

The Misunderstanding over Jesus

Herod the tetrarch is an interesting fellow. As ruler over the territory Jesus was preaching in he would be interested in the reports he was hearing. The text says he was “perplexed” concerning what he was hearing about Jesus. That is he was at a loss and perhaps embarrassed because, based on some of the reports he was hearing and believing, John the Batist, whom he had beheaded (v.9), was back from the dead. The other reports, which Luke records for us, were that Elijah was present, or some other prophet. However, I believe it is safe to say that Herod was most interested in the John the Baptist reports based on his response.

The interesting thing about Herod is that “he tried to see him,” that is Jesus. Herod tried to see Jesus. I don’t how he went about doing this, but as far we know, he did not see him until the end of Luke (23.8). And when he sees Jesus, what is it for. Certainly Jesus is on trial. But when Jesus arrives, Herod wants a miracle (23.8b). Not salvation is Herod after, but a show. What a pity! Standing before him is salvation, and all Herod wants is a miracle performance. Hence, Herod is interesting only as a car accident is interesting – really it is just sad.

Two Faiths

What I see at the end of Luke chapter 8 is a lot of what Jesus has been saying and doing coming to head in two very different healing accounts. I think I can say with some certainty that Luke intended all of chapter 8 and part of chapter 7 to sort of form a unit because this entire account is bookended by a statement of faith in a person creating a favorable result. For example, near the end of Luke 8, Jesus makes the statement “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (v.48). As I read that passage it dawned on me that I have recently read something similar to it and lo and behold at the end of Luke 7 Jesus says “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v.50).

Now think about it, Jesus in chapter 8 has been talking about this very thing: faith. He has couched it in teaching about hearing and obeying or practicing what you hear. And so when Jesus talks about the faith of someone, what is he really talking about – faith in faith? No! He is talking about faith in Him and His word. Everything and everyone is hearing the voice of Jesus, yea even the voice of God, but who are the people who are obeying? When push comes to shove, who is obeying and putting what they have heard into practice. Who will put their full trust in Jesus as having the words of eternal life?

Well, we come to Luke 8.40-56 and we two accounts from Luke of the healing ministry of Jesus. But I believe these accounts are strategically placed for a reason. Jesus has been dealing with and teaching about hearing and obeying; he has been talking about faith in Him. However, now we get a look at two different faith responses from two different camps who encounter Jesus.

The Response of Belief

A woman walks the streets in shame, scorned by society. Unclean. She has been the subject of a disease which is taking its toll on her body, has humiliated her, and ruined her worship activities. However, she has heard of the man named Jesus who has the ability to make sick people well. No one has been able to help her for twelve long years; doctors can’t figure it out or do anything about. But maybe Jesus can. Luke does not record the internal conversation this woman has with herself as Matthew does, but she thinks if I just touch his cloak, the hem of his garment, I will be made whole.

The first response of faith we see is belief; belief that Jesus can do something, can help, can heal. With childlike faith, faith that defies social norms and ignores the crushing throng, this woman approaches Jesus from behind and touches him. Luke records that immediately her blood stopped flowing. Twelve years of sickness gone in an instant. Commentators tell us that she probably touched the tassles that hung from the garment slung over the shoulder, that is the fringe of his clothing. Whatever part of his clothing she touched, by faith she was healed.

The secret touch was not secret for long. Because when you touch Jesus with purpose…see all the people “crushing” Jesus in the throng may have touched Jesus, but they did not have purpose. They did not have the faith this woman had. She has purpose, intent. She has a desire to made whole. And when she touches Jesus, power leaves him, that is healing power. This prompts him to ask the question: “Who touched me?” She is found out and with great fear (she is trembling), she approaches Jesus, fall before him, and explaining her circumstances. The fear and terror this woman may have are assuaged when he says to her “your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

The Response of Unbelief

Jarius’ friends and family are not as trusting of Jesus. Jarius knows the power of Jesus and it is on the way to his house that the woman touches Jesus. Someone comes, while Jesus is still on the way, and announces his daughter is dead. Surely dismay and distress swept over the crowd. Jarius probably was hurt. But Jesus offers comfort. While the daughter was sick, there was still the possiblity Jesus could make her whole. But now that she is gone, what can Jesus do? Hence, Jesus says, “Just believe.” Just have faith. Have the same kind of faith that touches garments, that believes Jesus, even through secret touch, can heal. You can almost hear his words to the disciples on the boat, “Where is your faith?”

Once again, Jesus is laughed at. When he announces that the girl is asleep the crowds erupts. So Jesus, with Peter, James John, Jarius, and the mother enter the room where the girl lay and Jesus brings he back to life. Have faith. Believe.

In addition, these accounts confirm the message spoken by Jesus. He is the Son of God and therefore his teaching must be heard and obeyed. The miracles demonstrate he is apporved by God.

What about our faith? Do we have a faith that reaches out for the fringe of His garment, believing Jesus can do what he says can do? Or do we lose hope and respond with unbelief, not wishing to bother the Master? I would hope it would be the response of faith and belief. We need a faith that is constantly reaching for the garment, believing Jesus is big enough to fix whatever issue we may have in life. We need to turn over our lives to the teacher and listen to him, ready to receive his word and obey it.

The Worst Case of Identity Theft

The men are tired. They have rowed and rowed the vessel across the sea. They had weathered a treacherous storm that had threatened their lives. Now, weary from the whole ordeal, they drag the boat ashore when suddenly they hear the piercing sound of an inhuman cry. In fact, it is down right demonic in sound. The twelve exhausted men look up to the hills to see…a human? It can’t be human. No human could let out a cry like that. And he’s covered in chains. He’s naked. He’s bleeding. He is in a dead sprint from the grave yard…and headed straight for them.

Once again, the rugged, tough band of men cower behind their Master…but can you blame them when you have a crazed demonic coming straight for you. It would difficult for me to stand my ground in that situation. However, even though the disciples shrink back from this man, Jesus does not. He is the one standing his ground, ready for confrontation with the demoniac.

What the Man has Lost

When we talk about the Gadarenean demoniac, we are really talking about a man who has lost everything because of the powers of darkness. Hypothetically, he has lost his job (who would hire a crazed demon possessed man), his friends, his family; if he had a wife, she has probably gone to her mother’s, and any children he may have had. Scripturally, though, we do know he has lost his house (v.27), he has lost his mind (v.29, 35), control over his body (v.29), his clothes (v.27), his voice (v.28, these are the demons speaking for him), his purpose (his will is now overruled by the demons). But over all of these things, this man has lost his identity (v.30). When Jesus asked him his name, he does not say “Joseph” or “Benjamin;” his name is “Legion.” This is one of the earliest cases of identity theft.

What the Man Gains When he Meets Jesus

The bleak situation gets better though. Because when this man finally gets in contact with Jesus, everything he has lost, he is able to get back. The hypotheticals that he may have lost (job, family, friends) he can get those back. He can go back to his “own house” (v.39). He is “in his right mind” (v.35). He is in control (no longer the demons) because he is doing what he wants, and that is sit at the feet of Jesus. It is with his voice that he asks to be with Jesus (v.38). And Jesus gives him a purpose in life when he tells him to “tell what great things God has done for you” (v.39).

There is one last thing, though, and if you have been reading carefully, you have noticed it. We never know the man’s name. Before, when demons dwelt within him, his name was lost to the demons. But now, what about his name? It is not there. Or is it? I think the Lord restores this man’s identity to him because this man is now identified with the Lord. He is a part of the kingdom of the Son, no longer a slave in the kingdom of darkness. And surely it is with great enthusiasm that he “proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus (God) had done for him.” That is his new identity.

Jesus is asking us this question today. “What is you name?” If we are enslaved to the things of this world, in love with our idols, refusing to give them up, then we answer, not with our voice, but with the voice of a demoniac “Legion” for our idols are many. But if we are slaves of righteousness, seeking everyday to put away dumb idols and “be with Him,” then we can answer the same question “Child” for we that is what we are – children of the King.

A Note on Hearing

We can must be careful not to separate this story from the context. Remember what has been discussed throughout Luke 8 thus far: hearing the Word and doing it. Notice who it is who is hearing the word in this story: Demons. Many demons hear the voice of the Lord and do what he says – they leave the man. Even the demonic forces recognize who the Lord is and do what he says. Likewise, we must recognize the Lordship of Jesus and listen to his word, putting it into practice every single day. Even the demons believe and shutter; how much more should the Christian (indeed, all mankind) believe, hear, and obey.

What manner of man is this!

When I was in preaching school (Sunset International Bible Institute), I was absolutely captivated by the teachers. Men like Ed Wharton, Gerald Paden, Doyle Gilliam – these great men of God who had such a grasp of biblical knowledge. Lengthy passages of Scripture committed to memory, quoted, exegeted, and wrapped up in a nice bundle for you to take home and mull over in your mind. Certainly there were times when I, like the disciples of Jesus, said to myself, “What manner of man is this!”

Now I realize there is not an exact correlation here; I mean the men I sat and learned from were not exactly calming stormy seas. But that is about as close as I can get to the awe and wonderment and possibly even a bit fear that the disciples experienced on a stormy sea so many years ago. Luke records this event in 8.22-25 of his gospel.

Now, remember the context in which this account is tangled up in. We have just finished discussion of hearing the word; Jesus just presented an object lesson using his brothers and mother about hearing the word. And then Luke launches into this account of Jesus calming the storm. There is a connection.

With the storm around them raging, and the waves crashing upon their boat, swamping it with water, the disciples turn to the only person they know can possibly help…maybe…we think. And He is asleep. Mark paints us the quaint picture by telling us Jesus is “asleep on a cushion.” In the midst of the turmoil and angst, the Master, exhausted from teaching, preaching, and healing (his ministry), he falls asleep. And that when his disciples apparently need him most.

Luke records that they wake him with the words, “Master, Master.” Mark says, “Teacher.” Matthew says, “Lord.” I assume in the jumble of everything it was every man calling out a name for Jesus trying to wake him. They rouse him, and for sometime I have thought that this was a groggy Jesus getting up to rebuke the winds. However, the Greek implies that he was “thoroughly awake.” Hence, the picture I get is that he sat up and spent sometime waking up – put on his sandals, maybe brushed the hair back, cinched up the robe, etc. But he was fully awake when  he “arose and rebuked the wind and raging water.”

In an instant, the water is calm. The wind has died down. I imagine the clouds clear up and the sun started shinng again. It is an awesome display from the Master of the universe who created this very sea upon which he slept. Then he asks his disciples a very cutting, penetrating question: “Where is your faith?” It is as if Jesus is asking them, “You have been with me this whole time and have heard the words I have spoken; haven’t you believed them?” And so here it is that the 12 men who should have caught the message after this time, who have heard the word of God, have not really been listening. Yet, all around them, they have testimony from creation that it is his word that is to be heard and obeyed.

This is just what the disciples say: “Who is this?” The KJV says, “What manner of man is this?” Even the winds and the waves sprout ears to hear and heed the voice of the Master who created them. Notice, “they obey Him” (v.25). Thus, Jesus is yet again teaching us the significance of hearing and obeying His voice. In the midst of the storm, who will it be that listens to the voice of Jesus. The disciples show us it was everything except those who should be.

So it is now time for us to decide. When the storm around us rages, when life appears to as though it will collapse upon us, when time comes for us to run to the Master, will it be another repeat episode of the 12 in the boat where we cry out that we perish? Or will it be that, based upon hearing the Master, the word of God, that our cry is one of faith? We know who holds the boat together for He is in the boat with us. We know who controls the storm and that He will not give us more than we can handle. We know the storm obeys his very command. When the time comes, will we likewise obey His word and respond with faith?

Can you hear me now?

Hot on the heels of of all this talk about hearing and listening to the word of God, Jesus once again drops a bomb shell on those following him. This thread of hearing and obeying is throughout this eighth chapter of Luke. He has laid this teaching down with parables, by quoting from the Old Testament, and now he gives the biggest lesson of all. His mom shows up.

Usually when mom shows up, two things happen: either you are busted and it is time to go home, or your glad to see her. It would seem, based on the parallel passage in Mark (Mark 3.21, 31-32) that his family shows for the former purpose. They think him mad, crazy, out of his mind. Hence, they are there to shut Jesus’ mission and ministry down. Here is an important lesson: anyone who seeks to do a good work for the kingdom, but is hindered by the disapproval of their family must make a crucial decision – am I going to go back home with the family, or am I going to continue to follow God in this path? Said another way, will I choose to break the heart of God by giving up this ministry or will I continue to listen to his voice and obey his commands? This is a big decision for Jesus, to be sure.

Word gets to Jesus (Luke 8.20) that his mother and brothers are outside. Someone may ask, “Where’s Joseph?” The answer is simply we don’t know. He could be home busy in the carpenter shop trying to make a living for his family. He could be dead by the time this episode in the life of Jesus rolls around. Scholars tend to lean toward the latter. Nevertheless, word to gets to Jesus that his family is outside, their purposes are not stated directly. The words of Jesus no doubt would have been cutting to his mother’s heart: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” The NIV says, “…puts it into practice.” Jesus’ half-brother James, perhaps one of the brothers present when Jesus uttered these words, got the message later, converted to Christianity and penned these words in his epistle: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1.22).

The message is loud and clear. If you want to be in the household of faith, if you want Jesus as your brother and God as you Father, then the word that is heard must be accepted and obeyed. I am not sure how many times it can be said, but Jesus says it repeatedly: listen and obey. The only way to obey is to listen and the only way to listen is to get our head in the word. Daily read the word, daily practice what it says. Further, Jesus says to hear the “word of God,” that is TON LOGON TOU THEOU. THEOU is God in Greek, from which we get our word theology. LOGON is the Greek word for “word.” Perhaps you are familiar with John 1.1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Same word for “word” is used there as it is here in Luke 8.21. Now think about this: those who hear the “Word of God” and do what it says are brothers and sisters to Jesus. John goes on to say that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14).

I submit to you, o faithful reader, that perhaps a deeper meaning here is that in order to be a member of the family of faith, we must be willing to hear and heed the message of Jesus inasmuch as he is the incarnate Word. Hear the Word of God and do what he says. There is no other message we should be listening to, no other gospel which we should be obeying. The message Jesus brought with him of salvation from sin through His blood which was preached by the apostles and the first century church is the only message we should be hearing and putting into practice. Anything added by us or other men jeopardizes the precious salvation we have. Anything removed from the gospel, and it becomes a message which cannot save. No, we need to people of the book demanding the faithful proclamation of the full gospel of Jesus Christ. And once we have it, we need to be people do what it says.

Are you listening to me?

In our modern world, we may lose something in the tranlation concerning the significance of light. Unlike our world where we flip a switch and we have light, the people to whom Jesus understood that light was a very precious commodity. Especially if it were dark outside. There was oil involved, finding a flame, keeping the light going, etc. So when Jesus speaks about light or a lamp, the impact on the audience would have been great when he hammered his point home. However, the point is very relevant to us as well: we use things in appropriate ways. A lamp is used to light a place, just as a hammer would be used to drive or pry a nail. Fire is used for heat; air conditioning is used to keep us cool, etc.

However, how foolish to use these things in a wayother than their intended purpose. Why put a lamp under a bed? Why use a hammer to eat with? Why use fire to burn down a house? This just does not make sense. In the same way, how foolish for a person to use the ability to hear and heed not the warning. How dare us stop up our ears and so shut ourselves out from the blessings of God. But those who hear and listen will be given more. But those who refuse to listen (thereby having nothing), even what he seems to have will be taken from him. This is total loss.

The warning is very serious. For a Christian can hear but still not have what the Father offers. The Christian can lead his life thinking he has a servants position in the kingdom, or that he has a place at the king’s table, or that he is a son. But if the Christian has not really listened to the voice of God, even that which he seems to have (a servant position, a son’s position, a place at the table) will be taken from him. Hear the words of Jesus and take heed how you listen to the Word of God.

God is saying, “I know you hear me; but are you really listening to me?” Are you doing what he asks? Are you freeing yourself up so that God can have his time? Has God been emarginated, forced to take a back seat to everything else in your life? Jesus’ words should be sobering to us. If we truly want great blessing from God, we need to be listening to to his word, eagerly expecting to hear his message for us. Otherwise, we are in danger of losing everything we think we have.