The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is one of his most famous miracles. As the only miracle to be recounted in all four Gospel accounts, it’s obvious that God wanted us to learn as much as possible from this powerful example of Christ’s compassion, power, and provision. This story of Jesus using a young boy’s lunch as a means to meet the needs of the multitude can teach us several lessons that are just as applicable today.
Out of all the miracles of Jesus that are discussed in Scripture, only one of them is mentioned in all four Gospels. You would think it would be the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Afterall, resurrecting a man who had been dead for four days is a story worth retelling several times. However, you’d be wrong. That story is only found in John’s Gospel. Maybe you would assume that the only four-Gospel miracle story involves Jesus’ walking on water in the middle of a storm. But that’s not the answer either, as that story only occurs in Matthew, Mark, and John.
The only miracle that appears in all four Gospels is the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 men (plus women and children) with only two small fish and five loaves of bread. Before you start wondering why someone was carrying around five loaves of bread, it’s important to note that these weren’t really loaves in the sense that we have loaves of brad today. Instead, this would have been a breadstick that was slightly larger than the ones you receive at The Olive Garden. Additionally, the two fish were probably sardines.
So armed with very little food, Jesus took what was available and fed the multitude. In doing so, he provided multiple lessons that we can apply to our own lives today.
The Importance of Compassion
Matthew 14:14 (TPT)
So when Jesus landed he had a huge crowd waiting for him. Seeing so many people, his heart was deeply moved with compassion toward them, so he healed all the sick who were in the crowd.
To truly understand how powerful Jesus being moved with compassion for this multitude of people was, it’s important that you understand what He was dealing with leading up to this story. In Matthew 14:1-12, we read the account of John the Baptist, who was a cousin of Jesus being killed by King Herod. To make matters worse, his murder was especially gory and savage in nature. John the Baptist was beheaded in prison, and his head was brought to the daughter of King Herod on a silver platter. Matthew 14:13 opens by saying “On hearing this, Jesus slipped away privately by boat to be alone.”
Jesus was grieving. Upon hearing the news of his cousin, the man who baptized him, being beheaded and his head essentially paraded around as a trophy, Christ wanted to be alone. However, by this point in His ministry, wherever Jesus went, He drew a crowd. So, the multitudes heard about His slipping away privately and tracked Him down. Instead of being annoyed by their persistence, the Bible teaches us that He was “deeply moved with compassion toward them.”
What if we operated with that kind of compassion? What if we were so compassionate toward others that we put their needs ahead of our own? Christ did so. He wanted to be alone to process what had gone on, but He was so moved with compassion toward the sick, that He had to heal them. Christ was compassionate, and He wants us to be the same way.
The Purpose of Tests
John 6:5-6 (TPT)
As Jesus sat down, he looked out and saw the massive crowd of people scrambling up the hill, for they wanted to be near him. So he turned to Philip and said, “Where will we buy enough food to feed all these people?” Now Jesus already knew what he was about to do, but he said this to stretch Philip’s faith.
Jesus never asked a question that He didn’t already know the answer to. We don’t know much about Philip, but he was the person who Jesus decided to test in this story. Looking over the multitude of people, Jesus looked at Philip and said, “Where are we going to buy enough to feed these people?” Philip’s answer (recorded in John 6:7) didn’t really provide much insight. “I suppose if we were to give everyone only a snack, it would cost thousands of dollars to buy enough food!”
That was Philip’s answer. Jesus asked where they were going to get food and Philip’s answer simply pointed to their lack of money. Jesus never asked how much it was going to cost. Instead, He asked where they were going to find what they needed. Since we’re able to read this story while already knowing how it ends, we have a benefit that Philip didn’t have.
Ideally, Philip would have said something of great spiritual depth here. I’m sure if Philip could go back and edit this story, he would’ve said something along the lines of, “I’m not sure where will get enough food, Lord. But I know that you will provide.” Instead, Philip knew they didn’t have money and he pointed it out.
However, our second lesson comes from this exchange. Why did Christ test Philip here? “But he said this to stretch Philip’s faith.” The tests that we face serve the same purpose. They stretch our faith and allow us to believe in God for even bigger miracles in the future.
The Best Ability is Availability
John 6:9 (ESV)
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Our final lesson from the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitude comes from a young boy who we know nothing about. We never get his name, his family lineage, or what he was doing that day following Jesus, but he served as the catalyst for one of the most important miracles in the Bible.
In Matthew 14:16, we find out that Jesus had told the disciples that the multitude didn’t need to leave to find food. Instead, He told them to feed the crowd themselves. Obviously, the 12 disciples went to work trying to find something to even start the meal with. With 5,000 men and an unknown number of women and children with them had to be a scary sight, especially when no one knew how they were going to find their food.
Somewhere along the way, Andrew, the brother of Peter, ran across a little boy. Before he left his home that morning, it appears that his mother or another caregiver made sure that he had some lunch with him. Was he the only person who packed a lunch that day? We don’t know. But we do know that he was the only person who was willing to give what he had to Christ.
If anyone else that was in the crowd had a fish sandwich, they weren’t sharing it. If anyone else had brought a snack to carry them over for the day, they had decided that they were saving it for themselves. However, this little boy, with a name we still don’t know and a background story that we will never get, decided that he would give his lunch to Jesus.
Upon getting the five pieces of bread and two fish, Andrew wasn’t impressed. “What are they for so many?” They were more than enough. John 6:13 teaches us that after Jesus multiplied the food, there were 12 baskets of leftovers remaining. The little boy didn’t have much to offer, but he gave what he had.
Christ isn’t worried about our skillset and how much we bring to the table. Instead, the only ability He is worried about is our availability.
A Closing Prayer:
God, I’m still awestruck by Your power. Help me to be more compassionate and care about the needs of those around me. When I’m tested, help me to remember that You are just growing my faith. Finally, give me the courage that I need to give you everything I have to use for Your glory. I’ll make myself available to You and You can do the rest. In Christ’s name, Amen.