Steve Wallace


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White Unto Harvest

Meat for All This People


The account of Jesus' feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle to be recorded in all four of the Gospels. Luke's account of this miracle reads as follows:

    "And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes except we should go and buy meat for all this people. For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets." (my emphasis, sw)

The apostles saw the multitude and saw their need. Jesus abundantly fulfilled the needs of these people. He gave "meat for all this people." Let us first understand the purpose of this miracle and then we will draw some pertinent lessons on foreign evangelism from the words which make up the title for this article.

The Purpose of This Miracle

Because there has been some misunderstanding with regards to the ends Jesus was aiming at in working this miracle, it is necessary that we first spend some time on this point. There are several objects Jesus was evidently aiming at in feeding the 5,000. We offer the following:

  1. To teach the apostles that he could provide for them while they were with him during his earthly ministry. Later, in Matthew 16, when seeking to teach about the leaven of Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus shows he expected the apostles to learn from his past miraculous multiplications of loaves and fishes (Matthew 16:6-11). Jesus expected them to draw the inference from his miracles that he was able to supply their physical needs.

     

  2. To reinforce his teaching concerning giving priority to the kingdom. Jesus had earlier taught, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). Immediately prior to this miracle, Jesus had been speaking to the multitudes about the kingdom of God (Luke 9:11), and they had clearly given priority to hearing his teaching. His feeding them at this time during his ministry would underline his earlier words from the Sermon on the Mount. Likewise today, we should learn the lesson this miracle teaches: Put God's kingdom first, and trust him for the rest.

     

  3. To teach that he was abundantly able to meet the spiritual needs of those who came to him. What Jesus provided in the physical realm was meant to teach spiritual lessons. Following this miracle and in connection with it, Jesus taught, "I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die....he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." (Jno. 6:48-51,58). In Romans 5, Paul taught that Jesus more than answered the spiritual problems of man (please see the words "much more" in verses 12-21). The riches of Christ are characterized as "unsearchable" by him in Ephesians 3:8 and, in Ephesians 3:20, he says that Jesus "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." As R.C. Trench wrote,

     

      Thus He... did in this miracle proclaim Himself the true bread of the world, the unexhausted and inexhaustible upholder of all life, in whom there should be enough and to spare for the spiritual needs of all hungering souls of all ages. (1)

Miraculous multiplications like the loaves and fishes powerfully emphasize that Jesus is able to "save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him" (Heb. 7:25). Jesus would later send his disciples out with a message meet to the spiritual needs of all people (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16). It was important that they as well as their hearers have complete confidence in his ability to meet these needs.

This leads us to our next point.

Jesus: Food for the Hungry Soul

John chapter 6 contains the lesson that Jesus wanted the people to learn from his miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. His miracles had a definite purpose. It was for people to recognize him as the Messiah (v. 26; Acts 2:22,36). Some people, while misunderstanding Jesus' mission, had understood the message that his miraculous feeding of the 5,000 communicated (vs. 14-15). Jesus taught that he is the bread of life (v. 48). After he ascended back to heaven his words would be spiritual food for their souls which would endure unto eternal life (vs. 62-63, 27, 68). Without the words revealed in God's word no man can come to him (vs. 44-45). All professed Christians believe Christ is the Savior. However, what separates so many from Jesus is their neglecting to note the essentiality of his word in conversion. He said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). It is his gospel that is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth" (Romans 1:16). Jesus has given himself as the bread of life for the hungry soul. He is the word incarnate (John 1:1-2, 14). Without his word I have nothing unique to offer the lost — both at home and abroad. In light of this, those who go forth to preach the gospel in foreign fields should be grounded in the faith and ready to faithfully proclaim the word of God regardless of the circumstances (2 Timothy 2:2, 15, 24-26; 1 Timothy 1:3; 5:20-21; 2 Timothy 4:2-4). In Lithuania, we have been careful to tell people that we are not there to talk about politics, America, to do social work, etc. Some have not learned this lesson.

Offering "Meat" of Human Origin

This writer lived overseas for many years and, hence, was away from the American scene. It has been interesting to see some of the requests that come to the church here from some of our institutional brethren. Faulkner University, a "Christian" college, is here in town and a number of requests come from brethren connected with it. Please notice the kind of mission work some brethren are doing. One brother writes,

    As a member of the Washington St. Mission Brigade I helped plant seeds into the hearts of many. We take a group of doctors that will help in the James Moody Adams Clinic, which is a free clinic for those who are sick but can't afford a doctor. While the patients are at the clinic there are ministers there to cure their spiritual ailments....The rest of our team, including me, goes out into a small village where the true poverty appears, and we build houses for those who don't have them...The medicine, clothes, food, and houses that we give our Honduran brothers and sisters cost them nothing.... We always come back with more than we had when we went down there, because they always give us the biggest, most beautiful smiles. (2)

Our institutional brethren have long since embraced the concept of "medical missionaries" and mission work that emphasizes social work. While the above example is extreme, it helps us to forcefully emphasize the uniqueness of the mission Jesus gave to his faithful in Mark 16:15-16. Anyone can do the work mentioned in the above quote. However, only a gospel preacher can carry out the great commission. Please notice the following story from brother Robert Turner which emphasizes this truth:

    During World War II a Chicago radio station aired an interview with three well-known denominational preachers, on "What the Church Can do in These Grave Times." The three so-called "Reverends" suggested bandage making, meeting troop trains with coffee, gathering books for the U.S.O., and the like. When the time was about up, the man interviewing said something to this effect: "I am not a religious man, but I thought the Church was and had something special to offer. Civic Clubs, school children, and others can do the things you have mentioned. But I am disappointed in not hearing of some function peculiar to the Church." (3)

Anyone can go to a foreign country and do social work, counsel people using human psychology, use human reasoning in an attempt to change people, teach people the English language, etc. However, Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:16). We must follow his teaching in doing mission work. Only Jesus is food for the hungry soul. Let none of us think we can do better in reaching people than he.

Conclusion

As we seek to convert the lost today, both at home and abroad, let us learn the lesson Jesus taught so long ago. He is the source of "meat for all this people." In preaching his word, we preach the message he ordained. In so doing, we use the one method he ordained for calling men to him (Jno. 6:44-45; 18"37). The spiritual needs of man are as great today as ever (Rom. 3:23). Let us go forth seeking to meet those needs with the bread of life the Father has given us (Jno. 6:48-51).


i Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 169, Baker publ., copyright 1949 (back to text)

ii March 7, 2001 letter from Matt West, seeking support for doing mission work in Honduras. (back to text)

iii Robert Turner, The Cogdell-Turner Discussion, pp. 88-89, Guardian of Truth, copyright 1983 (back to text)


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