John 6. 1-14, 25-35
The news was out. The Galilean teacher had fed 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. There were many poor in the area. They had found the teacher in another town and wanted him to do it again. But he knew their motives, they wanted food and didn’t care who provided it. Jesus said “Do not work (strive) for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (27). I know this situation well. There are many poor in Mombasa. As a pastor I get asked for money most Sundays. When I help, the person is always back the next Sunday for more; not more of God, but more money. Jesus wanted the people to see they had a bigger need; they needed spiritual food even more than natural food. And so he cries out “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry”(35). If we think the miracle of feeding the 5000 was just about God meeting the need of natural hunger, we have missed his main point. The main point is that Jesus is ‘The Bread of Life’; he is real food and real drink (55) for those who have a deeper hunger; and we all do.
What is spiritual hunger?
Did you ever see the life of God in another person and wish it was in you? Did your friend see a miracle and you wished you did too? Do you remember experiencing God’s presence in a powerful way, and wish it could happen again? This is spiritual hunger. And it’s a very real hunger. When this hunger is satisfied, all other hungers are manageable. And Jesus claimed to be the bread that satisfies this hunger. So let’s look at the feeding of the 5000 in the light of spiritual bread.
Jesus asked his disciples “Where shall we buy bread?” (5). That’s a good question to ask when you have spiritual hunger. Of course Jesus knew the answer, he was checking if the disciples knew. And he wants to see if you know too.
Andrew said “Here is a boy with 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (9) This is a question many pastors have asked. They see a little of God’s power and presence in their church; it touches a few; and they wonder “Will it go further?” Well there is hope that it will; that is what this story is about: the miracle going further.
Another question reveals how the miracle goes further: why did Jesus use 5 loaves and 2 fish? Why didn’t he just tell everyone that they would find a loaf of bread under the bush nearest them? That’s a lot easier than serving 10,000 people (It’s likely there was 10,000 with woman; only the men were counted) Can you imagine breaking and distributing 10,000 pieces of bread! That’s quite a lot of work. Well there is a good reason for Jesus’ method. Jesus wanted the miracle to happen in the people’s hands. He wanted God to work through them, and he still does. He wants the power in the hands of ordinary people like you and me.
Now it doesn’t say the miracle happened in their hands rather than his, but there are good reasons to assume it. Firstly, Jesus was already using his disciples to do everything. He got them to get everyone to sit down, and he got them to pick up all the pieces afterwards. Secondly, it’s ‘a long shot’ to believe that Jesus ripped up and distributed 10,000 pieces on his own. In fact it’s even unlikely that the 12 disciples did it alone, they would have given chunks of bread to others who in turn passed it on to more people. The miracle really did happen in ordinary hands!
And this was not the first time Jesus did it this way. When he changed water into wine he did the same thing (Jn 2.1-11). He could have just told his mother to take another look in the containers because they were now full. But instead he gets the servants to fill the big stone washing jars with 100L of water and then gets them to distribute the drink from there to the tables. That’s quite a bit of work. But Jesus was teaching an important principle. The lowly servants of the house got to see a miracle in their own hands; and God still wants to do things that way. He wants his power in the hands of ordinary people.
Let me ask you a question: who would you rather be; the people filling their stomachs with bread or those seeing the bread multiplying in their hands? If I saw bread multiplying in my hands I would forget to eat! Who wants to eat when you can do a miracle! I’ll skip lunch to watch the bread grow!
Now let’s switch to another account of spiritual distribution: the Day of Pentecost (Ac 2.1-8, 11-18). The Holy Spirit entered the room and then ‘separated’ out to each person like ‘tongues of fire’ (3). Imagine being there; imagine being touched by a tongue of fire! Actually, I believe it still happens; we just don’t always see it. I believe the tongues go out whenever we ask the Holy Spirit to come on those who are gathered. The fact is they were filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, but they were filled with the same Spirit again in Ac 4.31. So we must be filled and keep being filled, and I think the tongues came, but they keep on coming!
Now, notice that the tongues of fire did not favour the 12 disciples; they came on all 120 (Ac 1.15, 2.1) that were waiting, both men and women (2.17). And notice that there was a distribution pattern: They were not allowed to leave Jerusalem till the Spirit came (1.4), but once they received him they took his life and power to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth’ (1.8) through preaching, healing, prophesying, and serving. And who did all this; the 120 did. Yes, there were 12 apostles, but they needed the help of the remaining 108 and then the 3000 that came to Christ on the Day of Pentecost.
The Holt Spirit is the life of God that Jesus pours out on all believers (2.33). He is spiritual food and spiritual drink. But He is the kind of food and drink that can be received and passed on; and He is to be passed on through the hands of ordinary people. We have got used to thinking miracles must happen in the hands of the pastors and leaders, the ‘anointed’. How wrong we are. The ministers of the New Testament were fisherman, tax-collectors, and carpenters; the ordinary people.
Now a final question on feeding the 5000: Did Judas hand out bread that day? Yes, he was one of the 12. Did Jesus try to stop him? No. If you had eaten bread from Judas would you have been filled with a demon? No, Jesus would not have allowed that. Why do I ask these questions? Because many people fear who lays hands on them, and this fear stops ministry in the church. It stops the ordinary church members from laying hands and distributing the bread of life. It limits the potential of the Church as a whole. I cannot think of a single verse in Scripture that tells believers to be weary of who prays for them. In fact I can only think of verses that say the opposite. Jesus said “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11.11-13). His point is this: if you are seeking the Holy Spirit you will not get an evil spirit. God will not allow it. And if an evil person lays his hand on you (gives you bread) God still won’t allow it. It’s not about who lays hands on you, it’s about the God you are seeking and what you want from him.
God wants the whole church to minister, the devil does not. The devil would like the power to stay with the pastor. The devil can cope with that. He cannot cope with every Christian operating in power.
So here’s my challenge to ordinary people: Are you prepared to be a disciple handing out spiritual bread? The call is for you to lay hands, for you to hear God and speak his words, for you to heal the sick, for you to be a channel for God’s fire.
In your church; how far will the 5 loaves go? A lot depends on how many people distribute the bread.