What lessons can we learn from Jesus' feeding of the 5,000?

In all four of the Gospels, Jesus is recorded performing a great miracle for His followers—usually known as the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–14). A large crowd began following Jesus as He traveled and healed the sick. In this particular instance, Jesus and the disciples had withdrawn, but the crowds followed and when Jesus saw them, He "had compassion on them and healed their sick" (Matthew 14:14). In the evening, the disciples wanted to send the people away so they could reach the surrounding villages before dark and buy food (Matthew 14:15). "But Jesus said, 'They need not go away; you give them something to eat'" (Matthew 14:16).

One of the disciples found a boy who had fives loaves of barley bread and two fish (John 6:9). Certainly this would not be enough for the large crowd! But Jesus thanked God for the food and each person who gathered to see Him was fed. The bread and fish were multiplied until everyone ate their fill, and there was even food left over (John 6:11–13). This is astounding because the Bible notes 5,000 men in attendance, plus women and children (Matthew 14:21). Some scholars believe that the crowd could have been between 15,000 and 20,000 people.

Through Christ's miracle of feeding the 5,000, God demonstrates that He is big enough to shatter all of our finite expectations and abundantly provide for our needs. His goodness exceeds our imaginations. Christ amplified the meager provisions that were brought to Him, and similarly, God amplifies our gifts, money, and talents when we bring them to Him. Our possessions and attributes are never too small to serve God. He delights in blessing and surprising us, and Scripture continually shows us that He uses smallness and weakness to display His glory (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Through this miracle, we can also learn that Jesus uses His disciples to be His arms and hands. Mark 6:41 depicts Jesus blessing the crowd through His disciples passing out the food. Jesus could have manifested sustenance in the hands of each person in the crowd, but instead chose to use the food the boy had shared and use His disciples to distribute the meal. By feeding the crowd through the agency of His disciples, we see how we also can be the arms and hands of God. God graciously involves us in His work. We also learn about trust. The disciples had to trust that Jesus would provide the means to feed the crowd, and they could only give what they received. This makes the disciples, and Christ's current believers, a huge part of God's plan in blessing others.

Just as we learn that Jesus' disciples could only give what they received, we also learn that nothing came through their own efforts. When Jesus asked His disciples how they would feed the multitudes, Phillip leaned on his own rationality and logic (John 6:7). His disciples' own efforts are, of course, not how Jesus chose to feed the crowd. Any amount of human striving could not have fed the thousands. Jesus bypassed human effort to show that all good things come from God, not man's effort (Zechariah 4:6). God involves us, but He is the one who equips the work.

This miracle is also a great reminder that nothing we face here on earth is too big for God. Even standing with the King of kings, Christ's disciples were worried that thousands of people would go hungry (John 6:9). No matter what we face, we must remember that God is larger still.

It is interesting to note that God had performed a similar miracle before. In 2 Kings, Elisha tells his servant to feed a crowd gathered around them. The food is seemingly not enough for the hundred men, and one of Elisha's servants questions Elisha's command, saying, "How can I set this before a hundred men?" (2 Kings 4:43). The crowd ate their fill and even had some food left over, just as with Jesus' miracle. God loves giving in abundance (2 Kings 4:42–44; Psalm 132:15).

Christians must trust God, that He will provide for our needs and amplify our offerings to bless others. We know that God is larger than we can imagine, and He delights in providing for and blessing His children (Psalm 23:5).

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