Summary: Jesus teaches His disciples how to overcome the boundary of "impossible".
Making the Impossible Possible
Our lives are filled and often controlled by boundaries. A property owner can point out his property line and call those who cross it “trespassers.” The highway patrolman cruises the public roads and looks for those who exceed the speed limit and writes a ticket charging “speeding.” We each have boundaries for our physical abilities and social interaction. Our families are in the practice of labeling some things “possible” and other things “impossible.” Those are mental file labels for us, choosing those things that are realistically, rationally and achievably “possible.” We mentally file many things that don’t fit that criteria “impossible.”
This event of feeding 5,000 was more for the benefit of the disciples than the hungry crowd. The disciples had returned from their first mission trip without Jesus and described the events by saying, “I saw Satan fall.” They had watched Jesus do many mighty things, healing and changing minds. Now they must settle down into a very hard period of their lives. Jesus was beginning to face boldly the reality of a criminal death, while his disciples knew of his ideas and said “impossible.” So much was not only possible but it was also very close to happening.
Both the disciples and Jesus needed a few hours or days for a “rest retreat.” Jesus loaded them into a boat and left for a quiet place across the lake on a secluded hillside. Just as they settled in at a place to talk, a huge crowd estimated to be 8,000-10,000 people appeared. They had walked around the lake, seeking to hear Jesus and see people healed.
After a brief time of teaching, Jesus involved his disciples in making a big decision. Should they dismiss the crowd to go home or make plans to feed them? Phillip, the realist, reported that it would take the equivalent of six months salary for a labor, or $20,000, to feed them. Andrew, the optimist, suggested the only food he had discovered among the crowd was a small peasant boy’s lunch bag, five small barley loaves or biscuits and two small fish. His evaluating comment about the lunch was, “But what are they among so many?”
This is one of seven miracles, or signs that John chose to build his descriptions of the ministry of Jesus. Different from the other three gospels, John wrote his more than forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. While the others wrote a chronological account of Jesus’ life, John wrote about the essence of the life of Jesus. He stated his purpose was to lead people “to believe that Jesus was the Christ and that believing they might have life in His name.” (John 20:2). To do this he chose seven unique miracles that he called “signs.” Like a road sign, they said something, gave a message and declared the truth about Jesus. Although there are several themes that are common to all the miracles, a very dominate one was the way Jesus turned the impossible into a possible reality. This is the only miracle that is included in all four gospels, but John lifts it from being a feeding of the five thousand to the necessary training of the twelve disciples. Let’s look at the process Jesus used to both feed the multitude and train the disciples.
1. Jesus chose to start with what He had.
We might want to wait until we receive more resources to begin such a big project. Many of us talk about doing things “if only.” If only we have the money, time opportunity or help. Jesus began with the boy’s lunch. As Andrew had said, “What is this among so many people?” It had to be faith, and a close companionship with the Spirit, to launch out without the needed resources.
Jesus asked them to be seated in orderly groups, in anticipation that the disciples would serve. He built the setting in which a miracle could happen. He prepared the disciples to participate in a miracle. While some skeptics have reasoned that everyone had enough food for themselves but were selfishly hiding it. Only when the boy chose to give his lunch did everyone else take out their food and produce enough food for everyone with some left over. This was not a miracle of sharing but a God-sent miracle of feeding 8,000 – 10,000 far away from any store or source of food. Jesus prepared them for a miracle.
2. Jesus first blessed the food.
“Jesus took the bread and gave thanks.” He then began to serve it. He did the same with the fish. This sounds like what he did at the last supper where He was personally to be the gift being offered to mankind. Jesus was inviting God to come and feed them. He was inviting those eating to participate in a real miracle. We need to learn to pray in faith, when the reality of our prayers have not been answered yet. When we come to times of need, we can trust God to provide. The scripture teaches us to pray, for “all things are possible.”