YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT
Luke 9:1-17, Key Verse: 13a
He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
In this passage we learn that Jesus wanted his disciples to commit themselves to kingdom work and grow to be like him. So he sent them to do what he had been doing—to proclaim the kingdom of God—and he helped them to serve needy people. In the same way, Jesus wants us to grow as his disciples and also as leaders. In this passage we learn what characteristics we should have as disciples. So, let’s learn how to be good disciples of Jesus, not just observers of his gospel work.
First, The disciples were empowered and sent out (1-9)
Look at verse 1 and 2, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Here Jesus gathered together his faithful followers, the Twelve, whom we learned about in chapter 6. The “Twelve” was a group of ordinary men. Until now they did not exhibit many leadership qualities. We saw earlier, Jesus had to defend his disciples against persecution from the religious leaders because their faith was small. We also see the disciples were very afraid when they were caught on a boat during a bad storm. They were rebuked for their weak faith. What is so special about these guys who seem to have the same weaknesses as any ordinary person? Up until now they are not that inspiring. What did Jesus want with these twelve men, who mostly tagged along with him and just observed? We see God’s hope and plan for them to grow and do Jesus’ work themselves. In this passage the disciples have a particular kind of leadership learning experience. They were sent to heal the sick, preach about the kingdom of God, and drive out demons. This was a time when the disciples grew a lot spiritually. Jesus usually took care of them a lot, but now he’s pushing them out of the nest.
What was the prerequisite before they were sent out? Verse 1 gives us the answer, it says they were given “power and authority.” That sounds pretty good. Most of us would like to have these qualities. I would like to have a little more “power and authority” at work. I would like to have power and authority for my children to listen more. But Jesus’ power and authority is given for us to do the work of God. He does not give this to show off, or to advance our own personal agendas. We can catch a glimpse of the disaster that can result trying to flex and be powerful by our own merits when we look at an eerie story from the Book of Acts. Seven men were going around imitating Paul and trying to cast out evil spirits. They really did not have faith, they were just repeating Paul’s actions and words and trying become famous, they were like a cover band and Paul was like a rockstar to them. One day they tried to cast out a demon from a demon possessed man and it didn’t work. Rather, the demon got mad and beat them up so bad, that they fled naked and bleeding. So much for trying to have power and authority by their own merits, their short-term careers imitating Paul were over. However, the disciples were given true spiritual power and authority from God and they were successful in casting out demons. We can imagine that demons fled from the disciples running away scared and they did not come back, because of Jesus’ power and authority.
Another thing we see that Jesus imparted on his disciples is compassion. He told them to heal the sick and to cure diseases. This action is done on a very personal level, person by person. Sick people are vulnerable and desperate. One sick person requires daily prayer. This person seems lonely, desperate and has a lot of mood swings. Jesus cared for many such people. He raised Jairus’ daughter and he healed a woman who had a bleeding problem. Jesus felt the pain of these people who were in such sorrowful circumstances, and he wanted to help them. Likewise, the disciples were taught to do the same, to heal with compassion. Without compassion we cannot help others effectively. The characteristics Jesus teaches us to have are not based on our skills or performance, or resume, but come from a place of compassion and love. As we will see in this passage, to have compassion we have to put our own concerns away for a while and focus on others and pray for them.
Jesus gave his disciples further instructions for their journey in verses 3-5, “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” These are challenging instructions! The disciples were being taught NOT to depend on worldly things. God can do far more through even a mustard seed of faith, rather than our worldy resources. God wants his servants to depend on him first and foremost. In the book of 2Kings, King Hezekiah knew that Jerusalem was facing destruction by the besieging Assyrian army. He did everything he could to fortify the city walls. After fortifying the city walls and preparing the army he felt a little better. Then he realized the city was still doomed to be destroyed because the Assyrians were much more powerful. So, finally, Hezekiah cried out to God in prayer saying, “Now, Lord our God, deliver us, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” Because of Hezekiah’s prayer God saved Jerusalem and wiped out 185,000 soldiers in the Assyrian army in a single night, and the city was spared. What are you depending on in this world, more than God? The mighty hand of God is what you need most on your faith journey to be successful, especially in difficult circumstances.
What was the result when the disciples were sent out on their journey? Many heard the good news of the kingdom of God and were healed. Their journey was a great success! Many heard about what was going on, even Herod the tetrarch. The disciples made the local news, everyone was talking about them. Even some thought Elijah from the Old Testament had appeared, or John the Baptist was resurrected. Wow, it is amazing to see how far the disciples had come and how much they grew from just ordinary fishermen!
However not all the disciples stayed with Jesus. John Chapter 6 describes a group of disciples other than the Twelve. One day these particular disciples reached a point where they grumbled among themselves because they didn’t want to hear what Jesus was teaching them. They stormed out of the Bible study and left. Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” We can see quite a contrast between the Twelve and the other disciples who left, and Peter’s confession tells us a lot. Indeed there is no where else to go other than to Jesus. The Christian life does not get easier but gets more challenging. Yet, it also gets more rewarding when we follow Jesus and grow in our faith, and we can be successful in our Christian life like the disciples. We have to persevere like the Twelve, and grow in Christlike character then God will use us. May we each embark on the faith journey God has planned for each one of us.
Second, Jesus and his disciples feed the 5,000 (10-17)
After their journey preaching and healing, the apostles returned and reported what they had done. Here, we see that Luke uses the word “apostles”, for only the second time so far. “Apostle”, means one who is sent, such as on a journey or mission. Their journey of faith was beginning to gain a lot of momentum from this point. Jesus was going to stretch their faith even more. At this time, after working hard, they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida. They might have planned a barbeque or a nap. But the crowd had followed them. Matthew’s gospel says the crowd was already there when they arrived. They were desperate and needy people. We could say they were a little intrusive as uninvited guests or “party crashers.” How did Jesus respond to them? He welcomed them! Verse 11 reads, “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” To Jesus his purpose and mission has no limits, no set schedule, it was not a 9-5 job with weekends off. His heart is always open to all people. This reminds us of John 6:37, “whoever comes to me, I will never drive away.” Have you ever had to come to Jesus when you really needed him? I know I have. Praise Jesus that his heart is always open, he welcomes you when you are needy, even at a time when it seems you have nothing to offer him.
Jesus cared for these people both spiritually and physically. He already had in mind to feed the crowd who was very hungry. In John’s gospel, he asked Phillip in order to test him, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat.” Phillip replied, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Phillip was good at math. He could assess the size of the crowd and the cost to feed them. In John’s gospel it says 5,000 men were there. So, if one were to add the women and children there could have been many more. Maybe even 15,000 people or more! It was like looking at a sports stadium of people and being asked to feed them. The disciples tried to strike a reasonable compromise with Jesus. They said, “send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging because we are in a remote place here.” They made it sound like sending them away was for the crowd’s own benefit. Their idea, from a practical standpoint was a reasonable solution, being an engineer I think I would have said something similar. Jesus did not want to send them away.
So here is the crowd and they are not leaving. What happened next. Jesus told his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus command is very short and clear, “You give them something to eat.” He made them responsible. Jesus doubled down, no more negotiation. When we think about this verse, Jesus is saying this to all his disciples, so he is saying it to us also. There is a great need for gospel workers, with many people who need to know Jesus all around us. Obviously the spiritual condition of our country is getting worse, not better. There are a lot of people who need Jesus, more than would fill a sports stadium. Who is going to help them? It must be us. But…. we may want to send them away, with reasonable sounding excuses. Even one clever excuse is that someone is much better and much more qualified than us to be responsible. For example, I think Gideon is better qualified to share a Sunday message than myself so he should have to deliver it. But Jesus challenges me to prepare a message in this passage saying, “You, Rob, deliver the Sunday message.” We have many gospel workers among us, Jesus says to us “You give them something to eat.” We can share physical food with others. We can also share the Word of God, Jesus calls himself the bread of life in John Chapter 6. So, when we share the Word of God with others we are feeding others spiritually. This is how we can give them something to eat, by sharing the Word of God.
After Jesus challenged his disciples to feed the crowd, they eked out a small amount of faith. They said, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish.” Actually it is Andrew who said this. He felt something was possible with this small amount of food, as long as it was combined with a very large miracle. He brought it to Jesus as an act of faith. Faith is a catalyst that provides an environment where Jesus can work. Without an environment of faith, there can be no miracles. We don’t have to know the exact way God is going to work and do a miracle, Andrew did not know. We just have to believe it.
Jesus told his disciples to have the people sit down in groups of about fifty each. Everyone sat down, and then Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, gave thanks and broke them. He then gave them to his disciples to distribute. When they did so, a great miracle happened! The five loaves and two fish was multiplied and became an inexhaustible supply of food for thousands of people! There was so much food that there was leftovers, twelve basketfuls!
We can learn many things through this. Jesus’ blessing is abundant and overflows. He never blesses half way, his blessings overflows! We also learn he can perform miracles through a small act of faith. We have to think – what is our offering of five loaves and two fish? It may be a small financial contribution, it may be our time, or a particular talent or skill such as music or teaching or discipleship. Don’t hold back on it thinking it is too small, bring it to Jesus. There is an expression faith has two arms and two legs. Jesus can bless our five loaves and two fish and make us a blessing to others. Amen
Many years ago before Russia was opened up to the west, they had the “iron curtain”, and no westerners could travel freely there. Elders and people of faith in the church had hoped to send missionaries there to preach the gospel, even though it looked almost impossible. So they began to pray, and took simple steps of faith to believe it would open up. During Friday prayer meetings, Russian bread was served during the break, and it was kind of hard, and it looked unusual. Not typical of the bread we usually eat here. There were other small acts of faith and singing of Russian songs, even though most did not understand the words. After years of prayer, the iron curtain fell and the door was open to send missionaries there. It was an answer to prayer, Amen. Even I was also able to take a short term mission trip to Russia. I had great fellowship with many Russian people, it was really a blessed experience. Such small acts of faith had a great result.
Today we have learned of Jesus wants us to grow in his image to have compassion and faith, to do his work. He wants us to have welcoming hearts, and to offer our small contribution to him in faith. He challenges us “you give them something to eat.”