A Bible study through John 1-6
As we near the end of our time in John 1-6, we read one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles in His entire ministry: the feeding of the five thousand. So many truths and lessons can be gleaned from this miraculous story of five loaves and two fish, but I want to focus our attention on one specific truth: our God is a God who multiplies exponentially above and beyond all we could imagine.
“Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.”
The story starts with an insurmountable problem. Thousands of men, women, and children had gathered to be near Jesus. While the narrative makes it clear that these multitudes needed food, I find it interesting that the passage never mentions the people actually asking for it. Jesus was the one who brought it up. As is often mentioned throughout the Gospels, Jesus saw the crowds, knew their needs, and felt compassion, which prompted Him to act.
Jesus also knew the hearts of His disciples and where their faith was at. So instead of simply providing the food needed, as a great teacher, Jesus used the opportunity to teach an important lesson of faith to His closest followers. Notice that the text says that Jesus already knew what He was going to do. The only reason He asked Philip a question regarding the situation was to open up their minds to what was about to happen and the significance of the moment.
I can picture Philip standing there next to Jesus and looking out on the multitude as he tried to answer Jesus’ question. As he takes quick stock of just how many people were gathered, his mind whirls with numbers and is quickly overwhelmed by just how much food would be necessary to feed such a crowd. A denarius was a standard day’s wage, so Philip’s quick math estimated that it would take over two hundred days’ worth of money to buy enough bread for each person to have a small snack—not a full meal that completely satisfies but just a bit to take the edge off of hunger.
However, Philip wasn’t using kingdom math. In God’s economy, math works much differently. Five loaves and two fish turned into enough food to feed what scholars estimate to be at least fifteen thousand people. However, that small lunch that served as the initial offering didn’t just feed the crowd and provide a full meal, but there were leftovers. In fact, the leftovers far outnumbered the original meal brought to Jesus.
This is the above and beyond that God brings. While God will often provide exactly what we need and no more, there are times when He does exceedingly above and beyond all we could ask or imagine so that our faith might grow and we could see that nothing is impossible for Him.
In this story, there was an impossible situation with thousands of people in need of food that could not be provided or acquired with the resources available to the disciples. However, Jesus was in their midst. The Bread of Life and Creator of all things. He is the Source and Giver of all that we need, and from His hand He multiplied what was given.
Notice the numbers. Twelve baskets of leftover bread. One for each disciple. In case the disciples lost sight of what Jesus did that day or what really took place on that mountain side, they walked away from the event with a basket full of bread that was impossible for them to possess.
As we reflect on this powerful moment in the life and ministry of Jesus, let’s examine our own lives. Have we experienced moments where God has provided in above and beyond ways? Has He multiplied what we had to offer and caused it to grow exponentially? And what baskets of bread do we have in our arms that remind us of God’s faithfulness and ability to do the impossible?
God is always working and providing for the needs of His people. Just as Jesus saw and knew the needs of the crowd before the topic of lunch was even brought up, so also He sees and knows our needs before we can even acknowledge them or think of seeking provision for them. And just as Jesus already knew how He would provide food that day before the subject came up, He knows how He will provide, bless, and work in our lives before we are even faced with the challenge or problem.
Therefore, as we move on from this beautiful story of provision, faith, and grace, may we never forget the central truth that God is our Provider who delights in multiplying what is in our hands and doing far above and beyond all that we could ever ask or imagine.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”