For a little while now i’ve been thinking over the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. It’s an epic story – almost unbelievable – yet it really happened! My focus hasn’t been so much about Jesus and the incredible miracle He performs, but rather His disciples and their role in the whole thing. I’ve been trying to put myself in their shoes, trying to imagine how they felt as Jesus asked them to do something so completely ridiculous as feed a crowd of more than five thousand people with someone’s pitiful packed lunch.
Can you imagine it? Matthew 14 tells us that Jesus and the crowd are in a desolate place – there’s no hope of relying on anything in that setting to bail the disciples out when Jesus asks them to feed the crowd. The disciples are faced with thousands of hungry people… a crowd that are so hungry that they may well be tipping into the well known phenomenon of hanger (the meeting point between hunger and anger!) at any moment! And as they face this crowd that may well turn into a rioting mob pretty soon, Jesus is asking them to do the impossible.
Just at the point when things probably seemed like they couldn’t get much worse, Jesus gets everyone to sit down so there’s an increasing sense of expectation, prays over five loaves and two fish and then breaks them up and hands the pieces (which when divided by 12 can’t have been much more than one handful each) to his disciples. At that point the disciples must have been looking into their hands and then looking up at the crowd wondering what on earth Jesus expected them to do. Was this some kind of painful, un-funny joke? It’s actually quite an embarrassing moment if you think about it. They must have been so nervous as they made the walk from Jesus towards the crowd, they must have been calculating how many crumbs they could break their handful into and wondering how many people they could possibly placate before the crowd would start rioting in disappointment and frustration. Surely not an easy moment for them.
I wonder at what point the multiplication happened. At what point did the disciples realise that the pieces just kept remaining in their hands even though they were handing them out. Please note that there’s no mention that the disciples had any help carrying the food which presumably means that the multiplication didn’t happen all in one go at the beginning so that the disciples knew there would be enough for everyone, but rather must have happened in the process of them walking from one person to another which meant that they required faith to keep going until the very last person’s needs were met.
It’s remarkable to me that they did it. That they agreed to Jesus’ crazy plan. That they obeyed even when what they held in their hands right up until the very last second was painfully small. The fact that they did walk from Jesus to the crowd with such meagre supplies tells me that they must have been convinced enough about Jesus’ heart for them and ability to do something amazing (although my guess is they had no idea what kind of miracle was about to take place), to make them walk forward into the crowd, rather than finding the quickest route out of that desolate place. The disciples must have believed that Jesus was for them. That Jesus wouldn’t set them up for failure in such a horrible elaborate way. That Jesus wouldn’t ask them to do something if He didn’t have some kind of plan up His sleeve. They must have had enough faith in who Jesus was for them to empower them to walk towards an otherwise pretty certain beating up.
I’m so inspired by what the disciples did. At the beginning of this year as i’m looking at a busy diary and fresh challenges (some fun and some definitely not so fun!) and increasing demands on what i already feel are meagre resources, i’m provoked by the faith of the disciples to meet the challenge head on. They knew Jesus enough to know that He isn’t mean. They knew Him enough to know that He isn’t a fan of cruelly setting up to fail those who trust in Him. They knew Him enough to know that He cared about them and that when He put them in crazy situations it was because He wanted to do through them equally crazy miracles!
So, at the beginning of 2017, as i look at the packed lunch in my hand and feel the nudge of Jesus to walk forward and feed thousands with what surely is not enough, i’m challenged to believe that His heart is for me. That He loves me. That He’s not setting me up for some kind of spectacular defeat, but rather catapulting me into the wonderful realm of the miraculous. I’m provoked to press myself ever deeper into His heart for me so that the crazy situations i find myself in, the situations that feel horribly overwhelming, suddenly become opportunities for increase and Kingdom breakthrough.
What resources are you holding in your hand at the start of this year and what situations are you facing that far outweigh your ability? Rest assured, it’s a set up. A wonderful, God-filled, Kingdom-favoured set up. He’s going to do the impossible and He’s going to do it through you.