The 5,000 + You
I absolutely love stories. They can teach a lesson, give insight into another world, or inspire the courage to take action. Stories have a unique way of captivating our minds and hearts, but they can also lose their wonder over time—especially those found in the Bible. Because we know the ending, the miracles performed by Jesus don’t seem nearly as amazing and awe-inspiring as they were.
So today, I want us to take a few moments to slow down and put ourselves in a Bible story found in Luke 9 where Jesus fed the 5,000. For a few moments, let your imagination run wild and tap into your creative side. I believe there’s much to be gained from putting ourselves into the story, so let’s begin!
First, let’s establish some backstory. Jesus had sent his disciples out two by two into the city to teach and preach and perform miracles—and they did it! They came back triumphantly, probably fist-bumping and hooping and hollering. In typical Jesus fashion, he instructed the twelve to engage in some self-care and rest for a while. I imagine they hadn’t eaten even though they had worked up quite an appetite and were likely experiencing a “holy hangover.”
They tried to get away to a desolate place, but were unable to because people followed them. So, when Jesus and the disciples came ashore, they were met by a vast crowd—between 20-25,000 people in total. For a frame of reference, The American Airlines Center (home of the Dallas Mavs) seats 20,000—now, that’s a lot of people!
This enormous crowd was abuzz with excitement. They were ready to see Jesus, knowing he and his disciples could heal and restore the sick. So, even though everyone was exhausted and hungry, the stage was set for people to encounter God.
Jesus’ compassion was palpable. He knew the crowd needed to be led, nurtured, and cared for and he was willing to do so. He loved each of these people so much that he set his needs aside and ministered to them. This wasn’t a quick 10-minute word of encouragement, the teaching went on for hours.
How do you think Jesus felt? Did his brow get sweaty? His mouth parched?
Did the disciples’ stomachs growl? Were their feet tired? Did they grow annoyed at the thousands of children in the crowd?
How did it feel to be sitting on that hillside? Was there grass on the ground? Was the sun shining? Were the birds chirping? Did the air smell like the sea?
It started getting late—kids became squirmy, dads grew cranky, and moms got hangry. Were any moms stressed that they hadn’t packed snacks for the family? Were the teenagers complaining that they were dying of hunger?
Seeing the problem, the disciples took it to Jesus, though he responded with an unexpected answer: feed them.
The disciple nominated to bring this news to Jesus decided to give him a math problem: thousands of people + no food = a hangry crowd. But Jesus’s reaction didn’t change. He wasn’t concerned about the human math—he was thinking in the language of miracles.
Can you imagine the disciples’ desperate search of the crowd? Were they hopeful that, by some miracle, every family had brought a meal for themselves and had used the self-control not to indulge in it until now? Or were they upset that they had to cater the largest meal ever with next to no notice?
After walking through more than 20,000 people, asking if anyone had any food, one of them offers all they had been able to find: 5 loaves and 2 fish. Did they rock, paper, scissors to decide who was going to bring this news to Jesus? Were the disciples confident in Jesus’ ability to work a miracle or were they too hungry to even think of that?
Jesus isn’t bothered by how little food they had managed to procure. Without batting an eye, he instructed the disciples to sit the people in groups of about 50—a pre-miracle before the real miracle. I wonder if people were difficult to move around, having grown attached to their seats. Was the air abuzz with anticipation of what Jesus would do next? Were people leaving, sure they would find a meal elsewhere?
Once everyone was in their place, Jesus blessed the meager rations they had managed to find, and the fun began.
I wonder how the demeanor of everyone involved changed as the bread continued to multiply. Did skeptical dads with folded arms become wide-eyed believers as the disciples continued to distribute food? Did the moms who protested, taking less than they really wanted, ask for seconds when they saw there was extra? Did the kids run up to Jesus to see if he had extra rations hidden somewhere?
If you were in the crowd what would you have been thinking?
If you were a disciple what would you have thought?
People asked for seconds, thirds, fourths… as much as they wanted. Everyone who ate was satisfied. The people dispersed with their hearts, souls, and bellies filled, and returned to their homes. The disciples, though exhausted after hours upon hours of ministry and miracles, donned the title of clean-up crew and picked up the leftovers.
The miracle wasn’t over. There was so much food that there were twelve baskets of leftovers. This wasn’t an oversight or a mistake, but an intentional move by God. Each disciple was able to carry a basketful of miraculous bread. Each one was able to feel the weight of what comes from a little bit of faith. Each extra piece of bread was a display of God’s extravagant love.
The God who had compassion on the crowd, sat and talked with them, and then provided miraculously for them is the same God we serve today. He doesn’t change, he doesn’t waver, and he’s worthy of our love and devotion. He performs wondrous acts every single day, it’s my hope and prayer that we would all be aware enough to spot them.