William G. Bass was engaged in a meeting with a local church, working in the neighborhoods of a small town in southeastern Florida. He and I had been asked by someone (and my, how you never seem to know just who) to find time to visit a recent convert who had been worshipping with a digressive group in town, seeking perhaps an encouraging word.
The challenge of faith is an issue Jesus repeatedly addressed with his disciples. When Peter sank into the water after Jesus called him to come out of the boat walking on the water, Jesus declared “O you of little faith” (Matthew 14:31). When Jesus was asleep in the boat while the disciples dealt with the wind and waves battering the boat, the disciples believed they were all going to drown. Jesus’ response: “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith” (Matthew 8:26). When an argument arose between the disciples about bread, Jesus again rebuked them and pointed out their lack of faith (Matthew 16:8). But the stories concerning the feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000 shows how you and I may be just as faith challenged as the disciples.
Feeding 5000 (John 6:1-14; Matthew 14:13-21)
Jesus and his apostles have crossed the Sea of Galilee. When they land on shore they see a large crowd coming toward them. Jesus has compassion on them and began to heal the sick. “As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and its already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food” (Matthew 14:15). The disciples are being compassionate and thinking about how the people need to go to the villages to get food before it was too late.
“Turning to Philip, he asked, “Philip, where can we buy bread to feed all these people? He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do” (John 6:5-6). We have to realize what a seemingly impossible request Jesus is making of Philip. This was no small crowd that Jesus was looking to feed. “There were about five thousand menÃ¢â‚¬Â¦besides women and children” (Matthew 14:21). There are thousands of people, perhaps 10,000 or more people. Imagine if Jesus turns to you and says, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?”
It is also important for us to see what Jesus is doing with Philip and the apostles. John reveals to us that Jesus is testing Philip because Jesus knew he was going to perform a miracle to feed this mass of people. Rather than simply performing the miracle, Jesus is going to use this moment to test the faith of Philip. “Philip, how are we going to feed all of these people?” “Philip answered him, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7). Philip is incredulous with Jesus, it seems. “How do you expect us to feed thousands of people? It would take a small fortune to try!” Philip does not see any way around this impossible obstacle and cannot believe Jesus is asking Philip to find the solution. Philip has thrown up his hands and declared that there is no way for them to feed the thousands. Chiming in along with Philip is Andrew: “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peters brother, said to Him, “Theres a young boy here with five barley loaves and two small fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” (John 6:8-9). None of the apostles are jumping up declaring that Jesus can perform a miracle. No one offers the suggestion that Jesus is the Lord and can do all things.
The problem is that Philip is looking only at the physical aspect of the problem. He knows that there is no way for them to feed more than five thousand people. Unintentionally, Philip is limiting the capabilities of God. “God cannot work with what we have! We only have a boys snack here. Nothing can be done.” Philip and the disciples failed the test that Jesus presented. They should have realized that Jesus could do anything. We find out that Jesus continued to divide the five loaves and two fish until everyone had eaten, were full, and had twelve baskets full of leftovers. They ended up with more than they started with, even after everyone had eaten.
How often we have the same reaction as Philip! We can be faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. There does not seem to be any way to overcome the obstacle. Our first reaction is to go into “what are we going to do” crisis mode. We wring our hands “what are we going to do?” We cannot sleep at night wondering what we are going to do. You have an issue with money and cannot make ends meet and we react, “what are we going to do?” We have problems with the family and we fret about what we are going to do. We experience health troubles and we worry what we are going to do.
How many times Jesus is simply asking us “what should we do” and we are responding with hysteria! God knows full well what he is going to do but we act like God has put these things into our hands to fret about. God is testing us to see what we will do. Will we limit the power of God? Will we think that God cannot deal with the obstacle in front of us? Too often we are merely looking at the physical dilemma and are not seeing that God holds the answers.
Feeding 4000 (Matthew 15:29-39)
But the problem only gets worse. Some time later during the ministry in Galilee great crowds came to Jesus again for healing. The crowds had been following Jesus for three days and Jesus did not want to send them away hungry. The disciples respond, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” (Matthew 15:32).
It is the same problem as before, except one major exception. This time the disciples have a little more food (seven loaves of bread rather five and few fish rather than two) and less people (4000 not including women and children, rather than 5000). Rather than realize that Jesus solved a great problem last time so he can solve this lesser problem today, the disciples give the same response as they did last time. They again are only looking at the physical and had forgotten how Jesus had provided previously. The apostles were faith challenged people.
We also are faith challenged people. How many times God has helped us over an insurmountable obstacle in our lives! Then, a smaller and less significant obstacle arises, and we show the same lack of faith and the same dependence on the physical. If Jesus can feed more than 5000, he can certainly feed more than 4000. If Jesus can use five loaves and two fish to feed a multitude, Jesus can use seven loaves and a few fish to feed a multitude.
I am surprised that God is not depressed with us. If people treated us the way we treat God, we would be depressed. How many times must God come through for us to realize that He will take care of the small problems and the big problems? How many times will God help us climb the mountains in our lives before we realize He will get us through the small bumps in the road?
We have lost the innocent trust of a child to a parent. I love the way my daughter Paige thinks I can do anything. Something may be broken and I will tell her that I cannot fix it. But she will respond right back, “you can fix it.” I will tell her that there is something I cannot do and she will quickly respond, “you can do it.” God wants us to have that simple trust that realizes he can do it, even if it may not seem so.