Love's Strategy

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 9:16-17

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

Luke 9:16-17 RSV

All the gospel writers see in this happening something central, something grippingly important about Jesus and His ministry. I’m talking about the miraculous feeding of the multitudes. We read about that in all four of the gospels – sometimes more than once. Here is Luke’s account, chapter 9, beginning at verse 10:

On their return the apostles told him what they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him; and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away; and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish – unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.” And they did so, and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

I’m calling this message “Love’s Strategy” because I think that’s a key to what is described here. We could say that the passage is about Jesus’ concern for the practical needs of people. We could say it demonstrates His miraculous power and bears witness to His lordship over all things. And all those affirmations are true. But there are some unique features here that deserve a closer look.

For one, this was done for a large number of people. Most of Jesus’ works of mercy were performed for individuals. He gives blind Bartimaeus his sight again. He touches the leper and heals him. He says to a paralyzed man lying helpless, “Rise up and walk.” He calls Lazarus forth from the grave. These are highly personalized healings. But this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is mercy on a larger scale. It shows the concern of God for masses of people.

Here’s another intriguing aspect of this. It’s the one type of miracle in which Jesus’ disciples are directly involved. When it’s a matter of His healings, His exorcisms, His imparting new life, the twelve are usually simply bystanders, awed with all the rest at what He does. But here they are participants, drawn into the action, vitally involved.

Those are the clues that help me see in this scene much more than an isolated incident. Something is being revealed here, not only about Jesus but also about the extent of His compassion and the strategy by which He is at work in the world.

CARING FOR THE CROWDS

Let’s look first at Jesus’ concern for crowds of people, for multitudes, what we call the masses. The disciples have just come back from a missionary tour. They’re telling the Lord excitedly about what has happened through their ministry. He goes apart with them for a kind of retreat. But the crowds who want to see Jesus follow them to their wilderness meeting place.

Maybe the disciples were annoyed at this. They had been among the crowds earlier, pouring out their energies, ministering to others. They had been looking forward to having some time for themselves, for rest and recreation, unhurried moments to talk things over with their Master. But now these throngs of people have intruded on their retreat. Can you hear them groaning out their disappointment, “Can’t we ever get away from these people? Don’t they see that we need a break?”

But Jesus, we learn, “welcomed” the crowd, spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. The Great Physician, while on vacation, still has time and heart for loving words and healing deeds. The crowds don’t vex Him. His love can somehow embrace them all.

Is it still true today that Jesus cares about the multitudes? Does He feel for the people in Bangladesh, desperately poor, homeless from storm and flood, barely clinging to life? Does He care about the famine-stricken ones all across sub-Saharan Africa? Does His heart go out to the Kurdish refugees, to the young victims of cholera, to those who struggle with cancer or with AIDS? Are the crowds of the world, with all their aching needs, important to Him?

The answer is yes. In Jesus’ ministry, we have a revelation of the heart of God, how He feels about the five billion plus in our world today. Never forget it: the Jesus you read about in the pages of the gospels is the same yesterday, today and forever. His love is as wide as the world, as high as the heavens, deeper than death. Have you trusted Him as your Savior? Have you seen in Him God’s wonderful love for you?

INVOLVING THE DISCIPLES

Notice now how He involves the disciples in expressing that love. When the day is almost over, Peter and the rest come to Him with a suggestion. In fact, it seems almost like instruction on their part. “Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place.”

Jesus has been ministering to these thousands of people for several hours. The disciples want to see the meeting break up. They’re concerned (at least they say they are) because it’s getting late, and out in this lonely place, the crowds can find neither food nor lodging. “Send them away, Jesus,” they seem to say, “pronounce the benediction. Let them go to where they can get some food and find a place to stay for the night.” This may have expressed genuine caring for the welfare of the people. Perhaps it betrayed a bit of impatience too. Maybe they desperately wanted some peace and quiet at the end of a long day. At any rate, they seem to think that Jesus needs some counsel from them on how to handle things. They’re pointing out to Him the practicalities of the situation.

But Jesus is way ahead of them, and He’s not about to send all these people away hungry. His response to the disciples must have startled them. “You give them something to eat,” as if to say, “You’re concerned about the needs of these people? Then do something. Feed them.”

To the twelve, that made no sense at all. “Are You serious, Jesus? Feed all these people? There are at least five thousand men here, along with who knows how many women and children. We’d need food for an army. Our provisions right now consist of five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, barely enough for us. Do you expect us to go and buy enough food for all these?”

Now the strategy of God’s love is beginning to appear. He’s got the disciples concerned about the multitudes. He has them feeling their personal responsibility to do something about it, but also aware of how limited they are in resources and abilities. Now they’re ready to be part of His plan.

What does Jesus do next? He has the disciples get the people seated in groups of fifty or so. Then He takes from the twelve the food they have, these five loaves and two fish, looks up to heaven, blesses the food, breaks it into smaller portions, and then gives it back to the disciples. They in turn are to distribute the food to the crowd. Whatever He’s going to do for the multitudes, apparently, He plans to do through His followers.

That, friends, is love’s abiding strategy. Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee and Judea, remember, lasted only three short years. The opportunities He had for healing and helping, preaching and feeding, were obviously limited. But here is a clue to His wider purposes.

Jesus’ earthly life will soon end. He will be rejected, condemned and crucified. He will die for the sins of the world and be raised again on the third day. He will ascend to share His Father’s throne. How will He perform His mighty works now? How will His love for great crowds of people in this world, in all kinds of distress, be expressed? The answer is clear: through His followers. He will send His Spirit to them. In vital fellowship with Him, the risen Lord, they will begin to share His vision of people. Their hearts will be touched with His compassion. They will want to help, but will feel also their own inadequacy. They will seem to themselves small, insignificant, helpless. They will wonder how, as the limited people they are, they can possibly address the mountainous human need they see all around them. They will appeal to their Lord. At His word, they will offer themselves and whatever resources they have to Him. Then He, the living Lord, by His Word and Spirit, through them, will minister to the needs of people.

MORE THAN ENOUGH

Now see how this strategy worked out. The disciples took the food which Jesus had given to them and began to distribute portions to the first group of fifty. Somehow, there was enough for everyone and some left over. They went on to the next group, and the next, and the same thing happened. When all in the crowd had eaten their fill, the disciples went around and gathered up the unused food, and there was enough to fill twelve baskets.

How, we wonder, could this possibly happen? From five loaves and two fish, enough to feed a small city? We aren’t told how and when the miracle occurred, but nothing spectacular happened when Jesus lifted His eyes heavenward, pronounced a blessing and broke the food, He didn’t then turn over truck loads of provisions to the twelve. The wonderful thing occurred, apparently, in the distribution, in the hands of the disciples as they gave to the crowd. There was enough – and not just a scrap for each one. We’re talking about super abundance, people satisfied and food left over, more than the disciples had when they started.

Let me ask you today, what crowds of people are pressing in on your field of vision? What human needs are presenting themselves to you now? Maybe by what you see or hear on the evening news, maybe by a situation in your community, maybe in people you love who are very close. What will you do about it? What will I do? We’ll go to the Lord, of course. That’s where Christians always start. We’ll spread the situation before Him and ask Him to do something about it. “Lord, help.” But that won’t be the end, will it? We’ll hear Him saying, “You do something.” And then we’ll begin, like the disciples, to make our excuses. We’ll say, “Lord, what can I possibly do? I’m not a person of power and influence. How can my small life possibly make a difference? I’m not especially gifted. I don’t have a lot of money. I don’t even have much time to commit to this. What do You expect me, really, to do?”

But if we listen carefully, we’ll hear Him saying, as the disciples did, “Bring Me what you have.” So we’ll gather it up. It seems pretty meager, the little we can bring, but we’ll offer it to Him anyway, along with our hearts, our lives.

And then the miracles will happen. He’ll take what we bring. He’ll bless it. He’ll break it and give it back to us. And then as we turn around to face the world, to pass on what He has placed in our hands, we’ll be amazed at what will happen. The Lord will do wonderful things in touching peoples’ lives, meeting their needs, winning their hearts. That’s the Lord’s way, isn’t it? That’s love’s strategy. Let’s be a part of it!

Prayer: Father, we praise You for Your love for us and for Your purpose to express that through Your people. Help us to live close enough to Christ to share His vision of a world in need. Help us to make available what resources we do have and then, Lord, through us, will You act out Your gracious purpose of love? Will You minister to the needs of people? Will You feed a hungry world with the bread of life? In the name of Jesus. Amen.