Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

A Packed Lunch

           The Bible doesn’t have much to say about the Jesus before his public ministry started in adulthood. But, like any other person, Jesus grew from the womb, to boyhood, to manhood. Early in his ministry he chose 12 other men to train and become the first disciples who would train other disciples and spread the Good News of the Messiah’s arrival on earth.

            Jesus taught with stories using everyday experiences as illustrations. Sometimes he made these stories literally come alive with miraculous power to demonstrate his point. As a boy myself, I grew up hearing the story of Jesus feeding a whole crowd of people from a child attendee’s packed lunch. Recently while reading it again in John 6, some insights struck me that can help us on our own journeys in following Jesus.  

            The story begins by explaining how a crowd was forming because many people were hearing of the “signs” (miracles) and healing of sick people. A Jewish holiday feast was an occasion that brought even more people on this particular day.  Jesus always followed Father God’s instructions, and wasn’t solely driven by the needs of the people. In fact, John records that even while they saw people assembling (specifically seeking Jesus out), he took his 12 trainees aside and had a special session with them. He had a really cool plan to teach them a lesson in followership so they wouldn’t forget.

            Jesus starts with a bit of a trick question of Philip, ““Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” (John 6:5).  In his natural mind, Philip isn’t even ready to think about “where” to buy, but “how” to buy with no money. He knows they don’t have any funds, yet a quick crunch of the numbers in his mind tells him this is an impossible situation. He answers Jesus (perhaps with a bit of sarcasm) that even one person’s salary for many years wouldn’t even provide a snack for everyone. Then another “smart remark” from another disciple, Andrew, is spoken. He mentions that he saw a lad 5 pieces of break and 2 fish sticks that he brought for his lunch. I think he was probably joking when he asked Jesus, “but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:9). 

            Then comes the response from Jesus that really struck me reading the story this time.  Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted” (John 6:10-11). Jesus didn’t chastise his trainees for having little faith (not this time at least), but he gave them a task to do. Before he could perform the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish, he needed the disciples to create a functional distribution system to carry it out. The Bible doesn’t record the methods, but some strategic planning and logistics would have been necessary for several thousand people to eat their fill in one sitting.

            Executing Jesus’ order to “have the people sit down” was no small task. Do you think they did it buffet style or special delivery with volunteers? What did they do for drinks?  There was no bottled water in those days. What about the mood of the people? I’m sure such a huge group of hungry and thirsty people showed some impatience and ungratefulness. Besides the crowd control, Jesus’ helpers might have had to handle emergencies and run other errands. John records part of the cleanup duties which included gathering up all the leftovers.

            In looking at how this story unfolds, what impresses me the most is the response of Jesus’ first 12 disciples. There may have been some reluctance at first, but even so, when Jesus gave the instruction to prepare the people for a large feast, they sprang into action. Although they initially saw no means to pull off a mass feeding, they stayed the course. They may even have had some fear that people would retaliate if they were told their dinner is on its way, but it never arrives. It took some faith to ask thousands of people to be seated and prepare to eat, when all that was in the kitchen was 5 pieces of bread and 2 fish. But Jesus needed their obedience before he could do his part. After the preparations were made, THEN he took the one packed lunch and turned it into a lunch for each person in the packed crowd. The disciples had one lunch in their hand, and Jesus turned it into thousands of lunches. Jesus took what was “in their hand” and used it to supply a multitude of people.

            That’s the kind of God we serve. When we obey his instructions with what we find “in our hands,” he is released to do his miraculous work. In this way, God receives all the glory, and we are not as tempted to take credit for the good results. God deserves the glory. Our desire should be to make his name great, and not our own.

            In a similar way that we need food for nourishment to feed our physical body, we need spiritual food to nourish our soul. The spiritual part of our being is fed through revelation from God himself. Our personal spirit needs a continuous flow of new input from God to sustain our spiritual life. This happens through the process of transformation and sanctification. As we surrender our hearts to God and receive his spiritual “food,” we change from the inside out, and grow into the spiritual persons we were created to become.

            As Jesus commanded to “have the people sit down” to prepare for the physical food God was about to provide, so God direct us to “wait” on him for spiritual feedling. Numerous are the exhortations in the Bible to “wait on the Lord.” For example, Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.” The prophet Isaiah declares, “Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength” (Isaiah 40:31).  The book of Acts records the instructions of Jesus to the twelve apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised revealing of the Holy Spirit’s work.  He specifically said “to wait for what the Father had promised” (Acts 1:4),

As we “wait” (actively listen), God speaks in many ways. It may be directly through revelation in the Scripture, or it may be through the message spoken by another person or form of media. The creation itself speaks of the wonders of God (see Romans 1:20). Sometimes the “word” (message) we hear may seem insignificant (like the lad’s lunch in the story). But God always provides the amount of revelation needed for the task at hand. He wants us to believe in his ability to provide.

            Answering a few questions might help us receive more spiritual nutrition from the One who will never allow us to go hungry (see John 6:35). What important message(s) might I have missed (be missing) because I failed to “wait” for God’s answer (or complete answer)? How might I better position myself to prepare to feed on God’s truth? (eg. scheduling in things like prayer and Bible feeding). Is my heart truly open to whomever and whatever God chooses to use to speak truth into my life and learn my lessons through it?

            We are called his disciples for a reason. We must obey before we see the results. We must “prepare the way” for the feeding (for ourselves and others). We are disciples not just for our food, but to help feed others. Our inner journey of transforming the soul becomes the food for Jesus working through us in transforming the world!

 by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

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