“And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. 15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. 16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. 17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. 18 He said, Bring them hither to me. 19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. 20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. 21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.”
“And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. 12 And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. 13 But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people. 14 For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down. 16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. 17 And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.”
During the days of the earthly ministry of Christ a large portion of His time was spent in Galilee which is located in the northern part of Palestine. Galilee was a small province, only fifty miles from East to West. The ancient historian Josephus tells us that during his life there were 204 towns and smaller villages. None had a population of less than fifteen thousand people. The density of such a population placed great demands on a public figure such as Christ. There was so much to do.
People were sick and needed to be healed. People were hungry and needed to be fed. People were in sorrow and needed to be comforted. Still, Jesus Himself needed physical rest as all men do. He needed time to be alone. He needed the opportunity to enjoy the solitude of peace. He needed to meet with His Father.
As we can do nothing without Christ, Jesus could do nothing without the smiling approval of the Father. So it was that Jesus departed from the busy western shores of Capernaum by boat to cross the body of water taking Him to Bethsaida (Julias).
Originally Bethsaida had been a fishing village located on the N.E. shore of the Sea of Galilee. Philip the Tetrarch had the remote town rebuilt, fortified and named in honor of the daughter of Caesar Augustus, Julias.
South of this town, about a mile, there is a plain of rich silt soil. A hill rises just behind this area. Up into this hill Jesus went. He wanted to be alone. But that was not going to happen for, “When the people had heard thereof, they followed Him on foot out of the cities” (Matt. 14:13).
There is something very precious about the scene presented here. By the hundreds and by the thousands the people followed Jesus. They were determined to be with Him. They were resolute in going where He went. The spirit of the crowd is well worth considering. We need such crowds today, composed of individuals who are wise enough to make abiding with Christ their one all-consuming concern in life. Heaven is pleased when it can be said of anyone that their driving passion is to know the Lord more clearly, serve Him more nearly and love Him more dearly.
As the people moved in mass before Christ, the Bible says that Jesus went forth and saw them. And as He watched He was moved with compassion.
There could have been a different reaction to the pressing demands of the multitude. Jesus might have grown resentful. He might have turned away in anger and told the people to go home and stop pressuring Him. He might have said He was too tired to help them.
It would have been the truth. Jesus did need rest but He also saw the various needs of the people. His heart went out to them and the Bible says, “He healed them”. Not some of the sick were healed but all were cured by the touch of the Master’s hand.
People who were blind were made to see. People who were crippled left their walking sticks and cots.
No one left the presence of Christ unchanged. As the day passed and evening drew closer, the disciples began to become concerned for the welfare of the people. In this the disciples are to be commended for their sensitivity to the situation.
The disciples realized they were in a desert place. Night was fast approaching. The people should return home. “Send the multitude away,” said the disciples, “that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” Two major thoughts were communicated in these simple words of the disciples.
First, the disciples did not want to be held responsible for the welfare of the crowd. Since food was obviously needed, the people could help themselves by going and finding nourishment.
Second, a measure of unbelief was manifested. “This is a desert place,” the disciples thought, “and the time is now past to buy food.” We have no way to help. Oh how easy it is to forget the power and faithfulness of the Lord. Despite having witnessed many miracles the disciples apparently did not even think to consider whether or not Christ could feed the people at will. They only considered what was practical.
After the disciples had suggested to Jesus that He send the crowd away, the Lord responded, “They need not depart.” Were the people without resources? They need not depart. Were the people without food? They need not depart. Were the people weary?
They need not depart. Here is a word of hope and encouragement for all people in every generation. Souls in need of a Saviour need not depart. Those caught up in the mesh of sin need not depart. Those who do not know where to turn to for financial help need not depart. Jesus can help. The song writer put it this way.
“Be not dismayed what’er be tide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.”
“Give them to eat,” said Jesus to the disciples. “They need not depart.”
This command of Christ surprised the disciples. They did not expect Jesus to let the people stay. The disciples were more use to turning people away. When the Syrophenician woman cried after Jesus for mercy on behalf of a sick daughter, the disciples tried to turn her away. When parents brought children to Jesus for a blessing, they tried to stop that. But Jesus never turned anyone away.
No matter how great the need, no matter how late the hour, no matter how tired He might have been the Lord ministered to all who came to Him. His church must do the same. Charles H. Spurgeon writes, “We need never send the multitude away to be dealt with by the State, by the parish, or by hirelings. If we will but set to work, we shall find that the Lord makes us competent for every emergency.”
To meet the needs of people, a church must ask much of God, seek diligently His face, and knock often at the door of mercy (Matt. 7:7,8). When this is done the promise is given that God shall supply all our needs.
When Jesus told the disciples to give to people to eat, at least one disciple was willing to consider the situation in a new light. His name was Andrew.
Andrew was the bother of Simon Peter and so all of his life was overshadowed by Peter. We meet Andrew in the Scriptures on only three occasions but there is something common about each one. Andrew was always found bringing someone to Jesus. In this case Andrew had discovered in the crowd a young boy who had brought from home five round and flat pieces of bread and two fish.
“But Lord, what are they among so many?” asked Andrew. While Andrew was asking this as a rhetorical question that invited a negative answer, he received a divine response and the response is this. “Andrew, where human limitations end divine omnipotence begins”. Divine omnipotence began the moment Jesus said, “Bring the loaves and the fish to me.”
The few pieces of food were brought to Christ. That is the proper procedure. After all resources are collected and brought before the Lord, see what He can do. It has been said that, “Little is much, if God is in it.”
With the food now safely in the hands of Jesus, the Lord commanded the people to sit down on the grass. It was a beautiful scene to behold. There was a cool breeze. There was the setting sun.
The grass was green. White dots of clothing stood out on the hillside as people sat in clusters. Patiently they waited for the Lord to provide the meal they needed. Expectantly they waited for the Lord to feed them. The Bible says that Jesus blessed the meal.
The Jewish prayer before eating was very simple. “Blessed art thou, Jehovah our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the Earth.” This humble prayer reflects a consciousness of God as Provider and Sustainer of life and gratitude.
Having offered the blessing the Bible says that Jesus began to break the bread giving the parts to the disciples who in turn began to distribute the food to the people. As Jesus broke the bread filling up one basket, another took its place. Under His hands the food supply was not exhausted and the people were fed. As long as the people were hungry, the disciples kept serving.
Finally, everyone had enough. The meal was completed. An estimated five thousand men besides women and children had found more than enough to eat from the hand of Jesus.
When the supper was over, Jesus had something to teach His faithful few. So that the disciples might remember the event, the Bible says that the fragments were collected into twelve baskets—a basket for each disciple. Under the weight of the basket the disciples would be reminded, Christ provides! Andrew, Christ provides! Philip, Christ provides! Peter, Christ provides!
Men, Christ provides! The reason Christ provided was because He was moved with compassion. In a society on the verge of madness, with the winds of anger and hatred blowing stronger than ever in the land, there is a need for tender hearts and compassionate spirits. The Christian community has a wonderful opportunity to speak words of peace and words of hope to hearts that are hurting and that are afraid.
Some of those who are hurting and are afraid may be sitting to the left of you. Some may be sitting to the right of you. Some may be in front of where you are sitting and some may be in back. We have an opportunity to be more kind to others and we will be kinder because we know something of the compassion of Christ. It is not always easy to be kind and compassionate. Several barriers do exist that need to be torn down.
First, anger and hatred towards someone will stop the heart from feeling compassion.
Second, self-centeredness will make the emotion of human compassion dry up. As long as we are focused upon our own personal problems and concern we will not think much of others.
Third, ignorance will reduce compassion. Sometimes we are just unaware of the pain and fear that others face.
Fourth, indifference. There are those who make a calculated decision in life not to help others.
Fifth, overwhelming needs. At times we feel compelled to turn the TV channel, put down the phone, and not answer the door because we feel there are so many needs that we cannot effectively help. These are real barriers that must be overcome if we are to have a heart of compassion.
Turning from the physical needs of people to the spiritual let me suggest one way to expression compassion for others and that is pray that God will cause a spiritual renewal to take place in hearts.
As Christians we need a renewed compassion for the souls of others and our own hearts as well. Some people find it a great difficulty going to church, any church. Others are struggling to listen to the Word of God being preached. Strong emotions churn in their minds. We need the Lord to have compassion on us and spiritual feed people lest they die. Historically, God has been pleased to visit His people during times of spiritual declension, during seasons of moral and spiritual bankruptcy, and at those periods in the history of the church when “a form of godliness” is present but the “power thereof” is denied. We are living in such times. The evidence abounds.
Chuck Colson wrote words of conviction by observing that, “American Christians in the ‘9Os are at peace with our culture, inept at transforming our society, and desperate for a meaningful faith.”
It is true. We do struggle for a meaningful faith. We who should have the answers, find ourselves asking the basic questions all over again. “Lord, where are you?”
Outside the church, people are even more desperate. The problems of modern man are too vast, too complex, and too destructive to be solved by any one man or group of men. The world needs the miracle working power of a Saviour. The world needs Jesus Christ.
As human history marches on we need Divine intervention. We have now invented weapons of mass destruction that can reduce to rubble all the great cities of the world in a matter of minutes. Nations are stockpiling chemicals for biological warfare. Individuals are armed to the teeth and ready to fight. We are ready to hurt each other because there is a spiritual famine in our souls.
Christ is willing to come and to satisfy this leanness in our lives. He is able to meet the needs of our situation. That has not changed. That shall never change.
Perhaps there is some-one who is weary with a life style saturated with secret sin. You are hungry in your heart to be different. Come to Christ. Call upon the Lord to have mercy and to change you.
Perhaps someone has discovered that the material items of life bring no real happiness. Material saturation has brought boredom, not delight. Still another person has discovered that free expressions of passion have not satisfied the soul. There is still a void in the heart.
The invitation comes to sit down under the Lordship of Christ and eat of the Bread of Life. Come to Jesus. Call upon Him to save and fill the heart with His Holy Spirit. You need not depart today unfulfilled. The Holy Spirit will give grace to believe and power to understand. Today you can know something of the compassion of Christ and having received compassion you can go and show compassion to others for what is witnessing but one hungry beggar telling another hungry beggar where to find the Bread of Life.