Dan Rogers earned his PhD in historical theology from Union Institute and University. He is now retired, after serving many years as the Director of Church Administration & Development in Grace Communion International.
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I know I shouldn’t tease my wife, but sometimes I just can’t help it. For example she’ll say, “Dan, what do you want for dinner?” I’ll make up some menus such as maybe some imported sea bass, maybe surf and turf, a little filet mignon to go with that. Maybe a stuffed baked potato, some asparagus spears maybe, a salad with imported Roquefort dressing. How about some baked Alaska for dessert?
My wife will give me the look, and she says, “I don’t have any of that.” I said, “Well, what do you have?” She says, “Nothing.” I ask her, “Well then, why did you ask me what I wanted?” She said, “Well, I was really just trying to be polite.”
I don’t know if any conversation around your house goes like that, but it’s, “what do you have?” Sometimes our answer is “nothing.” This story reminds me of an incident in the Gospels called the feeding of the 5,000, where Jesus was teaching his disciples how to do the ministry of Jesus Christ. I’d like for us to explore that section of Luke 9 and talk about the feeding of the 5,000 and what Jesus taught his disciples. I think the lesson that they learned, and hopefully that we learn as well, is that it’s not what you have, it’s who has you.
Let’s get a little bit of a background to the story beginning in Luke 9:1-6. We read in Luke 9 beginning in verse 1: “Then Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” Notice here that they were not yet the apostles. They were the 12, and the reason they were still the 12 is because they had not been sent out, and that’s what the word apostle means. This is their first sending out on a missionary trip, and Jesus is going to tell them how they are to do his ministry on this trip.
Notice what interestingly he says to them: “He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey. No staff nor bag nor bread nor money, not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’”
Now, let me ask you this question: Does that sound like a prudent way to do a missionary journey? How would you feel if you were a missionary and someone sent you out on an expedition and said, “By the way, don’t take anything with you? Don’t take extra clothes. Don’t take any money. Don’t worry about food or where you’ll stay. Don’t make any reservations. Don’t make any preparation. Just go and see what happens.”
Why do you suppose that Jesus sent the 12 out in such an unprepared and unresourced fashion? He wanted them to rely on him. He told them that all power in heaven and earth was his and therefore he was sending them out. Whatever it was they were to do, they were to do in him, in his power and in his authority, not trusting themselves or money or resources or anything else, but trusting Jesus.
So we read: “They departed and went through the villages bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.” Then they returned, and when they returned, let’s notice what Jesus asked them. In Luke 9:10 Jesus says: “On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done.”
Think about that phrase. They told Jesus all they had done. Whose power did they go out with? Jesus’. Whose authority did they have? Jesus’. Who cast out demons? Jesus. Who healed the sick? Jesus. By his authority and by his power and the Holy Spirit, those miracles were accomplished.
Yet when the disciples returned, in spite of going out totally unresourced, without money, without clothing, they should have realized they were relying totally on Jesus, but instead when they returned, like so many of us as humans, their answer was, “Look at what we did. Look at all we did. Jesus, we were awesome. We were casting out demons. We were healing diseases. Man, you should’ve been there, Jesus. You should’ve seen how powerful we were.”
At this point I think Jesus realized that the 12, now apostles, still had a lot of training in order to learn how to do his ministry. That sets the stage for the next discipleship training lesson from Jesus, and that’s the feeding of the 5,000. Let’s read what happens here in Luke 9: “So Jesus took them with him, and he withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida.”
Bethsaida is an interesting city. The name from the Hebrew and Aramaic means “house of fish” or “house of fishing.” That always reminds me of the bass pro shop. I have this concept that Bethsaida was a fishing town, where the fishermen went to get their supplies and whatever they needed, and it was probably a bit of a remote city and one where outdoors people, adventurers, fishermen, maybe hunters would go and get their supplies and then go into the surrounding country to fish, to hunt or whatever.
They went to Bethsaida. “When the crowds found out about it, they followed him and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed to be cured.” We notice here in the ministry of Jesus that he frequently not only preached the gospel but also did ministry in terms of physical things to help people. He met people’s needs. He met their physical needs and he met their spiritual needs. It was never a case of one or the other. When Jesus presented himself and offered the gospel, he also offered help to those in need. Again, setting an example, teaching the disciples how it was that he did ministry.
Back to the story: “The day was drawing to a close and the 12 came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside to lodge and get provisions, for we’re here in a deserted place.’” They evidently had wandered far away from the city of Bethsaida out into the countryside; it was a bit of a remote area, and the crowds had followed and now gathered around them, and the evening was coming on.
I don’t know the motive of the disciples. It could have been that they felt compassion for the people and wanted to send them away so that they could find a place to lodge for the night and find dinner, or it could have been that they simply were tired themselves and wanted to get rid of the people so that they could eat their own dinner. I think what we’re going to find out is that their own dinner was quite small, and they were not prepared to share it with this large multitude of people.
Jesus surprised them, and notice what Jesus said to them with a very surprising statement here in Luke 9: “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’re going to go and buy food for all these people,’ for there were about 5,000 men.” When Jesus said, “You feed the people,” the response of the disciples was pretty much, “What do you have? – we don’t have anything.”
Jesus could have asked them, “What do you have?” “We don’t have anything. Well, at least we don’t have enough. We don’t have very much. Honestly, all we have are five loaves and two fish, and that’s hardly enough to feed 5,000 men plus the women and children that are here along with them. Jesus, what do you want us to do? You tell us to feed them, you asked what we have and we just don’t have enough. We don’t have what it takes to do your ministry. We don’t have enough to take care of all these people. We cannot participate with you in feeding the 5,000 because you’ve not given us enough resources. We just don’t have enough to get the job done.”
That’s not an uncommon reaction, is it, for even Christians today. That when God calls us to serve him we respond, “We don’t have anything, Lord. We certainly don’t have enough. Look at our small church. Our members are scattered, we’re poor, we’re elderly. You want us to do ministry? Lord, we just don’t have enough to do your ministry.” This seemed to be the attitude of the disciples in the story.
Let’s read on:
So Jesus said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about 50 each.” 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 disciples to set before the crowd, and all ate and were filled and what was left over was gathered up, 12 baskets of broken pieces.
Wow. What a story. Jesus asked the disciples, “What do you have?” The disciples responded, “We have nothing. We certainly don’t have enough resources to take care of all of these people and to do what you want us to do, Lord.” They made a serious mistake – a mistake that Christians down through the ages and today can make as well. The question is not, “what do you have?” When it comes to participating in the ministry of Jesus Christ, the question is, “Who has you?”
The disciples didn’t have enough. Jesus had all that was necessary. Jesus was prepared himself to feed the multitude. Notice that Jesus did not do it alone. How could Jesus have fed the multitudes? Well, following the Old Testament example, he could have called manna down from heaven, and all the thousands would have been fed, but Jesus didn’t do that. He could have just made their stomachs feel full and everyone could have gone away saying, “Wow. That was the best meal I never ate.”
Jesus invited his disciples to participate with him. He invited them to share in his ministry. Make no mistake about it, it was his ministry. It was done by his power and by his authority and the Holy Spirit. The disciples had little to nothing to offer. Jesus has everything. What the disciples needed to do was instead of saying “what do we have” or “what don’t we have,” they should have said, “who do we have,” or better yet, “who has us?” Jesus has us, and he has us involved in his ministry and he gives the power, he has the authority. He through the Holy Spirit can do miracles and provide whatever is needed.
Notice that Jesus’ reaction when he took the five loaves and the two fish was not, “Look how little we have. Oh Father in heaven, you haven’t given us very much and we’re here and we’re kind of helpless and we want to do ministry, but we don’t have the resources.” Instead, Jesus lifted up what God had given and thanked God for it and asked God to bless what they did have, and God multiplied the loaves and God multiplied the fish.
Then Jesus had the disciples participate with him. Rather than doing it all himself, he wanted to share his ministry with his followers. He invited them to get baskets, to take the food, to organize people into groups of 50, and then to perhaps enlist the aid of others in serving the food to the thousands of people that were gathered. Afterward, they had to go back through and clean the area up and they gathered 12 baskets of food left over.
Have you ever wondered why there were maybe 12 baskets of food left over? I suspect that the young man who carried the loaves and fish was probably travelling with the disciples and was carrying their provisions for them. When he came forward what he offered really was the disciples’ dinner. The disciples perhaps had been hiding them, saying, “oh no, we don’t have anything. All we have is our own dinner and it’s not very much. But here it is. Notice how little it is. It can’t feed this people.” Yet in Jesus it certainly could.
The disciples were able to participate with Jesus not only in what they did in ministering to the people, but then perhaps sharing their own food with those people as well. What was the result at the end of the day? Did they have to do without? No. Ironically, when they were willing to share what little they had and offer it up to God for his service, God blessed them as well as the multitudes, and each of the 12 disciples came away with an entire basket of bread and fish.
There are many lessons in this story for us today. I think we as Christians sometimes feel like the disciples when God asks us to do something: “Well, Lord, if you just give us more funds. Lord, if you just give us a better church building. Lord, if we weren’t so scattered and we lived closer together. Lord, if we weren’t so elderly maybe we could do more. Oh Lord, how can we ever serve you the way we want to?”
Just remember this lesson from the feeding of the 5,000. If you look at your meager resources, it’s not a question of what you have. It is a question of who has you. The one who has you is Jesus Christ. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. Share in his ministry. Bring forth whatever little you have and ask Jesus to bless it and then get busy like the disciples in sharing in the ministry of Jesus Christ and always remember, it’s not what you have. It’s who has you.