Two Fish, Five Pieces of Bread
Five Thousand for Dinner
“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. 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. For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. And they did so, and made them all sit down. 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. And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.” (Luke 9:12-17)
This passage gives us Luke’s inspired account of our Lord’s great miracle of feeding five thousand men with five pieces of bread and two small fish. This miracle is recorded more frequently and more fully than any of our Lord’s other miracles. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all inspired to record it. Evidently, the Holy Spirit intends for us to give it special attention.
The Holy Spirit inspired all the gospel writers to record these stories of our Lord’s dealings with men upon the earth so that we might read them often, study them carefully, and learn from them continually. His miracles have not yet been fathomed. His words and his ways have not yet been comprehended. Like the cloud that Elijah’s servant saw (1 Kings 18:44), these gospel stories seem to get bigger and bigger every time we look at them. Like the widow’s barrel of meal, there is an inexhaustible fullness of spiritual instruction in this Holy Book. I read a lot of books. Most of them can be comprehended with one or two careful readings. But the more I read the Word of God, the more I am lost in the richness, fullness, and freshness of it.
I have said all that because I want you to realize that when I have finished this study, there will be much more that needs to be said. I will have only scratched the surface of this deep, deep mine. Having scratched around the surface of this rich mine, I have found four, choice nuggets of gold that I want to show you.
First, this passage gives us a display of the fact that with God our Savior nothing is impossible. Oh, how I wish I could learn this, really learn it. With God nothing is impossible. Our Lord Jesus Christ, he who is God our Savior is God omnipotent! By the mere exercise of his will, he fed 5000 men with five pieces of bread and two small fish.
This is not a fable, or even a parable, or an allegory. This great miracle was performed in public before thousands. That same divine power that created all things out of nothing in the beginning, here made food where there was none.
This was not the trickery of some snake oil huckster, nor the work of some make believe miracle worker. Nothing except the fact that Jesus Christ is God can explain this great deed. 5000 hungry men would not have said they were full had they still been hungry. Twelve baskets of fragments would not have been left over had any of the men remained hungry. The very same hand that sent quails in the wilderness, rained manna from heaven and caused water to gush out of the rock here multiplied five small loaves and two small fish to feed 5000 men.
He who is God our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is King over creation, King over providence and the King of grace. He “calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). With Christ our God, nothing is impossible! When he wills something, it is done. When he commands a thing, it is performed. He creates light out of darkness, makes order out of chaos and brings strength out of weakness. He turns sorrow into laughter, weeping into singing, and mourning into gladness of heart. And he brings food out of nothing!
With regard to the work we are set upon, we might well despair were we not the servants of him who is God mighty to save! When I see the corruption of men’s lives and know the depravity of their hearts, when their obstinate hardness of heart is repeatedly manifest, when unbelief appears so firmly and willfully established in the hearts of men, I would be in utter despair were it not for this one thing: He who is our God and Savior is God the Almighty! He is God mighty to save! His power is unlimited. His grace is unconstrained. His arm is mighty. Well might the prophet ask, “Can these bones live?” — If God says, “live,” they can! Can that poor soul over there be saved? — If God saves him, he can! Can this rebel son be converted? — If God turns him, he can! Can this profligate daughter be won? — If God is set to win her, she can!
It is written of our great Savior, "Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him" (John 17:2). We have before us an undeniable proof of our Savior’s omnipotence as the mighty God. It was promised by Isaiah that the Messiah would be both a man born of a woman (Isaiah 7:14) and “the Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Here is a display of his omnipotence as the mighty God. — With five loaves and two small fish, the Lord Jesus fed 5,000 men, beside women and children. The task was manifestly impossible for anyone other than God himself, who alone has creative power, who alone “giveth food to all flesh” (Psalm 136:5).
Let every believer treasure up in his heart these blessed facts. Our Savior, who is full of compassion toward us, is himself “the Mighty God,” the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and nothing is too hard for him!
Second, this miracle is intended to give us a lesson about faith. The disciples wanted to “send the multitude away.” They were ready to limit the Holy One. By their actions they were saying, like Israel of old, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” They measured the Lord Jesus’ ability by their own ability, or inability. They looked upon the Son of God as Naaman did the Jordan River, with Syrian eyes! Let us learn from their mistake and be warned. When we think of God, we must put down Hagar and raise up Sarah, silence human reason and act according to God-given faith. Faith believes without evidence, and even contrary to evidence, that “things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Two sentences in these verses are bursting with spiritual instruction. Hear these two words from the lips of the Son of God, and ask for grace to trust him.
“He said unto them, Give ye them to eat.” — Matthew tells us that he preceded that command with this sweet assurance, “They need not depart” (Matthew 14:16). — What a blessed word of grace and assurance! If there was no necessity for these hungry souls to depart from Christ for food, there can never be a reason for you and me to depart from him. There is no need for the bride of Christ to wander from beneath his banner of love. Mary may sit at Jesus’ feet always!
“They need not depart.” That means that there is never an excuse for compromising the gospel. There is never a reason for disobedience to Christ. There is never a cause for neglecting Christ, his worship and his service. Whatever we need, our Savior is ready to give to us or do for us (Hebrews 4:16; Proverbs 3:5-6).
“Then he took the five loaves and two fishes, and blessed them” (v. 16). — Bring all that you are and all that you have to Christ. He will remove the curse, add his blessing, and make our paltry loaves and fishes instruments of great usefulness and spiritual benefit to chosen sinners in his kingdom. Little is much in the Master’s hands! It has always been God’s delight and glory to use that which men consider useless. — He used a baby’s cry to move the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter. — He used a shepherd’s crook to work miracles in Egypt. — He used a boy and a slingshot to bring down Goliath. — He used a poverty-stricken widow to feed his prophet. — He used a little girl to lead Naaman to Elisha. — He used Balaam’s ass to teach him obedience. — He used the jawbone of an ass to slay a thousand Philistines. — He used a little child to teach his disciples humility. — He used a boy’s lunch to feed twenty some thousand people. — And he uses men, who are in themselves useless sinners, to call out his own elect (1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7).
Third, this miracle serves as a beautiful and clear allegory of the gospel of God’s grace. We must never attempt to make allegories where the Holy Spirit does not make them. We must never try to make the Scriptures say what they obviously do not say. But just as Paul used Sarah and Hagar as an allegory to teach the distinction between law and grace (Galatians 4), so the Holy Spirit has given us these recorded miracles of Christ to teach us spiritual, gospel truths.
This hungry multitude in a desert place is a good representation of lost mankind in this world. All the sons of Adam are an assembly of perishing souls, lost, helpless, starving, and upon the verge of eternal ruin, without the gospel of Christ. There is but a breath between them and everlasting ruin. Their only hope of salvation is the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:15-16).
The loaves and fishes, so readily despised as being inadequate to meet the needs of so many, might well be looked upon as representing the preaching of the gospel, Jesus Christ and him crucified, which God has ordained for the saving of his elect (1 Corinthians 1:21-23; John 6:33). Like the loaves and fish in this passage, the preaching of the cross of Christ meets all the spiritual needs of sinners in this world.
Fourth, the Lord our God graciously condescends to use human instruments to accomplish his work in this world. No, a thousand times no, God does not need us. He who fed this multitude could easily have done so without the use of his poor, weak, unbelieving disciples; but that was not his purpose. He commanded his disciples to do what they could not do. -- “Give ye them to eat.” Then he put bread and fish in their hands and those empty handed men fed five thousand souls! This entire event seems expressly arranged to give us a picture parable of the kingdom of God.
The hungry multitude is a vivid emblem of mankind. — Sinners in this great wilderness, this “desert place,” are a company of empty souls in the midst of empty souls, starving for lack of bread, sheep without a shepherd, hungry souls with no bread. But our blessed Lord Jesus Christ is a great, compassionate Savior. — Mark and Luke both tell us that our Lord “had compassion” when he saw the multitude before him. And he has given us that which will meet all the needs of men’s souls in the gospel. — The gospel of the grace of God is the bread of heaven. It is the power of God unto salvation.
These disciples, who had the great privilege of distributing the loaves and fish, are representatives of all God’s preachers in this world. — We have no bread; but he does! And he has given it to us to give to men. Our work is simple. The Master says, “Give ye them to eat!” Yet, it is vital. Had they not received the bread and fish from the hands of his disciples, this crowd would have gone away hungry. And those who will not submit to being fed by faithful pastors will remain without bread (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 13:7, 17). The preaching of the gospel is vital to the welfare of your soul (Ephesians 4:8-12). See that you do not neglect it.
Fifth, we read in verse 17 that all who ate were filled. The satisfaction of all the crowd and the baskets full leftover appear to me to be a beautiful representation of the fulness of grace to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. You will never go away from his table hungry. Those whom he feeds he fills. When Christ gives, he always gives enough. All who are fed by the Lord Jesus Christ are filled. There is enough in him for all and enough in him for each one. He freely gives all to all who trust him. All who come to him have all they want and need. Finding all in him, we find satisfaction for our souls. Drinking the water that he gives, we never thirst again. Yet, the storehouse of grace is never diminished. He replenishes every hungry soul, abundantly satisfies it with the goodness of his house. There were twelve baskets of fragments taken up, assuring us that in our Father’s house there is “bread enough and to spare” (Psalms 34:7-10; 37:23-26; 107:9; 23:1-6).
Our Savior’s name is Jehovah-jireh. He is the Lord who will provide all our needs. Those who serve him will never lack anything because of their service to him (Luke 22:35). And he always supplies our needs to serve him (Philippians 4:19). Our great God and Savior can cause the empty barrel of meal to overflow and the cruise of oil to be constantly flowing. As we use what he puts in our hands for his glory, he graciously supplies us with more to use for his glory. The old proverb is, “Little is much when God is in it.” The blessing of Christ will make very little go a long way. It is written, “The little that the righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked, a dinner of herbs better than a stalled ox.”
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