Herod, the Bible says, “sought to see” Jesus (Luke 9.9), but it seems he didn’t seek very hard, for in the immediately-following verses a huge crowd went out into a desolate place outside Bethsaida to find Jesus. Surely Herod could have gone out, too, had he really wanted.
But the 5000 enjoyed the words and the powerful healing Jesus brought; all day they listened until the day began to wane. The disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowd into the surrounding villages so they could get something to eat, but Jesus surprised them with a challenge: “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9.14)!
“We have no more than five loaves and two fish,” they answered, not for a moment considering a boy’s lunch (John 6.9) ample provision for such a great multitude. I would have been right with those disciples, I’m afraid. (I sometimes stare into my fridge thinking, “There’s nothing to eat,” when really there is plenty…)
Listen, Jesus was not obligated to feed this multitude. It wasn’t His job, and no one expected Him to provide a meal. He must have had a purpose to this miracle, don’t you think?
So why did He do it? Let me suggest two reasons.
1. To increase the faith of the disciples.
After His disciples basically said they couldn’t feed the multitude, Jesus didn’t just say, “Okay, fine, if you won’t do it I’ll do it Myself.” No, He performed the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish, and He “gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9.16). In other words, the disciples ended up giving the crowd something to eat, just as Jesus had instructed! Jesus does not command anything for which He doesn’t also equip. Remember that.
Jesus had told these disciples He would make them fishers of men (Luke 5.9-10). These twelve (Luke 6.13) would be the seeds which started a world-wide planting operation. How in the world would they accomplish such a monumental–dare we say, impossible–task? By faith these men would come to understand all they had to do was obey–God handles the multiplication!
God can take an oil jug with just a bit of left-over oil in the bottom and make it outlast a famine (1 Kings 17.8-16). God can feed and water a couple million people in the desert for forty years. Man’s road blocks and impossibilities are nothing to God.
2. To identify Himself.
Continuing the previous thought, Jesus identified Himself with Moses in the wilderness. John accounts the feeding of the 5000 in John 6, and do you remember what conversation the event precipitated? The next day, the Jews tried to provoke Jesus into feeding them again: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6.31). They did well to connect Jesus’ power with the feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus continued the thought, identifying Himself as the true bread from heaven.
Not only did He identify Himself as the bread of life, but this even also identified Him strongly with Moses–Moses being a type of Christ. How could Jesus do such awesome things unless He was truly sent by God? And if He was truly sent by God, His words rang with prophetic power. Moses had prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.15, “YAHWEH your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…”
The feeding of the 5000 proved that God had raised up The Prophet, and He was standing before His brethren!