TURNING LITTLE INTO MUCH – OUR PART
Intro – I have vivid memories of the first Clay and Liston fight in 1964. Clay was a 7-1 underdog. Everyone thought he’d lose. But he was young and quick and stunned the world when Liston threw in the towel before the 7th round. Clay rushed to the press screaming, “I am the greatest. I stunned the world. I am the greatest.” And he proved that over the next 15 years of his career. But in later life, a flight attendant brought him up short. She advised him to put on his seatbelt. He kiddingly replied, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” to which she replied, “Superman don’t need no plane either!” That’s like the disciples when they forgot the source of the success of their first ministry.
We’ve come to the feeding of 12,000 – 5,000 men plus women and kids. This is 1 of only 2 miracles found in all 4 Gospels – the other being the resurrection. It’s a compelling demonstration of the credibility of Scripture. Historians look for both internal and external evidence for the validity of a document. “Should we take this seriously?” Well, Bible scholars now are pretty much agreed, even the liberal ones, that the Gospels were circulating in Palestine and around the Mediterranean within 30-40 years of Jesus’ time. The 4 records of this miracle would have been discredited right from the start by eyewitness accounts had it not really happened. It validates Scripture.
This miracle is also a turning point in Christ’s ministry. It authenticates Jesus – it’s creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). But it also previews kingdom conditions both physically and spiritually. The spectacular result is summarized in v. 17, “And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.” No one went away hungry, with plenty to spare. That’s a kingdom preview.
And these people weren’t dumb. They said, “If this is the kingdom, bring it on. We’re in.” John 6:15, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” The problem was, when Jesus insisted what they needed was not physical bread but the bread of life – Himself; when He explained the kingdom begins with Him ruling their heart; when He rejected their offer of kingship on their terms, the crowd quickly melted away. John says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (6:66). Thus Jesus ministry reached an apex here and began a gradual decline leading to the cross. This event was climactic to the apostolic writers.
Jesus also taught the disciples here. This was for them more than for the crowd. They had just returned from their first ministry outings. Flush with success, they reported in v. 10, “all that they had done.” Jesus reminds them it wasn’t what they had done. It was what He had done through them. They must learn the lesson of dependence all over again – just like us! Doubt is plaguing some here this morning. The job is tough; marriage having trouble; ministry is time-consuming. Is He sufficient? Some have lost something – a job, a relationship, a friendship, addiction - and you wonder, is He sufficient?
The disciples have an unsolvable problem. V. 12: “Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” It’s a problem to the disciples; Jesus has something different in mind. John 6: 5 “Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” So – it’s a test. It’s always a test, Beloved. How it helps to learn that. Philip knew the problem is unsolvable. It’s impossible. But what the disciples failed to consider was that the One who had cast out demons by the drove, healed the sick by the thousands, and even raised the dead, and extended those same powers to them – might be sufficient to this situation. Just maybe! It simply didn’t register – and it needed to register, thus the lesson in sufficiency. We’ll look at it in 2 parts – What They Did, and What He Did.
I. What They Did
A. Recognized Their Own Insufficiency
Tony Robbins could never sign on for this kind of negative thinking, would he? Recognize your own insufficiency?! Ludicrous! You’ve got to find the power within. Joel Osteen says in his book, Your Best Life Now that anyone can create by faith and words the dreams they desire – health, wealth, happiness, worldly success. The list is always the same with these guys. He says, “If you develop an image of success, health, abundance, joy, happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you.” Somehow no one ever question, Is that what God wants for me? Just temporal success? Is that what God really wants for me? That question never comes up. Never. But how does this all happen? “Believe, visualize, and speak out loud.” It’s a common refrain. Say it and it’s yours. Your word is power. He says, “Friend, there is a miracle in your mouth.” (Isaiah was mistaken when he said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” – 6:5). Joel says, “Get your thinking positive and people bring your desires to pass.” He says, “God has already done everything He’s going to do. The ball is in your court.” Let me tell you, God help us if the ball is in our court.
That was Jesus’ point to His disciples: “You give them something to eat” (v. 13). “You” is emphatic. He’s saying, “Send them away? I don’t think so. You – you guys – you feed them.” What did He expect – “Believe, visualize and speak out loud?” Was that it? Think positively and others will bring your desire to pass? Some have said that’s what happened. When the boy gave his lunch, that shamed all the others into bringing out their hidden lunches! Of course, that doesn’t explain v. 16, “Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” Nor does it explain why they want to make Him king afterwards. Listen, folks, this was a group of thrill-seekers. They didn’t pack lunches. They beat it around the lake as soon as they heard Jesus was going. They were there for the frills. This is a rock concert. Now it’s 100 degrees, getting late, no restroom or food and they’re getting restless. They’re not pulling out their secret lunches. They didn’t have any!
When Jesus says, “You feed them”, Jesus is showing the inadequacy of you! Jesus is showing the disciples their insufficiency, not their sufficiency! To be used by God we must be dependent! Listen, the answer is not inside you; it’s not. The answer is outside you. You must get that. Ministry was impossible without Him. They had neither money nor food for 15,000 people. Jesus is making their inadequacy crystal clear. That’s the first step in accomplishing anything for God; acknowledging that we can’t! It’s a paradox, but true. And, we’re pretty good at knowing we are insufficient for the big stuff – building a church. But when it comes to the little things – singing with the Praise team, teaching a kid’s class, taking a meal to someone, we think we can handle it. Never think to ask for help. That’s why so many churches are mediocre. You could remove the HS completely and nothing would change! That’s why God keeps driving us to dependence. He gives Israel the Red Sea in front and the Egyptian army coming up fast in the rear. Why? Teaching dependence. He gives them Goliath across the valley. Why? Teaching dependence!
The first step in any 12-step program -- “You are powerless over your addiction.” Start with your own insufficiency. That principle applies to life in general. We think if we have the right education, the right connections, the right talent, things look great. And at the beginning it may be: “Hey, I have what it takes. I have the power to master my own life.” But sooner or later we all find out. I really can’t manage my marriage on my own. I can’t manage my children on my own. I can’t deal with the losses life brings on my own. Broken relationships, premature deaths, marital break-ups, lost jobs, ministry failures all demonstrate our insufficiency and show our dependence.
Jesus is reminding them, You need me. J. I. Packer in Knowing God, “This is the ultimate reason why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities – it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast. The reason why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of His time bringing home to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road . . . God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself.” The truth is, when we come to the end of ourselves, we’ve come to a good place. Now God can go to work.
B. Gave What They Had
V. 13, “But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish.” John tells us it was faithful, quiet Andrew who scouted around and found the boy with the lunch. The fish would have been like sardines. This is a poor boy size lunch. It’s not much. But it’s what they have, so they bring it. They gave what they had.
And the principle is for God to work, we must give Him all we have. This is scary. Turn control over to a Lord I can’t even see? If you haven’t felt that fear, you haven’t tried it. Some say, “I have nothing to give?” Well, start with Rom 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” I notice that everybody here this morning has a body. It’s unanimous. We all have something to give to the Lord. What does it mean to give Him your body? Simple. It means to make sure it goes, says and does what He asks, not what we want. Check out Gal 5:19-23.
We all have something else. Rom 12:8, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” God has gifted all of us for service. We give it back Him when we use it. Some fail, trying to use God’s gifts without God’s help. Pride keeps them from seeking God’s help. Most fail because they think their gift is too small. They look at John MacArthur or Tim Keller or Kay Arthur or some other Xn hero and conclude they can’t measure up, so they put the gift in the closet, and God has nothing to multiply. “God can’t use my little bit.” That’s right; He can’t. Not if you don’t give it to Him.
God doesn’t work on small %’s. Many of us need God’s blessing in a troubled marriage, dysfunctional family, depression, loneliness, fear of failure, financial difficulties but we are holding back. Perhaps you’ve given Him the marriage, but you are hanging on to shady practices at work. You’ve given Him the work issue, but you are emotionally unavailable to your wife and family. You’ve given Him your giftedness, but you’re holding back your money. You’re not close to 10% tithe, you’re not even at the pitiful average evangelical level of 2.5%. Yet, you wonder where is the Lord’s blessing? You’ve given Him 1/2 loaf and one fish and said bless that, and your Lord is saying, “You’re holding out. I want it all. You are not your own, you are bought with a price. You’re just playing games with Me. Using Me as a barter system. And I don’t bargain. I deserve it all. I’ve earned it all.”
A king came to town and a beggar lifted his bowl to him. On it were some coins and food people had given him. He thought the king would outdo anyone else. Instead the king said, “What will you give me?” How do you argue with a king? He pulled out five grains of rice. The king said, “Thank you,” and moved on. That night the beggar found 5 nuggets of gold in his bowl. Realizing what had happened he exclaimed, “Oh, if only I had given Him all I had.” The only way to receive a king into your life is to give him the keys to your life. God can’t bless when we hold back.
C. Obeyed His Instructions
With the disciples thoroughly overwhelmed, Jesus really gets strange. V. 14:, “And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” Say what? “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” “For what? We have no food! Send ‘em home!” That’s what I would’ve said. But the disciples’ faith shines bright for a change. With absolutely no idea what is going to happen next, they obey! They just do what Jesus asks.
Do you know how tough it is to obey when you don’t really know why? That takes faith. Faith and obedience are hand in glove, aren’t they? But obedience is a must if God is going to multiply us. Think how often God asks obedience with no end in sight! “Noah, build an ark. There’s going to be a flood.” “Are you kidding me? What’s an ark? And BTW, what’s a flood?” He’d never seen either. But he built for 120 years. Imagine the ridicule? Like watching the guy building the Watts tower in LA – a huge pile of glass and junk glued together going nowhere and doing nothing. And when God told Noah to get in, he did, then waited 7 days – 7 days of nothing. Imagine the mocking now. “Hey, Noah, how long are you going to stay up there? Hey, how’s the weather up there? No rain down here?” Noah obeyed with a capital “O”. And then God shut the door; and then the rain came and then Noah had the last laugh.
Abraham had a nice upper class job, with an upper class wife and upper class home in Ur. God said in Gen 12:1, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Imagine explaining that to Sarah. “Honey, help me pack up. We’re leaving.” “We’re leaving? Where are we going?” “I don’t know. But God said Go.” Explain that to your wife. But today the whole world knows Abraham because he obeyed God having no clue where or why. Jesus was forever asking people to do the impossible. In Matt 12:13 He says to a guy with a withered arm, “Stretch out your hand.” What if he had said, “I can’t”? But he obeyed, and his arm was healed. Obedience is faith in action. When they needed win at the wedding Jesus says, “Fill the jars with water” (John 2:7). He tells the paralyzed man in Luke 5:24, “Pick up your bed and go home.” He calls out to Lazarus who was dead, wrapped and buried, “Lazarus, come forth” (Jn 11:43). By faith they all obeyed the impossible. It always pays to obey whether we see why or not.
Are you rejoicing always? It’s a command. Are you having no other gods before Him – no thing, no person, no ambition, no pleasure, no hobby, no nothing higher than your love for Him? It’s a command. Are you honoring your father and mother? It’s a command. Are we loving one another – to the point of sacrifice? It’s a matter of obedience. Have you forgiven those who have wronged you or are you holding grudges and bitterness? The list goes on. God’s multiplied blessing lies just on the other side of our obedience.
Conc – Remember Queen Esther? The king had been tricked into ordering the execution of her people, the Jews. Cousin Mordecai said, “You must go see the king.” Great idea, but you didn’t just walk in uninvited on a Persian king. If he was in a bad mood and refused to extend his scepter, it meant death! But Esther obeyed the Lord’s word through Mordecai having no idea what the outcome would be. She obeyed anyway. She said, “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). God multiplied her faithfulness to deliver His people.
How about us? Are we willing to give all we are and have to enable God’s multiplied blessing? Are you willing to risk that deal by being brutally honest? Are you willing to risk some friendships by avoiding the stories and language God forbids in Eph 5? Are you willing to give less time to your hobby to sponsor a youth group, utilizing the spiritual gifts God has put into your life? Are you willing to risk that relationship you treasure by following God’s commands regarding the gift of sexuality? Jesus said, “Sit them down in groups of 50.” The disciples obeyed, served everyone and found a full basketful left over for each of them. Multiplied blessing. What we can’t do on our own, He can do through us. Obey Him and live a life of amazement. It’s not easy, just worth it. Let’s pray.