Jesus was building on natural anxiety and the awareness that it is God who supplies our daily bread when he told those of His day, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” He meant that we will never find full spiritual satisfaction unless we find it in Him.
John develops this thought fully by following the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with Jesus’ sermon on the bread of life, but the other Gospels have the same truths in mind. Therefore, it is right to ask at this point: Have you found Jesus to be sufficient for your spiritual need? Have you come to Him? Have you been fed by Him? Do you come to Him now on a regular basis expecting to be fed?
Maybe you are like the prodigal in a far country. You thought life was to be enjoyed without the presence of your heavenly Father. So, you squandered the inheritance He gave you, and you are at the point when your stomach and heart are empty and you are filling yourself with the slop that is fed to pigs. You are starving, miserable, abandoned, and alone. You need to do what the prodigal did. He came to his senses, saying, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” When he confessed his sin and returned to his father, he found his father waiting for him. The father received him with open arms and lavished the riches of his household on him.
Then they had a party. The father said, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” I promise that if you go back to Jesus, you will never find that He is begrudging to you or insufficient for your need.
The fourth lesson of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (Mt.14.13-21) is that God works through people. That is, although Jesus alone is sufficient for all human need, He nevertheless chooses to work through us as channels by which He meets that need. In this case, He worked through the disciples, who were given the broken loaves and fish, distributed them to the people, and gathered up the pieces left over.
“Management is getting the right things done through other people.” I have tried to keep that definition in mind through the years, but I have also thought of it in connection with the work of Jesus, especially in this story, though it applies to other examples of Jesus’ work too.
In this story Jesus demonstrated His managerial skill by working through the disciples in the distribution of the food. He could have called down manna from heaven, thereby imitating Moses; the fact that the miracle took place at the time of the Jewish Passover, which was meant to recall the Exodus and the years of wilderness wandering, would have made manna appropriate. Again, Jesus might have caused a loaf of bread and a fish to appear in each man or woman’s pocket. There were probably other things he could have done. But Jesus did not proceed in any of these ways. Instead He worked through other people: through all the disciples, according to Matthew’s account; especially through Philip, Andrew, and the boy with the five small loaves and two fish, according to John’s Gospel.
In this respect, the distribution of the food by the disciples to the five thousand people of the story becomes an illustration of what Jesus was doing when He sent them to preach among the cities of Galilee, as recorded in chapter 10, or what He will do at the end of the Gospel when He declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We are to be the distributors of that blessing.
Here is a story that will tie this together. On one occasion Jesus described a man who was visited at midnight by a friend but who had no food to serve him. So he went to a neighbor, who was already in bed, and called out to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him” (Lk.11.5–6). The host must not have had any food, or he would not have bothered his neighbor in the middle of the night. But he had nothing; he knew it, and he knew his neighbor could help. So he went to his neighbor to get what he needed.
We are in exactly that position. You and I have nothing, but we have a friend in heaven who is able to supply what our friends need. We go to God with empty hands and cry out, claiming that double friendship: “Friend, a friend has come.” The wonderful thing we discover is that God then supplies our friend’s need as he has supplied our own.