Other than Jesus’ resurrection, the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle to occur in all four Gospels. This repetition gives it a high degree of importance.
We commonly consider an event like this feeding independent of its literary context. We piece together the historical details from the various accounts, and then we boil the message down to an abstract theological or practical message divorced from any specific text.
Those with a practical bent see the feeding’s message as “give Jesus whatever you have, and let him multiply it into something great.” Those with a more theological bent see the feeding’s message along the lines of “Jesus is God’s true representative, providing life to the world.” Others delight in all the ways Jesus is better than Moses or Elisha.
All of these angles on the message are true, but we run into trouble when we grow too familiar with the story. If we don’t observe each Gospel account carefully, we’ll presume they all mean the same thing. Whichever angle makes the most sense to us is the one we’ll land on every time we read or teach the story.
In other words, we harmonize the texts and generalize the purpose. Then we miss the clues signaling each author’s intent.
Over the last few weeks, I explained each account in its context. Now I’ll bring them together and ask some application questions.
Why Did Jesus Feed the 5,000?
According to John: Jesus is the very Messiah Israel has waited for.
- Do you believe he has the life you’re looking for?
- Where else do you look for life?
- How can you help others to expose false sources of life?
- How can you help others to find their life in Jesus?
According to Matthew: Jesus’ followers must learn to identify good soil when they see it, and upon seeing it, they must be ready to proclaim the word of the kingdom to hungry souls.
- What opportunities do you have to sow the seed of the word? Are there any right in front of you?
- How can you be ready to lead hungry souls to Jesus?
- What do you think needy people most need?
- How can you trust Jesus more, as he uses you to provide that need on his behalf?
According to Luke: Jesus’ followers, on mission from their master, must learn not only to accept hospitality but give it in Jesus’ name.
- What sort of people do you expect to enter God’s kingdom?
- What sort of person were you when you entered God’s kingdom?
- How can you grow at not only preaching the gospel, but demonstrating it visibly through your generosity and hospitality?
- How can you train others to live out the gospel?
According to Mark: When Jesus is your king, he will transform your selfish faithlessness into compassionate self-sacrifice.
- When you prove incapable of preaching the word and demonstrating it visibly as you ought, where is your hope?
- How have you avoided your Christian responsibility out of fear of inadequacy?
- How have you brought glory to yourself even as you ministered to others?
- How would you like to see Jesus change you in these areas?
One Event, Four Points
All four accounts describe the same event. We can compare the accounts to show that there is no historical discrepancy.
But four Spirit-inspired writers had four points to make. Let’s not squelch their voices.
- John wants you to know Jesus so you can have eternal life.
- Matthew wants to equip you to preach the gospel boldly.
- Luke wants to equip you to practice the gospel daily.
- Mark wants you to know that Jesus will complete his work in you, despite your sin and failure.
Next time you study or teach the feeding of the 5,000, which point will you land on? And can you show how you reached it?