Ministry: Lessons Learned from a Basket Lunch
1. Maybe I should have said, “Lessons that should be learned...”
a. The account of what Jesus was able to do for the crowds with one boy’s basket lunch was important enough to early Christians that loaves and fishes are common in their art.
b. Even now, when polls are taken of favorite Bible stories, this one is always near the top of the list.
c. The evidence is, though, that it has always been easy to miss the point.
2. Especially today, that main point is meaningful: the Lord is able to take what his disciples bring to him and use it to meet the deepest needs of people.
1. Why this miracle has a special significance.
a. Besides the resurrection of our Lord, this is the only miracle described in each of the four Gospel accounts.
i. One reason might be that it’s one of the few “creative” miracles.
ii. Another could be that no other miracle was witnessed by so many people.
iii. It could also be because this mighty work brought Jesus to the highest point of popularity with crowds.
b. In many respects, this miracle was re-enacted, as if to emphasize its importance.
i. Both Matthew and Mark describe a later event which is similar in many details, the feeding the four thousand (Matt. 15:32-39; Mk. 8:1-10).
ii. Besides the numbers, one big difference is that the later event seems to have occurred in a mostly Gentile area (Mk. 7:31; Matt. 15:29, 31).
iii. Another interesting difference is the distinctive words used for the baskets.
(1) The twelve baskets in the feeding of the 5,000 were the provision-baskets carried by traveling Jews.
(2) The seven baskets used in the feeding of the 4,000 were the kind carried by Gentile merchants, sometimes large enough to contain a man (Acts 9:25).
c. Both of these are miracles whose application the Lord himself made, as he did with just a few of his parables.
i. It happened when he cautioned his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, by which he meant the influence of their hypocrisy.
ii. The disciples, however, were preoccupied with the fact that they had only one loaf of bread in the boat.
iii. That led to the exchange recorded in Mark 8:17-21, which ended with his question: “Do you not yet understand?”
2. What the miracle is meant to tell us about Jesus may be observed from the placement of the event in the various accounts.
a. Matthew: “This man’s teaching is true.”
i. Right before this in Matthew, a whole chapter describes Jesus’ teaching in parables and ends with his hometown being offended at him.
ii. In the chapter after it, conflict breaks out with the Pharisees and scribes over the difference between what he taught people to do and what the tradition of the elders had been.
iii. What Jesus did with the loaves and fishes showed his authority over creation.
b. Mark: “This is the shepherd we need when we are distressed and dispirited by life.”
i. Mark specifically notes that when Jesus saw the crowd, he was moved with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd (6:34).
ii. The prophets had so looked forward to the time when God would bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak, and make them lie down securely in rich pasture where there would be showers of blessing (Ezek. 34:15-16, 23, 26).
iii. When Jesus provided for the five thousand, he was saying that time had come; he was acting as the Good Shepherd.
c. John: “This man is the bread of life, the supplier of our deepest needs.”
i. That is exactly the claim the Lord made to those who were only interested in him because they had eaten their fill of the loaves (6:35, 48).
ii. When he fed the five thousand, he demonstrated that he is to everyone what the manna was to Israel in the wilderness: the living bread that came down from heaven.
iii. Without him, there is no lasting life and there will always be an unsatisfied hunger.
d. Luke: “This man is worthy of your trust and loyal service.”
i. In Luke, right before this miracle people of all kinds are being helped and the gospel of the kingdom is being preached everywhere, so much so that people are talking about him and wanting to see him.
ii. Immediately after this, the disciples confess their conviction that he is the Christ and learn that they must take up their cross and follow him.
iii. What Jesus did with the five pieces of barley bread and the two little fish raises the question of what he wants to do with us.
3. How the nature of ministry is reflected throughout this miracle.
a. Ministry often takes place in the midst of inconvenience and seems to require more of you than you think possible.
i. The disciples were just back from the mission he had sent them on and he had just heard of the death of John; they were withdrawing for some quiet.
ii. But the crowds showed up! He had compassion on them, welcomed them, spoke to them of the kingdom, and cared for them.
iii. The day wore away. The disciples thought the crowd should be sent away.
(1) It didn’t seem reasonable to them that they should be expected to deal with so much human need at such a time.
(2) Besides, they were not able.
b. Ministry involves putting what you do have, where you are, at the Lord’s disposal.
i. Jesus replace the “them” with “you,” as in “you are the ones to give them something to eat.”
ii. He sent them to see what they had (Mk. 6:38), and when their quick inventory resulted in five loaves and two fish, he said, “Bring them here to me.”
iii. Unless they had started with what they had, the rest of this would not have happened.
c. Ministry demands obedience that precedes understanding.
i. Jesus told the disciples to have that large crowds to sit down in groups of about fifty each (Lk. 9:14). Reflect for a moment on the faith, the obedient trust, that would have required.
ii. But Luke says, “And they did so” (Lk. 9:15). They did what said without knowing why.
iii. The original words suggest that the multitudes ended up looking like garden plots on the green grass (Jn. 6:10; Mk. 6:39-40).
d. Ministry, when a group is involved, requires some organization.
i. It is significant that the ordering of this scene was the Lord’s idea.
ii. What he had them do made the work manageable, avoided confusion that might have occurred, and saw to it that no one would be left out.
iii. This is not only practical, but also expresses fellowship in ministry.
e. Ministry is passing along what has been received with thanksgiving.
i. Like a host at a banquet, Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the loaves and fishes to the disciples.
ii. When it says that he “said a blessing” it means that he “gave thanks” (Jn. 6:11) by blessing God like this: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the world, who bringest forth bread from the earth.”
iii. The disciples then simply gave to the crowd what had been received with thanksgiving and entrusted to them. That is ministry.
f. Ministry will seem extravagant, but is not wasteful.
i. The serving continued not merely until everyone had eaten something, but until they had all eaten as much as they wanted, until they all were full and satisfied (Jn. 6:11-12; Mk. 6:42).
ii. But the Lord had provided more than was necessary; twelve baskets full were left over, not just of crumbs but broken pieces.
(1) Ministry is like that.
(2) It’s not just what you can get by with; it’s excellence.
iii. But the Lord also wanted what was leftover to be gathered up so that nothing would be lost (Jn. 6:12). Ministry is to be treated like it is valued.
1. These are the lessons to be learned from a basket lunch.
a. Our Lord is the Creator and Giver of life.
b. Serving him is a privilege which satisfies.
2. The Lord is able to take what we bring to him and use it to meet the deepest needs of people–starting with ourselves.