Give Them Something to Eat
(A commencement message to the graduates of New Brunswick Bible Institute, May 1, 2011.)
As I pondered what I should say to you this afternoon, my mind was drawn to the only miracle of Jesus repeated in all four gospels. We know that if something is given once in the Bible, it is true and we should believe it, but when the Holy Spirit repeats himself, it must because there is a lesson of surpassing importance. There is one miracle and only one that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record. I refer of course to the story of the feeding of the 5000.
I want to focus on just one detail of the story. When the great multitude came to Jesus in the wilderness, he was moved with compassion because he saw they were tired and hungry. Late in the day his disciples suggested that he send the people home so they could find something to eat. Mark 6:35-37 (NKJV) tells us what happened next:
When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”
But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat."
You know the rest of the story, how the found the lad with five loaves and two fish and how Jesus blessed that meager lunch so that it fed 5000 men with 12 baskets left over.
This is one of the great miracles of the Bible. 5000 hungry men show up uninvited and then stay for supper. Imagine ordering 5000 pizzas-deep-dish, Chicago-style, of course. That would cost a pretty penny. Suppose you had to feed 5000 men tonight. What would you do?
It’s late, the people are tired and hungry, and the local Burger King is closed for remodeling. The nearest Tim Horton’s is in Jerusalem, and Pizza Hut doesn’t deliver to the wilderness. The disciples make a very practical suggestion: “Send them away and let them find food.” That’s logical. The suggestion is not made from bad motives. In themselves the disciples had no resources to meet this enormous need. They had no food and no money. What else could they do? Answer: They could do nothing!
Over and over again he puts us in positions where we are helpless, and then he says, “Do something!”
They didn’t see 5000 people; they saw 5000 problems they couldn’t solve.
Most of us would have said the same thing. We’re quick to see what we can’t do and quick to talk about what we don’t have. The disciples saw the crowds and realized their inadequacy. Somehow they forgot that the Son of God was standing right there with them.
The Grand Adventure of Helping Others
I love it when Jesus says, “You give them something to eat” (verse 37). It’s funny because the disciples have just gotten through explaining why they can’t feed this massive crowd. One wonders if they were thinking something like this: “You want us to feed this crowd? You gotta be kidding! Didn’t you hear what we just said? We don’t have any money and we don’t have any food. What we have here is a failure to communicate.” But Jesus wouldn’t let his men off the hook. He wants them to get involved in the grand adventure of helping others.
This is how Jesus often works with his followers. Over and over again he puts us in positions where we are helpless, and then he says, “Do something!” In our desperation we cry out to heaven, “How?” and he replies, “I’m glad you asked.” It’s not that Jesus wants us to fail, but he does want us to know that without him we can do nothing. Our success depends totally upon him, and the sooner we learn that, the happier we will be.
All too often we conclude that something can’t be done so we don’t bother trying to do it.
John’s account of this miracle tells us that it was Andrew who found the young boy with the five loaves and two fish and brought him to Jesus. We should not miss the obvious lesson here: Don’t ever despise the day of small things. Just because something is small or seemingly insignificant doesn’t mean God can’t use it. He used a baby’s tears to attract Pharaoh’s daughter, and the infant Moses was saved from certain death. Later he used Moses’ rod to deliver the children of Israel. And still later a teenage boy named David used one smooth stone to defeat mighty Goliath. Now Jesus is about to feed 5000 men with five biscuits and two fish. Size doesn’t matter with God. He can use anything we offer to him.
As I stand back and ponder this wonderful miracle, one truth seems to stand above all the rest. If you like, call this the moral of the story: God often puts us in situations where we are doomed to failure in order to force us to depend totally on him so that when the miracle comes, he alone gets the credit. This is a divine strategy repeated many times in the Bible and in our own experience. We often find ourselves in desperate straits with no way out, no good options, and no human way of remedying our situation. God allows this to happen so that we will cry out to him. And when the deliverance comes, we are obliged to give God the total credit.
Let’s wrap up this message with three lessons that seem especially appropriate for our graduates today. Almost all of us you will go out from here to minister in challenging situations. Sooner or later (probably sooner for most of you), you will come to the end of your knowledge, your wisdom, your skill, your strength, your eloquence, your creativity, and your personal charm. The ministry has a way of stripping away our self-sufficiency and showing us how weak we really are.
What God demands, he supplies.
When that happens, you’ll discover what you really believe. You learned theology from your professors, but you’ll discover what you actually believe when the moment of crisis comes and Jesus says to you, “Give them something to eat.”
Believe me, it’s a stressful thing to have no money, no manpower, and no way to meet the needs in front of you. And still Jesus says to you what he said to his men so long ago, “These people are hungry. Give them something to eat.”
Impossible, Difficult, Done
Lesson #1: The fact that something is impossible is no excuse for not trying to do it. All too often we conclude that something can’t be done so we don’t bother trying to do it. If Moses had taken that attitude, the Jews would still be in Egypt. If Joshua had felt that way, the walls of Jericho would still be standing. If David had adopted that opinion, Goliath would still be terrorizing the Israelites. You never know in advance what God may do so don’t rule out the possibility of a miracle coming your way.
Lesson #2: God asks us to do the impossible and then he gives whatever we need to obey his command. Erwin Lutzer points that Jesus often told people to do impossible things. To a lame man he said, “Rise, pick up your bed, and walk.” To a dead man, he cried out, “Lazarus, come forth.” There is a sense in which every command of God is impossible for us to obey. We always lack what we need to obey God’s commands. But God is faithful to give us whatever we need when we ask him. What God demands, he supplies. He “bids us fly and gives us wings.”
God is not going to make an exception for us either!
Lesson #3: When we offer our meager resources to God, we discover that the impossible isn’t. Years ago I ran across a quote from J. Hudson Taylor, a great man of faith whose missionary efforts helped open China to the gospel. Time and again he saw God do amazing things in the face of hopeless circumstances and murderous hostility. Reflecting on his experiences, he remarked that “there are three stages in any work attempted for God: Impossible, Difficult, Done.” I am very encouraged by that because there are many moments when we all seem to be stuck in the “impossible” stage of life. Cheer up, you never know but your impossibility may simply be “Stage 1” of a mighty miracle God will perform on your behalf.
What Harry Ironside Told Jack Wyrtzen
Many of you know about Word of Life, the great worldwide youth ministry started by Jack Wyrtzen in New York City seventy years ago. A teenager named Harry Bollback joined Jack as his pianist. Reminiscing about those early years in a message called “What Are You Doing With the Rest of Your Life?” Harry recalled a time when he and Jack Wyrtzen traveled to Chicago to visit Harry Ironside who at that time was the pastor of Moody Church. Harry said they went through a winding library filled with books in order to get to Dr. Ironside’s office. When they finally arrived, Dr. Ironside asked Jack how much money Word of Life needed every week. When Jack said they needed $3000 each week (this was back in the 1940s), Harry Ironside said, “That’s a lot of money. What would happen if you didn’t get the money?” “I guess they’d put me in jail,” Jack replied. “You don’t have to worry about that,” Dr. Ironside said."God has never failed anyone yet, and you’re not important enough for him to make an exception now.”
God is not going to make an exception for us either!
I close by addressing the graduates of NBBI. We are so proud of you. As you go out from here, let me leave you with this thought:
God will give you whatever you need in order to do his will. And he will do it . . .
In his own time,
In his own way,
According to his own will.
When he says, “Give them something to eat,” he will give you whatever you need so that no one goes away hungry. Exactly how he will do that, no one can say in advance.
Dream big dreams.
With that confidence you can receive your diploma and strike out into the world to serve the Lord. My advice to you is simple:
Dream big dreams.
God will give you whatever you need in order to do his will. In that confidence we send you out from here with great joy and great hope. Go now and do great things for God.
Lord, you have not brought us this far to leave us now. Having come this far by faith, we go forward by your faithfulness. As you have been with us through all the years, we ask you to lead us into the future. We gladly commit these graduates into your good hands. Watch over them. Lead them. Protect them. Bless them. Take what they have and multiply it greatly for your glory. Grant them every blessing as they serve you. We pray these things in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.
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