The feeding of the five thousand is Jesus’ great miracle. It is the one recorded in all four gospels. It is the one witnessed by the most people. We call it the feeding of the five thousand, but that was just the men, including women and children the number was tens of thousands, especially if families like mine were there.
It is also the miracle that is most obviously a sign, most obviously meant to teach us about Jesus, about the Christian life. Jesus calls it a sign and uses it to tell the people of a different bread, the bread of life from heaven, that if a man eat he will never die, and that is his flesh, which He will give for the life of the world.
This miracle is meant to teach. Jesus does not perform it because the people needed food. That happens when He feeds the four thousand. Then they are hungry. Then they have been with Him three full days and have nothing to eat. Then he has compassion on them and feeds them. But here, there is no need. It is not like the woman with a demon possessed daughter who comes to Jesus and begs for his healing. It is not like the four men who bring the paralyzed man and dig through the roof and set him before Jesus. There is no one begging for food here. No one in real need. He feeds them to teach them. That’s why He does it the way He does it. Makes a scene of it. Has them sit down in groups of fifty. What’s going on here? they’re asking. And then in front of them all He takes five loaves and two little fishies and breaks them and gives thanks to God for them, so at the end everyone knows, thousands of people know, what this Jesus just did. That’s why they try to make him king.
So realize this, that since the real reason Jesus performed this miracle was to teach from it, as a sign, to show us Who He is and what He’s come to do, this means that it was performed for you, that the greatest miracle Jesus wants to work by the feeding of the five thousand is to give you faith in Him. That’s why we still talk about it today and it still means something today to us, even though Jesus is not hear feeding us miraculously with five loaves of bread and two little fishies.
So the sign is there to exercise faith, to show you Jesus has come to take care not simply of your body but of you as a whole, body and soul. Look at this sign and see that the Creator has become a man. This man Jesus, He creates. He is God. Only God creates. It’s a law of physics that matter can neither be created or destroyed. God is the one who created that laws of physics and He is the only One who can break them. He is Deus extra legem. God beyond all constrictions. When Jesus defies physics here, He is showing that He is the Creator of all the laws of nature, they work because He works. Thousands witnessed it. They ate of it. They chased after Him because it was so wonderful. Don’t doubt it. Your Creator now wears your humanity.
And He cares for it. Look at the sign and see that this God actually cares about your body. He now has a body. He is a man. Not the Father. Not the Holy Spirit. But the Son. He became a man. His body is the body of God. And so you see how precious the human body is to Him. And the necessary deduction of faithful logic, is that He will take care of yours. Look at this sign and don’t ever think that your body is anything but a precious creation of God. Treat it that way. He made no mistake in making you, made no error in making you male or female, you are His creation.
This is the visual of what Jesus teaches so pointedly to us in the Sermon on the Mount – Do not worry about your body, what you will eat or what you will put on. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
The feeding of the five thousand turns out too to be the feeding of unbelievers, the feeding of people who will turn around the next day and reject Jesus, walk away from Him, stop following Him. So you see Jesus feeding even the wicked, even the unbelievers, in the feeding of the five thousand. You see what you confess in the catechism: God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people. This is what He says about His Father too, that He makes His sun shine on the just and the unjust, his rain to fall on the good and the evil. And here again is the image of it, the visual, to make this so clear to us – that we are all, without exception, the careful work of His hands and the care of His heart. That if He takes care even of the heathen, how much more will He take care of you who trust in Him? And if you get only this from his sign of feeding the five thousand, then the wisdom you have gained is worth more than all the bread in the world.
But the sign is far greater. Jesus is showing that He wants to give more than bread. He wants to give Himself. And He wants to take care more than the body. He wants to take care of the soul, which means all of us, body and soul. We need more than food, our worries and cares should not be for our bodies. Look how easily God can take care of them: He could drop manna from heaven; he’s done it before; He could multiply our loaves, the elk in my freezer could never run out, this is no trouble for God. Work hard, trust in Him, and you’ll see the truth of David’s proverb: I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his children begging for bread.
Jesus taught it in the Sermon on the Mount. The heathen chase after these things. That’s not for you to go worrying and chasing after what perishes. Seek first the Kingdom of God. And He shows it to us here. The people literally chased after Jesus. Jesus escaped. He hid Himself. Then He crossed the Sea of Galilee in the night. He literally ran away from them. But they found out and they got in boats and they ran after Him and they found Him. Why? Because they wanted more bread.
This is the perennial problem with people. They will exert themselves, their bodies, their minds, and they will use all the God-given talent and intelligence they have, all to chase after the wants of their bodies. Our entire world is set up for this – our schools, our media, our politics, everything simply assumes that what we all want more than anything is health and wealth, decent career and stable income – there is the summum bonum, the highest good of our time. We saw that unmistakably during COVID and there is no unremembering it. Churches shut down but Walmart open. The bread of life avoided, but wonder bread and toilet paper absolutely essential. How easily we will do anything to protect our health and our bodies. So look at these people flying to Jesus not for forgiveness but for food, and see that this is the inclination of your own flesh, that you have seen this same craven attitude in yourself.
I have seen it in people. I have seen them give up on Jesus, on Church, because it doesn’t seem to give them what they need. Because they think what they need is money and stability. I have told people they need forgiveness more, they need to be right with God more than a few hours more sleep, more than the extra hours at work, and I have seen them smile at me condescendingly more times than I can count – yes, pastor, that’s your job to say that, but hey I live in the real world, where what people really need is their money and their house and their food and their sportsball. If church could give me that, then I’d maybe come more often.
So these five thousand run to Jesus for more bread, and He offers them something far greater, offers them the bread of life from heaven, offers them His flesh, which He will give for the life of the world, and they not only don’t chase after it, don’t want it, they walk away from Him offended.
What a sign. And you better believe that sign is for you. O how easy it is to imagine away sin and death. How easy it is in this silly world of ours to spend our week worrying about money and not seriously thinking once about the treasure that we are going to receive on a Sunday morning. And yet what you receive here is literally everlasting life, the favor of the almighty God, the forgiveness of all sin, the guarantee that your Father loves you and will protect you from all evil of body and soul.
This is the great sign. Jesus is the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died. These five thousand ate bread miraculously multiplied and they died. And so it is not enough for us to see that God takes care of our bodies, because we know these bodies, the aches and the pains, and that no matter how much food we put in them, no matter the medicine and the lockdowns we impose on them, they will die as our fathers did.
Jesus fed those five thousand to show them and to show us, today, that He has come to feed our souls. That what our yearning should be is for reconciliation with the God against whom we have sinned. That what our striving should be is not for the bread that perishes, but for the bread of life that has come down from heaven. The food Jesus gives is His flesh and blood. And that flesh He offered on the cross for the life of the world. There the innocent Son of God bore the punishment for all our carnal ways. There in perfect love for His Father, He sought not for worldly gain, but for us, for our souls and our bodies, and His holy flesh was pierced, and His blood flowed, because what we needed is not what we have chased after, food and drink and earthly pleasures, but what God chased after for us – life, true life, bought by Jesus’ suffering.
So that His words give eternal life, to all who trust in Him. That means you, right now, not only when you take His flesh and blood in the Supper, but now, as you trust in this flesh and blood, that it bore your sin, that your Savior has won it for you on the cross, now He gives it to you. Most of the five thousand left when Jesus told them this. He did not give them what they wanted. So Jesus turned to His closest disciples and asked them, Will you too go away? And Peter answered for them and for all true Christians, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Where will I go to rid myself of my sin? Where will I go when I see that death looms over me? Where will I go when I have everything my body could want and yet I know that I need far more, because I have not loved God as I should and I have thought horrible things about my neighbor and I have put my desires on the things of this world and once again it has left me lacking and empty? You go to the One who has come down from heaven for this very reason, because God so loves you, the One who is here now, who lived and died and rose again, so that He can speak to you words that will fill the hunger that no bread could fill, and quench the thirst no drink could quench.
And the Spirit fills us with a longing to chase after it, with far more zeal than those five thousand chased after a bread king. We have the words of eternal life. We have the flesh and blood of the God-Man, who gave Himself for us. We have reconciliation with God. Look forward to it every day. Come back for more. Never stop desiring it. Mean it when you say, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure.”