The gospel writers give us four portraits of Jesus. Each one selects a few events in the Savior’s life and arranges them into a faith-building account. Interestingly, out of all the miracles Jesus worked, only one (besides His resurrection) is recorded in all four gospels: feeding a multitude of 5,000.
This event took place on the desolate eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew says Jesus went there upon hearing of John the Baptist’s death (14:13-21). Luke links the trip to the return of the twelve from the “limited commission” (9:10-17). Mark notes both those factors, adding that Jesus and the disciples went there for rest (6:30-44).
However, there was no rest. The crowds followed them. In fact, they ran and arrived ahead of Jesus, who was coming by boat. The Lord was not aggravated. He felt compassion and began to teach them.
Late in the day the question of a meal arose. There was no place to get food for such a crowd and no money with which to buy it. Jesus ordered a search for food among the group. That yielded a lad with five loaves and two fish, but as Andrew noted, what good was that for so many people? Jesus had the multitude sit down in fifties. He took that meager food, gave thanks, and distributed it to the entire group, 5,000 men plus women and children. There was plenty: “they all ate and were satisfied.” And the disciples collected twelve baskets full of leftovers.
Skeptics have amazing “explanations” of Jesus’ miracles. For example, William Barclay, in his comments on John’s account, offers this alternative for those who find it hard to believe in miracles.
“. . . it may be that none would produce what he had, for he selfishly—and very humanly—wished to keep it all for himself. It may be that Jesus, with that rare smile of his, produced the little store that he and his disciples had; with sunny faith he thanked God for it and shared it out. Moved by his example, everyone who had anything did the same; and in the end there was enough, and more than enough, for all.”
This is worse than silly speculation. It dismisses the credibility of eyewitnesses to the events, unfairly indicts Jesus’ audience (was there only one honest lad among the thousands?), and undermines the case for Christ by lowering supernatural power to the level of charm.
The multitude was excited by Jesus’ power. They intended to take Him by force and make Him king (John 6:15). To prevent that, Jesus sent them away and withdrew to the mountain alone for a night of prayer.
Sadly, this crowd proved to be more interested in physical food than spiritual. After a sermon the following day on Jesus as the bread of life, many withdrew and walked with Him no more (John 6:66). May God help us to see more than a free meal when looking at Jesus.