The evening falls as the people seek relief from the Lord in numbers for the ailments they suffer from. The practical disciples come to Him with the remark that He should send the crowds away, because then they can still go to the shop in time to buy food. But a practical attitude is not always a good one. In this case, their practical proposal means that the Lord must stop doing good. By doing so they show that they do not share in His mercy.
They still don’t know Him well. Because they do not share in His mercy, they are also blind to the power of His grace to provide for daily needs. Then the Lord has a lesson for His disciples, for those who follow Him and must learn from the Master, in order to be like the Master.
He takes up the case for the crowds. People do not have to leave Him Who is the source of all goodness. He turns the request to send the crowds away around and orders His disciples to feed them. He wants to make them into instruments through whom He can bless the crowds. He wants to fill their hands with bread that they can distribute to the crowds. Through them He wants His power in grace to benefit the crowds.
This is also true now because the principle of faith is the same at all times. The Lord wants us to learn that faith in His power makes us instruments for the blessing of others. The disciples want to send the crowds away because they don’t know how to use the power of Christ. We often don’t know that either, but the Lord wants to teach us.
Then He tells them to feed them. He wants to teach them to feed others. When the order comes to feed others, first the disciples’ total impotence becomes public. That is because they only count on their own resources and not on those of the Lord. The problem is not that there is nothing, but that the little there is, is totally inadequate according to man’s arithmetic.
According to human standards this is also the case, but we must learn to count on the power of the Lord. One of the problems that makes us bad disciples is that we underestimate what we have in our hands. The reason for this is that we judge it according to our ability to do something with it and not according to the Lord’s ability to do something with it. Our argument is often: ‘We have nothing but ...’ But believers always have something the Lord can use, even if it is so little in their eyes. The Lord commands them to bring the loaves and fishes to Him. We must learn to put everything in His hands. He even invites us to do this. What we place in His hands, He multiplies.
The Lord proceeds to work in an ordered and calming manner. That’s why He commands all to sit down. By doing so, He also draws everyone’s eyes to Himself. All see how He takes the five loaves of bread and the two fishes and all hear how He prays to His God as the dependent Man and blesses or praises Him. Then He acts in omnipotence, in dependence and in grace through His disciples. He breaks the loaves and gives them to the disciples who in turn give the bread to the crowds.
The food the crowd receives has become food in two ways. Before something becomes bread, a whole process precedes it. This indicates that before we can give anything into the Lord’s hands so that He can use it, we must have been busy with it. There are also two fish. We have done nothing for its preparation. Those are as it were prepared by the Lord Himself. This indicates that what we have received directly from the Lord, we may also give Him to make more of it and then distribute it. What we can’t do, multiplying the food, He does. Then He gives it to us to do with it what we can and that is to pass it on.
By this act Christ testifies in His own Person that He is Yahweh Who will satisfy the poor with bread (Psa 132:1515“I will abundantly bless her provision;
I will satisfy her needy with bread.
). In Him is Yahweh, who has established the throne of David, in their midst. By His goodness, everyone can eat until they are satisfied.
He could have performed His miracle in such a way that everything was finished, that nothing was left over. He knew exactly how much was needed. Precisely because there is so much left over, it demonstrates that the Lord Jesus is a God of abundance. He not only gives what is necessary, but more than is necessary. There is a surplus, not of crumbs, but of the pieces He broke and the disciples distributed.
Abundance is not treated as superfluous. He also has an intention with abundance. He allows it to be collected so that it can be distributed to others who are not present. What we give in the Lord’s hands becomes an abundance through which a crowd is satisfied and much remains for others. This is how it works with God: what we give away is not lost, but is multiplied (Pro 11:2424There is one who scatters, and [yet] increases all the more;
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, [and yet it results] only in want.
The number twelve also indicates that the Lord made the surplus with an intention. He deliberately wanted to multiply more than was necessary for those present. He satisfies those who have come to Him from their homes, but in the future He will satisfy all twelve tribes with His blessing. There remains a blessing for the people of God that He must first send away.
The remaining bread is put into twelve “baskets”. When the Lord later provides bread to a crowd of four thousand men, including women and children, bread will remain. This is put into “large baskets” (Mt 15:3737And they all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full.).