Small Beginnings (3)
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” John 6.5-9
Put yourself in the place of Philip, Peter, Andrew, and the other disciples. Here they were, only a few months into their new adventure with Jesus, and everywhere they go – multitudes! Great multitudes. The word about Jesus was out and spreading, and these men, who barely knew what to do with a great catch of fish (Lk. 5.5-7), were now confronted with a great multitude of clamoring people, all eager to get close to Jesus.
And now they were hungry. This could get ugly.
What was worse, Jesus, the only One Who could really handle this situation, was putting it back on them, asking Philip what to do for this throng. Imagine the disbelief in Philip’s face as he groped for an answer: two hundred denarii was almost a year’s wages for an average Joe like him. And even if they had that much money, it would supply only “a little” for everyone. That is, if they could find someplace to buy so much bread.
And if Jesus didn’t know what to do, how were they supposed to know?
Andrew has the seed of faith, but he seems not to recognize it: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Five loaves and two small fish (note his observation of small) was a small beginning, if that.
It was indeed a small beginning. But Jesus works with small beginnings, Kingdom seed beginnings. Small beginnings are all He needs. Like an opened spigot, small beginnings provide a channel through which the mystery of divine power and the satisfying food of grace and truth can flow to refresh multitudes.
From small beginnings, big miracles
Grace travels from God to people, and from people to other people. Jesus put the disciples to work: “Make the people sit down.” Imagine having to do even that. How do twelve guys make a great multitude quiet down and find a seat?
This must have seemed to the disciples like eating an elephant. Mark tells us that Jesus joined them in this task (Mk. 4.19). What He commanded them to do, He would make sure they could carry out. We can imagine Him holding up His hand and everyone getting quiet. Then, perhaps He commented on the lush, comfortable grass all around (v. 10), before inviting the folks to take a seat. The disciples, meanwhile, moved among them, arranging the people in groups of around fifty, as Jesus had instructed them (Lk. 9.14, 15).
Without really understanding how they were going to get this multitude seated, the disciples took the next step – the one Jesus commanded them to take – and His Word empowered them to succeed. The small beginning was off to a promising start.
But there was still the matter of the food.
Jesus received the loaves and fish, and in front of everyone, He consecrated this little snack to God, giving thanks in public for this meager offering which was about to become a surfeit of chow. After that, with the disciples standing around Him, He began breaking the loaves and fish (Lk. 9.16) and handing them out to the disciples to set before the multitude.
Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt? Could they even believe what they were seeing? One after another, they held out their serving baskets while Jesus piled on the food. Where was this coming from? How can this be? But there it was, and off they went, distributing the food to the groups, who received it gratefully without knowing how any of this was happening. This went on until “they all ate and were filled,” “as much as they wanted” (Lk. 19.17; Jn. 6.11).
Can you hear the conversations, the occasional laughter, all the cordiality and pass-the-bread-please and enjoyment that accompany sharing a meal with 5,000 of your closest friends? The sound of grace wafting over and wending through these multitudes must have been unforgettable.
And what about that nameless lad? What a hero! One of the disciples said to him, “Jesus would like to have your loaves and fish.” “Sure!” came his reply. He didn’t care whether that was enough to feed everyone. All he knew was Jesus was asking for his loaves and fish. Jesus would know what to do with them. Jesus would take his loaves and fish and would do what was best. By all means, Jesus, have all my loaves and fish.
It's all loaves and fishes
That’s the thing about being little people with only little things to offer the Lord. He can turn our little gestures, our kind or affirming words, all our small beginnings of kindness, gentleness, self-control, excellence, and consideration of others into banquets of grace for unsuspecting people far and wide.
Our job is to recognize that everything we have – our time, every situation and conversation, every task or errand, all our casual and purposeful encounters with others – is all loaves and fishes. In the morning, first thing, inventory the loaves and fishes you’ll be taking with you into your day. Bring them to Jesus, giving thanks for His bounty and power, and asking Him to take your loaves and fishes and use them to touch others with the mystery of His grace and the power of His truth. Give freely, lavishly, and selflessly until everyone has had their fill of your attention, thoughtfulness, assistance, or witness.
Then gather up the leftovers and begin preparing for the next conversation or encounter with whomever Jesus wants to feed with the loaves and fishes of your life.
1. What are the loaves and fishes of your life? Do you believe Jesus can use these as means of grace and truth in the lives of others?
2. Why is it important that we offer our loaves and fishes up to the Lord daily in prayer?
3. Out of His fullness, Jesus reaches to us with wave after wave of grace (Jn. 1.16). What is His purpose in this? How can we make sure that we are faithful spigots of the living water Jesus wants to flow through us (Jn. 7.37-39)?
Next steps – Preparation: How can you improve your prayer life – first thing in the day and throughout it – to the best use of the loaves and fishes of your life?
T. M. Moore
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This week’s study is part 2 of a 3-part series, The Small Stuff. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 2, “Small Beginnings.” Why not line up some friends to study through all three parts of this series?
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.