He Gives Power and Authority to His Servants (vv. 1-9)
Christ’s Power Our Chief Support (vv. 1-2)
If we rightly perceived the dangerous enemy that stalks us, we would seek the Lord’s strength with far more zeal than we normally do. The apostles required an official authority and power over the demons, for they were Christ’s living voices and under him the vanguard of God’s kingdom. Their warfare was intense, for they were to go out into a world that was overrun with Satan’s deceptions and enslaved to his blinding power. There was no way for them to make one inch of progress but through the power of Jesus Christ. Preaching was difficult, for men have no regard for God’s word and persecute men who do not speak well of them and have the audacity to call them to repentance.
And along with this, the apostles were empowered to heal diseases, which only God can do. Healing was a sign of the truth of the gospel of grace and forgiveness they preached, as well as a testimony to God’s mercy to men made sick by sin and the fall. It remains difficult for us to confront the fallen world with God’s truth and to bless the world with his wondrous love. But our Lord Jesus is able to do in us what we cannot. The apostles had a unique office that we do not share with them, but we share with them an absolute dependence upon our Savior’s power. Having humbled himself unto death and obtained our eternal redemption, he is now “exalted, extolled, and very high,” with all power and authority in his hand. We must seek his powerful Spirit so that we may resist the devil and overcome the world. Those who fight with the flesh and Satan must look to Christ’s power alone.
We Must Trust Him Absolutely (vv. 3-4)
This was to be a short evangelistic journey, a groundbreaking commencement of their work more than laying a permanent foundation. That would come later. At present, the twelve required training and must learn that they could trust their Master absolutely not only for power and authority to face the devil and his hordes but also to provide for their needs. They were to take nothing for their trip beyond what they normally wore, nothing extra. The Lord provides for his workmen; this is the main lesson. He was preparing them more for the future, when to save the world they had to become vagabonds in the world’s eyes. Those who want to make his directions obligatory on all believers are muddled in their thinking and forget the foundational and unrepeatable nature of the apostolic office. Believers may have homes, extra food in the pantry, and two coats. At the same time, our Lord’s more general instructions to the wider group of disciples (Luke 10:1-6) call us to trust him to provide for our needs in this world. The Lord of the harvest has infinite resources and the will to provide for his harvest workers (Phil. 4:19). Those who would usefully call upon lost men to trust the Lord must themselves trust him.
Man’s Response Never the Measure of God’s Truth (v. 5)
If we trust the Lord, the world’s opposition to God’s truth will not overthrow our faith so that we attempt to alter his everlasting gospel but rather zeal for our Lord and love for men will increase the fervency of our testimony against unbelief. This is the exact opposite of what we see today. Evangelicals and even Calvinists are often willing to modify their understanding of God’s very nature – from eternally the same, independent in his existence and knowledge, invariable in his being, will, and actions, and absolutely sovereign over all things, to a God who is open to alteration and was altered by the incarnation. This alteration is ostensibly to make God more relatable to men. We must instead learn the lesson that is simply stated here. When the world rejects God’s truth, we do not change God’s truth. Men do this only because they have made an idol of the praise of men or have allowed their desires for man’s salvation to rise higher than their submission to God’s truth. But here is one of the great treasons of our age – that when professing disciples face expected opposition to God’s word, they start apologizing for God and seeking common ground in unbelief rather than warning the world to repent and belief. We have lost our confidence in the reliability of God’s holy word. The world’s threats are choking out the faith of many.
Through Truth and Mercy His Kingdom Comes (v. 6)
We may have unshakable confidence in the truthfulness and reliability of God’s gospel only through the power of Jesus Christ. Remember that the devil does all he is permitted to stalk and to deceive, so that unless our Savior upholds us every moment, our enemy must immediately rout us from the field of battle. But we have the kingdom of God as his gift (Heb. 12:28), and with that kingdom his power and presence. His kingdom came then and it comes now in two main ways – through the preaching of the gospel and then through love and mercy to the poor and needy. God’s power to quicken the dead is usually exercised through the preaching of Jesus Christ (John 5:25; 1 Cor. 1:16; Rom. 1:16; 10:17; 16:25). Love is the Spirit’s chief mark that we are Christ’s disciples (John 10:35), for he is the gift of the Father’s love to the world (John 3:16), and because he saved us by loving us to the end, even what that end was his cursed death at Calvary (John 13:1). Remember this about God’s kingdom coming, for which we must constantly pray, that truth and mercy are its two main insignia. Christians are often too mean and hateful to their enemies to be of any practical use in seeking and serving the interests of God’s kingdom. Or, untaught, they are ignorant and fall into many errors.
His Enemies Perplexed (vv. 7-9)
Our Lord was at this time working in Herod Antipas’ territory. Only recently this “fox” had John beheaded. Some said that Jesus was John raised from the dead, or perhaps Elijah or another of the old prophets. Herod was vile at heart, and did not believe that John was raised from the dead. “I have beheaded him” – his story is ended – but who is this? He wanted to see Jesus. This was not the attraction of faith but of idle curiosity. Jesus’ enemies may be drawn to him, but unless they repent and surrender to his Lordship they remain his enemies. Some men and times will reject the gospel, thus requiring us to “shake off the dust of our feet” as a testimony. This, too, along with trusting the Lord, is a hard but needful lesson – never to allow our duty or feeling to be swayed overmuch by the world’s response to us or to God’s word. We are seed-planters; he alone makes the seed grow. Let us be faithful to the Lord of the harvest planting seeds in faith, hope, and love, trusting God always to provide for us and in time to grant a full harvest for our Savior’s glory.
He Provides for Our Every Need (vv. 10-17)
He Never Disappoints Those Who Seek Him
Our Lord’s feeding of the 5,000 men was such a signal event in his ministry that all four Gospels record it. By this miraculous feeding he was revealed as the new and better Moses who gives the world living bread – his own flesh and blood. In the immediate context, since in each account he interacts with his disciples as to how to provide for so many hungry souls, there was a very pertinent lesson for them. I am able to provide for your needs, for the world’s needs, beyond what you can imagine. And thus, those hungry men who came to hear Jesus preach and remained with him for many hours were not disappointed at the end. They heard the living Word speak the words of God, and they received from his hands earthly bread to feed their bodies. Truly, here is the Bread of Life come down from heaven to give life to the world. And let us learn first from this famous display of our Lord’s sufficiency never to doubt that he will feed us if we seek him – body and soul – he is the Bread of Life. We cannot hear this too much. In our abundance, we forget him. In our want, we doubt him. Let us remember this day in the open fields in which with but a few scraps of food our Lord fed multitudes of hungry men and women.
He Is a Generous Master and Friend
Well might our Lord have sent the multitudes away that day without feeding them, for he preached long and had been ministering for days to the surrounding regions. But Jesus Christ has a very earthy sympathy with us in our needs, like hunger. In our flesh, he felt it himself. He identifies with our sorrows and cares. Here were men and women who had followed him and listened carefully to him. Many of them were missing work to hear him. Our Lord was concerned about them. The miracle is of course fabulous – the loaves and fish multiplying as he distributed them to this disciples, so that they never ran out until everyone had more than sufficient. But is it not telling that he draws very little attention to the miracle itself. John’s account shows its understatement – “then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did” – they did not see it all at once. It dawned upon them what was happening. I wonder if the sense of the miracle, at least to our Lord, is simply that he loved those people for coming to him, and his heart yearned to help and to feed them. He is so generous and compassionate – even though most of these men abandoned him the next day (John 6:66) – he would still not send them away hungry. How horrible it is to think about some of those in hell who received bread from Jesus’ own hand -- may this not be any one here this morning, for he no less feeds us with his everlasting gospel!
He Uses the Slenderest Resources
But above all other considerations, this miraculous feeding – like the calming of the seas, the casting out of Legion, the raising of Jairus’ daughter – teaches us to bow before our Savior’s power. Many believers have been hungry, in terms of this world’s bread. The church is often persecuted or trips over her disjointed feet because she will not abide in his word. We see nothing but weakness in our own hearts and lives. All of these things tempt us to despair, so that even if the wick of our own faith is not completely extinguished, do we not sometimes doubt that the world will be converted to Jesus Christ? Or that the Jews will repent and embrace their rightful King? Are we not staggered by Daniel’s portrayal of our Savior’s kingdom as the highest of all and bringing down all others? And can it really be that our little weapons will demolish Satan and his lies? Only by the power of Jesus Christ as the Mediatorial King. Five little loaves of bread and a couple of fish – no worry – trust me – I have all power to provide for my people.
Trust me, you twelve weak men, you weak American church, you struggling believer in an unhappy marriage or job, you young man in the grip of foul lusts and lies you are telling yourself. I am able to deliver you, help you, sustain you all the way to heaven. You do not have to know how, and you have little to bring to me by way of means – but this is fine. I need little means – a little faith, a sighed prayer for help, a little congregation. Yes, I also create and use bigger versions of these, but I do not need them. Just trust me. Bring me your little, and I am able to supply all. Perhaps if we believed this more, we should be more constant and fervent in the prayer meetings of the church, praying in our own homes and with our spouses. But for so many disciples, our needs and the dangers that face us seem so colossal and prayer so impotent. Like Philip, we often say, “Lord, here is a little bread and a few fishes, but what are they among so many?” Even those who truly love him do not take seriously his power and doubt that he is able to do much to help this – which is the reason for the desperation and anger in times of distress rather than persevering faith and prayer. However little we are and have, they are enough for our Lord. And we shall find them so, if we consecrate our “little” to the Lord’s use, praying for, as he did, for the Father to bless.
He Gives More than We Need
A few miscellanies that should not be missed – notice that our Lord, when he had received the slender means from his disciples, looked up to heaven and blessed them – he gave thanks (John 6:11). If we gobble our food before giving proper and sincere thanksgiving to God, it is not to be wondered that it gives energy to sin rather than to serve God. We are worse than animals if we do not pause before we eat, and some have said that we ought to do the same after we eat, which is not superstitious but evidence of a heart humbled by God’s goodness rather than a belly filled for his judgments. And those baskets at the conclusion of the repast – twelve of them – one for each disciple – or is it one for each of the twelve tribes – Jesus the Bread of Life for all his people? The broader point must surely be his abundant sufficiency – our Lord gives more than scraps. He fully provides for our needs. Not that this means we shall all feast like kings or always have more than heart could wish, but that as we seek his kingdom, he will provide for our every need (Matt. 6:33). Too many of us fear tomorrow because we are faithless today. Let us instead trust our Savior. He is “able to make all grace abound toward us” (2 Cor. 9:8) – so that we in turn abound in the power of his grace unto every good work. He does not fill our baskets so that we can hide them for ourselves but so that we can share his truth and works and love with others. The world is still hungry, disciple of Jesus Christ. Are you emptying your basket to share with those in need – materially? Spiritually? It matters not. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, body and soul.
He Is the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever (Heb. 13:8)
Believe the Gospels as Living History
We will profit more from this and each incident the Spirit has been pleased to preserve in the Scriptures if we shall remember that the Gospels are not memorials to a dead man but powerful revelations of the living Savior. If they were only memorials, then we might like them, be a little inspired by them, or feel good after reading them, but they would not supply us with bread. What good is it to know that our Lord fed 5,000 men with such slender means unless by this display he says to us, “This is who I am as your Lord and Savior, as your Surety and Head, as the resurrected Lord of heaven and earth? I will provide for you. I love you and pledge to take care of you.” We hesitate, for there is clearly the need for wisdom in applying this. These works were not intended to be models for the way he works in every circumstance. We cannot expect him to provide for us unless we are working and devoting our work to him and seeking help from him to do our work heartily unto him. So, the lesson is not, “I will do a miracle for you every time you need one,” but, “In each need, I will supply it, as I deem best and wisest, by my power, so that you will never lack legitimate means to serve me.” Never should we use these and similar miracles to justify demanding that God do “thus and so for us in the name of Jesus.” We shall get slapped down and be disappointed by our presumption. Adore, child of God, adore the powerful Savior.
Trust Him to Take Care of His Church
And because he meets our every need, we must trust him to take care of his church. He has promised to build her (Matt. 16:18). Hell can do nothing effectual to stop Jesus Christ. It will try, and because we do not use his gospel weapons, we can for a time be frustrated in our warfare, even defeated. But God intends to bless us and care for us as a loving Father. He sent his Son to us to testify that he loves us and that nothing can separate us from his love. Therefore, there is a sense in which our expectation should be for him to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20). This is not an authorization to pray for or to expect to be rich in this world’s goods or famous or always healthy. It is God’s pledge that he is willing and able to do great things for us – and he has – look at the cross, the empty tomb, the opened heaven, the enthroned Mediator, the outpoured Spirit, and innumerable testimonies to grace and strength in the darkest places of trouble and persecution. God has never failed a praying saint yet – not once. We must give him wide leeway for his working, never crowding him or pushing his hand by telling him what we think best – but only watching unto prayer, with thanksgiving, trusting that he who gave leftovers has all the hope and help, wisdom and knowledge, endurance and courage that we need to hold fast to the end of our course.
Depend upon his Power…and Obey in his Power
What does it mean in practice to trust the powerful Savior to meet our every need? First, “in everything by prayer and supplication” is a rule of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. “You have not, because you ask not.” “Ask, and it shall be give you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door will be opened unto you” (Phil. 4:6; James 4:2; Matt. 7:7). We do not trust the Lord if we are not humbly asking the Lord. It may be that we trust ourselves, or have a false view of his providence and sovereignty that tends more toward fatalism than obedient use of the means of grace he has provided and ordained, or doubt his promises. But “Ask of me” remains the rule of his kingdom and the chief mark that we trust him. And this dependence, second, is not a one-time emotional outburst or asking but a “watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication” (Eph. 6:18) – meaning that if we trust the Lord, we shall “give him no rest until he supplies our need, changes our view of what our need is, shows us something better, or any number of possible outcomes to our persistent praying. He has ordained that the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man will avail much,” not because this is what “works on him” or alter his will, perish the thought, but because it is the means he has wisely ordained for his children and kingdom. Watch unto prayer.
Third, after praying and persisting in prayer, obey. It was no mistake that led the author of a cherished hymn to join “trust and obey.” We trust God by obeying him, as our Savior did unto death. His tormentors did not know how truly they spoke, when quoting the words of the 22nd Psalm, they hurled at him while he hung upon the tree, “He trusted God, let him deliver him, if he delights in him” (Ps. 22:8; Matt. 27:43). It was because he trusted his Father’s faithfulness, power, and promises that he willingly “humbled himself and became obedient unto death.” Many of us want lightning to strike in a bottle – we pray a few times, to take one example, about our finances or children. Then, we wait for God to do something. God usually “does something,” as we foolishly speak of his wondrous working, in the path of obedience. He saved the world through his Son’s obedience. He will further his kingdom in our day through our praying obedience, for then we show that we are true sons and daughters of the kingdom – that we trust and obey. Do not expect lightning to strike and all problems to be cleared away. Obey God out of love for Jesus Christ right where you are, praying always, like wise virgins, with your lamps lit with the Spirit’s promises and power and intercession. He will do great things for you, works that we did not expect, still small voices, great things from slender means, “according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21).