“How Many Loaves Do You Have?”

Mark 6:38

October 21, 2007 | Brian Bill

The pastoral team meets each Tuesday afternoon to pray and to plan.  Normally we meet in the Fellowship Hall but this time I had us get together in the two-year-old room upstairs.  We gathered around the short tables and sat in the small chairs.  When they asked why we were doing this I said something like this: “I want us to get a perspective of life through the eyes of a child.”  We looked around and saw the mural on the wall, all the bright colors, and celebrated what takes place in that room through the ministry of preschool, AWANA, and what is taught every Sunday morning.

I thought it might be helpful to get a child’s perspective on our passage today so I invite you to listen to this account as if I were eight-years-old (some of you are thinking that that’s not too much of a stretch).  The encounter I want to tell you about is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels.  If you want to follow along, I’m going to stick pretty closely to Mark’s account in Mark 6:30-44 with some additional insight from John 6.  

I should warn you ahead of time that kids like me hear and remember everything you adults say.  That reminds me of the young couple who invited their elderly pastor for Sunday dinner. While the parents were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the minister asked their young son what they were having.  “Goat,” the little boy replied.  “Goat?” replied the startled man of the cloth, “Are you sure about that?”  “Yep,” said the youngster. “I heard Dad say to Mom, ‘Today is just as good as any to have the old goat for dinner.’”

A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord

Aren’t kids great?  Turn to the person next to you and tell him or her one thing you love about kids.  I spent most of my time helping my dad take care of some goats and some sheep but he often just let me wander around the area.  I loved going down to the water and watching the fishermen pull in their fish but my favorite thing to do was to find a crowd and run into the middle of it to see what was going on.  My parents said I was nosy; I think I was just curious.  My dad had told me about a traveling teacher named Jesus and it seemed that everyone was talking about Him.  When I heard that he was nearby I hurried to see if I could find Him.  I was about to learn an amazing life-lesson: A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.  Can you say it with me?  A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.  

This was a pretty tense time because word was spreading that John the Baptist had just been brutally executed.  After a long hike I spotted Jesus and saw that his followers were gathered tightly around Him.  Because I’m so small I was able to sneak up close and could hear them talk breathlessly about all that they had accomplished and all that they had taught while they were out on a short-term ministry trip.  They were exhilarated and yet exhausted.  They looked a little tense because crowds of people just kept coming closer to Jesus.  I heard several of them comment about how hungry they were.  Jesus then spoke tenderly to them: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”   Let me show you some pictures so you get a feel for where all this took place.

As they all gathered into a boat to head to their special retreat with the Master, the rest of us decided to run along the shoreline because we knew where they were headed.  Jesus knew they were beat so they took a boat.  We saw what was happening so we took off.  The dust was flying everywhere.  Every time we passed a town more people joined us.  

Do you have that same sense of excitement and expectation when you come to church?  Do you wait eagerly for the Word of God to be preached?

We arrived before they did.  This reminds me of another statement recorded in Mark 9:15: “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.”  That’s exactly how we felt!  I have to tell you that these men looked very mad at us.  They glared at us and tried to get us to leave but Jesus looked at each of us with compassion.  The contrast was stunning.  Jesus always seemed to have time for people and was genuinely concerned about how they were doing.  Aren’t you glad that people were never a bother to Him?   I hear your church is a lot like that – you care about lost and wandering sheep.  I overheard Jesus say that we looked like sheep without a shepherd – I certainly knew how important a shepherd was to a group of sheep.  

I may be small but I know the Scriptures pretty well.  My dad would tell me story after story as we watched our sheep.  Mark makes mention in verse 39 that we sat on “green grass.”  In addition, we were near the still waters of the lake.  I immediately thought of Psalm 23:2-3: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.  He restores my soul…”  Jesus is offering refreshment and restoration to restless sheep.  And He was about to “prepare a table for us.”  

I was also reminded of Numbers 27:15-17 which records the request of Moses as he longed for a shepherd to take care of God’s flock: “…to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”  Mark directly quotes this in reference to Jesus.  Moses’ request has a double fulfillment as Joshua was appointed to lead them into the Promised Land.  He’s the immediate answer.  And Jesus is the absolute answer – even His name is the same as Joshua in Hebrew, which means, “Yahweh Saves.”

There’s one more tie-in that flooded my mind from Ezekiel 34:5: “So they were scattered because there was no shepherd.”  Because the religious leaders were not feeding and caring for the people, God says in verse 12: “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.  I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.” 

I don’t think many, if any, of the adults made these connections.  Sometimes they’re so busy and caught up in other things that they don’t even notice cool things like this.

Jesus then began teaching us many things.  Time flew by and it started to get pretty late – your pastor is not the only one who preaches long sermons.   I noticed that the disciples were really disgruntled now.  Here they had wanted some alone time with Jesus and there were people everywhere.  They wanted Jesus to send us into the countryside and villages to find something to eat.  This was a strange request because there were 5,000 men and the closest villages only had about 2,000 residents in them.  There were no fast food restaurants around.  It was also strange because none of us had said that we were hungry.  

I love what Jesus said next.  He looked at his disciples and said, “You give them something to eat!”  You can’t tell from the English but he put the emphasis on the word “you.”  It was very emphatic.  He looked at each of the disciples and said, You give them something to eat.”   The disciples had not yet learned that a little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.  

John reported that it was Phillip who flipped out and spoke for the rest of them: “That would be eight months of a man’s wages!  Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”  They did have some money with them but I’m certain they didn’t want to spend a shekel on them.  In your culture that would amount to at least $15,000 for just one meal!  Remember these men had just seen amazing things happen when they were out on their ministry trip and now Jesus is standing right in front of them.  Ray Pritchard points out that Phillip answered the way an atheist would answer since he never considered the possibility of supernatural resources.  Like us, they were quick to see what they couldn’t do because they focused on what they didn’t have.  If they can’t figure out how to feed these men, they assume it can’t be done.  Incidentally, Jesus loves to put us in situations where we are desperate and completely helpless.

It’s at that point that Jesus asks a question: “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  It’s actually pretty funny.  They first want to get rid of the people and then when Jesus tells them to provide for them they only see problems.  In fact, they didn’t see 5,000 people; they saw 5,000 problems they couldn’t solve.  Now they start searching for any snacks that someone might have brought with them.  My mom loved to tell this story, pointing out that you could tell that they were all men because no one had remembered to pack a lunch!  The disciples are going in and out of the crowd frantically looking for food.  I think they wanted to go back to Jesus and tell Him that there was nothing available.  

This is where I come in.  I was standing right next to Jesus the whole time but they just ignored me because I was so small.  Adults tend to do that today, don’t they?  Sometimes grown-ups are so grouchy towards kids.  You have to read John’s account to get all the details but Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up and told Jesus that I had five small pieces of pita bread and a couple perch [hold up].  They weren’t really loaves like you have today but were flat like this.  And they were made out of barley, which is what poor people ate.  

When he said it, he emphasized the word “small.”  And then he added this editorial comment, “But how far will that go among so many?”  It’s as if he didn’t think what I had amounted to very much.  At least I gave Him what I had.  In your culture it would be like giving Jesus a Lunchable [hold up] to feed 5,000 people (I’m not sure how this feeds even one person).   A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.  

Then Jesus went into action, directing the disciples to have everyone sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties because He wanted them to participate in what was about to happen.  By the way, this wasn’t easy for them to do but at least they obeyed. They didn’t really know what was going to happen, and neither did the 5,000.  I thought about having each of you get up and move to a different spot this morning but I don’t think some of you have ever sat anywhere else!  I’m just going to ask you to stand where you are right now and then I’ll ask you to sit down section-by-section.

Imagine that the four sections here on the floor of the auditorium have 50 people in them. Now imagine what 100 groups of 50 would look like.  This image is captured in the original Greek as used by Mark but it doesn’t translate well in your Bibles.  The word means “vegetable plots” or in your culture you might say “orderly rows of corn.”  Jesus had them all lined up and like seeds in the soil sprouting up, He was about to feed and water them so they could grow.  For what it’s worth, we get the word “seminary” from this, which means “seed-plot.”

I was standing right next to Jesus when he took what I gave Him, “…and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves.  Then He gave them to His disciples to set before the people.  He also divided the two fish among them all.”  It was common for Jewish men to pray before eating and Jesus prayed a prayer that I heard my dad say a lot.  It went something like this: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who bringeth forth food from the earth.”  After praying he broke the loaves into pieces and then gave them to the disciples.  This was an amazing moment and I got to see it all happen!  The word “gave” in your Bibles means that he “kept on giving.”  That’s exactly how it happened.  He just kept handing out more and more bread and then did the same with my sardines.  I was in awe as my little sardine pita wraps multiplied and fed everyone.  In fact, there was so much food that people could have seconds.  The Bible says that they “all ate and were satisfied.”

I think Jesus must have been trying to teach the disciples something because when they went around gathering the leftovers, each of them had a “doggie-bag” or actually an entire basketful of “broken bread and fish.”  These were the small wicker baskets every man carried when he was away from home.  It would be similar to your lunchboxes or backpacks or briefcases.  Men would normally carry their own food so they wouldn’t have to eat the defiling Gentile food.  Now these 12 would have plenty for the next leg of their journey.

Action Steps

You would think that this miracle of multiplication would have really rocked the disciples’ faith.  You would think that they would know without a doubt that a little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.  Actually, they missed the magnitude of what had happened.  Drop down to Mark 6:52: “For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”  Let’s make sure that we don’t let that hardness happen to us today.  Allow me to share some practical action steps that will allow this multiplying miracle to go from your head to your heart to your hands.

1. Do something with what you have.

Do something!

It might be helpful to just admit that you don’t have much and then give what little you have.  That’s what the widow did when she put two small copper coins into the offering (see Mark 12:42).  A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.  Do what you can with what you have.  Do something!  A little in the hands of Jesus is always a lot.  Jesus doesn’t ask us to go and get more before He goes to work.  He didn’t tell Andrew to go find 50 more loaves and a bucket of fish before He went to work.  All He wants is what we have right now.  One pastor put it this way: “As long as we keep what we have in our own hands, we are limited to what we can do.  But when we transfer what we have to the mighty hands of Jesus, there is no limit to what He can do.”

The key is to make sure we give ourselves first to the Lord as stated in 2 Corinthians 8:5.  Paul commended the Macedonian churches for giving out of their poverty and then he said this about them: “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”

Do you think you don’t have much to put in the offering?  Give what you have and watch God work. 

Do you feel like you don’t have any gifts or talents?  Start using what you’ve been given and God will do the multiplying.  I know of an elementary-age child who put 11 cents in the offering last week.  That’s a little but really it’s a lot!  What you have might be small but God goes to work when we give Him our all. 

A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.

2. We must be involved in feeding lost sheep.

We can’t just sit back and wait or just point out the problems with people or with society.  By the way, some of us think that that’s our job as Christians.  The disciples pointed out the problems; Jesus told them that they were part of the solution.  They were to be participants in the miracle that Jesus was going to perform.  

Can I challenge you to begin praying for your neighbors and co-workers and family members who don’t know Jesus?  Look for opportunities to feed them.  Our mission here is to connect people to Jesus and equip them to be growing and faithful followers.  In order to connect we must first have compassion, and then we must have Christ conversations with people.  

Here are some questions: How many loaves do you have?  Who are you feeding right now?  What resources do you have? How much time do you spend loafing instead of loving people?  

A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.

3. Don’t turn and leave just because the teaching is tough (see John 6).

It was a common belief back then that people would recognize the Messiah because He would be able to provide bread from heaven just like Moses did.  Jesus not only fed the 5,000 he also had a sequel and fed 4,000 another time.  The people still wanted more signs and more miracles but they couldn’t stomach (no pun intended) the words of Jesus when he declared in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry.”  In verse 58 Jesus declared: “This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”  This was a tough teaching and difficult for people to swallow (pun intended).  Don’t be like the people described in verse 66: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  Are you going to follow or will you fold because it’s just too hard?

Hudson Taylor, who started the China Inland Mission, saw God do the impossible many times.  He was persecuted and faced hopeless circumstances.  Looking back, he wrote these words: “There are three stages in any work attempted for God: Impossible, Difficult, Done.”  If you’re facing something impossible right now, be encouraged.  It may just be stage one of a mighty miracle God is about to perform.

A little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.

4. When we serve Jesus we will be more than satisfied.

The disciples who thought they didn’t have enough had more than enough.  They had more after giving away what little they had.  Jesus gives us much more than we need when we give our all to Him.  Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  If you want to be fulfilled, then follow Jesus.  God always gives more because He is a giving God.   I love what John Piper says: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.   Question.  Is the Savior your satisfaction today?

5. Surrender to the Savior. 

Jesus does some miracles because of people’s faith.  He did this one to cause people to have faith.  Jesus asks, “How many loaves do you have?”  There’s another question from Christ inherent in this one: “How much of your life do I have?  That’s really what I want.  Surrender to me today.”

In John 6 we read that the disciples went looking for the Lord later on because they wanted more food.  They kind of liked the free bread from heaven deal.  Jesus told them not to focus on food but on eternal life.  They then ask what it is that they are supposed to do so they can experience the works of God.  I love the answer Jesus gives in verse 29: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”

I don’t know where you’re at today but if you’ve never put your faith in Jesus for forgiveness of sins, it’s time to believe and be saved.  If you’re saved, then make sure you’ve surrendered fully to the Savior.  And then make sure you share what you have for a little is always a lot in the hands of the Lord.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?