Tuesday, September 01, 2009

a PICNIC with a PURPOSE - part 1

Everything in the Bible is important. There is no question about that. Paul told Timothy that all scripture is inspired and it is profitable. But when something is repeated in the Bible, then you can bank on the fact that it is uniquely important. Such is the case with the well-known story of Jesus feeding the multitude of people with one little boy’s lunch. It is unique among all the miracles performed by Jesus because it is the only miracle that is mentioned by all four Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It is also important to realize that Jesus performed a miracle of feeding a multitude of thousands not once, but actually twice. The first time He did so was in a place called Bethsaida (today it is called Tabgha). This is the region that several of the disciples were from, including Philip, which will play an important part later in this story. Bethsaida literally means “house of fish” but some linguists say that in its root, the word means, “house of the boxed lunch,” which would certainly be fitting. This miracle involved 5,000 men (mostly Jewish) plus women and children being fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish, and having 12 baskets left over. This is the miracle that is recorded in all 4 gospels (the only other miracle record in all 4 gospels is the resurrection of Jesus Himself).

The sequel to this miracle happened in a totally different location known as Decapolis. Instead of 5,000 mostly Jewish men, this event involved 4,000 men who were mostly Gentile, plus women and children. In the first miracle, Jesus fed the crowd using 5 loaves and 2 fish. This second miracle was done with 7 loaves and a few fish. Instead of 12 baskets left over, as in the first instance, this time there were just 7 baskets left over. The first miracle is recorded in all four Gospels while this one is recorded only by Matthew and Mark.

As we look in more detail at the first miracle of Jesus, we will see that its being repeated in all four Gospels means that it is more than just a miraculous story. Certainly, Jesus must have been teaching His disciples something very important. I believe He was trying to show them how they (and how we) were going to do ministry after Jesus left the earth.

The setting of the story is needed to be known in order to understand the meaning of the miracle. According to Matthew, Jesus desired to be alone and went via boat to a secluded place (Mt 14:13). Why did Jesus want to be alone? We learn from Matthew’s account that He had just heard of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod (Mt 14:10-12). Now, keep in mind that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins. They had no doubt spent time much together in their childhood. John became the forerunner of Jesus who pointed to Jesus and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus had been baptized by John to start his 3 years of ministry here on earth that would lead up to his death, resurrection and ascension back to the heaven. And according to Matthew’s earlier words in the same chapter, John had not died an ordinary death. He had been beheaded by Herod and then had his decapitated head displayed on a silver platter. Hearing about this, Jesus wanted some time alone. Wouldn't you?

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