WHY Did Jesus Distribute the Loaves and Fish?
PHILIP WAS ONE of the twelve.
He may have been the apostolic administrator (i.e., the guy responsible for pre-church fellowship meals), somewhat like Judas was the accountant (John 13:29)?1
Ponder this for a moment and then step into the biblical story:
“Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward them, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for He himself knew what He would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:5-7).
Call it an impromptu exam. Rabbi Jesus offered Philip a quick faith quiz. “How are we going to feed everybody since it’s so late in the day (Mat. 14:15; Mark 6:35; Luke 9:12)?”
It’s possible Philip may have already looked over the crowd and made a few estimates in his head. “Let’s see—five thousand men plus woman and children.” “Lord—we can’t feed this kind of massive crowd with what little money we’ve in our checking account. Two hundred denarii won’t be near enough.”
Fortunately, Andrew then stepped into the scene and mentioned something about a boy’s lunch (John 6:9).
Now watch what happened next:
“Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down…’ And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted” (vv. 10-11 NKJV—emphasis mine, mb).
I’ve got to tell you that I’ve read those verses time and time again, but until just recently I had missed the import of one particular phrase, “He distributed them to the disciples…” (cf. Mat. 14:19).
Ya’ll catch that?
Jesus asked Philip a question, performed a miracle, and then got the disciple involved in the answer. Let that rattle around in your frontal lobe for a minute.
- Just how many trips did it take from Jesus to the groups of fifty and hundred (Mark 6:40) before it dawned on Philip that this was yet another sign from heaven?
- How many times did Philip reach out and grab an armful of bread before his brain kicked in and he thought, “Jesus is the One—HE’S the Messiah!”?
- How many fish delivery runs did Philip make before he finally said to himself, “I can be so dense sometimes! I’ve watched Jesus perform miracle after miracle before this occasion, and yet all I can think about now is what can’t be done!”?
“Philip was obsessed with mundane matters and therefore overwhelmed by the impossibility of the immediate problem. He knew too much arithmetic to be adventurous. The reality of the raw facts clouded his faith. He was so obsessed with the temporal predicament that he was oblivious to the transcendental possibilities that lay in Jesus’ power. He was so enthralled with common-sense calculations that he didn’t see the opportunity the situation presented. He should have said, “Lord, if You want to feed them, feed them. I’m just going to stand back and watch how You do it. I know You can do it, Lord. You made wine at Cana and fed Your children manna in the wilderness. Do it. We will tell everyone to get in line, and You just make the food.”2
You see—every trip, every delivery, every act of bread and fish distribution was designed by the Lord to remind Philip that he was looking at the crowd by sight and not by faith! Every copious load of groceries he carried to a group of hungry Jews had to have screamed into his consciousness that the Son of God was not only present, but working yet again (John 6:14-15; 20:30-31)! The man in charge of food distribution, who was asked, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”, was being trained by the Master Teacher to stop thinking about “can’t” and start thinking about “can” through Christ (cf. Phil. 4:13)!
I sometimes hear brethren say, “We’ll, we don’t have enough money…” “Our city is much too big for us to evangelize…” “Times are tough—we obviously can’t afford to support a missionary…” Really?! Really?!
If we’re not very careful, we too can parrot Philip’s sentiment about what can’t be accomplished and fail the test just like he did (cf. Jer. 17:10; Job 23:10 1 Pet. 1:6-9). Feeding everybody with the Bread from Heaven has never about banking figures or the size of our communities, but the size of our faith in the risen Lord!
Let’s stop wringing our hands over ledgers and headcounts, and let’s start delivering the Bread of Life to those around us. Let’s stop deliberating the limitations of two hundred denarii, and instead focus on the Prophet who has come into the world and how He offers, and provides, real sustenance for all (John 6:26ff)! Let’s stop stumbling over the flesh and start feeding hungry souls!
Dear Christian, are you counting heads and denarii, or are you taking the feast to the masses (Mat. 28:19-20)? Are you Philip? Think about it.
1 John McArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, 125