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From the editor: What are they among so many? (John 6.9)

J Grant

It must have been with great relief that the disciples heard the words of the Lord Jesus, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while" (Mk 6.31). They had completed the preaching tour on which the Lord had sent them two by two. The power of the message, seen in its acceptance by many and by the casting out of demons and the healing of the sick, had reached the ears of Herod. Concerned as to the identity of this teacher from Nazareth he had exclaimed, "John have I beheaded: but who is this…?" (Lk 9.9). Now the disciples had returned and gathered themselves round the Lord in order to tell Him all that had taken place, "both what they had done, and what they had taught". An opportunity to turn aside to a quiet place when they could rest and have the Lord all to themselves, where they could tell Him again all that had taken place, would be welcome.

But this was not to be. On their arrival they found that the crowd had followed them. The day was not to be theirs only, for the Lord was teaching them that serving Him demands that the interests of others take precedence over one’s own. The Lord had compassion on them and taught them through the day until the disciples became anxious. Time was passing quickly and there was no food for the multitude.

Little did they realise that they were to be put to the test. The request of the Twelve, "Send them away" (Mk 6.36), was met with the command of the Lord, "Give ye them to eat", which in turn met with the response, "Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?". When they were sent out to preach they had been instructed to take no bread and no money (Mk 6.8). They were to be entirely dependent on the Lord. This they did and they did not hunger. No record is given of how that need was met. Doubtless those who received them into their houses provided their sustenance. In that way the Lord had gone before them and prepared the way. With no bread and no money to purchase it they had never been in need.

But now this further challenge had to be faced. They should have recognised that the Lord would not have asked them to feed the multitude without being able to supply the bread, just as He had theirs. The faith they ought to have had in Him was missing. The cry of Andrew when the lad came forward with "five barley loaves, and two small fishes" - "but what are they among so many?" - revealed their failure.

How great are the lessons for us. First, in the school of Christ we are taught lessons according to our maturity. The disciples who had seen the Lord meet the need of twelve were expected to appreciate that He could feed five thousand. He leads us, and does so gently, to greater and higher ground of faith and discipleship, a faith in Him that should increase as we experience His ways with us.

Second, He is not restricted in the methods He can use. Having seen the means He has employed, the way that He has led us, does not signify that He has only one pathway for all in the same circumstances. Do not be surprised if, faced with difficulties through which you have seen Him take others, He leads you in a different way completely.

Third, when the Lord works, available resourses are never inadequate. So often today we hear this cry of despair. Our own resources and the resources of the assembly seem so inadequate that a pall of defeatism lies over the work. But this need not be! Today there are those who set about to achieve the impossible, determined what had to be done in the service of the Lord, came before Him in prayer and proved His faithfulness.

Andrew’s reply to the Lord ought to have been that they could not feed thousands with such limited resources, but He could. As He worked, how humbled must they have felt. He broke the bread and continued to break it, calmly and quietly meeting the need of every soul, and afterwards twelve basketfuls were gathered up. If the Lord lays an exercise on the heart of individuals or assemblies who look in despair on that which is available to give Him, let no-one lose heart. Never give up, saying, "What are they among so many?".


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