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Feeding the 5,000 (2): Lessons from the Lad

Tan Chee Wei, Singapore

In our previous study, we considered the gracious ways of our Lord as He taught His disciples lessons regarding their deficiencies in handling the demands of the occasion prior to the performance of the miracle. He did it by way of three actions, instructing them as to three deficiencies. We shall now consider lessons from the lad, particularly with regards to giving to the Lord.

At the outset, it is useful to observe generally that, in the life of the Lord Jesus, He always had a suitable person for the occasion. We can recall, among others, Mary who brought “an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious” (Mk 14.3), Joseph who offered “his own new tomb” (Mt 27.60), and Nicodemus who brought “an hundred pound weight” of spices (Jn 19.39). For this significant miracle, the Lord had “a lad” (Jn 6.9).

We shall approach our study by observing the attributes and attitude of the lad, followed by the aftermath of, and lessons from, the miracle.

The Attributes of the Lad

Firstly, we observe that the one for the occasion was a lad. The disciples tasked to handle the problem did not have the necessary provision. Instead, it was a young child who had what was needed to meet the need. It should encourage us that the Lord can use anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, stature and status. The Lord could raise up a young Samuel to meet the failure of an aged Eli (1 Sam 1-3), and Paul exhorted Timothy to “let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers …” (1 Tim 4.12). While we should highlight that spiritual gifts, maturity and experience are necessary for certain aspects of the work of the Lord, every believer is able to give to Him. The Lord is able to use us all, even if we are young in the faith.

Secondly, the lad was unnamed and, in all probability, unknown among the multitude. We do not read his name, and are not told of whose family or tribe he came from. But should this even matter? Surely, if the Lord could use this young, unnamed and unknown lad for this significant miracle, He can use any one of us. He does not always require a Peter, Paul, Phebe or Lydia for His work. Paul could say, regarding the calling of the Gospel:

God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen … (1 Cor 1.27-29).

We do not need to be among the ‘named’, or within the circle of the ‘well known’, before we can be used by Him.

May this challenge us that, as long as we are willing, we can be used and raised up by the Lord. May it not be the case, as in the days of Ezekiel, when the Lord “sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap” that He “found none” (Ezek 22.30).

Thirdly, the lad had very little. It was only “five barley loaves, and two small fishes” (Jn 6.9). The loaves do not refer to puffy loaves which we commonly see. Rather, these were small loaves of barley cakes, about “as thick as the thumb” (Vine). Similarly, the fishes were “two small fishes”; not like the 153 “great fishes” that Peter caught in the miraculous draught (Jn 21.11). While the size and quantity of the food are to be expected given the age and stature of the lad, they are significant in the context of the miracle. It was from his paltry possession that the multitude of around 5,000 men, as well as women and children, were fed. It demonstrates that the Lord is not only willing to use one who is young, unnamed and unknown, but He can also use one who has little. Our great God is able to use and make the small things of His people big. We can, for example, think of how God used the cry of a baby (Ex 2.6) to begin His redemption programme for His suffering people in the land of Egypt.

The Attitude of the Lad

Even though the Lord was able to use the little from the lad to meet the needs of the multitude, there would have been no miracle that day if the lad had not been willing to part with his provision. Surely Andrew would not have made known to the Lord the availability of the food if the lad had not been willing to give it. It was already praiseworthy that he was willing to give though he was young, but it was even more commendable that he was willing to give all that he had! The lad did not give some and keep back a portion for himself. True giving to the Lord should be sacrificial, and ought to cost us something. David made that clear when he said to Araunah “neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24.24).

The giving of all by the lad demonstrates that it was indeed sacrificial giving, which we ought to emulate. It would remind us of the poor widow who “threw in two mites”: although in quantity she gave much less than those who “cast in of their abundance”, she was commended by our Lord as one who “cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mk 12.42-44). Of the Corinthian believers, who gave liberally to the needs of the suffering saints in Jerusalem, it was recorded that though they were “in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2 Cor 8.2). They gave despite their poverty; they gave in spite of their affliction.

We should also note that the lad gave willingly and sacrificially to the Lord. The lad was aware of who He was giving to, and he was no doubt a “cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9.7). Therefore, true spiritual giving is that which is coupled with a cheerful and conscious realisation that what is offered is given to the Lord, and not men.

The Aftermath and Lessons

While it is important to bear in mind that we ought not to give with the hope of receiving more in return from the Lord, the lad certainly experienced that. He had five loaves and two small fishes before the Lord multiplied them. After the miracle, the multitude “were filled”, and there were “twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten” (Jn 6.12-13). Our Lord not only forgives and gives, but will give more than we give! The lad would have enjoyed at least the original quantity that he had but, in all likelihood, he would also have had more, and would have been numbered among the multitude who were filled.

We can also observe that, after the miracle, it was the Lord and not the lad who got the glory. The men, “when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did”, praised Him, and proclaimed “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” They also planned to “come and take him by force, to make him a king” (Jn 6.14-15). In contrast, we do not read of the lad being mentioned, even though he was instrumental in that which had transpired. Our motive in giving to the Lord should also be His glory. We do not give so that we will get noticed; we do not give so that we will be praised by men; we do not give so that we will be glorified. Instead, all glory should redound to our Lord Jesus, who alone deserves it all. He who receives what we give is the One who first “gave himself for our sins” (Gal 1.4), and “gave himself for me” (2.20). What a Saviour!

May God grant us a fresh appreciation concerning these practical lessons on spiritual giving. As we give our time, talents and treasures, may they be given sacrificially, and out of a willing heart. Above all, may it be impressed upon our hearts that we are giving to our blessed Lord, and that He alone deserves all the glory associated with what we have and what we give.

(To be continued …)


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