Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 26, 2017
10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
— Luke 9:10-17, ESV
Today we climb a mountain that can be seen from all four Gospels. It brings us up to the peak of Jesus’ popularity. It is formed by the largest crowd of Christ’s career. It features a miraculous feast which five thousand men plus women and children verified and by it they were satisfied. It even included that awesome benefit we get from our modern Thanksgiving dinners, leftovers.
The most significant leftovers from “the feeding of the five thousand” include questions which linger to this day. Was this a real miracle, or just some sleight of hand? Were the first followers of Jesus amazed by what He did, or were they part of the con? What happened to the legions of fans who listened to Jesus’ words, were healed by His hands, and had their bellies filled with the multiplied loaves and fish? Most importantly, what evidence can we pick up concerning the essential differences between committed followers of Jesus Christ and casual fans of Christianity?
The new birth that brings a person into the kingdom of God is similar to the natural birth that brings us into the world. Both have sure signs of life. You can tell when someone has been born, and you can tell when they’ve been born again. The sure sign of spiritual life is not confession, however, it is commitment.
Commitment in a true follower of Jesus Christ is instant and imperfect. It is a product of divine regeneration but honed by human will. Sometimes the flesh is as willing as the Spirit, as in Saul of Tarsus. More often, though, it ebbs and flows and slowly grows, like the life of Simon Peter, one of the principals at this present miracle. It is a miracle that shows what all committed followers of Jesus Christ have in common.
Committed followers of Jesus Christ believe in His divinity. We believe in the person of Christ, and that person is, was, and always will be Almighty God. Jesus knew what the Apostles had done on their mission trip, knew a crowd was going to follow them to Him, knew that at the end of the day there would be hungry people and the only groceries available would be five loaves and two fish. And, He new what He was going to do, because He is God. Jesus took that small sack lunch and miraculously multiplied it into a feast for twenty-thousand souls, with leftovers to boot. He did this because He is the Messiah, the Son of God, God in flesh.
The first evidence of commitment in a true follower of Jesus is not going out and doing something for God, but trusting in something God has done for you. He has come. In Christ, God has come to tell us of His kingdom, comfort us in our pain and sorrow, and meet our every true need. The first lesson in this intensive training period for the twelve was to learn to trust in Jesus. Trust Him for who He is, trust His words, trust His provisions. Then, go out and share them.
Committed followers of Jesus Christ are involved in His ministry. Twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered because twelve men had served the whole crowd. They spoke, they healed, they served food in Jesus’ name. They trusted in the person of Jesus Christ and then got busy doing His work. This is commitment from start to finish.
We’d like to think that every member of Christ’s church is a minister. But it is not true in our modern day and age. Too many church members do too little to give any evidence of being a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. But those who really receive grace from God do service for the Lord. Every committed follower of Christ is a minister publicly and privately, in ways small and great. In the kingdom of God, effort matters far more than results.
An immediate evaluation of this day of ministry revealed the largest head count ever, a whole host of happy souls. They wanted more, but what they wanted more of is not what Jesus wanted most. Jesus wanted followers. The crowd proved to be mere fans, in more ways than one.
What happened to those five thousand men, plus all of the women and children? Luke does not say precisely, but the ensuing messages of Jesus on commitment and costly discipleship certainly must have scared them away. John’s Gospel is gives more specific reasons why almost everyone scattered except the twelve. But examining the account from Luke’s pen gives us a pretty good description of the casual fan of Jesus who has never experienced new birth into the kingdom of God.
Casual fans come to Christ for temporary or worldly reasons. Some of these reasons can even be good, but none of them are the best. The good news of the kingdom of God concerns salvation and service. Most people, however, do not consider such news to be very good.
It seems on the day of this feast that some came for the health gospel, some came for the wealth gospel. Free medical care and food sounds good, and many received it, only to get sick and hungry again. Some came for the political gospel and many in the crowd tried to force Jesus to represent them as their king, depose that old tyrant Herod, and do their bidding. Some came for the excitement gospel, just longing to be part of the next big thing, whether it be a concert, a shopping center, or a church. And while the crowd craved for all of those things, Jesus gave them words about the kingdom of God, the true gospel of repentance and faith, which sadly fell on thousands and thousands of deaf ears.
It is much the same today. As a pastor and short-term missionary I have offered free health screenings and food pantries, then watch as people come in droves. Invite them to worship and Bible study, however, and few are there for the taking. To this day I hear prominent pastors preach politics instead of the gospel to their people, and the people love it so. Today our nation's largest church and many mega-churches are nothing more than crowds gathered for musical excitement and positive-thinking reinforcement. Instead of making followers they are merely entertaining fans.
To church leaders I’d like to say that if you have a flock of twelve or more genuinely committed disciples of Jesus Christ, you have found gold. You have something infinitely greater and enduring than some gymnasium or conference center filled with screaming fans of Jesus. Keep preaching the word of the kingdom of God, and the kingdom will come.
To church members everywhere I would simply like to ask a simple question. Are you a follower or a fan? I am aware of a best-selling Christian book that poses a similar question, but I have not read it. The fact that it has spawned large conferences, DVD’s, and movies makes me worry, just a little. I hope they are all good, because it raises the very question I am asking today, one with enormous consequences.
To unbelievers amongst us, I would simply beg. Take your eyes off of the televangelist, the mega-church, the health and wealth charlatans, and even the small and sincere preachers for a moment. Just take a look at Jesus. See Him teaching, healing, feeding. Receive, but don’t just receive. Believe. Gather regularly for worship, and make every day an opportunity to serve the Lord by serving others. In other words, be a follower, not a fan.
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