He is one of the many unnamed characters in the New Testament who teach us a valuable lesson about life. We know little about him – “… a lad who has five barley loaves and two fish.”
We meet this boy on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus withdrew to a mountainside, but the crowds followed. They listened carefully to Jesus’ life-changing words. As the hours elapsed, the crowd became hungry. Being fully aware of the situation and His intended response, Jesus posed a problem for the disciples. “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?”
As most of the disciples pondered the impossibility, Andrew sought out a solution. It was not much, but he did find a boy with some food. Have you ever wondered why this boy had food? Some have speculated that it was his lunch, packed by his mother before he left home. However, five loaves of bread and two fish would have made an enormous lunch for a child.
Among the poor of Judea, one loaf of bread was considered a day’s ration. Perhaps the boy followed the crowd, intending to sell the food. Like everyone else he was fascinated with Jesus; so the food remained in his pouch, unsold and uneaten. When Andrew walked through the crowd looking for food, the boy remembered his bread. He waved his hand in the air and shouted, “Over here, I have some food!”
This boy was about to learn an astounding lesson. It is the same lesson that we must all learn about our possessions. “Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also the fish as much as they wanted.”
The leftovers were gathered and packed into twelve baskets. However, we are not told what was done with the baskets. Perhaps they were given to the boy. After all, it was his food. It fits the theme of Scripture that we receive according to our giving. The boy had left that morning with a basket containing enough bread to sell for one day but returned with bread to last for nearly two weeks.
Although money is never mentioned in this story, the lesson taught provides the very foundation for our attitude about money and possessions. What we have is multiplied when it is given to Jesus. This boy willingly gave up his resources. However, we never lose anything that we give to God. Instead of losing we actually gain. God takes our gifts, multiplies them for His purposes, supplies our needs, and brings glory to His name.
Perhaps the person who was most blessed that afternoon was the boy. Not only did he experience the miraculous power of God from a front row seat, but he was also a part of the miracle. He did not have much, but it was certainly enough in the Master’s hand.
The boy exemplifies the biblical teaching about giving. The reason we fail is because we live according to a different set of economic principles.
HUMAN ECONOMIC PRINCIPLES
Principle of Impossibility (v.7)
When presented with a need, Philip responded in the typical human fashion. He calculated the cost and determined the impossibility. A “denarius” was equivalent to a day’s wage in Israel. Hewas correct; eight months pay would be insufficient to feed the crowd. We become overwhelmed with the situation because we fail to figure God into the equation.
Principle of Futility (v.9)
Andrew is to be commended because he did not wring his hands in despair. Instead, he searched through the crowd, looking for food. He found some, but note the futility in his voice, “…but what are these for so many people.”
Living by the principle of futility means that we rely upon our best efforts but ultimately resign ourselves to the inevitable truth; it is not enough to meet all our needs.
As Philip and Andrew demonstrate, living according to human economic principles is not very fulfilling.
However, the good news is that God has another system of economy. When we live according to God’s economic principles, we know that Jesus is capable of meeting our needs. The story of Jesus feeding the multitude on the far side of Galilee exposes some of the principles of God’s economic system.
DIVINE ECONOMIC PRINCIPLES
Principle of Verification: Needs are an opportunity to verify our faith (v.6).
When Jesus asked where to buy bread for the crowd, He was not seeking information. The purpose of the question was to give Philip an opportunity to verify His faith in Jesus.
Philip was likely a follower of John the Baptizer and he was familiar with Jesus. Jesus came to him and said, “Follow Me” and he did. Although it was early in Jesus’ ministry, Philip was aware that Jesus was someone special. His faith had already been stimulated.
Philip had also been with Jesus at the marriage feast when the water was turned to wine. How could he so quickly forget that Jesus had the power to provide a need?
Because of my physical limitations, there have been many times when I needed God to provide. One experience occurred nearly 30 years ago in downtown Denver. I went to a television station for a job interview. After parking the car on the street, I walked to the front of the building and immediately noticed about five or six steps to get inside. I looked around for another route but did not see one.
As I pondered my predicament, a man stopped and asked if I needed help. I accepted his offer and he lifted me up the stairs. He then asked how long I would be. Even after I told him it might take an hour, he insisted that he would wait. When I came out, he was waiting to help me down the stairs.
These are faith-building experiences. They are important because needs will arise which will test our faith. Instead of experiencing fear and frustration, we should stand up with confidence and proclaim that Jesus can take care of any need. If you have a need it is not because of a lack of faith or the result of walking out of fellowship with God. Needs are the consequence of living in a physical world with a physical body.
When you have a need, it is an opportunity to prove your trust in God. Instead of complaining about your problems, you should be sharing your faith that God is going to provide.
Principle of preparation: God is prepared to provide every need.
Why was the boy in the crowd with a basket of food? No doubt, he got caught up with curiosity and followed the multitude. The mountainside was the place to be on that particular afternoon. Perhaps he was just following some friends.
However, behind all of these more obvious reasons, the real reason the boy was there with his food is simple – because God was going to use him to meet a need! It was neither accident nor coincidence – it was the plan of God.
In Anchorage, Alaska, Alice Witte placed a long-distance call to her sister living in Idaho. Alice reversed the number, and instead of dialing area code 208 for Idaho, she dialed 802 and reached the home of a 90-year-old Vermont woman having a heart attack.
She tried to get the woman to hang up and dial 911 but she continued to plead for help. With the aid of her husband and a second phone, Alice was able to locate the woman’s address and alert paramedics. The woman had been spared because of a wrong number.
The world says coincidence, but the Christian sees the providence of God. As a woman in Vermont was having a heart attack, God was preparing another woman in Alaska to help meet her need.
God has promised to meet our every need (Philippians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 9:8,10; Matthew 6:11). He is prepared to respond to whatever need might arise in our life. The crowd on the Galilean hillside and the disciples standing at Jesus’ side did not realize that God was already prepared to meet the need of the hungry crowd.
That means that whatever you need today, God was working yesterday to provide that need. Whatever need you may have tomorrow, He is at work this very moment so that need will be met.
God will never be taken by surprise or be unprepared to help us. Even though we may not notice the boy with the basket standing at our side, he is there, waiting to be used by God.
Principle of multiplication: God multiplies what is available to meet our needs (v.13).
One bread-filled basket, carried by a young boy, is multiplied and becomes twelve baskets. God took what was available and multiplied it to meet the need. He did not take bread and feed the crowd with steak and potatoes, nor did He turn stones into bread. He used what was available and it was sufficient.
In 1977 I was finishing up my last year of seminary and our first son was born. We were living in Louisville Kentucky, far from any relatives. Our total income for that year was $3,500 of which $1,200 went for medical bills. It would take a very creative accountant to calculate how we lived and paid school expenses on the remainder of that money.
It is the same kind of math that takes a basket of bread and satisfies thousands of hungry people. Both instances were miracles, yet they were miracles of multiplication rather than creation.
That is the way God normally works in the financial realm. Perhaps you are waiting for a sack of money to fall from heaven into your lap (or for your number to come up in the lottery). However, the more usual approach is for God to take what we already have and make it sufficient.
Is your life arranged according to human economic principles or according to God’s plan of economy? Are you like Philip who lived according to the principle of impossibility or like Andrew who believed the principle of futility? The answer is to arrange your life according to the economy of God. Not only is He capable, but He is already working on your behalf.