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The Life of Christ

The Gifts of God

 

Volume 21

 

This volume is based on:-

Matthew 14:13-33; Mark 6:32-52; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-21.

It is recommended that you read these verses before you read the book.

 

You may freely copy this book as you desire.

The language of the Scripture quotes has been modernised for easier understanding.


 

"Give You Them to Eat"

Christ had retired to a secluded place with His disciples, but this rare season of peaceful quietude was soon broken.

The disciples thought they had retired where they would not be disturbed; but as soon as the multitude missed the divine Teacher, they inquired, "Where is He?" Because some among them had noticed the direction in which Christ and His disciples had gone many went by land to meet them, while others followed in their boats across the water.

The Passover was at hand, and, from far and near, bands of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem gathered to see Jesus. Additions were made to their number, until there were assembled five thousand men besides women and children. Before Christ even reached the shore, a multitude were waiting for Him. But He landed unobserved by them, and spent a little time apart with the disciples.

A practical God

From the hillside He looked upon the moving multitude, and His heart was stirred with sympathy. Interrupted as He was, and robbed of His rest, He was not impatient. He saw a greater necessity demanding His attention as He watched the people coming and still coming. He "was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd." Leaving His retreat, He found a convenient place where He could minister to them. They received no help from the priests and rulers; but the healing waters of life flowed from Christ as He taught the multitude the way of salvation.

A day of healing

The people listened to the words of mercy flowing so freely from the lips of the Son of God. They heard the gracious words, so simple and so plain that they were as the balm of Gilead to their souls. The healing of His divine hand brought gladness and life to the dying, and ease and health to those suffering with disease.

The day seemed to them like heaven upon earth, and they were utterly unconscious of how long it had been since they had eaten anything. At length the day was far spent. The sun was sinking in the west, and yet the people lingered.

Jesus had laboured all day without food or rest. He was pale from weariness and hunger, and the disciples besought Him to cease from His toil. But He could not withdraw Himself from the multitude that pressed upon Him.

Receive to give

The disciples finally came to Him, urging that for their own sake the people should be sent away. Many had come from far, and had eaten nothing since morning. In the surrounding towns and villages they might be able to buy food. But Jesus said, "Give you them to eat," and then, turning to Philip, questioned, "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" This He said to test the faith of the disciple.

Philip looked over the sea of heads, and thought how impossible it would be to provide food to satisfy the wants of such a crowd. He answered that two hundred pennyworth of bread would not be nearly enough to divide among them, so that each might have a little.

Jesus inquired how much food could be found among the company. "There is a lad here," said Andrew, "which has five barley loaves, and two small fishes; but what are they among so many?" Jesus directed that these be brought to Him. Then He bade the disciples seat the people on the grass in parties of fifty or a hundred, to preserve order, and that all might witness what He was about to do.

The effect of faith

When this was accomplished, Jesus took the food, "and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and broke, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude."

"And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes."

Their personal comfort

He who taught the people the way to secure peace and happiness was just as thoughtful of their earthly necessities as of their spiritual need. The people were weary and faint. There were mothers with babes in their arms, and little children clinging to their skirts. Many had been standing for hours. They had been so intensely interested in Christ's words that they had not once thought of sitting down, and the crowd was so great that there was danger of their trampling on one another.

Jesus would give them a chance to rest, and He bade them sit down. There was much grass in the place, and all could rest in comfort.

The purpose of miracles

Christ never worked a miracle except to supply a genuine necessity, and every miracle was of a character to lead the people to the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:2.

The simple food passed round by the hands of the disciples contained a whole treasure of lessons. It was humble fare that had been provided; the fishes and barley loaves were the daily food of the fisher folk about the Sea of Galilee. Christ could have spread before the people a rich feast, but food prepared merely for the gratification of appetite would have conveyed no lesson for their good.

Christ taught them in this lesson that the natural provisions of God for man had been perverted. And never did people enjoy the luxurious feasts prepared for the gratification of perverted taste as this people enjoyed the rest and the simple food which Christ provided so far from human habitations.

Simple is best

If men today were simple in their habits, living in harmony with nature's laws, as did Adam and Eve in the beginning, there would be an abundant supply for the needs of the human family. There would be fewer imaginary wants, and more opportunities to work in God's ways.

But selfishness and the indulgence of unnatural taste have brought sin and misery into the world, from excess on the one hand, and from want on the other.

Jesus did not seek to attract the people to Him by gratifying their desire for luxury. To that great throng, weary and hungry after the long, exciting day, the simple fare was an assurance not only of His power, but of His tender care for them in the common needs of life.

The Saviour has not promised His followers the luxuries of the world; their fare may be plain, and even scanty; their lot may be shut in by poverty; but His word is pledged that their need shall be supplied, and He has promised that which is far better than worldly good, - the abiding comfort of His own presence.

Everyday miracles

In feeding the five thousand, Jesus lifts the veil from the world of nature, and reveals the power that is constantly exercised for our good.

In the production of earth's harvests God is working a miracle every day. Through natural agencies the same work is accomplished that was wrought in the feeding of the multitude. Men prepare the soil and sow the seed, but it is the life from God that causes the seed to germinate. It is God's rain and air and sunshine that cause it to put forth, "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." Mark 4:28. It is God who is every day feeding millions from earth's harvest fields.

Men and women are called upon to co-operate with God in the care of the grain and the preparation of the loaf, and because of this they lose sight of the divine agency. They do not give God the glory due to His holy name. The working of His power is ascribed to natural causes or to human instrumentality. Man is glorified in place of God, and His gracious gifts are perverted to selfish uses, and made a curse instead of a blessing.

God is seeking to change all this. He desires that our dull senses shall be quickened to discern His merciful kindness and to glorify Him for the working of His power. He desires us to recognise Him in His gifts, that they may be, as He intended, a blessing to us. It was to accomplish this purpose that the miracles of Christ were performed.

The leftovers

After the multitude had been fed, there was an abundance of food left. But He who had all the resources of infinite power at His command said, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost." These words meant more than putting the bread into the baskets.

The lesson was twofold.

Nothing is to be wasted. We are to let slip no earthly advantage. We should neglect nothing that will tend to benefit a human being. Let everything be gathered up that will relieve the necessity of earth's hungry ones.

And there should be the same carefulness in spiritual things.

When the baskets of fragments were collected, the people thought of their friends at home. They wanted them to share in the bread that Christ had blessed. The contents of the baskets were distributed among the eager throng, and were carried away into all the region round about.

So those who were at the feast were to give to others the bread that comes down from heaven, to satisfy the hunger of the soul. They were to repeat what they had learned of the wonderful things of God. Nothing was to be lost.

Not one word that concerned their eternal salvation was to fall useless to the ground.

The lesson

The miracle of the loaves teaches a lesson of dependence upon God. When Christ fed the five thousand, the food was not near at hand. Apparently He had no means at His command.

Here He was, with five thousand men, besides women and children, in the wilderness. He had not invited the large multitude to follow Him; they came without invitation or command; but He knew that after they had listened so long to His instruction, they would feel hungry and faint; for as the Son of man He was one with them in their need of food.

They were far from home, and the night was close at hand. Many of them were without means to purchase food. He who for their sake had fasted forty days in the wilderness would not suffer them to return fasting to their homes.

The providence of God had placed Jesus where He was; and He depended on His heavenly Father for the means to relieve the necessity.

And when we are brought into difficult places, we are to depend on God.

We are to exercise wisdom and judgment in every action of life, that we may not, by reckless movements, place ourselves in trial. We are not to plunge into difficulties, neglecting the means God has provided, and misusing the faculties He has given us. If we do this, the promise is sure.

Obedience is protection

Christ's workers are to obey His instructions implicitly. The work is God's, and if we would bless others His plans must be followed.
Self cannot be made a centre; self can receive no honour. If we plan according to our own ideas, the Lord will leave us to our own mistakes.

But when, after following His directions, we are brought into difficult places, He will deliver us.

We are not to give up in discouragement, but in every emergency we are to seek help from Him who has infinite resources at His command. Often we shall be surrounded with trying circumstances, and then, in the fullest confidence, we must depend upon God. He will keep every soul that is brought into perplexity through trying to keep the way of the Lord.

Practical Christianity

Christ has bidden us, through the prophet, "Deal your bread to the hungry," and, "satisfy the afflicted soul;" "when you see the naked, that you cover him," and "bring the poor that are cast out to your house." Isaiah 58:7-10. He has bidden us, "Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15. But how often our hearts sink, and faith fails us, as we see how great is the need, and how small the means in our hands.

Like Andrew looking upon the five barley loaves and the two little fishes, we exclaim, "What are they among so many?" Often we hesitate, unwilling to give all that we have, fearing to spend and to be spent for others. But Jesus has bidden us, "Give you them to eat."

His command is a promise; and behind it is the same power that fed the multitude beside the sea.

Receive to give

In Christ's act of supplying the earthly necessities of a hungry multitude is wrapped up a deep spiritual lesson for all His workers. Christ received from the Father; He imparted to the disciples; they imparted to the multitude; and the people to one another. So all who are united to Christ will receive from Him the bread of life, the heavenly food, and impart it to others.

In full reliance upon God, Jesus took the small store of loaves; and although there was but a small portion for His own family of disciples, He did not invite them to eat, but began to distribute to them, bidding them serve the people. The food multiplied in His hands; and the hands of the disciples, reaching out to Christ Himself the Bread of Life, were never empty. The little store was sufficient for all. After the wants of the people had been supplied, the fragments were gathered up, and Christ and His disciples ate together of the precious, Heaven-supplied food.

Our purpose

The disciples were the channel of communication between Christ and the people. This should be a great encouragement to His disciples today. Christ is the great centre, the source of all strength. We, as His disciples, are to receive our daily supplies from Him. The most intelligent, the most spiritually minded among us can bestow only as they receive.

Of ourselves we can supply nothing for the needs of the soul. We can impart only that which we receive from Christ; and we can receive only as we impart to others. As we continue imparting, we continue to receive; and the more we impart, the more we shall receive.

Thus we may be constantly believing, trusting, receiving, and imparting.

The work of building up the kingdom of Christ will go forward, though to all appearance it moves slowly and impossibilities seem to testify against advance. The work is of God, and He will furnish means, and will send helpers, true, earnest disciples, whose hands also will be filled with food for the starving multitude. God is not unmindful of those who labour in love to give the word of life to perishing souls, who in their turn reach forth their hands for food for other hungry souls.

Relying on others

In our work for God there is danger of relying too largely upon what we with our talents and ability can do. Thus we lose sight of the one Master Worker.

Too often, we, as workers for Christ fail to realise our personal responsibility. We are in danger of shifting our burden upon organisations, instead of relying upon Him who is the source of all strength.

It is a great mistake to trust in human wisdom or numbers in the work of God. Successful work for Christ depends not so much on numbers or talent as upon pureness of purpose, the true simplicity of earnest, dependent faith.

Personal responsibilities must be borne, personal duties must be taken up, personal efforts must be made for those who do not know Christ. In the place of shifting your responsibility upon someone whom you think more richly endowed than you are, work according to your ability.

When the question comes home to your heart, "Where shall we buy bread [or spiritual food], that these may eat?" let not your answer be the response of unbelief. When the disciples heard the Saviour's direction, "Give you them to eat," all the difficulties arose in their minds. They questioned, Shall we go away into the villages to buy food?

Let us work

So now, when the people are destitute of the bread of life, the Lord's children question, Shall we send for someone from afar, to come and feed them? But what said Christ? "Make the men sit down," and He fed them there. So when you are surrounded by souls in need, know that Christ is there. Commune with Him. Bring your "barley loaves" to Jesus.

The means in our possession may not seem to be sufficient for the work; but if we will move forward in faith, believing in the all-sufficient power of God, abundant resources will open before us. If the work be of God, He Himself will provide the means for its accomplishment. He will reward honest, simple reliance upon Him. The little that is wisely and economically used in the service of the Lord of heaven will increase in the very act of imparting.

In the hand of Christ the small supply of food remained undiminished until the famished multitude were satisfied.

If we go to the Source of all strength, with our hands of faith outstretched to receive, we shall be sustained in our work, even under the most forbidding circumstances, and shall be enabled to give to others the bread of life.

The Lord says, "Give, and it shall be given to you." Luke 6:38.

"He that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that sows with blessings shall reap also with blessings....

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you; that you, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work; as it is written, —

"He has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor: His righteousness abides forever.

"And He that supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: you being enriched in everything to all liberality, which works through us thanksgiving to God." 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, R. V., margin.

A lesson on the lake

Seated upon the grassy plain, in the twilight of the spring evening, the people ate of the food that Christ had provided. The words they had heard that day had come to them as the voice of God. The works of healing they had witnessed were such as only divine power could perform.

But the miracle of the loaves appealed to everyone in that vast multitude. All were sharers in its benefit.

In the days of Moses, God had fed Israel with manna in the desert; and who was this that had fed them that day but He whom Moses had foretold? No human power could create from five barley loaves and two small fishes food sufficient to feed thousands of hungry people. And they said one to another, "This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world."

All day the conviction has strengthened.

That crowning act is assurance that the long-looked-for Deliverer is among them. The hopes of the people rise higher and higher.

This is He who will make Judea an earthly paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey. He can satisfy every desire. He can break the power of the hated Romans. He can deliver Judah and Jerusalem. He can heal the soldiers who are wounded in battle. He can supply whole armies with food. He can conquer the nations, and give to Israel the long-sought dominion.

The King!

In their enthusiasm the people are ready at once to crown Him king. They see that He makes no effort to attract attention or secure honour to Himself. In this He is essentially different from the priests and rulers, and they fear that He will never urge His claim to David's throne.

Consulting together, they agreed to take Him by force, and proclaim Him the king of Israel.

The disciples united with the multitude in declaring the throne of David the rightful inheritance of their Master. It is the modesty of Christ, they said, that causes Him to refuse such honour. Let the people exalt their Deliverer. Let the arrogant priests and rulers be forced to honour Him who comes clothed with the authority of God.

A wrong move

They eagerly arrange to carry out their purpose; but Jesus sees what is going on, and understands, as they cannot, what would be the result of such a movement. Even now the priests and rulers are hunting His life. They accuse Him of drawing the people away from them. Violence and insurrection would follow an effort to place Him on the throne, and the work of the spiritual kingdom would be hindered. Without delay the movement must be checked. Calling His disciples, Jesus bids them take the boat and return at once to Capernaum, leaving Him to dismiss the people.

Jesus knows best

Never before had a command from Christ seemed so impossible of fulfilment. The disciples had long hoped for a popular movement to place Jesus on the throne; they could not endure the thought that all this enthusiasm should come to nothing. The multitudes that were assembling to keep the Passover were anxious to see the new prophet.

To His followers this seemed the golden opportunity to establish their beloved Master on the throne of Israel.

In the glow of this new ambition it was hard for them to go away by themselves, and leave Jesus alone upon that desolate shore. They protested against the arrangement; but Jesus now spoke with an authority He had never before assumed toward them. They knew that further opposition on their part would be useless, and in silence they turned toward the sea.

Jesus now commands the multitude to disperse; and His manner is so decisive that they dare not disobey. The words of praise and exaltation die on their lips. In the very act of advancing to seize Him their steps are stayed, and the glad, eager look fades from their countenances. In that throng are men of strong mind and firm determination; but the kingly bearing of Jesus, and His few quiet words of command, quell the tumult, and frustrate their designs. They recognise in Him a power above all earthly authority, and without a question they submit.

A need for prayer

When left alone, Jesus "went up into a mountain apart to pray." For hours He continued pleading with God. Not for Himself but for men were those prayers. He prayed for power to reveal to men the divine character of His mission, that Satan might not blind their understanding and pervert their judgment.

The Saviour knew that His days of personal ministry on earth were nearly ended, and that few would receive Him as their Redeemer.

In travail and conflict of soul He prayed for His disciples. They were to be grievously tried. Their long-cherished hopes, based on a popular delusion, were to be disappointed in a most painful and humiliating manner. In the place of His exaltation to the throne of David they were to witness His crucifixion.

This was to be indeed His true coronation.

But they did not discern this, and in consequence strong temptations would come to them, which it would be difficult for them to recognise as temptations.

Without the Holy Spirit to enlighten the mind and enlarge the comprehension the faith of the disciples would fail. It was painful to Jesus that their conceptions of His kingdom were, to so great a degree, limited to worldly elevation and honour. For them the burden was heavy upon His heart, and He poured out His supplications with bitter agony and tears.

Reluctant obedience

The disciples had not put off immediately from the land, as Jesus directed them. They waited for a time, hoping that He would come to them. But as they saw that darkness was fast gathering, they "entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum." They had left Jesus with dissatisfied hearts, more impatient with Him than ever before since acknowledging Him as their Lord.

They murmured because they had not been permitted to proclaim Him king. They blamed themselves for yielding so readily to His command. They reasoned that if they had been more persistent they might have accomplished their purpose.

Unbelief was taking possession of their minds and hearts.

Self-imposed darkness

Love of honour had blinded them. They knew that Jesus was hated by the Pharisees, and they were eager to see Him exalted as they thought He should be.

To be united with a teacher who could work mighty miracles, and yet to be reviled as deceivers, was a trial they could ill endure.

Were they always to be accounted followers of a false prophet?

Would Christ never assert His authority as king?

Why did not He who possessed such power reveal Himself in His true character, and make their way less painful?

Why had He not saved John the Baptist from a violent death?

Thus the disciples reasoned until they brought upon themselves great spiritual darkness. They questioned, Could Jesus be an impostor, as the Pharisees asserted?

So quickly forgotten!

The disciples had that day witnessed the wonderful works of Christ. It had seemed that heaven had come down to the earth. The memory of that precious, glorious day should have filled them with faith and hope. Had they, out of the abundance of their hearts, been conversing together in regard to these things, they would not have entered into temptation.

But their disappointment had absorbed their thoughts.

The words of Christ, "Gather up the fragments,... that nothing be lost," were unheeded. Those were hours of large blessing to the disciples, but they had forgotten it all. They were in the midst of troubled waters. Their thoughts were stormy and unreasonable, and the Lord gave them something else to afflict their souls and occupy their minds.

God often has to allow this when men and women create burdens and troubles for themselves. But the disciples had no need to make trouble. Already danger was fast approaching, for Satan is quick to take advantage of our moods.

Self-help

A violent tempest had been stealing upon them, and they were unprepared for it. It was a sudden contrast, for the day had been perfect; and when the gale struck them, they were afraid.

They forgot their disaffection, their unbelief, their impatience. Everyone worked to keep the boat from sinking.

It was but a short distance by sea from Bethsaida to the point where they expected to meet Jesus, and in ordinary weather the journey required but a few hours; but now they were driven farther and farther from the point they sought. Until the fourth watch of the night they toiled at the oars. Then the weary men gave themselves up for lost.

In storm and darkness the sea had taught them their own helplessness, and they longed for the presence of their Master.

Jesus was watching

Jesus had not forgotten them. The Watcher on the shore saw those fear-stricken men battling with the tempest. Not for a moment did He lose sight of His disciples but He had to wait for them to be ready. With deepest solicitude His eyes followed the storm-tossed boat with its precious burden; for these men were to be the light of the world. As a mother in tender love watches her child, so the compassionate Master watched His disciples.

When their hearts were subdued, their unholy ambition quelled, and in humility they prayed for help, it was given them.

Another miracle

At the moment when they believed themselves lost, a gleam of light revealed a mysterious figure approaching them upon the water. But they knew not that it was Jesus. The One who had come for their help they counted as an enemy. (See Genesis 32:24-32 for another example).

Terror overpowers them. The hands that have grasped the oars with muscles like iron let go their hold. The boat rocks at the will of the waves; all eyes are riveted on this vision of a man walking upon the white-capped billows of the foaming sea.

They think it a phantom that omens their destruction, and they cry out for fear.

He must be asked

Jesus advanced as if He would pass them; but they recognised Him, and cried out, entreating His help. Their beloved Master turned, His voice silenced their fear, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid."

As soon as they could credit the wondrous fact, Peter was almost beside himself with joy. As if he could scarcely yet believe, he cried out, "Lord, if it be You, bid me come to You on the water. And He said, Come."

Pride causes a fall

Looking to Jesus, Peter walks securely; but as in self-satisfaction he glances back toward his companions in the boat, his eyes are turned from the Saviour. The wind is boisterous. The waves roll high, and come directly between him and the Master; and he is afraid. For a moment Christ is hidden from his view, and his faith gives way. He begins to sink.

But while the billows talk with death, Peter lifts his eyes from the angry waters, and fixing them upon Jesus, cries, "Lord, save me." Immediately Jesus grasps the outstretched hand, saying, "O you of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?"

Walking side by side, Peter's hand in that of his Master, they stepped into the boat together. But Peter was now subdued and silent.

He had no reason to boast over his fellows, for through unbelief and self-exaltation he had very nearly lost his life. When he turned his eyes from Jesus, his footing was lost, and he sank amid the waves.

We are so like that!

When trouble comes upon us, how often we are like Peter! We look upon the waves, instead of keeping our eyes fixed upon the Saviour.

Our footsteps slide, and the proud waters go over our souls. Jesus did not bid Peter come to Him that he should perish; He does not call us to follow Him, and then forsake us.

"Fear not," He says; "for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour." Isaiah 43:1-3.

The purpose behind the experience

Jesus read the character of each of His disciples. He knew how sorely their faith was to be tried. In this incident on the sea He desired to reveal to Peter his own weakness, - to show that his safety was in constant dependence upon divine power.

Amid the storms of temptation he could walk safely only as in utter self-distrust he should rely upon the Saviour.

It was on the point where he thought himself strong that Peter was weak; and not until he discerned his weakness could he realise his need of dependence upon Christ.

Had he learned the lesson that Jesus sought to teach him in that experience on the sea, he would not have failed when the great test came upon him at Jesus’ trial.

So we are taught

Day by day God instructs His children. By the circumstances of the daily life He is preparing us to act our part upon that wider stage to which His providence has appointed us. It is the result of the daily test that determines our victory or defeat in life's great crisis.

Those who fail to realise their constant dependence upon God will be overcome by temptation. We may now suppose that our feet stand secure, and that we shall never be moved. We may say with confidence, "I know in whom I have believed; nothing can shake my faith in God and in His word." But Satan is planning to take advantage of our hereditary and cultivated traits of character, and to blind our eyes to our own necessities and defects. Only through realising our own weakness and looking steadfastly to Jesus can we walk securely.

Salvation is quick

No sooner had Jesus taken His place in the boat than the wind ceased, "and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went." The night of horror was succeeded by the light of dawn. The disciples, and others who also were on board, bowed at the feet of Jesus with thankful hearts, saying, "Of a truth You are the Son of God!"

oooOooo

 

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