The disciples began to return to Jesus just as news of John the Baptist’s death came to Him. They had journeyed around the region of Galilee in pairs, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jesus had given them power to do the same amazing things they had watched their Master do. They were able to heal the sick from every kind of disease and cast out demons… all as a thrilling demonstration of God’s power against the devastating consequences of the Curse. When the disciples came back they told Jesus about the glorious things that happened through them on their mission trip. And yet there must have been a sadness, too. Jesus had lost His cousin and His prophet.
The Lord was training these apostles in the power and authority of God. Their proclamation throughout Galilee brought even wider publicity to the ministry of Christ. It showed the Jewish world that the message was being transferred to the disciples. The Jewish religious leaders were beginning to feel threatened…and they weren’t the only ones. King Herod began to wonder about Jesus as well. Was He John the Baptist, come back to haunt Herod for having him killed?
Everyone was wondering what Jesus would do next…would He lead a revolt? What would He do with all the influence He had wherever He went?
Jesus had a plan so completely different from what they could imagine that they could never predict His next step. He was not living according to the ways of this world, seeking powerful positions or fame. His only purpose was perfect obedience to His heavenly Father.
In the stories to come we will begin so see Jesus withdraw more and more from the crowds. He will begin to put His focus on His devoted followers. He will teach them the ways of the Kingdom, preparing them for the ministry of the Gospel that they would carry to the world after His death and resurrection.
When the disciples returned from their busy days of ministry, they were weary and tired. Yet the crowds were all around them, continuing to follow Jesus wherever He went. The Lord would often go off into quiet places for solitude with His Father in Heaven, and He began to teach His disciples to take that time away as well. At the time of our story He said to them, “‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”
So they got into the boats and went to a lonely place near the town of Bethsaida. It was on the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. As the crowds watched the direction of Jesus and his disciples in their boats, they could see where they were heading. They came out of the cities all around the sea and began to run to Bethsaida. By the time the boats landed, a crowd had already gathered. They wanted to see more of the magnificent signs as Jesus healed the sick.
The rest that Jesus was seeking would not come to Him that day. As He went ashore, He looked out on the vast crowds and was moved with a great compassion for them. They were like helpless sheep with no shepherd to guide them or protect them from the vicious wolves of their time. The religious leaders that were meant to lead them to God had failed. So Jesus welcomed them and went up a ways onto the mountain where he could speak to them. He began teaching them about the kingdom of God and then began curing those who were sick.
Evening was coming; it was the night before Passover. This was the great feast that celebrated the salvation of the Jews from the Egyptian Pharaoh thousands of years before. His twelve disciples looked out at the massive crowd and wondered what they were going to do for food. They went to Jesus and said, “‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’”
The Lord turned to Philip and asked, “‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’” Jesus did not really mean they were going to buy food for all those people. He was testing and teaching Philip.
Philip told Him, “‘Eight month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’” For you see, there were over five thousand men there, and that doesn’t include all the women and children that were with them! All in all, there were probably at least fifteen thousand people in the audience.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter spoke up, “‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’”
Jesus told his disciples to have all the people sit down and relax in groups of hundreds and fifties. Imagine all of those groups taking their seat on the grassy hill around the Lord. Then He took the five loaves and two fish in His hands, looked up towards His Father in Heaven and blessed the food, giving thanks. Then He began to break the bread, handing pieces to His disciples to give out to the people. He did the same with the fish. More and more bread and more and more fish kept coming from His hands until all the people on the hillsides had eaten their fill. Everyone who had gathered on the hillside had as much as they wanted! Imagine the time it took for our weary Lord to pass out the food. Imagine the awe of the disciples as they passed out basket after basket. How did the crowds murmur as they realized that their dinner was a miracle?
As the people finished eating, Jesus told His disciples to go out and gather up the extra food so that none would go to waste. They collected twelve basketsfull of pieces of the bread and fish.
As the people realized the magnificence of the miracle that had been done right in front of their eyes, they began to say to each other that Jesus truly was a Prophet sent from God. Jesus knew that some of them were starting to plan to take Him by force and make Him king. No wonder King Herod was nervous, if these were the rumors and plots floating around Galilee! Yet isn’t it strange that anyone would try to force another person to become a king? There were so many other choices they could have made.
It was true that Jesus was meant to be king, but His subjects were not ready for Him. They had not repented in the cities of Galilee, and their motives on the mountaintop were misguided and full of their own plans. If their hearts were right with God, they would have treated Christ like a king and sought His will.
Jesus was only willing to follow the plans of His Father, and God’s will was not the fast track of popularity and power. The road Jesus would take into the darkness of our shame and the very shadow of death would not look like the victory the people were hoping for, but it was the victory they needed.
Jesus sent the disciples across the sea in a boat and began to dismiss the crowds. Then He went by Himself to the mountain to pray. In the time of Jesus’ mourning, His response was to be poured out for others…the crowds, His disciples…But He did not neglect the First Thing…time with His Father. Can you imagine what His prayers were like? Can you imagine the joy of the Father in the company of His Son? Can you imagine the place of rest it was for Jesus to be with Him? Can you imagine that when the Father sees you, He sees His Son and loves you with an everlasting love? He is your place of rest as surely as He was for Jesus.