Back in the 1800s, there was a man who lived on a small farm in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The man was perfectly happy with his quiet, simple life on the farm…that is, until he heard about what his cousin was up to. You see, his cousin had just moved to Canada to get rich by working in the oil fields. When the farmer heard this news, suddenly life on the farm didn’t seem quite as appealing. So, he sold his farm and moved up north to get rich. The records show that he sold it for $883. The buyer moved in, and one day he went out to check out some of his new land. As he was walking around one of his fields, he noticed something odd. There was a wooden board tied diagonally across one of the streams in this field. The previous owner of the farm had set up this board because some black scum had been seeping into this water that his cows were supposed to drink from; by tying this board, the scum would skim off and stay out of the water. You can probably guess what that scum was… It was oil! It turned out that the ground in Titusville had so much oil in it that it would just seep up from the ground. For the next several decades, Titusville was the home of the most millionaires per capita in the whole world, because all you had to do to be a millionaire in Titusville was…own a farm.
The first owner of that farm moved a thousand miles away to find something that was right there in his backyard. He underestimated what he had. Are we ever like that farmer? Do we have something so incredible that we hide or ignore? Jesus’ disciples did just that in the Gospel we read moments ago. Jesus didn’t, though. In the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000, we are reminded not to underestimate our Savior. Even in difficult circumstances, don’t underestimate what you have in Jesus, because he will provide for you.
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” What was this news that made Jesus want to be by himself? He and his disciples had just been told the sobering news of John the Baptist’s death. John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner and own cousin, had been beheaded at the command of King Herod. How could that not remind him of what was about to happen to him in Jerusalem? The same king who had just executed the one sent to prepare the way for him would have a hand in Jesus’ own suffering and death in the near future. So, Jesus left the crowds behind to go spend time in prayer with his Father. However, these people were not about to give up easily, and they followed him on foot around the edge of the sea and into the wilderness. I don’t know about you, but when I feel overwhelmed to the point where I just want to be alone with my own thoughts, the last thing I want to see is thousands of people running toward me and my quiet place. It makes me want to run away even farther! That’s not what we see from our Savior though.
When Jesus got off the boat and saw the crowds approaching, we don’t see him quickly running away so that he doesn’t get stuck helping them with them problems. No, we see his heart go out to them. We see him have compassion on all these people and heal them, and not just for a little while. He was stayed with them and helped them well into the evening. As it was getting later and later the disciples went up to Jesus and told him to send the crowds away. The disciples had their own good reasons for wanting to get away; we know from Mark’s telling of this same event that they had just gotten back from their “vicar” year. They had been off on their own, teaching and preaching; they must have wanted to spend some alone time at the feet of Jesus, debriefing and learning from him. There was a problem with their suggestion though: this crowd was massive, and they weren’t anywhere near a big city. They were in the middle of nowhere, literally in the wilderness! Sure, there were some villages around, but there was no way that those would have been able to provide for such a crowd. The twelve must have realized that, but that didn’t change their minds.
Jesus assured them that the crowds didn’t have to leave, and then he told them, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples didn’t think very highly of that command; it seemed ridiculous that they would be able to find enough food for all these people in such an isolated place. You can hear their stubbornness clear as day when they ignore Jesus and say, “We have here ONLY five loaves of bread and two fish!” They knew their own limitations and what they could not do, and they ignored who was with them and what they had already seen him do in their lives. Surely they would have remembered the wedding in Cana where guests were astounded because jars that once held water suddenly were full of wine. Or the multitude of blind, deaf, or crippled people whose health Jesus instantly restored to them. How could Peter, James, and John have forgotten the sight of Jairus holding his alive-again daughter? But they still didn’t trust Jesus in this moment. They still didn’t come to him for help. They underestimated their Lord.
Do those words ever describe us? Do we ever focus on what we don’t have instead of on who we do have? When the going gets tough, do we put Jesus away and try to take care of it ourselves? Or when we pray about things that seem impossible, are we just going through the motions while thinking in our hearts, “There’s no way God will do anything about this?” Forget about taking care of 5,000 hungry guests, sometimes we’re not even sure how we’ll be able to take care of our own needs. It’s not always easy to trust that God will take whatever you have and bless you through it. You might be in a season in your life where it seems like it hasn’t been easy to trust for a very long time, and you might be thinking the same words that have gone through my mind before: “So what? What’s the big deal if I doubt God’s compassion every now and then? Can you really blame me?” Please don’t fall into this trap. If we doubt that God can and will take care of our physical needs, are we really that far off from doubting that he’s taken care of our sins? Despite the circumstances of your life, don’t underestimate what you have in Jesus.
And why don’t we underestimate Jesus, even when times are tough? We don’t underestimate him because he will provide for us.
In this account alone, look at what Jesus had already done! As we touched on earlier, he had just spent the day healing the sick people in this crowd! We see him torn up inside at these people’s suffering. And we see him take action. The condition of the people they brought to Jesus did not matter. The fact that God was standing there among them was the only thing that mattered. And look at how he provided for those people.
And look at Jesus response to the disciples’ lack of faith. He doesn’t say to them, “Well, I was going to do something amazing, but since you guys don’t believe me you’re on your own.” No, he tells them that the people don’t have to go away. And he tells them to come to him with the little that they have. Now watch what he does with that. He tells the crowd to get ready for a meal, to lie down on the grass and get comfortable. Then he praises his Father in heaven for the five loaves and two fish that the disciples didn’t think would help anyone, and he then gives these same doubting disciples the food after he breaks it apart, and the disciples pass it out to the crowd. And the next thing they knew, everyone was eating to their heart’s content. Some couldn’t even finish all that they had been given, so the disciples went around and picked up the scraps. And wouldn’t you know it, there were twelve basketfuls of leftovers. I don’t know if this is exactly how it happened or not, but I can just picture each one of the twelve disciples standing there speechless, holding a basket filled with food reminding them that Jesus feeds their needs. Five thousand mouths to feed, and five loaves and two fish were more than enough in the hands of the Savior.
Despite the disciples’ lack of trust, Jesus still provided for them and all of the other people who had gathered around him that day. He took what little that they had and filled them up with more blessings than they could stomach. In the same way, despite our lack of confidence during the times where all we see is what we don’t have, Jesus still provides for us. Now, that doesn’t mean that he promises us luxury and riches. It doesn’t mean that everything that we ask for will be miraculously granted to us, but this miracle does show us that God provides. No matter what the circumstances of your life are, it is more than enough in the hands of our God. And thank God that – just like in the case of the disciples – he doesn’t provide for us based on anything we have done. For all the times that we’ve doubted how God would lead us through certain hours, days, months, or years of life, he looks at us and sees his Son. He sees the perfect confidence of our Savior who trusted in his Father’s will and power both in wilderness surrounded by hungry people and throughout the rest of his time here on earth. This perfect trust and confidence is credited to you, friends. When you approach your Lord feeling like you have nothing to offer but worries and doubts about what’s going on or what has happened or what will happen in your life, watch as your Savior leaves you standing there with a basket full of his grace, mercy, and perfect trust that now belong to you. Watch as he carries your old burdens to the cross. Watch as he allows himself to be lifted up to die as though he was the one who had failed to trust in his Father’s perfect care. When we see this, how can we not join with the apostle Paul in saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again rejoice!” These words give us a peace that surpass all circumstances.
We can confidently trust in God in every single situation. Whether you’re the picture of health or you just got some difficult news from the doctor, whether you’re planning your annual summer vacation or figuring out how you’re going to manage to pay for just the bare essentials, don’t underestimate what you have. Look at who you have. Look at Jesus. No matter how little you have right now, no matter how much you might be terrified of the future, confidently bring whatever is in your basket to your Savior. The One who used a young boy’s lunch to feed five thousand men, he will give you your daily bread too. Don’t underestimate what you have. You have more than five loaves of bread and two fish. You have more than a backyard full of oil. You have Jesus.