Little Is Much When God Is In It!
A LOOK AT THE MAKING OF A MIRACLE
There is great and comforting truth in the statement, “Little is much when God is in it.” How could we think it to be otherwise if the Sovereign of the universe has taken up our cause? Conversely, of course, much is little if God is not in it. Wealth is no mark of God’s favor; poverty is no mark of God’s displeasure. If God is not in a man’s wealth, he is poverty-stricken. If God is in a man’s poverty, he is immensely wealthy. Matthew Henry, that great and pious believer, gave a timely word of warning concerning those too much enamored by material wealth. Said he, “There is a burden of care in getting riches, fear in keeping them, temptation in using them, sorrow in losing them, and a burden of account at last to be given concerning them.”
My mother and stepfather live on a fixed income – a small pension and Social Security. And yet many times I have heard my godly mother say, “Somehow the money always goes far enough. We give first to the Lord, pay the bills and have enough left over to get the things we need – and even some things we don’t need. It is as though God blesses our little and makes it much.”
Contrast that to the words of the Prophet Haggai who had to rebuke his people for seeking riches while ignoring the reconstruction of the Lord’s house. He declared, “Now, therefore, thus saith the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe yourselves, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes” (Hag. 1:5-6).
The miraculous feeding of five thousand men plus women and children is a clear and spectacular reminder that little is much when God is in it. The real purpose of the miracle, however, was not in the feeding of the multitude – they were in no danger – but in the truth the Lord was teaching His disciples.
The Theological Setting
The time had come – their training was far enough along. The Lord was ready to send His disciples out on their first preaching journey. They must have felt the twin emotions of anticipation and fear. Final instructions had to be given (Mt 10:1-42; Mk 6:7-13). Although they were to be evangelistic they were not being sent forth to proclaim the message of the new birth through faith in Christ. Their particular moment in history was unique, and the message was forged to meet the need of that hour. The message was clear and concise. The Lord commanded His disciples to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (cp. Mt. 10:7; Mk. 6:12). This was the message of John the Baptist (Mt 3:2); this was the early message of the Lord (Mt. 4:17); and this was the message He commissioned His disciples to proclaim (Mt. 10:7). To identify that message as being synonymous with the gospel message of this age is to wrongly divide the word of truth – confuse Israel and the Church and repentance under law with regeneration under grace.
No one had to explain to a first-century Jew the significance of a message that called for repentance if the kingdom of heaven was to be established in their midst. It was grievous sin on the part of the nation which had driven the divine presence from the Temple at Jerusalem in the Old Testament (Ezek. 10-11). That was the single worst thing that had ever befallen the nation. It would be repentance of sin which would allow the presence of God to return to the nation. The kingdom was at hand in that our Lord was sent from Heaven. And had the nation of Israel repented, He would have established the promised messianic age and glorious Kingdom of God on earth.
It is important to note that there was a prohibition on the disciples’ “evangelistic crusade.” They were forbidden to go to the Gentiles – but there is no such exclusion for the gospel in this age. There was an imperative to their ministry. They were commanded to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10:5-6). Canadians don’t vote for American presidents, Mexicans do not participate in the American political process. American citizens do. Jesus was Jewish. He came to be the King of the Jews. They had to repent if that kingdom was to be established. The message was not, “Ye must be born again” (Jn. 3:7) but, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is impossible to rightly interpret that as the gospel for this age. Jesus had not suffered and died; He had not been raised; the Spirit of God had not descended at Pentecost; the Church had not begun; and the disciples had no understanding of Church truth. In Matthew 16, considerably later in time, the Lord began to tell His disciples that He would be rejected, crucified and raised. But Peter and the disciples had no comprehension of those facts (Mt. 16:21 -23). If they did not understand events surrounding His death in Matthew 16, it is impossible to conclude that they were proclaiming that message in Matthew 10. Rather, this was clearly a message to the Jewish nation to repent of their sin so that the kingdom could be established. In no way does this infringe on the fact that Jesus was “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). In the sovereign wisdom of God, the kingdom offer would be rejected and Jesus would die.
It is right here that we come face to face with what is sometimes referred to as the “law of double reference.” Clearly the kingdom message which the disciples proclaimed in the first century was rejected. The inspired writers often spoke of current events of their day, and they went beyond the immediate context to address the same issue at the end of the age (see Dan. 11:21-45). Therefore, in the Tribulation period, a remnant of godly Jews will preach the same message immediately prior to the second coming of the Lord Jesus and His establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. Their message will be, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus said to Israel at His first coming, because they rejected Him, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 23:39).
The Historical Setting
In the 12th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord is brought into direct conflict with the Jewish leaders of that day. That conflict had reached such a severe impasse that the Pharisees proclaimed, “This fellow doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub, the prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). So fierce was the confrontation, so stymied were the Pharisees that, with no logical way out except trusting in Jesus – a position which they refused to take – they instead chose to attribute the physical miracles of Christ to the power of Satan. They had seen His works; they knew they were accomplished by the Holy Spirit of God. But their hardened hearts and darkened minds would not accept it, and so they credited the Holy Spirit’s work to the power of Satan.
This, then, was the unpardonable sin. It evidenced what the attitude of the leadership of the nation was toward His call for national repentance and the establishment of Heaven’s rule on earth.
In chapter 13, the Lord spoke in parables. He used seven earthly stories as a vehicle to communicate spiritual truth concerning the mystery form of the kingdom – that is, what it would be like here on the earth when Christ would not be physically present. This was the direct result of the fact that the nation would not repent and the kingdom would not at that time be established. The mystery form of the kingdom then deals with the course of this age, while the King is not physically present.
The 14th chapter of Matthew opens with the description of the beheading of John the Baptist (vv. 1-12). The implications of this event at this place in Matthew’s narrative are of tremendous significance. John the Baptist was the friend of the Bridegroom (i.e., Christ). He was the herald or forerunner of the Messiah. It was John who proclaimed, “He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for he was before me” (Jn. 1:15). John was, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and- the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it” (Isa. 40:3-5).
Because the nation did not repent, the glory would not be revealed at that time. The rejection, imprisonment and beheading of John the Baptist was “the handwriting on the wall.” They rejected the herald of the King – the King would also be rejected.
In due course, the apostles returned from their evangelistic crusade, “gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught” (Mk. 6:30). The Lord said to them, “Come aside into a desert place, and rest a while… And they departed into a desert place by boat secretly” (Mk. 6:31-32).
The Physical Provision
Getting away from the multitude at Capernaum was no easy thing. The Lord realized that the disciples were tired, and so He took them by boat probably across the northern part of the Sea of Galilee to the eastern side, there to have rest and fellowship. Solitude, however, would not be theirs. “And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot out of all cities, and went before them, and came together unto him” (Mk. 6:33). From the shore, the multitude could see the direction of the boat, and, running around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, they arrived on foot at the destination of the boat. Their persistence was rewarded. We are told, he began to teach them many things” (Mk. 6:34).
But, “when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed. Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat” (Mk 6:35-36). “He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat” (Mk, 6:37). The disciples responded, All we’ve got are five loaves and two fishes. One can almost hear their doubt, hesitancy, questioning of His command – a lot of people, so little food, hardly a sufficient amount to feed five thousand men plus women and children. Nonetheless, the Lord asked the multitude to sit down, blessed the five loaves and two fishes and asked the disciples to dispense it. Somehow, inexplicably, as they distributed the bread and fish, it did not run out. Each piece disbursed was replaced. Can you imagine witnessing that scene? What a dramatic spectacle! The One who fed a nation in the wilderness was now feeding a multitude on a hillside, but the purpose was not so much to feed the multitude as to instruct the disciples.
The Spiritual Truth
When the Lord began the sequence of events recorded in Matthew 10 through 14 by sending forth His disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom, they were commanded to take “no scrip [a small bag], no bread, no money” (Mk. 6:8). The reason is clear: Those who responded in faith to the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” would realize that these men were the messengers of the King and would themselves, therefore, provide for their needs. It is obvious, and were there space it would be here developed, that the Lord’s command to His disciples went far beyond the first-century events. The description in Matthew 10 makes that patently clear. It is the very same message that a faithful remnant will proclaim during the Tribulation period immediately prior to the return of the Lord: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And during those days, because this godly remnant of Jewish witnesses will not bow to the Antichrist and receive his mark, they will not be able to buy or sell (Rev. 13:1). Therefore, those who care for these messengers and who, in spite of personal risk, feed them, clothe them, shelter them, will by those works evidence their genuine repentance.
It is significant that immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples began to return to Capernaum by ship. A storm arose, and sometime between 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the morning “Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea” (Mt: 14:25). Peter – well-intentioned, wonderful, impetuous Peter – said, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Mt. 14:28). The Lord invited Peter to walk on the water, “But when the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying. Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, 0 thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?” (Mt 14:30-31).
“Why didst thou doubt?” That’s getting to the heart of the issue. It is the major point, the overriding lesson, the truth to be conveyed. The disciples were commanded to go forth with no temporal provision but with total abandoned faith in the word of their sovereign Lord. They were to take no scrip, no bread, no gold. They returned from their journey only partially successful because of an inadequate faith. In an ultimate sense, the Lord fed the multitude to teach them to trust Him, to underscore His ability to provide all of their needs.
There will come a future day when a courageous band of Jewish disciples in the midst of the Tribulation, when multitudes are following the Antichrist, will proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They will have nothing but faith in God’s Word and His omnipotent power. And as God fed the multitude with five loaves and two fishes, so He will feed His own in that future age.
Today, in this New Testament economy, we are not commanded to take no scrip, no bread, no money. But there is a principle that has not changed. We are to trust our sovereign Lord, and our feet are to walk wherever His will leads, for God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s provision. He is still in the business of providing for His own. It’s a principle the child of God can trust in. Little is much when God is in it.