August 7, 2011

7 Miracles in John (4): Resolving Food Shortage

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

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There are seven miracles in the Gospel of John. Each one of these miracles proves that Jesus is the Son of God and that we can believe in him and have eternal life.

The first miracle is water turned into wine. This shows us that Jesus is the Lord of all creation, He can change the basic quality of matters.

The second miracle is the healing of the royal official’s son. This miracle proves that Jesus is sovereign Lord over space and time. With one word, he transcended time and space and healed a man 30 miles away.

The third miracle gave hope to the hopeless. A man invalid for 38 years, who had lost all hope for himself, was able to get up and walk when the Lord told him, “Get up, take up your mat and walk.” This proves that Jesus is our hope in life.

Today, let us reflect on the fourth miracle – the miracle of five loaves and two fish. With five loaves and two fish, Jesus fed 5000 men; if women and children were included, the number could possibly reach 10,000 or so. It must have been a sensational occurrence during that time; that is why this miracle is recorded in all four Gospels. Providing food for 10,000 people in a remote area was indeed an enormous problem. But we discover here how Jesus is the expert on solving difficult problems.

In this incident, we see how different people tried to solve the problem with different methods. At least three methods were tried:

I. The Disciples’ Method – Let the People Solve Their Own Problem (Mark 6:35-36)

Mark 6:35-36 “By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”” This was the disciples’ approach to solving the food problem, in other words, they meant ‘let the people solve their own problem.’ Initially, we may feel that the disciples were being irresponsible and unloving, but when you think about it, you will realize that their idea was not that unreasonable. Finding food was actually their own problem, too.

After our worship service today, if you don’t have lunch to eat, let me ask you, whose problem is it? Actually, this is not an easy question to answer, because it is an issue between responsibility and grace. If you say it is the church’s problem, that the church must provide for those who have no food for lunch, are you saying that the church is not exercising love if it fails to provide for you? But let me ask you, ‘Is it the obligation of the church to provide you lunch?’ The Bible says he who does not work must not eat. Did you work? If yes, why don’t you have food to eat after working? It must be that you have a bad employer. If that is so, the church will surely help you. But if you don’t work, and want to be given free food, the church will only be harming you if it helps you. Because people who want to eat but don’t want to work are being lazy.

A story is told of a man who, as he goes to work each day, passes by a man lying on the sidewalk. He would hand the man 10 bucks every time he sees him. It was the same, year after year. One day, when he passed by, he only gave the man 5 bucks. The man became angry and questioned him, “How come you only gave me five bucks and not ten?” The man answered, “We just had our third baby and we are experiencing heavier financial responsibilities. So I can only give you 5 bucks.” The man unhappily replied, “That is your family’s problem. It’s wrong to deduct 5 bucks from me.”

We don’t know whether to laugh or to cry upon hearing this story. But there are such people in this world. We have encountered similar people in the church. A sister got sick, the church helped her, but when she received the love gift, she was not pleased and said, “How come it is such a small amount!” In her heart, she felt as if the church owes her. Brothers and sisters, the church owes no one anything. It is out of God’s grace that the church helps people; we must do our best to fulfil our own responsibilities.

The disciples told Jesus: “This is a remote place, and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” There is really nothing wrong with this, for there were no restaurants or 7-11’s in the desert, and it was already late; yet they could still leave to go find food; if they don’t leave soon the problem will become worse.

So, the disciples’ solution wasn’t exactly bad. But it was not enough. They didn’t show enough love and concern. In fact, they avoided facing the problem. The Chinese say, “Let each man mind his own yard.” This is a selfish way of handling a situation. If every man will do so, the world will be a cold place. May the Lord help us, that we will balance grace and responsibility. We have two sayings: “Offer coal on a snowy weather” and “Add flowers to an embroidery”. Both are good. But which one is better? Of course, to offer coal on a snowy weather is better, because this will add a little love into this world, it will bring warmth to this world. Let us not forget what Jesus said: We are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world.

II. Philip’s Method – The Issue of Money

Mark 6:5-7 “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”” The Bible tells us Jesus knew what he was going to do, but he asked this question to test Philip.

Christians, we will often meet 3 T’s in our life: Temptations, Trials, and Tests. Temptations come from Satan. Trials are allowed by God. In the original language, the same word was used for temptation and trial; the difference is temptation’s purpose is to defeat us, to cause us to sin, to cause us to fall away from God. However, the purpose of trial is to strengthen us, and make us love the Lord more. Tests come from God. God doesn’t tempt us, but he tests us. The Lord tests us not because he doesn’t know us, but he wants us to know ourselves more. God tested Abraham, asking him to sacrifice Isaac. Jesus tested Philip by asking him, “Where shall we buy bread for these people?” Philip’s answer or his approach is the method we often use: that is taking into account the issue of money. Someone said: “Money is not all-powerful, but without money, there are a lot of things we cannot do.” Many people, whenever they are faced with problems, will immediately think of money. That is how it was with Philip. Although this isn’t wrong, I hope we will have a correct concept of money.

“Money is the answer for everything.” This is what King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 10:19 “A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything.” Money is a good servant, but it is a most terrible master. If we know how to use money, money can truly be the answer for everything. Why did we have to use a lot of time to plan for the construction of the new church building? It was because of the issue of money. When we first got the budget proposal from the contractor, the minimum amount quoted was P 220 million; including the interiors and finishing, it would amount to P 280 million. It would be good if we would be able to stick to the budget, but often actual cost outlay would go beyond the budget, so, it would probably reach P 300 million. Of course, we know that our God is able to provide richly, but God will not just drop money from the sky. The Lord moves you to give. We do not want your burden to be too heavy, so, we tried again and again to cut down the cost by bargaining with them. We also changed the original design, hoping to cut down cost by 20-25% (about 20,000,000). If someone says: “Rev. Cheung, I will take care of P 200 million.” Then, we can immediately sign the contract. Money can be the best servant. But we must not forget, it can be a terrible master. We must not let money become our master!

In my many years in the church, I have also seen co-workers whose immediate answer to every proposed program is “Money, where is the money, do we have the money? How much money do we need? ” This is not wrong. Jesus did not censure Philip for thinking about money. But it was clear the Lord didn’t approach this problem thinking of money, because the Lord had a much better method than money. Money can solve many problems, but money isn’t everything. In ordinary situations, money can be an answer to everything, but in extreme situations, money isn’t everything. For example, in the wilderness, would money be useful? If you were in the desert and starving to death, suddenly you find a pouch full of gold, would you be happy? You are about to die of thirst and hunger, how can those gold help you, can you eat them? A popular poem says: “Money can buy you a house but not a home. It can buy you a bed but not sleep. It can buy you a clock but not time. It can buy you books but not knowledge. It can buy you blood but not life. It can buy you sex but not love. It can buy you a position but not respect. It can buy you medicine but not health.” May we have a correct concept of money. Money can be the best servant, but it not an almighty servant, only our God is almighty, He is Almighty God. Giving your problems to Him is so much better than relying on money.

III. Andrew’s Method – God and Man Cooperate

Andrew surrendered the five loaves and two fish into Jesus’ hands. Actually, this is a little funny. There were 5000 men present at that time, not including the women and children. What good were five loaves and two fish? Even Andrew himself said, “How far will they go among so many?” Andrew felt that it wasn’t much help, but why did he give them to the Lord? For example: the church needs 200 million to build the new building. But I have 200 pesos. Can P 200 build a P 200 million church? Of course not. Similarly, it was impossible to feed 10,000 people with five loaves and two fish. Yet, the fact is, Andrew succeeded. With 5 loaves and 2 fish, 10,000 people were fed, and there were even 12 basketfuls of leftovers. The 12 disciples had one basket each for take home. I call Andrew’s method `cooperation between God and man’.

1. Man must hand all resources over to God – All that Andrew had were 5 loaves and 2 fish. He didn’t keep any for himself. When he found the 5 loaves and 2 fish, he gave them all to the Lord. Although he felt these couldn’t solve the problem, still he did his best. Doing his best – this is an important matter.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The Lord wants our all, our best. When Dr. John Sung was about to leave this world, he uttered something very touching, “With regards to communication skills, I can’t compare with Rev. Chi Wen, With regards to interpersonal skills, I cannot compare with Wang Ming Dao; With regards to preaching, I cannot compare with Watchman Nee, but the Lord knows, I have done my best.” He said, “The Lord knows I have done my best.”

This is a great reminder and encouragement for us. Paul, when he was about to die, also said something like that, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Fought, finished, kept – Paul had done his best. When Jesus was on earth, he saw the widow gave her two mites. The Lord said she had given all she had. We see therefore a principle here, when we say God and man cooperates, it is not a 50-50 arrangement, not 50% from man and 50% from God to make 100%. No, it is 100% from man and 100% from God and together they complete 100%. Actually, our 100% are puny, yet the Lord wants our all. If you are lazy, and irresponsible, the Lord will not cooperate with you. You have to give your best, your all, then, you will see God’s grace and God’s power. He can help you solve your impossible situation.

2. God can use limited resources to show forth his glory – When Andrew gave the five loaves and two fish into Jesus’ hands, the Lord didn’t say, “Why so little?” The Lord knew it was all they had. Although our resources are limited, if we put them in the Lord’s hand, he can demonstrate his great power. Jesus had the people sit down, took the loaves and fish, gave thanks and broke them and the more he broke, the more they multiplied and five loaves became 5000, two fish became 200, 2000, 20,000 fish. When we give our limited resources to God, his power is made evident.

I had once shared with you the story of “57 Cents”. It is similar to the story of these five loaves and two fish. A little girl stood crying before the door of a church, the pastor saw her and asked her why she was crying. She said, “I am not able to join the Sunday School class today because there are no seats left.” The pastor saw that the little girl had an unkempt appearance and was in rags, and he immediately understood. So he took her hand and led her into the classroom and found a seat for her. That evening, the little girl recalled how she was able to join Sunday school that morning and felt very grateful. But she thought of the many children and how they couldn’t join and know the Lord Jesus, because the church was too small. So she determined in her heart to help build a bigger church. After two years, the little girl fell ill and died. Her family asked the pastor to officiate at the funeral. They found that she had a small purse which contained a note. On it the little girl had written: “This is for the Lord, to expand our small church, so that more children can come to church and know and worship the Lord Jesus!”

Inside the purse were 57 cents. The little girl had been saving them for two years. Upon reading the note, the pastor cried. During worship service, the pastor related the story of the little girl’s purse and her wish. He then encouraged the congregation to help make the little girl’s wish come true. A newspaper learned of the little girl’s story and published it. A real estate developer read of the article and was moved by the little girl’s story. He sold a piece of land to the church for 57 cents! Within 5 years, the people in the church gave and all those who were touched by the story sent in money. Her 57 cents grew to $250,000, and that was a big amount during that time. Today, if you go to Philadelphia in the United States, you will find the Temple Baptist Church which can seat 3300 people, and you will know that the little girl’s dream had come true. In that church, you will find a framed picture of a little girl smiling and her 57 cents offering.

The disciples’ method was for the people to solve their own problem. This is a bit selfish. There wasn’t enough love and concern, but this also reminds us we must fulfil our own part and responsibility. Philip’s approach was to take into account the issue of money. This was a very practical approach, but it was not the best method, because some problems cannot be solved by money. Andrew’s method was the best. He did his best and gave all the resources to the Lord and allowed the Lord to solve the problem. God and man cooperating- this is the best method for solving a problem.