It’s awful when you bank on someone to provide, and they don’t come through.
Some customers of Coles and Woolies experienced that this Christmas. A whole week before Christmas they put in their online orders for turkey, and ham, and prawns, among others, to be delivered on Christmas Eve.
And sure enough, Christmas Eve comes, and the delivery arrives. Only without the Christmas turkey, or ham, or prawns. Because both Coles and Woolies have run out! And of course lots of people are furious!
One customer posted to the Woolies Facebook page:
T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house… t’was anger because the turkey from our online order was all sold out.
Now you could say this is just a “first world problem“. But think about it: you’ve got family coming round for Christmas, the next day. And that afternoon is when you find out: Coles and Woolies can’t provide like they said they would. And now it’s too late to find those things anywhere else. So now you can’t provide for your guests on Christmas day.
Some of the feedback on the Coles and Woolies Facebook pages was left in the early hours of Christmas morning, from people saying they literally can’t sleep because they’re too stressed about how they can possibly feed their guests for Christmas!
It is awful when you bank on someone to provide, and they don’t come through.
And for followers of Jesus: that can be a common fear for us too. See, if you’ve been following Jesus for a while, you’ll know: Jesus calls his followers to go out on a limb with him. To give up focussing your life on providing for yourself. To instead focus on serving others and sharing Jesus with them. And to do that you have to trust that Jesus’ll ultimately provide what you need. You can see that call further along in the same chapter. V. 23 Jesus says: “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
For followers of Jesus there’s a real sense in which we need to give up our old lives. The normal life where you focus first on providing for yourself. And focus on following Jesus, by serving others and telling them about him. And Jesus’ promise is that if we do that, he will give us life. He will provide for us. In a way we never could provide for ourselves.
Which of course raises the question: how do we know he really will? Whether you’ve been following Jesus for decades.
Or you’re just checking out Jesus to see if he’s worth following. It’s an important question: how do you know Jesus really will provide for his followers like he says he will?
Who is Jesus, that he won’t do a Christmas Eve Coles and Woolies: promising to provide, then not coming through.
This summer we’re looking at meals with Jesus.
Because Luke’s account of Jesus is just studded with meals Jesus has with people. The last two weeks we’ve seen Jesus have meals with really unexpected people. Eating with disgraceful sinners instead of respectable religious people. And those meals have been pictures. Pictures of Jesus’ grace and mercy to anyone who’ll admit they need God’s forgiveness. This meal, in our reading today, is also a picture. But it’s a picture of something different. This meal is a picture of how Jesus can provide for his followers, in a way no one else can.
So this morning we’re going to see two ways Jesus really does provide. First, how Jesus provides for 5000 people here. Second, how Jesus provides for us today. And finally we’ll think a bit about what our lives will look like if we really can trust Jesus to provide for us in the end.
So first, let’s look at this meal with Jesus. V. 10, Jesus is trying to be alone with his closest followers. But V. 11, it doesn’t work, because a whole crowd of other people are trying to follow Jesus too. So Jesus welcomes them. And he speaks to them about the reign of God over this world which Jesus himself is bringing in.
And this keeps going into early evening, dinner time, so that Jesus’ closest followers say, Hey Jesus, we’ve got to let these people go and provide for themselves. V. 12, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we’re in a remote place here.”
You see these people are now in trouble. They’ve got no food to eat for dinner. They’ve got no place to sleep for the night. And why is that? Because they’re devoted to following Jesus and listening to him all day. Imagine that. Imagine if, in this sermon, I kept on talking until dinner time tonight. I reckon I could do it. It wouldn’t necessarily be well-thought out or coherent, but I like the sound of my own voice. I could do it. But I only need to see the look on your faces at the mere suggestion to know if I tried that I’d be left on my own long before dinner time.
But that’s how devoted these people are to Jesus and his teaching. Lunch time goes by and they don’t even notice. Dinner time comes and they’re still hanging on every word. They’re being devoted followers of Jesus. But what does it get them? No food to eat. No place to sleep.
This is the fear I mentioned earlier. That if you follow Jesus and bank on him to provide, he may not come through. So far this is a non-meal with Jesus. And it shows that sometimes following Jesus will feel like that. You will feel that by devoting yourself to Jesus, you’ve missed out on being well-provided for.
But listen, that’s not where the story ends. V. 13, Jesus wants to provide for his followers, and so he tells his apostles, his 12 closest followers: “you give them something to eat.” But of course they reply: We can’t! “We’ve only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish-unless we go and buy food for all this crowd!” Which we can’t because, V. 14, there’s over 5000 of them!
Put yourself in their shoes for a second. Those people whose turkey and ham and prawns didn’t arrive from Coles and Woolies, they felt stressed out at the prospect of feeding their guests on Christmas day. And I can understand that.
But I reckon they still had more than just 5 loaves and 2 fish in the house. And I reckon they didn’t have quite as many as 5000 guests. why does Jesus tell his closest followers to do something he knows they can’t do? He does it to highlight, for everyone’s benefit, including theirs, that ultimately Jesus alone is the one who can provide. V. 16, Jesus takes the 5 loaves and 2 fish, and thanks God for them, then breaks them up and gives them to his closest followers to give to everyone else. And because it’s Jesus who does it… Somehow there’s enough.
V. 17, “They all ate and were satisfied.” All 5000+. Even when it looks like devotion to Jesus has left these people stranded. Jesus provides for them. In fact only Jesus can provide like this. His closest followers can’t do it. Only Jesus can. This meal with Jesus is a picture. Of what it’s like to follow Jesus. There’ll be times it feels like he’s not providing for you. Where following him means you’re not well-provided for right now. But ultimately Jesus will provide for you like no one else can.
Which of course, that does raise the obvious question: how exactly? How does Jesus provide for his followers? With bread and fish? This meal with Jesus here is a great picture. But it’s just how Jesus provided for those followers, back then. How does he provide for his followers now?
The way Luke tells this story, he makes it clear that this meal is meant to foreshadow another meal, at the end of Jesus’ life. Another meal which is similar in some striking ways. Another meal which shows the ultimate way Jesus provides for his followers.
In feeding the 5000, Jesus took bread and thanked God for it, and broke it and gave it to his followers. And in his last meal with his disciples before his death on the cross, Jesus does exactly the same thing. Taking, thanking, breaking and giving. But this time he isn’t just providing bread to solve the problem of hunger. This time he’s providing his life to solve the problem of death.
With the bread that Jesus gives, and with the cup of wine that Jesus gives, Jesus symbolises the provision of his own body and his own blood, in his death for us. See, our human rebellion against God, our treason against the one who gives us life, what the Bible calls sin – it carries a heavy price tag. The rightful price is death. So then: More than hunger. More than a place to sleep. Our ultimate need is to have that price lifted from us. And in his death, in our place, Jesus paid that price for us.
See, in feeding the 5000, Jesus gives us a picture of what it’s like to follow to him. Even when it feels like he’s not providing, ultimately he will. But Luke wants us to see: that’s just a prelude to the ultimate way Jesus provides for his followers.
And did you notice how much Jesus provided for the 5000, even though it was just a prelude? It wasn’t a bare minimum. V. 17, They’re all satisfied. And in fact there’s leftovers! 12 basketfuls. Far more than there was to start with! Far from doing a Christmas Eve Coles or Woolies. Jesus provides even more than people need. An abundance.
I got a taste of that at our Christmas day lunch. It was at Lucy’s parent’s place and it was meant to be an extended family gathering. About 30 people I think.
Different families bringing turkey, or ham, or prawns, or chicken, or salad, or pudding for the lunch. But the day before, Christmas Eve, we find out only about half the families will actually be there for the lunch itself.
Some have to leave before lunch. Others can’t come until after. And it turns that the families who will be there for lunch are the very ones who are already lined up to bring all the food. For 30 people. But now there’ll only be about half that. So come Christmas lunch it feels like each person can pretty much have their own turkey, their own leg of ham, and their own platter of prawns, if they feel like it.
I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that our small gathering was solely responsible for making Coles and Woolies run out of those things. But for us, far from running out of food, it turned out to be an abundance! Far more than we needed.
And that’s what Jesus’ death is like for us. By lifting the punishment of death from us. Giving us eternal life with him forever. That’s a provision, which gives you more than you could ever exhaust. More than you could find anywhere else. More than you could provide for yourself. Ever. It’s an abundance that’s even greater than the 5000 got. See, those 5000 people Jesus fed, they would’ve got hungry again.
But if you trust in Jesus’ death in your place, you’re not just set for life. You’re set for eternal life. Feeding the 5000 is a great picture of Jesus the great provider. But ultimately it’s Jesus’ death in our place, and the eternal life it brings, which is the fullest, most abundant provision he makes for his followers.
Which leaves us to ask, just finally, what difference should that make to life now? If we know Jesus has already provided for us eternally, if we’re already set up forever, what difference should that make now, in practice? I want to suggest a couple of ways. What we do with our money. And what we do with our time. So first, I think if we know how Jesus has provided for us forever, it should affect our attitude to money now. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m asked to give more money to something. To church, or a charity, or friends in Christian ministry. I’ve got to admit my instinct is to always think: If I give that, will I regret it later when we’re short of money? How can I provide for myself and my family in the future if I give more now? Do you ever feel that way? I suspect a lot of you don’t because of the generosity I see at mpc. But if you do, I think this meal with Jesus, and Jesus’ final meal, is meant to help us see that we’re already provided for. Will being more generous, and serving others with our money, mean we end up regretting it? Probably not. At least it hasn’t yet for me, despite my worry each time that it will.
But even if it does. Beyond any financial hardship in this life is eternal life with Jesus. Which he’s provided for us already in his death for us. Not just set for life. Set for eternal life. If we bank on Jesus to provide for us like that, I think we’ll hold our money with a looser grip. Because we know we’re already provided for by Jesus in a better, much fuller way than money ever could.
And second, finally, I think it’s similar in what we do with our time. It’s the start of a new year and so I’m trying to plan what I’ll do in a “normal” week this year. You might be thinking about that too. And it’s interesting to reflect on what gets locked in first. My instinct is to lock in my study. And my work. And my exercise. Cause I’m actually planning to do some this year. And my rest. So I’m well provided for. But once I’ve done that. I’ve got to admit, it doesn’t leave heaps of time for serving others. Like Jesus calls me to. For sharing Jesus with others. Like Jesus calls me to. When I notice that instinct, it’s like I feel the need to provide for myself first and foremost, as if Jesus hasn’t already got me taken care of.
So what I’m trying to do this year, and if you trust in Jesus maybe you could think about this too, is to do it the other way around.
To try and lock in some time for other people first. Like Growth Group. And spending time with people from church. Time with friends and neighbours. Having people for meals like we’ve talked about the last couple of weeks. And then seeing where I can fit study and work and exercise and rest and everything else in around that. Will it be easy? I don’t think so. As I try I’m struggling to make everything fit. Will I end up tired and sometimes behind in those other things? I’m afraid I might. But again, beyond any hardship in this life, Jesus has provided me with eternal life.
If we believe that, we can’t go on as if we aren’t already provided for forever. We should actually structure our lives around the knowledge that in Jesus, we’re already taken care of forever. Which would free us up, not completely, just more so, to serve others and share Jesus with them.