(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
Obeying God and doing the impossible
31st May 2007
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is told in Matthew 14v13-21, Mark 6v30-44, Luke 9v10-17 and John 6v1-16. Today, I'd like to focus on John's version, and to consider it from the point of view of the disciples, who were commanded by Jesus to do the impossible.
By way of introduction, let me say this: I’ve been blessed with a naturally enquiring, analytical mind. I enjoy study and love theology. But having been a follower of Jesus for 34 years, when it comes to Christian living, all my theological musings and learning have resolved themselves into two simple propositions:
1. Do whatever you genuinely believe God wants you to do.
2. Trust God for the consequences.
That’s it. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus”. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. But sometimes, what God tells us to do seems to make no sense at all. What do we do then? Do we do what seems sensible to us, or do we obey God when He seems to be being unreasonable? Psalm 3v5 says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding
But what do you actually do when God asks you to do something that seems impossible?
The feeding of the 5000 is a good example of this. Picture the scene:
A great crowd followed Jesus. And they still do. They followed Him because He heals the sick – and they still do. Whether our sickness is physical, emotional, spiritual or relational, Jesus still heals. But, just as there were still needy people in Israel, even though Jesus was there in the flesh, performing wonders, so today, there are still needy people in the church, even though He is here by His Holy Spirit, still performing wonders.
Jesus loves people. He loves to help us. He has compassion on all who follow him. We read in the other accounts of this story:
And the huge crowd needed feeding – as they still do. And – again – Jesus had compassion on them. Jesus asked Philip where they were going to buy enough bread. Philip answered correctly. Using human resources, it couldn’t be done.
But we read in Matthew 14v16 that Jesus told the disciples “You give them something to eat”. How were they supposed to obey a command like that? Andrew made a start, but not much of a start:
Again, Andrew was right to ask this question, because no-one else had any food at all. Matthew 14:17 says the disciples told Jesus “we have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. (Incidentally, how irritated was he that he was known as “Simon Peter’s brother”?)
We read in Matthew’s account (14v19) that Jesus gave the food to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowd.
At this point, let’s get back to our original question. What do you do when Jesus asks you to do the impossible?
Each of the 12 disciples would have been given a bit less than half a loaf and 1/6 of a fish. And Jesus told him to feed over 400 families. What would you do? Each disciple could say it was impossible and walk away, or try to hide. Or he could obey Jesus.
And it’s the same when we pray for people’s healing. When I’m asked to pray for someone, it feels like Jesus is saying “you give them something to eat”. And I haven’t got anything. I can only give them what Jesus gives me to give them. And, even then, I need His blessing on it.
One mistake we make is to think about how impossible it us for us to heal anyone, or do anything else that's miraculous. What we should be thinking about is “what has Jesus told us to do?” The disciples could have given up, thinking about the impossible task Jesus had given them. But they chose to focus on the fact that they were obeying Jesus. Our job is to do what He tells us to do. His job is to make it happen. And, being God, He can! Having started with two rather obvious statements about discipleship, let me add one obvious statement about miracles:
Jesus can do anything He wants
To repeat, our job is to do what we believe God wants us to do. If we genuinely try to do this, then He’ll make sure it works out OK (and, if we genuinely desire whatever His will is, then, if we’re wrong, He’ll show us). And, sometimes, He will command us to do the impossible. The fact that it’s impossible isn’t our problem – it’s His. And the impossible isn’t a problem for Him.
Have you ever thought about what Peter said to Jesus just before he walked on the water? Peter said “"Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water" (Matthew 14v28). He said this because he understood (imperfectly) that if Jesus told him to do it, he’d be OK. Later, he realised what he was doing was impossible, and began to sink. He forgot that he was obeying Jesus, and focussed instead on how he couldn’t do what he was commanded to do. And he sank.
Obeying God works, even when we are commanded to do the impossible.
Consider the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, in Exodus 14. To his back, Moses had the Red Sea. In front of him, he had the advancing Egyptian army. Around him, he had a lot of very unhappy Israelites. And he cried out to God. And God said “wave your staff over the water”. Maybe, just for a moment, Moses thought “how’s that going to help?” But he obeyed God, and the waters of the sea parted, and the Israelites escaped. Moses was concentrating on obedience to God, not on how impossible the task was.
And church leaders everywhere are commanded by God to pray for the sick.
So we’d better do it. And when we do it, we’d better concentrate on the fact that Jesus told us to, so the consequences are His responsibility, not on the fact that we can’t heal anyone.
And all of us are commanded to make disciples for Jesus (Matthew 28v19).