The Gospels tell us that Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people out in the wilderness with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. And everyone was satisfied. A miracle! But why did he do it? What does it mean?
Some folks claim that Jesus did nothing supernatural. They say that many people in the crowd already had food but were too selfish to share. All Jesus did, they argue, was inspire them to open their hearts and share with one another.
The non-miraculous interpretation of Jesus feeding the 5,000 may sit well with skeptics, but it doesn’t fit the Gospel writers’ accounts. The Gospel writers clearly present Jesus as a man of miracles, born of a virgin, healing all kinds of diseases, casting out demons, and even commanding storms to stop!
So, if Jesus did not feed the 5,000 in order to inspire people to be more generous, then why did he do it?
Another interpretation of this episode starts by recognizing that Jesus truly performed a supernatural act by dividing 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed more than 5,000 people. But this version goes on to say that Jesus’ goal in feeding the 5,000 was to inspire sacrificial giving. As a young lad in the crowd gave his lunch to Jesus, we should give our all to Jesus.
But John is the only Gospel writer who mentions this lad and John never says anything about the boy’s desire to give his loaves and fish to Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke never mention the youngster at all, so the boy certainly cannot be vital to a proper understanding of Jesus’ actions.
If Jesus is not inspiring generosity toward others or promoting sacrificial giving to him, then what is the meaning of his feeding the 5,000?
The people who ate Jesus’ miracle meal that day recognized that Jesus was doing something similar to what God did when he fed Israel in the wilderness. After the Lord rescued his people from bondage in Israel he rained down manna from heaven to provide food for them in the desert.
Jesus is demonstrating that he has the same kind of power that God displays. When they asked for more miraculous meals, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus believes in generosity and sacrifice, but something bigger is at stake. Jesus is God in the flesh, come not just to promote or inspire good deeds, but to give himself so that we can have eternal life in heaven with God.
Each year we hear heart-warming and sentimental expressions about the true meaning of Jesus’ birth, the real spirit of Christmas. A plethora of virtues find room in the inn of a humanistic Christmas: love, generosity, sacrifice, family, compassion, and so on.
As the wise men came and brought gifts to Jesus we should give gifts to one another, so the popular reasoning goes. But the magi from the east were not on a goodwill tour. They traveled a great distance not to promote a spirit of gift-giving, but to worship the King.
The Bible says that Jesus’ birth is a cosmic turning point in human history. The nations of this world languished in violence and hatred, hunger and poverty, suffering and sorrow, disease and death. God made us for better.
Jesus, born to a young lady named Mary and laid in a manger, is God stepping into this tragedy we call life, sharing our ups and downs. His mission? to bring victory over death and joy in God’s presence forever. That’s bigger than anything that comes in a gift bag.
So Christmas is not just a time to promote human virtues or to enjoy temporary delights. Christmas is the time we remember this greatest episode in all human history: Jesus is God in the flesh come to save his lost people.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill,