Encounters with Jesus – Jesus and the Crowd
It has been said many times, ‘I didn’t get anything out of church today.’ Or, ‘that style of worship doesn’t do anything for me.” While it is true that different people respond to the Holy Spirit in unique ways, these statements come out of a worship that focuses on ourselves. Too many times individuals attend a church service because they like the praise band, out of obligation to someone who asked them, or they heard about the fabulous potluck afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, all are welcome no matter the reason for the attendance. But when we go to a worship service for other reasons than to worship God we tend to miss out on the blessing!
True worship is focused on the object/person being worshiped. In the case of Church, worship should be focused on God.
One of my favorite events to attend is Comic Con. I love the costumes, the art, the vendors, the stars and autographs, and the conversations with fellow geeks that most people in my everyday circle don’t engage in. Everything at Comic Con is focused upon the comics and stars that have come out to promote a movie or series. The troubles of a normal day, the stress of a relationship, the bad juju of a day, etc. are gone from memory and only the excitement remains.
If I bring a non-geek friend they would likely be lost if I let them loose by themselves. And they will not have a good time if they do not immerse themselves in the fantasy and engage with the stories, cosplay, and panels that breeds debate about heroes/villains. If they are focused on the aforementioned troubles they will miss the excitement and fun of the Con.
Church works in much the same way. We must engage those who do not normally attend. And we must engage in the worship itself with our focus on God. Worship is not about us, but about God. When we engage with the Gospel our spirit communes with God’s Spirit and we are energized, encouraged, and blessed.
The crowds that came around Jesus were drawn for many reasons. Some had heard about miracles and wanted to see one. Some came out of curiosity. Some came because they were dragged by friends. The reasons were as diverse then as they are now. And Jesus welcomed every one of them. But one time the disciples diverted their focus to a problem rather than Jesus.
If they had these issues 2,000 years ago, how did the early Church handle them? More importantly, how did Jesus spread His Gospel message without the aid of bright lights, guitars, blogs, and social media?
He spoke with people, individuals, with whom He intentionally made contact.
Let’s look at a simple offering that made all the difference for a large crowd of people.
Jesus Miraculously Feeds 5,000 People
We find Jesus teaching a large crowd on a mountainside. Apparently, it was around lunchtime and Jesus uses this moment to teach a lesson. He offered a question to one of His disciples.
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?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
I have always imagined a grin of Jesus’ face when He asked this question. Philip’s answer shows that he missed the point for he says that they can’t afford to buy food for this large of a crowd. He was focused on the problem. And he was focused on his own solution to the problem. He was not engaged with Jesus’ message or remembering all that Jesus has done up to this point.
However, another disciple had an interesting slant on a solution. He didn’t know what Jesus had in mind, but there was an offering and he brought it to Jesus. Andrew even had doubts, but he brought the offering anyway.
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Andrew and this unnamed boy were focused on Jesus and were engaged with the message. The boy offered his small lunch to the disciple in faith that it could help. Andrew, even with doubts, brought the offering.
And it made all the difference.
Jesus accepted the offering, prayed a blessing over it, and fed over 5,000 people with 5 small loaves and 2 fish. As a side note these loaves were about the size of Longhorn Steakhouse roll. And the fish were likely fileted and small enough to fit into one roll. This lunch was not huge. Many of us would have looked at our lunch and shrugged because we couldn’t believe this amount of food would be of any help. But this boy engaged the disciple and offered it anyway.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
In the boy’s hands, in Andrew’s hands, in our hands, this lunch would have stayed just a lunch. But in the hands of Jesus it became so much more. These loaves and fish became a meal for many, a sign of Jesus’ mission as Messiah for others, a moment of amazement for others, and a powerful reminder to the disciples. Philip was focused on the problem and a human solution. When we try to do extraordinary things in our own strength we mess up. But when we try to do those same extraordinary things in God’s strength we succeed because they are done in God’s Will. Jesus was likely grinning because He knew what was coming. Jesus was just waiting for the means – someone to have faith enough to offer something small.
When we engage with worshipping God, we offer something small (our devotion and faith) to the father who can take it and make it miraculous! We are blessed with glimpses of heaven. Our sorrow is turned to joy. Our mourning is turned into celebration. Our anger is turned to love. Our fear is turned to bravery. When we engage with the Father, we are filled with his Spirit. We are no longer small but are joined together with the whole Church past, present, and future.
We do not know anything about this boy except he came to hear Jesus that day with a lunch prepared. He was not even named. The reason, I believe, is that the account isn’t about him, it is about Jesus’ power and provision. The lunch was the means, but it was Jesus who provided the miracle. It is His power we need to overcome the darkness.
Many responded differently to this miracle. Some tried to start a coup and make Jesus king. Some were amazed. Some were happy because they were fed. And I am sure that some became true followers that day. But the one singled out, the one who engaged Jesus, the one who had an encounter with Christ was the boy who had faith to offer his lunch.
How many times have we had an offering but didn’t believe it was enough? We have a talent, but it’s not spectacular so we keep it hidden. We have a solution to a problem, but are afraid to share. We are good at academics, but are afraid to be called a nerd. We see an injustice, but are afraid to be hurt or made fun of by our peers. We believe in Truth, but hide in the shadows not wishing to be noticed.
When this happens remember a boy who was brave enough to approach Jesus’ disciple with a small lunch to help feed a crowd of 5,000!
That is how Jesus changed the world.
Are we ready to change the world?
Captain Lauren Boatman is a dedicated servant of Christ who has been a pastor in The Salvation Army for thirteen years. Currently, Lauren has the privilege of serving others in Alabaster, Alabama.
The Salvation Army in Alabaster is actively engaging members of the local community through events, social services, and Bible Teaching. We welcome you to join us for Sunday Worship or engage with us through volunteering.
The Alabaster Salvation Army Corps is located across from the Alabaster YMCA at 108 Plaza Circle. Drop by Monday through Friday from 9am-3pm. We would love to meet and talk with you!