By Chuck Lawless
I love to read the stories of the disciples in the Gospels, yet perhaps for an unexpected reason.
I’m grateful God calls surprising people like the disciples to lead his church, but that’s not the primary reason I love these stories.
It’s encouraging to read about the humanity of these men, but that’s not my first interest.
I love these stories because of what they tell us about Jesus. He’s a God of grace who gives second and third chances. Even for leaders.
His patience is beyond comprehension. Amazing, actually.
In Mark 6, more than 5,000 people listening to Jesus were hungry, and Jesus challenged his disciples to feed them (vv. 31-44). “That won’t work,” the disciples thought. They didn’t have the food or the money needed to buy food. You might know the story—Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish, provided enough food for all the people, and showed His creative power. So magnificent was this miracle that all four of the Gospel writers tell the story.
In the next story in Mark, Jesus walked on water toward the disciples in a boat. That scared them, for they thought He was a ghost. When Jesus got in the boat with them, the wind ceased – and the disciples were amazed. What catches my attention is how Mark describes their wonder: “They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened” (vv. 51-52). They should have recognized more about Jesus by His power displayed in the feeding of the 5,000, but they didn’t understand yet. They failed to see Him as the sovereign one who can multiply the fish He created and walk on the water He controls.
Some time later, another 4,000+ hungry people were with Jesus (8:1-10). Again He challenged His disciples to meet the need. This time, they started with seven loaves of bread and a few fish among the crowd. The same Jesus in their presence, thousands of people to feed, and again too little food – the scene for a miracle was set. After all, Jesus had multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000+; surely He could feed 4,000+ with more loaves and fish. We read the story with expectation, waiting to see the Master glorify Himself again.
But, the disciples’ first response was again to question how they could feed that many people with little food. Maybe they had completely forgotten the feeding of the 5,000, but I doubt it. How do you forget that kind of miracle? More likely, they forgot who was with them. They saw the problem rather than the problem solver. Deity was in their midst, but their thinking remained earthly. It happens, you know – we work hard to solve our own problems while the Miracle Worker living within us patiently wants us to know Him better. It’s no surprise we lose our wonder of Jesus when we fail to focus on Him.
Some time after the feeding of the 4,000, the disciples were again in a boat (Mark 8:14-21), where they again faced a food problem. This time, they were stressed because they had not brought enough bread to eat. They had only one loaf to share among them.
Stop here, and read this line slowly again: they were stressed because they had not brought enough bread to eat.
Wouldn’t you hope they would understand more about Jesus by now? Too little bread is not a problem for the Savior. Never has been. Never will be. He is powerful enough to feed the multitudes and personal enough to feed you and me.
Still, we forget. We challenge others to remember God’s power, but we forget it when we’re the ones in need. The closer the need is to us, the harder it is to see God’s sovereign, miraculous hand at work. The circumstances look bigger to us than does the God over the circumstances. I wonder if Jesus might ever ask us what He asked His disciples then, “Do you not yet understand?”
At what point might He give up on us?
You know the answer. He does not give up on us, but not because we are so good. We would be fully deserving if He walked away. He doesn’t give up on us, though, because He trusts His Father’s work in us.
Jesus knows that the story is not about us in the first place. The One who creates us is the One who saves us, protects us, sanctifies us, and glorifies Himself through us. He who is worthy of all praise loves us in spite of our unworthiness. He remembers us even when we forget Him.
In grace, He still uses us as leaders.
Adapted from Nobodies for Jesus (Rainer Publishing, 2013)