The man Jesus had referred to as the greatest among the prophets had just been beheaded by King Herod. John the Baptist had been born a cousin to Jesus, but more than that, John was the man that God sent to proclaim the way for the Messiah to the world.
This horrible death was not going to be like Jairus’ daughter or like Lazarus whom Jesus raised back to life. This was the will of the Father that John should sacrifice his life for the Kingdom of God. According to Matthew’s account, it was in the shadow of this painful event that Jesus and the disciples decided to withdraw from the crowded towns, and sail off to a remote area. But the crowds just wouldn't leave Jesus alone—there was power in Him that they couldn't get enough of. As hard as it was, they tracked Him down. At least 5000 men were among them and no telling how many women and children were there as well.
Jesus wanted to be alone to seek strength from God during a difficult time, so you can imagine what the disciples must have thought to see thousands of people rushing towards them. “Oh no, here they come again! Why can't they leave us alone!” could easily have been their sentiments. But instead of focusing on His own grief, Jesus looked at the crowds and loved them. He healed and taught them all day long. It was getting dark, and the disciples were ready to wind things down for the day, so they suggested that Jesus send them off as they'd be getting hungry and there was no place with food nearby.
But Jesus said that the crowds didn't have to go anywhere, and shocked His disciples by commanding them to do something completely unrealistic: “You feed them.” What would you have done if you were expecting a day off, had been stalked and invaded by thousands of poor and sick clamoring for help, were ready for a break at the end of the day, were told that the crowds were staying, and then you were told to feed them all?
Jesus had quickly switched from receiving strength from God alone mode, to selfless giving mode. The disciples had a harder time of it, and to our shame, we probably would too. They were watching diseased and broken bodies being healed all day, and knew His power, but John records that they balked at Jesus’ unrealistic request. “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn't be enough for each of them to have a little!” said Philip in exasperation.
But Andrew brought a little boy’s lunch of two fish and five rounds of pita bread to show that this was the best they had. And that was all Jesus needed—the best that they had. We all know the story of how He broke that little lunch up piece by piece and fed over 5000 until everyone was full and had twelve baskets of fish and bread leftover, one basket for every doubting and frustrated disciple.
Jesus continues to ask the unrealistic, and we continue to balk just as foolishly as the disciples did. When will we learn that all He asks is that we give our best, even when it seems ridiculous? Miracles come about when we simply obey and risk total failure for His sake and His honor. Jesus shocked, infuriated, insulted, and even stirred up violent hatred against Him. He did it to spark true and lasting faith in those whose hearts were open. Do you sometimes feel frustrated at the counsel of your pastor? Are you insulted when you're asked to give when you barely have anything for yourself? Do you balk at God’s commands? Switch modes to humbly trust, obey and know that your faith allows God to grant the miracles you need.
Therefore, when Jesus looked up and noticed a huge crowd coming toward Him, He asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” He asked this to test him, for He Himself knew what He was going to do. (John 6:5-6 HCSB)