Very rarely do I hear any pastors preach from the most common Bible stories anymore – those stories are apparently only suitable to Sunday school. I am just as guilty of this, I am incredibly disinclined to speak on the teachings found in stories like Jonah and the Ark, the fall, or David and Goliath. Why is that? Is it perhaps because these stories seem childish to us, because they were taugh to us when we were children? Is it maybe because these stories seem old, and there is nothing more to be drawn from them than what has been already? Do these stories seem to simple, with not enough deep insight to wring out of non-descript verses? Are they too plain?
I think that they are not too plain – they are too clear. While the “moral of the story” seems obvious to us, it is for that reason that we avoid it; we don’t want to make the sacrifices those characters made, we don’t want to give up what they gave for the sake of the kingdom, we don’t want to have to face the trials that they faced (which we KNOW are in our lives, but hope that they might go away if they’re ignored).
These “most popular” Bible stories may seem childish, old, and simple. Yet we need faith like a child (Lk 18:16), we need to be reminded of what we know more often than we need to be taught something new (1Ch 16:12), and devotion to Christ is a simple and pure thing (2Co 11:3).
The story of Jesus feeding five thousand (although including women and children it was probably in the area of fifteen thousand, if there were five thousand men) is a common one, I heard it plenty of times growing up in Sunday school, but I never cease to be amazed at God’s ability to reveal something new to me every time I read scripture, regardless of how familiar I am with the text.
I think that scripture is commonly thought of as, at best, well-written text with truthful life teachings. In the realm of Christianity it is also believed to be inspired by God. This is all well and good, and much can be taken from the Bible this way. But this also limits scripture to the words that are there, which begins to cause confusion when there are numerous versions and translations and some of them sound quite different than others, and it tends to make things a little blurry sometimes. And I’ve found that this common conception of scripture is, while not false, extremely basic…and there seems to be a lot more to it. How else could this be explained when I find something new every time I read it?
But the author of Hebrews says that “the word of God is living and active (Heb 4:12).” And this seems to be the only explanation for the things that it does. And when we look at scripture as well-written text, we are only looking at the skin—the outer surface—of this living, active breath of God (2Ti 3:16). There is an infinite complexity beneath the mere text of scripture, just as there are countless veins and arteries and nerves and organs that all work in different ways, doing different things, to keep the body alive. Scripture is alive, and too often I find myself satisfied with what I see on the surface. My God is so much bigger than just words.
Questions sparked by Jesus feeding the five thousand (specifically in Matthew 14:13-21, though it’s also found in Mark 6:33-44, Luke 9:12-17, and John 6:1-14):
- How far am I willing to go to be with Jesus? (v.13)
- What excuses do I make to keep people from being with Jesus? (v.15)
- When do I ask God to do something for me when he’s expecting me to take action? (v.16)
- Do I let circumstances cause doubt, or do I have faith that Jesus will provide even when I have no idea how it can be done? (v.17)
- Am I thankful for the things I have, even when I don’t think it’s adequate? (v.19)
- Do I offer the gifts of God to others like the disciples gave away the food, or do I keep them for myself because I’m afraid they’ll run out? (v.20)
- Do I ever doubt that regardless of who they are, God will provide more than they need? (v.21)