By J.R. Miller
After the tragic death of John the Baptist, his disciples paid loving honor to his body. Their sorrow must have been very great, for they loved their master. We do not know whether or not John had those lovable qualities which drew men to him and made them his friends, or whether, by reason of his natural sternness and his ascetic severity he failed to be a friend of men, as Jesus was. It is not likely that he drew men to him as the other John did, or as Paul did, or that men loved him as our Lord's disciples loved their Master. Yet it is certain that there must have grown up between the Baptist and his disciples a strong affection, and that they were sorely grieved at his death.
Jesus had sent His apostles on a brief missionary tour. When they returned they made report to Him. "They told Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught." No doubt they told Him all they had tried to do, even if they had seemed to fail--how the people had received them, and how sometimes they had rejected them. They would tell Him, too, of their mistakes and blunders. This is what we should do at the close of any work we are doing for our Master--go to Him and make report of it all. It is well, indeed, that every evening we carry to Christ such a report of our life for the day. There could be no better evening prayer than the reporting to Christ the story of the day--simply, humbly, truthfully, fully, confidingly. There will be many confessions in this recital; for we should tell Him all, hiding nothing. If we form the habit of doing this, it will be a restraint upon us many times when tempted to do the things that are not right. We will not want to report anything of which we are ashamed, and we will not do them just because we would not wish to tell Him.
Note also the consideration of Jesus for His disciples. They were very weary after their tour through the country, and needed rest. The throngs that kept coming to them all the time prevented them from obtaining the rest they needed. Jesus now invited them to a quiet place, where they might renew their strength. The form of the invitation should be noted. He did not say, "Go," but, "Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." We are not to go away from Christ when we seek a vacation--but are to rest with Him. No vacation away from Christ is complete. Too many people drop their religious work when they leave home for a few weeks, and some even forsake the altar of prayer and the Bible. But Christ wants us to take our vacations with Him.
Jesus and the disciples did not get a vacation after all. The people saw them crossing the sea, and, flocking around the shore, awaited the Master when He reached the other side. He was not impatient with the people; however, even thought they had robbed Him of the rest He needed. He had compassion upon them. It is always thus. Christ carried the people's sorrows. His heart was touched by their needs and distresses. When He looked upon the great throng, and saw among them many suffering ones--lame, sick, blind, palsied--His heart's compassion was deeply stirred. In heaven today, He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Some men's sympathy is only in sentiment and fails to show itself in act. The compassion of Christ filled His heart, and then flowed out in all forms of kindness and helpfulness. Then it was not their hunger, their poverty, their sickness that seemed to Him their worst trouble--but their spiritual need. They were wandering like lost sheep away from the fold, and had no shepherd. "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things."
When the question of the people's hunger and what should be done for them came up, the best that the disciples could suggest were that they should be sent away to find food for themselves. That is about all that human wisdom or even human love can do. Perhaps we cannot feed their bodily hungers. Nor is it always best that we should try to do it. Every man must bear his own burden. Doing too much in temporal ways for those who are in stress or need--is not true or wise kindness. The best we can do for those who are in need--is usually to put them in the way of relieving their own needs. It is better to show a poor man how to earn his own bread--than it is to feed him in his sloth and idleness. But we can always be courteous to any who come to us for help. We may at least in every case show kindness, even when we cannot give the help that is asked. We must take care that we do not coldly turn away those who appeal to us for help. The parable of the Judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew teaches us that in the poor, the needy, the sick, and the troubled who appeal to us for help, or whom we see or hear of in any distress--Jesus Himself stands before us. We must be careful lest we someday send Him away hungry.
It was a startling word that Jesus spoke to His disciples, however, when they suggested that the people be sent away to buy bread for themselves. He said, "You give them something to eat." That is what He is saying all the while to His disciples. He wants them to feed the hungry. There is no use in sending them to the villages--there is nothing there to feed them. Besides, there is not need that we should send them away, for we have food for them. We have but to read the story through to find that the disciples were able to feed even this great multitude, and did feed them. Their scant supply, blessed, by the Master, satisfied every hungry one of all the five thousand. Whenever Christ sends needy ones to us--He wants us to give them help, and it will not do for us to say that we cannot do it, that we have no bread. When Jesus gives a command--He means to make it possible for us to obey it. It may seem to us that we cannot do it, that we have not the resources necessary; but if we use our little in trying to help, our little will grow into all that is needed for the supply of the need which has been entrusted to us.
When the disciples had made inquiry, they found that they had only five loaves and two small fish, and they never dreamed that so little could be made enough to feed five thousand hungry men. We are always saying that we cannot do anything to bless the world, because we have so little with which to work. A young Christian is asked to teach a Sunday school class, and says: "I have no gift for teaching. I have nothing to give to these children." A young man is asked to take part in a meeting--but thinks he cannot say anything to help anybody. Christ says to us, "Feed the hungry ones about you," and we look at our stock of bread and say, "I have only five barley loaves--what can I do with these?" We do not think we can do any good in the world, while really we can bless hundreds and thousands--if we rightly use our little supply.
It is interesting to note the manner in which Jesus enabled His disciples to feed the people. First they brought their loaves to Him. That is what we should always do with our little--we should bring it to Christ, that He may bless it. If the disciples had tried themselves to feed that hungry crowd with their five loaves, they would not have been able to do it. If we try in our own name to bless others, to comfort the sorrowing, to uplift the fallen, to satisfy the cravings of men's souls--we shall be disappointed.
The method of distributing the provision is suggestive. Jesus did not Himself pass the bread directly to the multitude; he gave it through His disciples. Study this picture. Jesus stands here; close about Him stand His disciples; beyond them is the great multitude. Jesus is going to feed the hungry people with the disciples' loaves--but the bread must pass through the disciples' hands. It is in this way, that Christ usually blesses men--not directly--but through others. When He would train a child for great usefulness, He puts love and gentleness into a mother's heart and skill into her hands--and she nurses the child for Him. When He would give His Word to the world, He inspired holy men, and they wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. When He would save a soul, He sends not an angel--but a man or a woman redeemed already by His grace, to carry the message. This suggests the responsibility of those to whom Christ passes the bread of life. It is not for themselves only--but for themselves and those who are beyond them. Suppose the disciples had fed themselves only from the loaves, and had not passed on the food; the people would still have hungered, while provision enough for them was close at hand.
Notice the careful economy of Christ. He bade them to gather up the fragments that were left, that nothing might be wasted. Though He had so easily made a little--into a great supply of bread that day--yet He would have the fragments saved. We are all apt to be careless about fragments, especially when we have plenty. We should be careful of the fragments of our time. Most of us waste plenty enough minutes every day--to make hours! Every moment of time is valuable; in it we may do something to honor our Master and help one of His little ones. Let us take care of the golden moments--the fragments will soon make a basketful. We should let nothing whatever be lost of all that God gives us.