Jesus' Identity: Sending of the 12 and Feeding the 5,000
Text: Luke 9:1–17 ESV
Last week we started a small, four-part series within Luke, from Luke chapters 8 and 9. We saw that the main question that the disciples, and many others around Jesus, are asking is, “Who then is this Jesus?” And we are tracing the answer to this over these four weeks. The eventual answer we are going to see is this:
Jesus: The Son of God, come in authority and power to save and empower his people through the cross.
And what we saw last week is:
Jesus: The Son of God come in authority and power to save and empower his people through the cross.
Last week, in Luke 8:22–39, we see Jesus come in authority and power in amazing ways. He calms the seas. He frees the demon possessed man. In demonstrating his authority over his creation, both nature and the supernatural, he also calls the hearts of the people around him.
And we talked about how this authority and power of Jesus should rightly move us to fear—the question is what kind of fear? The demons had a fear of Jesus that was based upon their ultimate judgement and was only looking for a temporary reprieve from the inevitable. The villagers feared Jesus, and they pushed him away. The disciples feared and marveled, which is the first step in trusting Jesus. Ultimately, we want to fear and marvel like the man freed from demons, who sat contentedly and trustingly, at Jesus’ feet.
We left you, those here who are seekers, with the call, “Where then is your faith?” (Luke 8:25). I pray you heeded that call and turned to Jesus in faith as you fear and marvel at his wondrous nature and work on your behalf.
For you, Christian, you were left with the same call as the man freed from the demon: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39) What we see today is that Jesus unpacks how you are to do that: you are to do it in his power in utter dependence! He has empowered you, Christian, to take this message forth to the entire world. What we see this morning is a more complete picture of Jesus:
Jesus: The Son of God come in authority and power to save and empower his people through the cross.
Jesus’s Power and Authority with Proclamation
In Luke 8:40–56, the section we didn’t read together, Jesus heals Jairus’s daughter as he has healed others before. We see here that Jesus gives the disciples the same authority and power he has had—summarized simply as “to heal.” And just like their master, they are sent out with a message: to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.
Look at the beginning of our passage this morning:
“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out proclaiming the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:1–2 ESV)
In both of the situations in our passage this morning, there is a need for the power and authority of Jesus and the kingdom to be proclaimed. In this first section where Jesus sends the disciples, the disciples need the power and authority of Jesus as they head out to provide for their needs. The people they are going to talk to need to see the power and authority of Jesus and hear the good news about his kingdom drawing near. In the second situation, the feeding of the 5000, the disciples need the power and authority of Jesus to help them provide for the people, and the people literally need provision through Jesus’s power and authority and, even more, to see the real Jesus who is offering this and the kingdom he is bringing.
Jesus’s Example of Kingdom Proclamation and Empowerment
Whenever we look at Jesus throughout the gospels, we see this pairing. He comes with a message and the message is accompanied by authority and power. Jesus is very consistent with his call for the people to come to the kingdom of God. If we look only in Luke, we see it all over—
Luke 4:43—“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
Luke 8:1—“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:11—“When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.”
Many of his parables are centered around explaining the kingdom of God to his disciples and the crowds around him (Luke 13, 17, 18, 19). And ultimately, Jesus is the embodiment of the kingdom—
Luke 17:21—“The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Luke 11:20—“If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
The kingdom of God is, in essence, God’s redemptive reign. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom, declares the kingdom, demonstrates the kingdom, deploys the kingdom, purchases the kingdom, and Jesus returns the kingdom. The kingdom of God is what we, as Christians, proclaim in the beauty of the gospel of Jesus when we tell people they now have a path back into relationship with their God. This was the message Jesus was all about!
And I probably don’t need to remind you all the ways in which he brought this message with power—
Luke 4:28–30—Passes through the crowd
Luke 4:40-41; 6:6–11—People healed on the Sabbath
Luke 5:1–11—Large catch of fish
Luke 5:12–14—Cleanses a Leper
Luke 5:17–26—Heals a paralytic **
Luke 7:1–10—Heals the Centurion’s Servant
Luke 7:11–17—Widow’s son raised
Luke 8:22–25—Wind and Waves Obey Jesus
Luke 8:26–33—Demon possessed man healed
Luke 8:41–42, 49–56—Jairus’s daughter brought back to life
Luke 8:43–48—Woman sick 12 years healed
Luke 9:12–17—Feeding of the 5000
Luke 9:37–43—A boy is healed
Luke 11:14-27—Demon cast out
Luke 13:11–17—Woman’s infirmity healed
Luke 14:1–6—Dropsy healed
Luke 17:11–19—Ten lepers cleansed
Luke 18:35–43—Blind man receives his sight
Luke 22:50–51—Healing of Luke’s ear
Is this for you?
Again, and again we see Jesus bring his message of the kingdom of God in his life, death, and resurrection, and it comes in power and authority. Here, we are told that Jesus gave that power and authority to his disciples, and we have to wonder as Christians, is this still for us today? Was this something that the disciples only did this time, or is it something that is for us as disciples of Jesus two thousand years later.
Well, let’s look at a couple of passages in the New Testament.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18 ESV)
The implication here is that Jesus has been given power, and when we are all commissioned—as his disciples—to go throughout the earth, he promises he will be with us. We will have access to him and to his power. He specifically says this in Acts 1:8—
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
Witnessing, sharing the amazing story of the kingdom of God come to you and me through Jesus Christ, is what we have been called to. And this needs the power of the Holy Spirit in our life. In fact, we need the power of God in our life to do everything he has called us to. Praise God he has given us just that kind of power. Look at 2 Peter 1:3–4 with me.
“His divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3–4 ESV)
Everything in scripture points to a continuity, a continuous reality that God has given you his power and authority—specifically through your faith in Jesus and his Holy Spirit in your life—to do all that he has called you to.
We at Table Rock would say that if God is pleased to work through you at any given moment to cast out a demon or heal a person from their sickness, he can and will do that. But not all moments are going to look like casting out demons and miraculously healing the sick. In fact, I would say most moments won’t look like that. It is helpful to see how the disciples’ empowerment for healing and casting out demons is paired with the feeding of the 5000. Like the disciples, you will often be faced with very real issues in front of you where you can look to God to provide in his power and authority. Look at what the disciples say to Jesus when the 5000 are with them—
“Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” (Luke 9:12–13 ESV)
The disciples have the right heart. They see the people, know they will be hungry and need a place to stay, and want to help them find it. But they don’t think it is their job. Yet, Jesus tells them they should do it!
We, Table Rock, need to remember that we, too, have been gifted and empowered by God in a variety of ways to meet the needs of this world and God’s people. Most of it isn’t the casting out of demons or healings, but it is all miraculous and by the power of God in you.
At the very least, Christians are all filled with God’s Spirit, and we know this should produce fruit in us:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22 ESV)
Imagine all of God’s people living out a life empowered by his Spirit, demonstrating just these characteristics. What kind of a changed world would we have?! Yet, scripture tells us we have all been gifted in ways even beyond these:
“To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV)
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4:10 ESV)
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (Romans 12:6a ESV)
“All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV)
The goal of this sermon isn’t to describe the different and varied gifts that God has given you, but to remind you that you have been empowered by God, through his Holy Spirit, both in your changed character and through the gifts he has given you. This message is for you, Christian! You are the same as the disciples—empowered by Jesus for your mission.
Now, the problem is, this could be quite pride building. Imagine, the very power and authority of God residing in you, Christian, through his Holy Spirit. This is the thing of movies! Yet, God chooses to do something quite paradoxical. He gives us this power and authority only through utter dependence on him. God gives us this power and authority only through utter dependence on him.
Look at what he tells his disciples as they are sent out to the villages:
“And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:3–6 ESV)
The disciples were sent out with Jesus’s authority and power, but in utter dependence on him. First, they were to take no staff, no bag, no bread, no money. They are sent, just themselves, to the surrounding areas completely needing God to provide for them. This description is distinctly different from the other wandering religious teachers of that day. These teachers would go around, village to village, and through their smooth words convince people they had a magnificent message. They would convince people to help them and then would wander around house to house convincing others, and in doing so live off their persuasive means. This is exactly the kind of teacher that the Apostle Paul so often said he wasn’t. It was also not so with the disciples. They are to stay in one place and not wander around. They are to trust that if Jesus provides someone with whom they find favor, this is the person they are to engage with in the city. And, if they are not received, they are not to try to force/trick people by their wit and discussions, rather simply leave.
This is the same type of dependence they were to have when they came face-to-face with needing to feed the 5,000. They had seen first-hand how Jesus had provided for them on their journey. Why would they doubt he could do it again for the 5,000? Yet, when they see the problem, instead of asking Jesus to provide they say:
“Send the crowd away” (Luke 9:12 ESV)
The disciples didn’t miss the need, but they missed the opportunity to depend on Jesus for the solution. When Jesus, in a different situation, tells the father of the boy who is possessed by a demon in Mark 9 that “All things are possible for one who believes.” The father of the boy cries out “I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23–24) The disciples should have said to Jesus, “Lord, we will feed them. Help us to feed them!”
This is the lesson Jesus is teaching his disciples here—they have been empowered by him, but will they turn to him in utter dependence? This is the same lesson he is teaching you and I, Christians. The picture of people empowered by Jesus is summed up very well by 2 Corinthians 12:9a—
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a ESV)
Broken vessels. Clay pots. Sinful people saved by grace alone. This is how we are described in Scripture and yet, these are the same people Jesus gives his power and authority to proclaim the wonderful news of his kingdom!
The Kingdom Coming
And all of this is for the sake of that message—the kingdom of God has come! When God releases the disciples into the surrounding villages with his power and authority, they are to proclaim his kingdom. It would seem from the account that they did this well, because we are told they returned to Jesus and told him all that happened. Yet, when they are faced with feeding the 5,000, they struggle to realize this is the exact same problem. They are faced with a need for the power and authority of Jesus and had a chance to point to him and his kingdom, but they failed to. Praise God Jesus comes through even in failures.
It is hard to know in this sermon what kind of examples to give. Oh, the stories we could tell of God’s people encountering his power and authority in amazing ways. People who have seen God heal others, seen demons flee at the very mention of his name, as God’s miraculous power and kingdom breaks into our world and time. Yet, I think the best example I can give is a different kind. The every-day plodding kind. I think that is where most of us struggle most often.
Some of you may have heard of George Mueller, but many of you likely haven’t. George Mueller lived through the entire 19th century (1805–1898) in Bristol, England. This was a time when many children in England were treated like Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist and sent to work in factories and mines. Mueller would take them in, feed them, cloth them, and educate them. Through his orphanage Mueller cared for as many as 2,000 orphans at any given moment, and more than 10,000 throughout his lifetime.
Like the disciples on that field, he looked out and saw a great need! Except Mueller did exactly what the disciples should have done. He said, “I will help them, help me help them, Lord!” For the sake of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God, Mueller took on this great task. And praise God for Mueller’s journals, otherwise we would not know the amazing ways God empowered Mueller through his utter dependence.
Mueller had recorded over fifty thousand specific recorded answers to prayers in his journals. Fifty-thousand! Thirty thousand of those prayers were answered on the same day or even the same hour he prayed them. He experienced at least 500 answers to prayer a year—more than one per day for sixty years! “God funneled over half a billion dollars (in today’s dollars) through his hands in answers to prayer.”
Jesus has come, and he has come in authority and power and is empowering his people through his Holy Spirit. Just like his disciples, you and I—Christian—have received power from Jesus. We have this power permanently through his Holy Spirit in our life. Yet, paradoxically, we find and access this power as we utterly depend on Jesus Christ. First through our faith, and then as we come to him again and again in small situations and in big difficult moments and find that it is only through Jesus that we can proclaim the kingdom of God in his power.
I want to encourage you, Table Rock, to dream big and ask God how he wants to use you. Where might he send you, that you might go in his power and authority to proclaim the good news of his kingdom to a dying world. Maybe even places or situations where he may use you to come in direct confrontation with the spiritual world or the need for miraculous healing. This very week, Howard Foreman is heading out to Mongolia to train up pastors. I will be heading out to Ethiopia in a few weeks. We both need the power and authority of Jesus to go, and we need to be utterly dependent on Jesus as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus. Where might God be calling you to go? In what amazing ways might he want you to rely on his power and authority in dependence?
And, I want to challenge all of us in the moments that are going to present themselves this very afternoon. How might Jesus be seen as glorious and his kingdom proclaimed, if you turned to him in dependence when a friend says something hurtful this afternoon? When at your nursing job, your school, your cubicle, your house? When you have a moment where you cannot do it? Maybe your patience is worn, your stress too high, your faith too weak. What if you looked to God and said, “I am willing, help me in this moment!” Would we see God show up in power and authority, and would you and others marvel at his kingdom breaking into our world? Not because of you, but because in your weakness you turned to God?
A Watching World
That is the other component of this message—a watching world. Again, in this message, we have different groups. Villagers who won’t respond. Jesus says, “don’t worry about them, let me deal with it. You just shake your dust off and move on.” There are those like Herod who will see and hear and be hostile. Jesus avoids him and goes about his business until the time is right. And there are those in the crowds who see and come to see what Jesus is all about. He spends his time with them, even when he wants to pull away and rest. Would a watching world see the power and authority of Jesus through your dependence on him and his kingdom be proclaimed among them!