I’m sure you would agree that the Sistine Chapel is one of the true jewels of the art world—especially the world of CHRISTIAN art. Michelangelo spent four years painting it—finishing his amazing masterpiece in 1512.
Now, in Michelangelo’s day the only light source came from candles—and as all those candles burned to illuminate the Sistine Chapel year after year—well, the soot rising and collecting on the ceiling began to obscure the paintings. After several centuries a great deal of “candle soot,” grime, and dust made it obvious that the original art had to be restored. So a team of restorative artists went to work on the Sistine Chapel. They labored from 1984-1999 and when they finished the monochrome colors were restored to their original beauty.
Understand—prior to their work, many people in the art community thought that Michelangelo was a genius at COMPOSITION. After all, how did he think to have Adam’s hand stretching out, yearning to find the finger of God, which was already reaching out for him? It was also widely-believed that Michelangelo’s COLORATION was mediocre. It was too dark, monochromatic, and just plain BLAH. But when they restored those frescoes to their original state, everyone could see the beautiful, fresh, and even spring-like colors in Michelangelo’s masterpiece—pale pink, apple green, vivid yellow, and sky blue against a background of warm pearly grey. As you can see, when the maker’s true brilliance and goodness were revealed, people definitely had to change their assumptions about Michelangelo.
I share this story because in a similar way, for many people, over the years the “soot, grime, and dust” of daily life in our fallen and falling culture has obscured their vision of God. I mean, there are times when—for many people—God’s character seems unclear. And, there are many ways to restore our understanding of God back to crystal clarity. Studying His Book—the Bible—helps of course—as does the counsel of growing believers—people who have walked closely with God and know Him well. But the best way to get a proper understanding of God is through His Son.
This is why a study of Jesus’ life—like we are undergoing right now is so important. You see, since Jesus is “the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God’s Being” — since He is God become flesh, looking at how He lived and interacted with people begins a work of restoration in our perceptions so we can see the true colors of God’s brilliant goodness. And that’s how I’d like us to approach today’s installment in our study of the life of Christ. I’d like us to look at Luke’s account of Jesus’ most popular miracle to find answers to this question: What is God really like? I believe the answers we find in our text will help us all to see God more clearly.
Now—in his account John tells us that this miracle and the events leading up to it took place shortly before the Passover—in the spring of 29AD—just one year before the cross. Remember that as I read. We’re looking at Luke 9:1-17.
1 – When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,
2 – and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
3- He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.
4 – Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.
5 – If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
6 – So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
7 – Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead,
8 – …others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life.
9 – But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see Him.
10 – When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then He took them with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida,
11 – but the crowds learned about it and followed Him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
12 – Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to Him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
13 – He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”
14 – (About five thousand men were there.) But He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”
15 – The disciples did so, and everyone sat down.
16 – Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to Heaven, He gave thanks and broke them. Then He gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.
17 – They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Okay—how does this text help us to clarify our understanding of God? What does it enable us to SEE about His character?
(1) The first thing this text shows us about God is that He SEEKS.
God loves ALL people and wants all people to know Him. Let me put it like this: we’re lost without God and He doesn’t want us to stay that way. He’s not willing that ANY should perish—so God SENT His only Son on a mission. In Luke 19:10 Jesus spells out that mission for us. Jesus says that He came to SEEK and save lost sinners like you and me. Isn’t that a wonderful attribute of God to understand—to see more clearly?
You know, I believe many people mistakenly think that God is on more of a “search and destroy” kind of Guy. They think He takes pleasure in finding and punishing sinners. But nothing could be further from the truth. God is not a “search and destroy” God—He’s a “seek and save” God—which is why He sent His only Son from the glories of Heaven to this fallen world of ours.
In his book, Tattoos On the Heart, Gregory Boyle tells the story of a 15-year-old gang member named Rigo. Rigo was getting ready for a special worship service for incarcerated youth when Boyle casually asked if Rigo’s father would be coming. The following is a summary of their conversation: “No,” Rigo said, “He’s a heroin addict and never been in my life. He used to always beat me.” Then something snapped inside Rigo as he recalled an image from his childhood. “I think I was in fourth grade,” he began, “I came home—I was sent home in the middle of the day. When I got home my dad said, ‘Why did they send you home?’ And cuz my dad always beat me, I said, ‘If I tell you, promise you won’t hit me?’ He just said, ‘I’m your father. Course I’m not gonna hit you.’ So I told him.” Rigo began to cry, and in a moment he started wailing and rocking back and forth. Boyle put his arm around him until he slowly calmed down. When Rigo could finally speak again, he spoke quietly, still in a state of shock: “He beat me with a pipe…with…my dad beat me with a pipe.” After Rigo composed himself, Boyle asked about his mom. Rigo pointed to a small woman and said, “That’s her over there. There’s no one like her.” Then Rigo paused and said, “I’ve been locked up for a year and half. She comes to see me every Sunday. You know how many buses she takes every Sunday to see me?”
Rigo started sobbing with the same ferocity as before. After catching his breath, he gasped through the sobs, “Seven buses. She takes seven buses. Imagine.” Boyle concluded this story with the following analogy. Looking at Jesus’ life helps us see that God loves each of us like Rigo’s mother loved her son—unconditionally…with commitment, steadfastness, and sacrifice.
According to Boyle, we have a God “Who takes seven buses, just to arrive at us.” And of course Boyle is correct—for all throughout Jesus’ ministry—His birth on Christmas morning, His meals with sinners, His healing of the sick, His death on the cross for our sins—Jesus showed us the heart of God—the God Who will take a long journey of love to find us and bring us home. God is a God Who SEEKS to save fallen and falling people.
But that SEEKING has always INCLUDED saved sinners like us—Christians. You see, once we know Him our Lord SENDS us out to SEEK—sends us to tell others the good news of the Gospel so that they too can come to know God. That’s what the Great Commission is all about. Each of us who have responded to God’s great love are to GO in to all the world each of us are ordained, commissioned, SENT on the same “seek and save the lost” kind of mission. And we see the first example of that mission right here in our text from Luke.
As we read a moment ago, at the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, He brought the twelve together and sent them on a preaching tour—their very first hands-on experience of “fishing for men.” It was a dress rehearsal for the post-Pentecost ministry of the twelve—sort of a “mission-trip scrimmage.” Understand—up until this point, Jesus had done all the ministering—all the teaching. The twelve brought people to be healed, and Jesus touched their diseased bodies. The twelve took care of Jesus’ physical needs and arranged the details of His travel so He could concentrate on teaching. The Twelve observed, listened, questioned, and learned, but Jesus instructed. The Twelve helped contain demonized individuals, but Jesus cast out the spirits.
Well now, all that would change. The time had come for Jesus’ trainees to put their learning into practice. It was time for the Twelve to enter the battle, firsthand. So Jesus called theme together and charged them with their first mission. They were to replicate His ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God. Furthermore, they were to illustrate the reality of God’s kingdom on earth by casting out demons and healing diseases—just as they had seen Jesus do. But Jesus didn’t just SEND the Twelve on this SEEKING mission—He EMPOWERED them to go. In verse 1 Luke says that to prepare the twelve for this first ever mission trip Jesus delegated to them His divine “power” and His divine “authority.” These two terms sound similar but they are different. The first word, “dynamis” in the Greek — “power” in English — is the divine ability to accomplish the impossible. Jesus infused the Twelve with this kind of power. He gave them capabilities they did not have on their own—the power to do miracles. Imagine how exciting that must have been!
The second word is “exousia” in the Greek— “authority” in English—and it is a divine mandate to carry out the Lord’s mission.
In his commentary Swindoll says a good way to illustrate the difference between DYNAMIS and EXOUSIA is to imagine a police officer directing traffic. He wears a gun, which gives him the power or the ability to subdue a criminal physically. Without the POWER of his weapon, it would be very difficult for him to overpower a violent criminal. But the policeman also wields AUTHORITY delegated to him by the city. He lacks the power to stop a car physically—two thousand pounds of metal going forty-five miles per hour would kill him instantly but by merely holding out his hand, he stops cars by command. If you’ve ever been caught in a speed trap where a policeman stepped out in front of you commanding you to stop—you know what I mean. We stop—we obey his authoritative commands because that uniform and badge tells us that if we don’t we will suffer the consequences brought on by the government that authorized him. Well, that’s a picture of what Jesus did for the disciples. He gave them the POWER and the AUTHORITY to speak and heal in His place. And this should remind us that when we join God in seeking the lost—when He sends US on our own SEEK and FIND mission like when He tells us to help someone who is hurting or when He tells us to share the Gospel with a friend or neighbor—or whatever—when God commands us to GO in His name, we have the same power and authority.
Well, the Twelve did exactly as they were told. According to Mark’s gospel, the men worked in pairs. Six teams of two traveled all over Galilee preaching and healing, taking nothing with them—relying on God to provide for their every need. Luke implies that this was an extended time of travel, requiring several weeks or perhaps even months—and it must have been a very productive time because even Herod the Tetrarch heard about it.
Well, at the end of that time they returned to Jesus to give a report of their “seeking experiences” and it is here that we see another aspect of God’s character.
(2) We see that He CARES…He genuinely cares about people and their needs.
When the disciples returned they very quickly found themselves and Jesus surrounded by a multitude. Perhaps crowds of people who had heard of their preaching and healing followed them home and others in the area spread the word that Jesus was there. In any case, they went from one exhausting mission trip to another! In his Gospel Mark puts it this way, “Because so many people were coming and going that Jesus and His disciples did not even have a chance to EAT, Jesus said to them. ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31) Vance Havner voiced the way the disciples must have responded. In his opinion they said, “We will come with You Jesus—because if we don’t come apart and rest, we’ll just come apart.” In short, the apostles were being “peopled to death,” by those who had experienced their great ministries. The press was so great that they could not find time for a snack! I can’t help but think of some of the medical mission trips to the D. R. that we have been on where the clinic was so crowded we had to sneak off to grab a bite of lunch. Well, this was wonderful but also draining for the already exhausted Twelve. And let’s be honest, ministry can be like that. As the ditty goes:
“Mary had a little lamb, “twas given her to keep,
But then it joined the local church and died for lack of sleep.”
At any rate, the disciples needed some time to themselves. And getting away like this to rest and be with Jesus was important because as I said only one year remained before Calvary and Jesus had much to teach His followers in that time. Plus Jesus Himself needed rest. The disciples ALSO needed time to debrief with Jesus to share their mission trip experiences. I imagine they had tons of questions that only He could answer—so they left the crowd, got in a boat, and headed for a remote part of the shoreline—a hilly region near Bethsaida.
Well, it wasn’t long after Jesus and His crew beached the boat, climbed up the hillside and began their little retreat—it wasn’t long before they looked and saw from the dust cloud on the horizon that the multitude had followed them—walking nine miles around the top of the lake. They had apparently watched to see where they were going and then headed off in pursuit. I mean, these people were persistent—almost “paparazzi persistent.” Hundreds more from the lakeshore hamlets probably joined them, calling out to their friends to come along, so that finally thousands converged on the apostles’ retreat site in noisy, jostling expectation. Well, so much for some time away!
Now—how do you think the disciples felt when they saw the crowd? I think they must have felt resentful. Perhaps there was some complaining. “We’re exhausted! We’ve been going non-stop for weeks now! We need a break!!!!” But that’s not how Jesus responded! Luke reports: “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” In short He preached at great length on the same positive kingdom theme that the apostles had been preaching on their mission trip and then He healed their ailments.
Now—it’s important to realize that these 5,000+ people were not saved and sanctified saints. They weren’t fully devoted disciples of Jesus. In fact, in his commentary John Macarthur calls them “shallow, self-centered thrill seekers” and I think that is pretty accurate. Plus—Jesus knew that most of the crowd following Him that day would not stay with Him at the end of His life. He knew that He would be abandoned, that the crowds would turn against Him, and that He would die alone on a Roman cross. But none of that affected Jesus’ response to these people. In spite of their immaturity and selfishness Jesus was still moved with compassion for them. In Mark’s account, the Greek word for “compassion” is “splanchnizomai” and it literally means “to be moved in the heart of one’s emotions.” In other words, Jesus didn’t care about the motives of these people. He just cared.
Well, our Lord hasn’t changed. He is still moved with compassion about your needs, your concerns, your nightmares, your fears. As 1 Peter 5:7 says, “You are His personal concern.”
His compassion for people isn’t based on something they do to earn it or deserve it. He is compassionate because of Who He is not because of who we are. I’m saying that this incident in the life of Christ helps us to see that God genuinely cares about us. Let that fact sink it. God REALLY cares—about YOU and YOUR problems.
This week I read the story about a businessman who went to a bank for a loan. He was turned down, but then the banker made an unusual offer. He said to the man, “I have one good eye and one glass eye. If you can tell me which is which, I’ll approve your loan.” The man took a quick look at the banker and said, “Your left eye is your good eye.” The banker was surprised and said, “That’s right! How did you know?” The business man said, “Because I detected a hint of compassion in the OTHER eye.”
Unfortunately, that’s how many people see God: stern, harsh, cold, unfeeling—and nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a gentle loving Father. He’s moved with compassion at human suffering. When you hurt, He cares—even if the hurt you are going through is your own fault—even if you brought it on yourself—God still has compassion for you. This means we can ALWAYS go to Him with our fears and our problems and ALWAYS find welcome arms and listening ears. I mean, God would never say, “You came to Me just yesterday to ask me to help you with that fear. Didn’t you hear My response! When are you going to grow up and get a little courage! Sorry…I’m not helping you today. You’re on your own!” Or—if you go to God for forgiveness He won’t say, “Didn’t I forgive you of that same sin last week? You slipped up and did it again?! How can you have the gall to ask for My forgiveness again?!” You’ll never hear God respond like that! Let’s say you go to God and ask Him to clarify some direction He gave you recently. You won’t EVER hear Him say, “Can’t you understand English! I told you what to do! Stop wasting My time.” No—God is not like that. He is FULL of COMPASSION for you and me. Does that fact thrill your soul as much as it does mine?!
Okay—there’s one more aspect of God’s character that this text helps us to see. He seeks lost people. He cares about our concerns…
(3) And finally, God WORKS MIRACLES.
As I said, the disciples had to post-pone their retreat because Jesus welcomed the crowds. He taught them and healed them—and this went on for hours. Then, as the sun was beginning to set verse 12 says, “Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to Him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’” Jesus replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’” In my mind, it’s as if Jesus said, “You’ve been doing miracles for several weeks now—let’s see what you’ve learned about My power.”
Apparently the things they learned didn’t stick because their response showed they were looking at the problem from a human-power standpoint. They said, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” And it was quite a crowd—5,000 men—which means the total was closer to 15,000. Well, Jesus had them sit the people in groups of about fifty each. Literally the Greek says that they sat down in “garden beds.” And on the green grass of that hillside, groups of fifty people in their colored clothes must have looked like lots of beautiful beds of flowers. Then, Jesus lifted His eyes to Heaven and probably gave the traditional blessing that is preserved in the Mishnah: “Blessed be You, O Lord our God, King of the world, Who causes bread to come forth from the earth.” This would have been followed by a thunderous 15,000 voice “AMEN!” Then Jesus took the bread and the fishes from the little boy’s lunch and broke it into pieces. The Greek literally says, “He kept giving” the pieces to the disciples. Alexander MacClaren said, “Jesus kept producing the bread and fish in His hands by the supernatural power of God. The pieces grew under His touch and the disciples always found His hands full when they came back with their own empty.” Jesus kept creating tons of barley cakes and fish between the palms of His hands. For hours He multiplied the food and passed the abundance to His team of disciples who distributed it to the groups of people sitting on the hillside. And if you doubt this miracle—which by the way is the only miracle of Jesus that appears in all four Gospels—if you doubt that it happened remember, the Creator Who created the entire universe from nothing would have had no trouble creating enough food to fill 15,000 stomachs from the lunch of a little boy. And that’s what He did. In fact, the left overs filled twelve baskets.
By the way, if you need a miracle, this is a good pattern to follow. Take the resources you have—even if they’re embarrassingly small, like that little boy’s lunch—and offer them up to God. See what He does. Maybe your marriage is hanging by a thread. Give that thread to God. He will strengthen it and multiply it. He can take the feelings you have for your spouse—even if they are not much and multiply them until you have a love you never imagined. Maybe your finances are in a mess. Give God that mess and you’ll see His is infinitely more skilled than any CPA when it comes to balancing your checkbook. Are you facing some challenge in school or at work as you seek to do God’s will? Take what you have to God and ask for His help. He will give it. God is a God of miracles. He has the power to multiply whatever is given to Him. He can heal broken marriages, broken families, broken lives, wounded hearts—whatever. When you feel the situation is hopeless, God can and will help.
Years ago I read about a group of Christian singles in Southern Texas who learned this same principle. One Christmas season—they felt God leading them to provide a meal for a group of people—people living across the border in Mexico who eked out a living by sifting through a huge garbage dump for food or for things they could sell. They felt our Heavenly Father telling them to take food to the dump for a special holiday meal. This group of singles were afraid to go on a typical day—thinking that feeding the typical crowd of hundreds of beggars would be something that was beyond their resources. So they decided to go on Christmas day thinking surely on this day most of the people would not work. These singles were not wealthy but they thought that on this holiday they could scrape up enough food to feed those who did work. So they all brought what they could. They loaded their sandwiches, salads, and one ham into the back of a pickup truck and headed across the border. When they arrived at first they thought their estimates had been correct. The crowd of garbage pickers looked like it was much smaller than normal. But as they unloaded the food suddenly people came from everywhere—hundreds.
Apparently many actually lived at this dump and had been under piles of discarded cardboard and thus unseen. These singles began to fear that their food would run out very quickly and that people might even riot—but miraculously it didn’t. They cannot explain how this happened but as the people continued to come for food, there were always enough sandwiches in the stack. And the more they cut from that ham, the more meat they found on it. They all ate—many hundreds of them—until they were filled and they even had food left over. Apparently God multiplied their meager food resources in the same way He did the lunch of that boy which Jesus used to feed five thousand people. In this amazing experience these singles got to KNOW God better. They learned that He can be trusted to enable us to do His will even if that calls for a miracle.
Listen: God still seeks lost people. He still cares—He’s still full of compassion toward people like you and me and God still does miracles—in fact He is ready to do His greatest miracle right now—Greater than the one He did that day near Bethsaida. I’m referring to the miracle He does when an individual puts his faith in Jesus Christ and has his sins forgiven so that He stands pure and blameless in the eyes of our Holy God. Let me put it this way. All other miracles are temporary. Those who were healed could get sick or injured again. The people who were fed on that hillside—they got hungry again. Even the people Jesus raised from the dead eventually died again. But conversion is for keeps because accepting God’s gift of forgiveness through faith in Jesus gives us eternal life. As the late Calvin Miller put it, “Heaven is the finest and most final of all Christian miracles. In that eternal place there is no pain or sorrow or death because the old order of things has passed away.”
Think of it this way: a 30 year old man is diagnosed with lung cancer. Docs say it is terminal. This prompts him to turn to God. He hears the Gospel and puts his faith in Jesus. He also asks for God’s healing power and He gives it. The cancer disappears. His docs can’t explain it and he lives 60 more years. At the ripe age of 90 his body ceases to function. But because of his conversion six decades later his death is not that big of a deal. He just moves to Heaven where he lives forever. Now, tell me which miracle is more powerful? His healing from cancer gave him 60 years but his faith in Jesus gave him eternity!!! Do the math. Which miracle is greater?
Sing the chorus with me: “It took a miracle to put the stars in place; it took a miracle to hang the world in space; But when He saved my soul, cleansed and made me whole; It took a miracle of love and grace.” Well, let me ask you, has God saved your soul? Have you personally experienced the greatest miracle? If not, I believe that right now He is seeking You—drawing you with His great compassion and love. So, if you call on the name of the Lord—if you pray and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to come into your life as Lord—He will. If you want to make that decision today, come forward and I’ll answer your questions and we’ll pray together.
If you are here and you’d like to pray for God’s miraculous power concerning some issue or circumstance, come, we’ll humbly ask for God’s help together. And if God is leading you to join this church family come—but come now as God leads.