The Loaves and Fishes

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Nov. 22, 2009

And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. (MAR 6:41-42)

I.       Mark Chapter 5 is all about various miracles performed by the Lord.

A.   But Chapter 6, in contrast, starts out telling us that He was unable to do miracles in His own home regions because they thought of Him as Jesus, the carpenter’s son.

1.     This is important because it helps us to focus our attention on why the Lord did these miracles, and even more importantly, why it’s important for us to be reading about them today.

a.     If we don’t believe the Lord has the power to save us, we won’t ask for His help.

b.     And, He tells us that He will stand at the door and knock, but we have to invite Him to come in.

c.      The free will choice is ours alone – and the nature of our eternal spiritual life hangs on that decision.

B.   (7-13) He sends out the disciples two by two, and they are able to heal the sick.

1.     Here we see that the disciples are able to do miracles of healing.

a.     Why? Because people associate them with the Lord and believe that they administer His power.

C.   (14-29) At this point in the chapter, the ministry of John the Baptist comes to an abrupt end as he is executed by Herod.

1.     It was clear from the start that his ministry was only for the purpose of preparing the way for the Lord and that it would have to come to an end once the Lord got His ministry going.

a.     Signifies the strength of the power of evil in the world at that time and the imperative need for the Lord to be there.

2.     Herod, representing evil, shows his power over John the Baptist, and Jesus responds by showing His own power, and the extensive support that He had from the people.

II.    The miracle of the loaves and fishes (as we briefly mentioned in the children’s talk) starts in a deserted place with many people coming to hear Jesus or be healed. The disciples flee, without taking time to eat. 

A.   There seems to be an element of being surprised by the crowds and running away without a plan, without taking provisions for the journey.

1.     The disciples were surprised, but Jesus could not have been.

B.   They escape the crowds by getting in a boat and heading for a deserted place.

1.     And Jesus, of course, knew that the disciples were taking them right back to the crowd, but He allowed it.

C.   The crowds anticipated where they were going, ran ahead, and were waiting for them when they arrived.

a.     They were like sheep without a shepherd, so Jesus took pity on them and began to teach.

D.   At the end of the day, the disciples suggest that the teaching end, that the people be sent away so that they could find food for themselves in the villages in the surrounding country.

a.     It is specifically stated “for they have nothing to eat.” (MAR 6:36)

b.     Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.

c.      The disciples, knowing that they left in a hurry without even bringing food for themselves ask Jesus if He means that they should take “200 denarii” and go into the village to buy the food.

i.       A denarius is a common coin, and in the New Testament it is used to represent a day’s wages for a labourer.

ii.     So, ask yourself how much a labourer ought to get for a full day’s work today, then multiply that by 200, and you’ll get a sense of what that question meant. It represented a lot of money, for a lot of food.

E.    Jesus then told them to find out how much food could be found in the group. Remember, the disciples did not bring any themselves. By asking the people, they were able to come up with 5 loaves of bread, and two fish.

1.     They were told to sit on the grass in groups of hundreds and fifties.

a.     In general 5 means few, and 10 means more in relation to truths, so this odd detail which seems to add nothing to the story tells us that among the group the Lord was serving there were people who had “more” truth, and those who had “less.” Put another way, this feeding or sharing of bread is for everyone, no matter what their state of truth is, so long as they want it and they believe the Lord can give it to them.

F.    He blessed and broke the loaves and gave to the disciples. The bread and fish were thus divided to the whole group.

1.     And lest you begin to think that they got little bites, they took up 12 baskets of fragments afterwards. After feeding 5,000 people there was more left over than they started with.

G.   Modern Bible critics have suggested that the real miracle here was that He was able to get the people to reveal and share food that they had hidden in their pockets.

1.     The point is that it was supposed to be a miracle, not a sharing group, to think of it this way takes all the power of it away!

2.     And the set-up for the story makes it quite clear that everyone was moving from place to place in a spontaneous way, this wasn’t a planned outing where people would be carrying a meal or two in a hidden pocket just in case.

a.     The people were going about their daily work when they heard that Jesus was near. They dropped what they were doing and ran to see Him, then when he left in a boat, ran to see Him at His new place.

3.     He created the world! He created bread from dew and fed a million people in the wilderness for 40 years! Why do we struggle with stretching a few loaves of bread?

H.   Immediately following this miracle, we hear that He walks on the water to join the disciples in the boat (no mention of Peter), and then landing in Gennesaret, crowds besiege Him, and as many as touched Him were made well.

1.     He responds to the death of John the Baptist with three powerful demonstrations of His power over disease, and His power over natural phenomena by creating food and walking on the water.

III. So, where do we go with all this?

A.   AE 617 [4] From this, too, it is evident that “to eat” signifies in the spiritual sense to receive in the will and to do, from which is conjunction; for the Lord by doing the Divine will conjoined the Divine that was in Him with His Human, and thus appropriated the Divine to His Human. To this may be referred:  The Lord’s feeding the five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two fishes, and when they had eaten and were filled they took up twelve baskets of fragments (Matt. 14:15-22; John 6:5, 13, 23). Also His feeding four thousand men from seven loaves and a few fishes (Matt. 15:32, et seq.).

1.     This miracle was done because previously the Lord had been teaching them, and they had received and appropriated to themselves His doctrine; this is what they ate spiritually; therefore natural eating followed, that is, flowed in out of heaven with them as the manna did with the sons of Israel, unknown to them; for when the Lord wills, spiritual food which also is real food but only for spirits and angels, is changed into natural food, just as it was turned into manna every morning.

B.   Miracles don’t convert unbelievers into believers.

1.     All you have to do is look at the adventures of the children of Israel as they were freed from Egypt and proceed into the wilderness and you can see ample evidence of that.

2.     But miracles can and do provide support and reassurance to those who do believe – or who want to believe.

3.     And perhaps, most important, they show that the Lord has the power to do amazing things. This gives each one of us the confidence – the faith – that if we approach the Lord for help and healing in our spiritual lives that He can in fact provide it. Amen.


Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson:  EXO 16:11-31

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {12} “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” {13} So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. {14} And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. {15} So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. {16} “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’” {17} Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. {18} So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. … {31} And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Amen.

Second Lesson:  Apocalypse Explained 430 [15]

He who does not know that “twelve” signifies all things cannot know the arcanum that is signified by:  The twelve baskets of fragments that remained from the five loaves and two fishes with which the Lord fed five thousand men besides women and children (Matt. 14:5-2; Mark 6:37-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:9-13). Each particular here, with the numbers themselves, is significative; “the five thousand men besides women and children,” signify all who are of the church that are in truths from good; the “men” signifying those who are in truths, and the “women and children” those who are in good; “loaves” the goods and “fishes” the truths of the natural man; “eating” spiritual nourishment from the Lord; the “twelve baskets of fragments” the knowledges of truth and good therefrom in all abundance and fullness. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.