“Who Can Do This?”
May 26, 2019
Only Jesus can meet the needs of all who seek him.
I. Do your work in dependence on him . . . (Luke 9:1-6)
II. Don’t even try to compare him to others . . . . (Luke 9:7-10)
III. Only Jesus can meet the needs of all who seek Him. (Luke 9:10-17)
Billy Graham, who died last year shortly after his 99th birthday, was by any measure the most successful evangelist in Christian history. He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in person to more than 210 million people, and one broadcast in 1996 reached over 2 billion people through various media. No one can count or know the millions led to Jesus Christ through his ministry. Further, his integrity, simplicity and single mindedness won him the admiration of many.
But without taking anything from him, let’s set Billy Graham in contrast to Jesus Christ. Imagine that for some reason Billy Graham thought he himself must meet the needs of all he leads to faith. All the needs: their food, their clothing, their housing, their work Further, Billy Graham would provide for their emotional needs, for their spiritual growth, for their strength and help in times of crisis. He would provide the insight, the strength, the energy, for every kind of ministry. How large a group could he have sustained? The millions he led to faith? The thousands who came forward in one crusade? The hundreds on Billy Graham Evangelistic Association staff? No? How about his own family, his wife and his children? No. I’d contend the number of people whom even Billy Graham could successfully sustain is much smaller than one. It’s zero. In his strength alone, Billy Graham could not even meet his own needs. He was himself dependent on Jesus Christ, and would have been first to admit it.
But Jesus is unique. He alone can truly meet all needs. No matter how big the group that comes to him, be it twelve, or a hundred, or five thousand, Jesus is able to meet their needs, and no one else can. It is that truth, of the uniqueness of Jesus, and of his power to sustain others that is central to our Scripture text today, Luke 9:1-17. Luke is moving toward a climax in his gospel, the full revelation of who Jesus is. Part of what Luke wants us to see is that Jesus Christ is the one who is uniquely able to meet the needs of those who seek Him. There are three episodes in our text. First, we see the disciples, going out to heal and share good news, dependent on God. Second, we see Herod, wondering who Jesus is, comparing him to John and others. Third, we see Jesus, providing for the physical needs of thousands who have come to him.
We begin with verses 1-6. He called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.
4Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5Wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
In chapter 9 Luke focuses on events that occur between Jesus and his disciples. Here at the very beginning he calls them all together. It may be that the twelve were not together the whole time Jesus ministered in Galilee. They may have visited their homes or worked, while still spending time with Jesus. But Jesus appears to have the goal at this point of extending the reach of his ministry. To do that, he will send out all twelve, with power and authority to both heal diseases and cast out demons. Furthermore, they will preach the kingdom of God, as he has been doing. It’s a wonderful mandate, to carry on his work, not really different from the mandate we are given, To go, to make disciples, to baptize, to teach all that he commanded. Like this group of twelve, we are in ministry for Jesus.
But my point is that only Jesus can meet the needs of those who seek him. If I’m right, then these disciples, even as disciples, could not go out and meet needs, could not themselves heal, cast out demons, or effectively preach. The text supports this understanding. It says he gave them power and authority and sent them out. Jesus goes out of his way to remind them of their dependence. Verse 3. “Take nothing for your journey.” Don’t make human preparations. Rather, rely on God, and on his provision. Don’t take a staff for protection. Don’t take a bag for clothing. Don’t take bread for food. Don’t take money for lodging. Don’t even take a coat. Jesus wants them to be totally dependent on him, and the things he provides. He wants them to see that God is at work in their daily circumstances, that God alone can faithfully supply their needs.
He also gives them some specific instructions on how they should do this. First, whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. There is a danger that those who are dependent will become connoisseurs of charity, moving from house to house to find the best and most generous benefactor. Jesus didn’t want them to do that. He didn’t want them even looking around.
Second, if people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet as you leave. Many Jews believed that the dust of Gentile lands carried defilement. Strict Jews shook off the Gentile dust whenever they returned to Israel. Thus when the disciples shook the dust off their feet it was a testimony against that town, It showed that the Israelites who rejected the kingdom message were like Gentiles and did not belong to the people of God. But this didn’t happen in most places. When the twelve set out they went from village to village, preaching the gospel, and healing people. They experienced great success.
Now how can we bring this into our own lives? Well let me put it this way: Unless Jesus comes, everyone in this room will be doing something tomorrow. It might your vocation, that job the Lord has provided for you. It might be caring for others or caring for your own loved ones in your own home. It might be going someplace with a neighbor or taking the family on vacation. I don’t know exactly what it will be for you, but you will be doing something. And if you take seriously the principle laid down in this Scripture, you should be doing that thing, that ministry, that service, in dependence on Jesus. You should be just as dependent on him as if you had nothing else to depend on. No staff, no bag, no bread, no money. It is Jesus who meets your needs.
Further, this truth applies our church. We’ve been around for more than 25 years. When we started it was with great uncertainty, much prayer and dependence on God. And we saw his blessing. At other times, I’m afraid, we have tried to rely on something else, maybe programs, maybe relationships, maybe inertia, to bring growth to our body. But in recent years, with a decline in attendance, we’ve been praying prayers of dependence and asking the Lord for revival. He’s answered that prayer with a hurricane, and we’ve seen the beginnings of growth and renewal. It will only continue as we desperately depend on him.
The next verses reinforce this by showing who Jesus is not. Don’t compare anyone else to him. Luke 9:7-9: Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.
Later in this chapter the disciples will finally reach an answer to the question “Who is this?” This section is one of the ways Luke works toward that moment. Here it’s Herod himself who is wondering “Who is this?” And though he has heard about all that was going on, he doesn’t come up with the right answer.
This Herod is not Herod the Great, the king when Jesus was born. Rather, it’s his son, Herod Antipas, who inherited Galilee and Perea and ruled until 39 A.D. He thus ruled during most of Jesus’ lifetime over the territory in which most of Jesus’ time was spent. It’s natural that he would have heard of Jesus, and that he, like others in Galilee, would wonder who he was. Apparently some were saying that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. We were told in Luke chapter 3 that this Herod had imprisoned John. Matthew and Mark tell us explicitly, that he also had him killed. You know the story, how Salome danced, and Herod promised her anything, up to half his kingdom. When she asked for the head of John the Baptist, Herod reluctantly complied.
The account, especially in Mark, implies that Herod felt guilty about John’s death. Thus, he would be intrigued by a report that John had returned from the dead. But it wouldn’t have taken much research to disprove. The ministries of John and Jesus overlapped, and on one public occasion, the baptism of Jesus, the two were together. John himself had said the one who followed him would be far greater. John the Baptist was one of the greatest of all God’s people. Like Billy Graham, John had a tremendous ministry, tremendous integrity, a clarion call to turn people back to God. But like Billy Graham, John was not Jesus, and knew it. He said he wasn’t worthy to untie His sandals. He baptized merely with water, while the coming one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He said “Jesus must increase and I must decrease.” John made it clear that Jesus alone could meet real spiritual needs. John just introduced him.
So when Herod or anyone else speculates that Jesus was John the Baptist they do a disservice to Jesus. They make him less than he really was. Even more so, of course, when they compare him to Elijah, or one of the other prophets. Elijah was the subject of much speculation because he had not died, he’d been taken away by God. The last statement of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5 says God will send Elijah before the great and glorious day of the Lord. But it was John not Jesus, who received the spirit and power of Elijah. John was the forerunner, and Jesus was the Lord. To identify Jesus as Elijah is to make him less than he really was. Same thing with identifying him as any other prophet.
None of Herod’s speculation is really honoring. No one is like Jesus. No one else could be the suffering servant Messiah, whom God sent to rescue all who seek him. Still, Herod’s speculation shows his interest, and the people’s interest in this one who was among them. Herod even tried to see him, though he must have only tried superficially. He didn’t end up seeing him until after Jesus was arrested, and even then he treated him superficially and with contempt.
Many critics have wanted to see Jesus as just a good man. He’s compared to Ghandi, or Confucius, Socrates or Plato. But to say this is to make Jesus so much less than he is. C. S. Lewis has said this clearly. “I am trying to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claims to be God.” This is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. Let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus did not intend to leave that open to us. Neither did Luke. The things he shows Jesus doing reveal his unique power and authority. That’s clear in the next verses, 10-17: On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. He took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11When 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. 12Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “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.” 13But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
The Gospels consistently show the thick-headedness of the disciples. This example isn’t extreme, but there may be some thick-headedness here. Look at the wording of verse 10: “On their return the apostles told him all that they had done.” Now there is nothing obviously wrong in that. But it seems to me the apostles would have shown more sensitivity if they’d reported what God had done, not what they’d done. Maybe the honor of preaching the gospel and healing went to the apostles’ heads. In fact in chapter 10 Jesus does rebuke them for this. His response here may reflect the same concern. He withdraws with the disciples to a quiet place, maybe to talk over their experience.
But before that talk can happen, the crowds, the great, consistent Galilean crowds show up again, in the vicinity of Bethsaida, but in a wilderness region. Jesus’ response to this crowd show how unique and wonderful he is. Look at the words: the crowds learned of it and followed him, and he welcomed them. He received them and taught them and healed them. Who among us would have welcomed that massive interruption, those thousands of needy visitors? Who would’ve moved right in to teach those who needed to be taught, heal those who needed to be healed? We don’t have this grace, compassion or power.
Only Jesus can meet the needs of all who seek him. That’ just as true today as it was in 33 A.D. Only Jesus, today, has the power to meet the many needs we see around us, needs for fellowship, needs for healing, needs for discipling, needs in relationships, needs for financial and missionary support, needs for prayer, needs for time, energy, devotion, dedication.
There are so many needs around us, and only Jesus can really meet those needs. If Billy Graham can’t do it, if John the Baptist can’t do it, if the apostles can’t do it, neither can we. The disciples have no conception at all that somebody might feed this crowd. It’s completely outside their imagination, even after all these miracles. So late in the afternoon they come to Jesus and ask him to send the crowd home for dinner. This makes perfect sense to them. We’re in a remote place, there are towns and villages around, this crowd needs to go eat, and to find someplace to spend the night. So they must be shocked when Jesus comes back at them with the instruction: “You give them something to eat.”
You can almost hear their jaws drop. Us? Feed this whole crowd? How? Now don’t get me wrong, that’s actually the right reaction. There is no way they can meet this need. That’s what Jesus wants them to realize. He was teaching them to be dependent in their faith. Where the disciples went wrong was trying to find a human way to do what Jesus alone is able to do. When he says “You give them something to eat,” they begin to run a mental checklist of ways you can feed 5000 people. Well, let’s see, maybe if we look around and asked for donations, we’ll find enough people with food to feed the whole crowd. What have we got? Five loaves of bread and two fish. Not near enough.
Well alright, how much have we got in the money bag? Maybe we can make a quick run to a town and buy whatever’s in the marketplace. Nope, that’s not going to work, the market’s are all closed, and Judas says there’s only half a shekel in the treasury. I always like to imagine the look on Jesus’ face at this moment a combination of exasperation and amusement. They should have figured out that they needed him, not a bunch of money or a donation from the crowd. Instead of scrambling around using the world’s wisdom to try to solve their problem in their own power, they should have been coming to Jesus
But at least it was a teachable moment. Jesus had set them an impossible task, and now he will help them to see just what a wonderful provider he is. Verse 14: “For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’” Notice something important: when Jesus stepped in to be the provider, he did not cut the disciples out of the picture. He could have eliminated them completely, materialized bread in the hands of each of those five thousand men. Instead, he continued to use the disciples, and let them participate in his provision. In the same way, we should expect to have real responsibility. When I say Jesus is able to meet the needs of all that seek Him, I am not saying that we have nothing to do. We are commissioned to tell others about him, to share his good news, and time after time it is our role to help people seek him. Not ourselves to provide for their needs, but to bring them into his presence. And then it is Jesus who provides.
Verse 16: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Jesus gives thank to God the father for the provision. It’s interesting to me that the Gospel writers never show anyone else giving a blessing to bread or wine, but Jesus almost always does. Even at the last supper, even after the resurrection, no opportunity is missed to show him giving thanks. It was one of the things that stuck in people’s minds. So he looks to heaven and says “Baruch atah adonai eloheynoo melech ha’olam hamatzoi lekhem min ha’aretz.’ And then he takes those few loaves, and he begins to break them, and break them, and break them, and break them, and break them, and break them, and break them, and break them. The disciples are taking basket after basket after basket after basket to the groups sitting out on the grass, and every time he comes back, there is more to be taken. All the people ate and were satisfied. All of them. Let that sink in. Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread, and two fish.
Let’s stop for a moment and think about our needs. You’ve probably got a list of things you need in your personal life. Not selfish things, but real needs. Restoration of relationships. Provision of basic financial needs. Rest. Healing. Comfort. Direction. Strength for daily tasks. Help for ministry. We as a church have needs. Ministry needs. People needs. Financial needs. We long for the Lord to enlarge our effectiveness for his sake. Now think about this: only one who could feed 5000 with five loaves and two fish can meet those needs.
The one person we can depend on, the one provision we can rely on, the one source great enough to supply all needs, is Jesus. He is the one who freely gives us all things. Now someone will say: “He hasn’t given me bread, or financial provision.” He can, but he doesn’t, always. Partially because he’s concerned first about being the provision for our spiritual needs. In John he says “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” He has given himself for you. What greater provision could he make? Not that he doesn’t give these other things as well, not that he doesn’t care about your hunger or your brokenness. He does. But first he gives himself.When you’ve trusted him, he gives his Spirit, renewal, eternal life, and his presence. He cares for these deep needs first.
And not only to you: The miracle is this, that Jesus alone can meet the needs of all who seek Him. He is sufficient for all his children. He is not limited as we are, to partially helping only a few, sustaining only a few. He is not limited to five thousand, ten thousand, or a million. Jesus is provision for all needs of all who seek him. In the same section of John, he said this: My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Everyone who looks to the Son has life.
So what have we said this morning? I hope it’s plain: only Jesus can meet the needs of all those who seek him. You and I then, by way of application, need to seek Jesus. We need to take our needs to him in three areas: First, the area of salvation. Only he can rescue us from sin and death. Only he can give eternal life and the promise of resurrection. And he gives it to everyone who looks to the Son and believes. We need to seek Jesus. Second, the area of personal needs. That list of needs, in your heart, and in your family, and in your circumstances, how are you trying to get those needs met? Through worldly means, like the disciples did? Through other people, like that list that Herod had? Or like the crowd, will you go into the wilderness to seek Jesus. Will you go out of your way to be with Jesus, and depend on him? Jesus alone - no one else, no other way to meet your needs. We need to seek Jesus.
Third, in ministry. It was Jesus who gave power and authority for ministry. Jesus continued to use them even as he himself was meeting the needs of the crowds. If we, as a church, want to do ministry, we must depend on Jesus. His the strength, his the power, his the direction. If we as individuals want to be effective in the lives of others, we need to bring them to Jesus, to point them to him. We can be his instruments, but we can never replace him. Their needs will be met only when they come to the Savior. We need to seek Jesus.