Jesus Sends the Twelve and Feeds the Five Thousand (Luke 9:1-17)

Jesus Sends the Twelve and Feeds the Five Thousand (Luke 9:1-17)

I. Luke 9:1-9 

A. The Twelve Sent 

9:1-9“And he called the twelve [that is, the twelve disciples he had chosen] together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 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. 

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, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.”

The first thing we have to do when a passage we’re studying starts with the word “And” is to say “hold up! What comes before the ‘and?’” The “and” tells us this is a continuation. Immediately prior to this, Jesus had been healing and curing diseases of those who came to him in faith. In chapter 9, Jesus continues to bring healing, but there is a shift in how he goes about it. 

Luke 8, verse 56 says “he [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what had happened.” Now, this seems counterintuitive to us, because why would’t Jesus want his message and his influence to spread? Wouldn’t he want more people to hear about the coming of the Messiah? Well, we see at that point that while Jesus wasn’t hiding this message from those who came to him in faith, he wasn’t ready for that message to spread widely.

But that changes here in the beginning of Luke 9. We see Jesus begin a new phase of ministry in which he is revealing himself more broadly through his words and his actions. He begins to reveal his identity as the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior to those who are willing to see it — to those who have open eyes and hearts to receive this truth. Jesus seeks to push the gospel message wider and father, and it works! He immediately makes enough of a splash to get the attention of Herod, the ruling authority over the entire region that Jesus was in. How does Jesus go about this? Let’s take a look.

In verse 1, we see that Jesus assembles his “dream team” of disciples, which are referred to as “the Twelve” because, ya know, there are twelve of them. Not a particularly flashy or creative title, but it gets the job done, right? Part of why they are referred to this way is because at this point, Jesus had many disciples, way more than twelve. He had a very large posse that would follow him around, but he had twelve of them that were his core, his group that was called out to be his special messengers, and he had a special task for them. That is made clear right here in chapter 9:

9:1-2 “And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”

The Twelve are brought together, assembled, and given a two-pronged  mission:

1. to Proclaim the kingdom of God (that is, preach the gospel)

2. to Heal the sick (those with illnesses or demon possession)

These two things are tied together, as the message of the kingdom of God does not happen with words only, but is accompanied by miracles, and not just any miracles; these are specific types of miracles that reveal the message, reinforce it, hammer it, and we’ll see that as we continue to look at this. But first, let’s consider what this message is. 

The message of the kingdom of God that the Twelve are to proclaim is not entirely new, but it is now ready to be expanded, broadened, distributed more widely. This is the same message that Jesus has been preaching: that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the humble, the needy, those who come to Jesus in faith and repentance as their only hope and savior, building their life entirely on Jesus, hearing his words and actually doing them, loving their enemies, being merciful as God is merciful, being generous, not having a posture of judgement but of forgiveness, working for the good of others rather than themselves, bearing good fruit in keeping with repentance both in word and action, treasuring Christ more than wealth, safety, and security on their terms, relying on God, coming to Jesus for healing and restoration and forgiveness, following Christ no matter the cost. 

That is the kingdom message we see proclaimed. That is the message the Twelve have watched Jesus declare throughout the time they have been following him.

So, the Twelve are given a message to proclaim, but they were also given (verse 1 says) “power and authority” over two things: 1) all demons and 2) diseases. These men were given a special, unique power to perform miracles, which validated the message, showing that the message is indisputably from God, and this unique power is not granted to believers today. We are not granted the power and authority to perform miracles, even though God is still performing miracles today. 

As we consider these two things that the Twelve were given power and  authority to do, we should notice something about this:

  1. The power over [all] demons displays God’s ability to defeat his spiritual enemies.
  2. The power to heal diseases displays God’s ability to defeat the physical effects of sin and the curse, which bent this earth and everything in it away from its original intended design. 

So, this healing that is brought to the people is not merely physical, it is spiritual. And it is not merely spiritual, it is physical. The healing that God brings about here is both spiritual and physical

Why is this important? Because it reveals that what God is about, that the coming of God’s kingdom will bring healing for our souls and a restoration, a redemption, a healing that will descend upon this broken earth — all of its hurting relationships and failing bodies and lack of justice and frightening tragedies and painful losses. A restoration that will come down like fresh rain on a dry, parched ground longing to be watered and made whole again. Isn’t that needed for us today? Do you feel that? Do you have a longing for God’s kingdom to come and make all things new? If your eyes are open to the world around you and to what God can do, you certainly should.

Here in Luke 9, we don’t see all the details of what that restoration will look like (which we find out more about later in our Bibles — about the new heavens and the new earth, about Christ’s second coming). We don’t see all of that here in the message, but we do get a taste, a first look at what Jesus is showing that he will bring about one day. 

Next, we see Jesus giving very specific instructions to the Twelve concerning how they are to go about taking this message to the people. Verse 3:

9:3-5“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.”

I want you to think about a big trip that you took. Maybe it was with family or friends. Maybe you traveled a long way. Maybe you went somewhere beautiful or just a destination that’s the home of some people you love. Maybe it was a road trip with your annoying little brother in the back seat who won’t stop talking about Star Wars or yelling out every time he sees a cow, or jamming to some really weird music or reminiscing about how many more mountains he summited than you (this is all purely hypothetical — actually the annoying younger brother is me if you haven’t picked up on that yet).

So anyways, imagine this trip, and I want you to imagine the fam loading up the car with all your suitcases and snacks and allergy meds or whatever, and all of the sudden your mom says “Actually, let’s not bring anything along.” Uhhhh….what? You mean, like leave the neck pillow behind, but obviously we’re bringing the suitcases right? And she’s like, “no, I think the clothes you have on should be just fine. And we shouldn’t need money for food or gas or anything like that. We’ll be provided for along the way.”

I mean, that would be super weird, right? But that is what Jesus tells the Twelve here in Luke 9. He says “don’t take a bag with you. Don’t take food with you. Don’t take money with you. Don’t take extra clothes with you.” (not even fresh underwear and socks; I mean, come on!)

Here’s the thing: Jesus doesn’t just do this to make life harder for the disciples, he does it with a purpose. This “take nothing with you,” the manner in which they were sent out teaches us a number of things: 

First, it teaches that God will supply everything we need as we go about his kingdom work

Taking nothing with them requires an incredible amount of trust. Jesus is asking the Twelve to put it all out there, to risk failure, to walk the tightrope without a safety net, to trust that God will come through for them and provide for them. And the way he will provide will be through the people that receive the message and take them in, so we see that often the way God will provide is not by dropping manna from heaven or multiplying loaves and fish (spoiler alert — sometimes it is that), but often the way God provides is through the kindness and generosity of his people. I have been provided for in that way many, many times, and I imagine you have too. 

Even so, this had to have been a little bit scary for the Twelve. The disciples don’t know what awaits them out there, but God does. God has prepared and provided those who will receive the message, and those who will receive the disciples into their homes.

This is such a big event for the Twelve that Jesus reminds them of it later in Luke 22:35: “35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.””

They did not lack anything. God provided for them, and he will provide for us.

Philippians 4:19 teaches us: “19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Are you trusting God to supply everything you need? Are you tempted to be overly cautious? Are you tempted to depend not on God, but on our your plans and provision? Do you believe that God will come through for you when you need him most (maybe not in the way you want, but the way he wants)?

So, we saw in the way in which the Twelve were sent out that God will supply everything we need as we go about his kingdom work. 

Second, the way they were sent out teaches that only the power of God can bring about his kingdom purposes.

It is the power and authority given by God to the Twelve (specifically, the power to heal and cast out demons) that will spread the message. It wasn’t their talent or skillset or speaking ability or reputation of that will cause this message to go out; it is the power and authority of God in them. 

Consider what Jesus said about entering the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 19. He said: “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” With God all things are possible.

So we see in the way in which the Twelve were sent out that only the power of God can bring about his kingdom purposes.

Next we see that the instruction to “shake off your feet” teaches us  something:

Third, God’s kingdom message (the message of the gospel) requires a response of repentance and faith, and those who do not are rejected by God

In our culture, brushing off your shoulders is a way to represent not letting negativity stick on you. You’re saying, “I’m not gonna let that bother me; it ain’t no thang.” We’ve got GIFs of people doing that and even some songs about that. I’m not necessarily going to recommend going to listen to all of them, but they’re out there.

Anyways, in their culture, shaking the dust off their feet was a little different than the dirt off the shoulder. The shaking of dust upon leaving a town was a representative act, showing that that those who rejected the message of the gospel would stand under judgment. 

Nehemiah 5:13 displays this concept: “13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his work who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.””

The shaking was a warning and a witness to those towns. In the same way, as God’s messengers today, we are called to warn those who reject the gospel of Jesus, those who fail to respond with a life of repentance. A critical piece of the gospel message is not just God’s love for us, but that that those who reject or ignore God stand condemned, and will one day face justice as they answer for every sin, every act of wrongdoing they have committed against a holy and perfect God, their Creator and Provider. 

Proclaiming that message; that is hard work. It is much easier to bring encouragement than exhortation. It is painful to shine a light on sin and rejection of God, on unrepentance. It is more comfortable to speak of the grace and mercy of God than to speak of his judgement and wrath against those who reject him. But that is what we are called to as God’s ambassadors to a world that needs to hear this message. 

John 3:18 instructs us: “18 Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” It is important that we speak this truth in love to those around us. We are called to do so. And we may suffer for it. We may lose friends for it. We may lose jobs for it. We may be laughed at, ridiculed, called names, counted as fools, canceled by culture, we may get our feet dirty on this long, messy road, but we will be called “beautiful” by the one who matters: our God. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel!” Romans 10 tells us. That’s how God will see us.

So, we saw in the way in which the Twelve were sent out that:

  1. God will supply everything we need as we go about his kingdom work.
  2. that only the power of God can bring about his kingdom purposes, and
  3. that God’s kingdom message requires a response of repentance and faith, and those who do not are rejected by God

As we consider this story, if we’re paying attention, we’ll ask: what was Jesus doing during this time? You’ll notice that it doesn’t tell us that Jesus went with them. Here’s a question for you: if the purpose of sending out the twelve was to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal, wouldn’t it have been better for Jesus to go do that? Wouldn’t Jesus be able to speak of the coming of the kingdom of God more clearly, being that he is, ya know, GOD HIMSELF? And wouldn’t Jesus himself be able to heal better than the twelve? He is the one with all power and authority. And yet he assembles this team to go do this work — to do the work of God.  

This reveals something remarkable: that God wants to use broken sinners (like you and me) — who seem to have nothing to offer — God uses these people to carry his message and to heal the broken all around us, doing his kingdom work. God uses those who were once broken, and still are in many ways, but are in the process of being healed — he uses them to go bring healing and restoration to the broken all around them.

Does that blow your mind? I mean, he could do all of this himself, yet he chooses to let us be a part of his story, the greatest story in the universe. We get to be a part of that!

My question to you who have been healed by the redeeming grace of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is: is this what you find yourself doing? Are you taking up the call from Jesus to proclaim the transformational message of the gospel — and are you doing the healing restorative work of God to the broken all around you?

And if you’re sitting there thinking “I’ve got nothing to offer. I wouldn’t know what to do or where to start. I’m too young or too old or too busy or too tired or too whatever.” I want to let you know something: God loves to use people who don’t think they have anything to offer. God loves to use people who are weak.

  • God used a scared man who was so ashamed of what he had done that he abandoned his past, running away from all his problems and was too afraid to even talk to people, God used that guy to rescue the the entire nation of Israel from slavery to Egypt. 
  • God used a little shepherd boy, who was written off by just about everyone, to charge headstrong into the fearsome giant that everyone else was too scared of, and to defeat the enemies of his people
  • God used that same guy, an adulterer and a murderer, to become one of the best poets this world has ever known, and to be a model of repentance and a picture of the powerful, redeeming grace of God
  • God used the fierce bravery of a young woman to confront her king, risking death, convincing him to prevent the execution of an entire people group, saving them all
  • Jesus used a couple of smelly fishermen (who didn’t seem to be very good at catching fish) to be his chief messengers, to be his inner circle
  • Jesus used a slimy, despised tax collector, maybe the last person he was expected to go to, to be his apostle, proclaiming the message of the gospel

It wasn’t the powerful. It wasn’t the prestigious. It wasn’t the rich. It wasn’t the uber-talented. It wasn’t the righteous. 

It’s always the broken, bruised, humble sinners, who say “I’m not worthy. I’ve got nothing to offer.” To those, Jesus says “come, be healed. I’ve got good work for you to do, and I’m gonna be with you every step of the way. I will be your strength.” 

B. Luke 9:7-9 — Herod’s Response

So, back to the narrative in Luke. We saw the Twelve sent out, and in verse 7 we see Herod’s response as the news of these miracles and the news of Jesus spreads. The message that arrives to Herod is a lot like most news: not all that reliable, filled with conjecture and dissenting opinions, and difficult to actually discern what was really going on. Herod was hearing different things from different people, that maybe John the Baptist (who he beheaded) was raised from the dead or that Elijah or another one of the prophets had appeared, and Herod wasn’t sure about all of this, but he was sure of one thing: he wanted to see this guy. He wanted to meet with the guy who was causing such a stir. And eventually, he would — not here in Luke 9, but as a part of the proceedings before Jesus’s crucifixion. At that time we learn that Herod was excited, anticipating to see some kind of miracle, as if Jesus were some kind of circus performer who would entertain him with an illusion. We see in Herod, not a heart of seeking, but one of selfishness.  

So, your application for this section is pretty simple: Don’t be like Herod. (not at all)

Let’s continue on to verse 10:

II. Luke 9:10-17 — The feeding of the five thousand 

10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida.”

The Twelve are now referred to by Luke as “the apostles,” which seems like an upgrade from just “the Twelve.” This term emphasizes that they were Jesus’s official, authorized sent ones. The apostles seem to be excited, and are eager to talk to Jesus about everything they did. Given the tiring journeys that they had engaged in, Jesus wants to give them a break from all the crowds, so he takes them to withdraw to a town that’s a little more off the beaten path. It’s on the Sea of Galilee and is called Bethsaida. But that doesn’t last long. 

Verse 11:

11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, …”

So, Jesus is trying to get away, but gets tracked down by this annoying crowd that won’t leave him alone. How does he respond? Does he tell them to give him some space? Does he ignore them? No…

11…and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.”

Jesus welcomes them, and he does’t just put up with them; he spends all day preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus displays an otherworldly unselfishness, a willingness to put the needs of others above himself. He has a heart to give and to heal that goes beyond his desire for comfort and refreshment for himself, even though he deserved a break.

Let me tell you something: when I am tired, that’s when my selfishness comes out the most. When I am tired, I have no patience, I don’t want to put up with other people or their problems, I don’t want to have to do work. I just want to sit down and get some “me time.” I want to just sit down next to a nice crackling fireplace with the sound of the ocean coming through the open window calming my mind, maybe I’ve got some Bob Ross on for the chill vibes, maybe I’m getting a nice back rub. That is my happy place, right there. That is my retreat.

But instead of taking that time to himself, when Jesus is tired and worn out, we see that what comes out is not selfishness, but generosity. It’s not selfishness, but generosity. We see in the heart of Christ a man who does not turn away those who seek Him. Jesus said in the book of John “all that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

Isn’t that an incredible promise to cling to? “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” You can always come to Jesus for help in your time of need.

So, we’ve seen that Jesus welcomes the crowd, and let’s continue in verse 12:

12 Now 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.” “

Jesus has been teaching and healing all day, and the Twelve are ready to be done. The heart of Christ was to welcome and serve these people, and the Twelve on the other hand are ready to send the people away. And that seems practical; I mean, people gotta eat right? So how does Jesus respond to this?

13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” 

I can just imagine the Twelve disciples kind of looking back and forth at each other with dazed faces thinking “what is Jesus thinking? Is this another one of his parables or something? He has to know we can’t actually feed all these people, right?”

13They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. 

The Twelve are telling Jesus that they can’t really do that. And then Luke slips in this little detail “by the way…there were about 5,000 men in this crowd” which means that with women and children added, we’ve got a crowd likely around 10-15,000 people — about the size of a packed Hilton Coliseum. And Jesus is looking to turn this into a catered event. And they don’t have any Clone Cone machines or walking tacos. They’ve only got enough food for a handful of po-boy sandwiches. So what does Jesus do?

14 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. 

An interesting detail to notice in Luke’s narrative here: Jesus was talking to his twelve apostles, ya know the “dream team,” who were trying to make a plan to help Jesus deal with all these people, but now they aren’t called the apostles. They aren’t even called the Twelve. They are now folded back in and just referred to as “disciples” — the students, the learners, the patawans. It’s like they were this close to being on the council, but they are not granted the rank of master. They were feeling pretty good about themselves, it seems, and now, well, they’ve still got a lot to learn. And Jesus is about to teach them.

16 And taking 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. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

Jesus performs a miracle so big, so impossible, on such a large scale, that it couldn’t be denied, and it couldn’t have been done by anyone but God himself. Up to this point in Luke, we have seen Jesus perform many miracles, but the feeding of these thousands of people with a mere five loaves and two fish is on a whole other level. What we see coming into focus for those around him, is that Jesus was now revealing himself to be the fulfillment of what the Old Testament Scriptures anticipated: the Messiah, the Savior, the Rescuer who would bring peace with God to the people. Jesus was no mere prophet; he was greater than Moses, greater than Elijah, greater than any man who had ever stepped foot on this earth.

As we think about the Twelve disciples and Jesus’s interaction with them, it’s important to remember that they had just spend many days, probably weeks, out proclaiming the gospel and performing miracles of healing (that is, bodily restoration). Even after all of that, the disciples never once seemed to think or remark: “Jesus, since you have all power and authority to heal and restore human bodies, maybe you could provide food for them.” 

When I think about Jesus’s words to them “You give them something to eat,” I wonder if he had a bit of a glimmer in his eye. I wonder if this was given as a test to see, given that the disciples took the leap of faith when they were told to take nothing with them on their journey, trusting in God and seeing that God did in fact provide for them just as Jesus said he would, I wonder if Jesus is seeing “will they trust that I can provide for whatever needs are in front of me? Will they trust that I can and will provide food for all of these people? Will they respond in faith or in disbelief?”

Even though they had seen Jesus do remarkable things, extraordinary things, something like feeding 10,000 plus people just seemed out of reach, beyond what was possible for any man — even a man sent by God. This miracle had an incredible impact on the lives of the Twelve, and we know that because this is the only one of all the miracles that is recorded in all four of the gospel accounts. And even though they didn’t initially seem to respond in faith, these disciples did learn a lesson that day, one that stuck with them: that Jesus would provide.

I can just see the Twelve, each somehow ending with a basket full of food in their hands, one basket for each of them, coming together at the end of the night, eyes filled with wonder and awe, bodies coursing with adrenaline, hearts beating fast, minds blown, probably speechless, knowing that they were standing on hallowed ground, that they were standing in the presence of someone far greater than any mere human, that they were the students of, the servants of, the friends of God.

If Jesus was able to provide food for all of those people, how much will he be able to provide for you? What’s interesting is that Jesus did not create that  food out of nothing; he had the people collect what food they had to bring to him — and it wasn’t much. It was so very little. But it was all Jesus needed. In fact, he didn’t need any of it.

And yet, just like with us, he asks us to bring what little we have, to bring it all to him, and that little we bring is what He uses in His might and power to accomplish more than we ever thought possible. 

He’s doesn’t ask us to bring more than we have, but he does ask us to bring all we have. All of our possessions, all of our skills, all of our time, all of our energy, all of our hopes and ambitions. It doesn’t matter how little or how much it is. It is enough for Jesus to do something absolutely amazing with. 

Will you bring it all to him? Anything that you are holding on to, that you have your hand clutched tightly around, will you open up and release it to him? Will you give him your very life? Jesus is the only one in whom you will find peace and comfort and provision. Go to him. Trust in him. Follow him. And when you fail, find forgiveness and healing in him.

I’ll close with the final verse of one of my favorite hymns:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
     that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
    demands my soul, my life, my all.