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Attitude Counts

The feeding of the 5,000 is considered by some as the greatest miracle Jesus performed. All four gospel writers tell the story. The disciples had just returned from their first student mission trip and were eager to tell Jesus what they had seen and done. They were looking forward to a quiet time of relaxation and fellowship with Jesus. 

Attitude Among the Multitude, Jesus and the Disciples

The multitude had another idea. Somebody found out where they were going, and it went viral. A multitude of about 25,000 people streamed out of the small cities and towns looking for truth, help and healing.

When Jesus saw the great multitude, He was moved by the attitude of compassion for them and spent the entire day ministering to them. You cannot minister to people you are not moved by. You must be moved to move!

The dilemma Christian leaders have is that the multitude is rarely cognizant or respectful of your time or timing. They want to make their emergency your emergency. The disciples were not happy with their sabbatical being hijacked by pressing crowds and pressing matters. They had done their duty.  Now, they needed — yea, deserved — a vacation. Where is the boundary between ministry and rest? That tension continues to plague us today.

While Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitude, the disciples were unmoved. As the day dragged toward an end, their body language and verbiage revealed that they wanted Christ to send the people away — just like a deacon trying to close the church announcing, “You don’t have to go home, but you do need to get out of here.”

The disciples needed Jesus to send the people away, but He was busy meeting their needs. The disciples felt they needed to formulate a real and plausible reason to convince Jesus to send them away. Their proposal read something like this:

  • The people are hungry and need to eat for their physical health
  • Whereas we are in a food desert — no McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy’s or Chick-fil-A

Conclusion: Jesus, you need to send all these people away.

It is interesting that Jesus affirmed their analysis of the situation, but suggested — no, commanded — a different solution. He said, “You feed them!” In this, Jesus advocated faithful social action with the resources we have.

The "finance committee" hastily called a meeting and reported they did not have the resources to feed such a crowd. The church, even today, believes it does not have enough resources to do what Jesus commands. Perceived lack of resources is the major reason why so many good endeavors die prematurely. Wayne Gretzky had a T-shirt that said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.”

Jesus asked for an audit. He said, “Go and see how much food you have?” Interestingly, they did not know. They estimated and assumed, but their conclusion was not based on fact but on attitude. Like some disciples today, they were offended by the presence of the crowd and their eagerness to be close to Jesus. 

How welcoming would you be if when you arrived at church one Sabbath morning there was a parking lot full of cars and people whom you didn’t know waiting to enter the church?

The disciples did a quick audit. When completed, they returned and triumphantly reported the five loaves and two fish. They expected that Jesus would capitulate and agree with them to send the multitude away. But to their amazement, Jesus said, “Fine. Have everyone sit down.” At that moment, Jesus demonstrated to His disciples His dependence upon God. Ellen White wrote on page 368 of The Desire of Ages, “The providence of God had placed Jesus where He was and He depended on His heavenly Father for the means to relieve the necessity."

You know what happened. Five thousand men and an estimated 20,000 women and children were fully fed from the little boy’s lunch. In addition, twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected and likely stored in the disciple’s boat.

Mark makes a weird summary statement later in the chapter. The statement is about Jesus’ walking on the water later that night. Mark 6:51–52 says, “Then He went up into the boat to them and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart (attitude) was hardened.”

Ministry Context

If you study Mark’s account with the accounts of the other gospel writers, you learn that the miracle of the 5,000 was the apex and culmination of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.

As Jesus broke the loaves and kept on giving the food to the disciples to distribute, everyone realized that a great miracle was happening before their very eyes.

Many in the multitude finally realized that Jesus was the prophet that had been foretold to come. They surmised that He would make Israel great again and rid the nation of Roman occupation. Ellen White says that a movement developed to immediately crown Jesus as the king of Israel. The disciples evidently agreed and were sorely disappointed when He sent them away via ship to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

Essentially, the negative attitude, selfish desires and faulty theology of the disciples led them to totally miss the lesson in the great miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Ellen White commented on page 369 of The Desire of Ages, “If we plan according to our own ideas, the Lord will leave us to our own mistakes. But when, after following His directions, we are brought into strait places, He will deliver us."

A Few Takeaways

1. It is extremely hard to help people we don’t like.

2. It is quite easy to formulate powerful and plausible reasons for not doing what God asks us to do.

3. While it is important to count our human resources, it is impossible to count God’s invisible but abundant resources. He has so many cattle that He only counts the hills they graze on.

4. God is who He says He is, and we can trust Him to help us do what He has commanded to be done. Seeing what God has already done for us and among us, should encourage us to believe that what He has promised He is able to perform. God’s grace is sufficient to supply every need.

Final Addendum

Since, as humans and Christians, we are addicted to counting things and making conclusions based on our polling and perception of things, isn’t it interesting that the boy who graciously contributed his lunch was not counted in the tally of people served? He, and most of the crowd, were not counted — only the men were. He therefore represents the groups of people who are uncounted, marginalized and unrecognized. Isn’t it ironic that that day Jesus used the resources of an unnamed, uncounted and marginalized person to perform a miracle that astounded the disciples and blessed the multitude?

As we survey, count and analyze the challenges of ministry today, let us be careful to not overlook the resources God sends to us in the people we are privileged to serve. As we count students, faculty, staff, members, constituents, money and property, let us not forget to count our attitude, because attitude counts.

Phil. 2:5 says, “Let this mind (attitude) be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus.”


Byron Dulan

North Pacific Union vice president for regional affairs