For years I have thought, “If I ever write a blog, I will call it Leftover Barley Loaves.” This inaugural blog post on our new website (thank you for all your excellent work, Cody Farthing) will tell you why. Hopefully, as I explain, I will give you a sense of what kind of content you will likely find here over time.
Only two miracles are specifically recorded in all four gospel accounts: the resurrection and the feeding of the five thousand. My blog title comes from that second miracle. In the feeding of the 5000, we see Jesus’ practical compassion towards those who traveled to hear him preach. He loved to teach them the word, and once done, he knew they needed a meal. He could have snapped his fingers and made manna fall from heaven, but he chose to feed these multitudes in a way that showed us how he uses weak Christians to care for the people he loves. That lesson, in short, is that he takes our weak offerings and multiplies them to the superabundant blessing of the people on his heart.
When Jesus announces that he wants to feed the 5000, his disciples only see the impossibility of the task. He asks, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat” (John 6:5)? Full of unbelief, Phillip responds, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). Phillip—like most of us—was focused on what he could do to accomplish the Lord’s wishes. His imagination was limited by his own buying power. Jesus wants the minds and hearts of his disciples to be inflamed with the possibilities of what his power can do. Or as the old hymn writer put it, Jesus wants us to “ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with his love he befriends thee.”1
Andrew shows the same unbelief—mixed with perhaps a glimmer of faith—when he brings a poor little boy to Jesus, saying in John 6:9, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” This little offering is more than enough for Jesus to work with. He commands, “Have the people sit down” (John 6:10). From those five loaves and two fishes, Jesus produces a feast of such epic proportions where everyone ate their fill, and yet, there were still leftovers—lots of leftovers. When they gathered the leftovers, they found that they “filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves” (John 6:13).
This story has always struck me as a wonderful description of how the Lord uses us. The raw materials Jesus used were weak. Barley loaves were poor man’s food. Barley was fed to dogs and people.2 The philosopher Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, said, “As a foodstuff it is of somewhat doubtful merit, suited to irrational animals and men in unhappy circumstances.” That’s what we offer to God: our weak little efforts. And what does he do with our efforts and gifts of “somewhat doubtful merit”? He feeds thousands with leftovers.
Most weeks, I am studying for a sermon—or sermons—and usually find that I have two things in my hands when done: I have the weak manuscript “of somewhat doubtful merit” and leftovers. Thoughts that did not make it into the sermon. Ideas that the saints have in reaction to the Word of God. Ideas that I never imagined when I studied the Word of God. I offer God my barley loaves, and he, in turn, feeds his people abundantly—so abundantly that they and I have more than enough.
So, I hope to drop some of these God-given leftovers onto this blog. Points that have to be skipped. Thoughts that are inspired through conversations with the saints. The overflow from reflecting on God’s Word and God’s world. Extra ideas and teachings that don’t fit into the regular teaching at Immanuel. I pray that God would help me to offer him my barley loaves, and I trust that he would bless so abundantly that there are leftovers regularly.
1. Neander, Joachim. “Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. www.hymnal.net, July 29, 2022. https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/166.
2. De Spec. Leg. 3.57