Contrasting the Ministry of Christ With Modern Religion
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
Part of the meaning of Progressive Christianity is the examination of the Bible in its original context without all the trappings and fallacies of organized religion. For this week’s message, I want to talk and write about when Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000, but I’m going to be expounding on this in a way you may have not seen or heard before. How come, you ask? It’s because most churches are teaching this incorrectly! Why is that? Because that’s what our seminaries are teaching their graduates. Your pastor, minister, bishop or priest is teaching it wrong because they were taught this way. And yet if the majority of Christians, and especially the church leaders, would take the time to read this using at least two different translations, they would see the true meaning for themselves. And now, so help me God, I will explain this miracle of Christ’s to the very best of my ability.
First, we need to understand the context of this story, so after careful consideration I will be using the gospel of the apostle Luke as a backdrop for this explanation. So let’s go to Luke chapter nine for our story. King Herod of Jerusalem had just had John the Baptist beheaded. Since John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin (see Luke chapter 1, verses 57-66), Jesus found out about John’s execution very soon afterwards, and Jesus and the apostles with him had withdrawn from that area to avoid contact with any of King Herod’s many henchmen. So allow me to take up the narrative at this point in Luke chapter nine, beginning with the latter part of verse 10. “Then he (Jesus) took them (the apostles) with him (parentheses mine – PB) and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds heard about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” Nasty old King Herod had the equivalent of modern-day SWAT teams out searching for Jesus and the apostles because King Herod considered them to be threats to his power, political influence, and his relationship with his paymasters, the Roman Empire. So, Jesus and the apostles were fugitives so far as King Herod was concerned. They were banned, outlawed and sought after, earmarked for execution. Christians from the world over are still being hunted down and executed for their faith, except in far greater numbers than ever before. Moreover, all you Americans who think Christian persecution can’t happen in the US could find themselves incarcerated, or worse, for their faith – in the near future!
Continuing onward from verse twelve the narrative reads as follows: “Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to Him and said, ‘send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’ Jesus replied, ‘You give them something to eat’. They answered, ‘we only have 5 loaves of bread and two fish – unless we go out and buy food for this crowd’. (About 5,000 men were there). But he said to his disciples, ‘have them sit down in groups of about fifty each’. The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were left over”. (Luke chapter 9, verses 12-17 NIV) Send the crowd to where they can find food and lodging. That was the apostles’ initial response to a situation that they felt overwhelmed about. After all, we’re talking about 5,000 men, not counting women and children, so this was a crowd of somewhere between 15,000-20,000 people. Jesus and the apostles were in mega-church territory so far as attendance was concerned 2,000 years before the term was coined! Today most of these same mega-churches, particularly those of the American variety, have these conventions and week-long meetings with attendees from every part of the US and the rest of the world. When this happens, the mega-church hosting the event doesn’t accommodate them or feed them. Their attendees provide their own food and lodging. Then they are expected to donate to these mega-churches after the attendees have already spent their money on everything else. It really is a very one sided affair, financially speaking.
What was Jesus’ response? “You give them something to eat”. Don’t you dare send my people away! That’s what Jesus was saying, he was just being subtle about it, which is something Jesus had a propensity for. Jesus and his apostles weren’t there to tell those in the crowd how to look after themselves, they were there to look after those in the crowd. People, this is the very essence of ministry. Every human being on the face of the earth goes through a time in their life when they need help in some form or fashion. Nobody is immune from this, it’s just a fact of life. It is our duty as human beings and followers of Jesus Christ to be there for each other. No man or woman is an island, it goes without saying that we are all interdependent upon each other. And so Jesus was telling his apostles in a Godly way, “So you see these people are in need of food? Then feed them yourself!” Just as it was for the apostles back then, so it is for us today. If you see a problem where people are in need, go do something about it yourself. Let’s not forget what Jesus had to say about that: “Whatsoever you do for the least of these little children of mine, that you do for me.” What was the apostles response to this? “But Lord, we don’t have the means! After all”, they told our Savior, “we only have five loaves and two fish”. What was the real problem here? The apostles thinking was limited to their own capabilities. That’s because that’s all they knew, that’s all they had ever been taught, just like all the wrong teaching being done in modern seminaries that I mentioned at the start of this message. They had not yet learned to depend on Christ, which is a problem that still exists in churches today. It all boils down to wrong teaching, pure and simple.
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were left over”. What was the first thing Jesus did? He gave thanks! He expressed great gratitude to his Father! Thankfulness is the basis for Godly living. Let’s be thankful when we get up in the morning, before each meal, during each day for another chance at life, when we are successful, when we fail (yeah, that’s right), and before we go to bed at night. Being thankful is a never ending process because the various things we can be thankful for also never ends if we are living right. And living right means living for Jesus each and every day! OK, so what’s the next thing Jesus did? He broke the loves of bread and fish in halves. The conclusion to his prayer must have been that each piece doubled every times any of the Twelve touched any of it. And so during the course of distribution, every time the apostles served fish and bread, an additional piece would take its place. That’s why they never ran out of food. But is this the end of the story?
Well actually, no it’s not. We need to go back to the beginning to get the full meaning I wish to convey to you all. When the crowd followed Jesus to Bethsaida, they did so because they saw that Jesus evidently wasn’t afraid of the authorities, so neither were they. Considering that there was a bounty on Jesus’ head, and likely the apostles as well, I find it remarkable there was no fear among those in the large crowd that had followed Jesus there. The Spirit of Christ was all around that place, which kept the menacing bounty hunters and other assassins away from there. But the most striking thing to me about this narrative is that Jesus did exactly the opposite of what modern churches are doing. First, that crowd of 15,000+ people got fed on the Word of the Lord. Next, Jesus saw to the needs of those he was ministering to by feeding them with generous portions of food. In today’s churches, the opposite occurs. The people get a Word from the Lord through their pastor, priest, or bishop just like above. But then an offering is taken, as opposed to Jesus, who freely gave to the people as they had need. So when Jesus preached and taught, at the end of the service he and his apostles saw to the needs of the people. But in modern churches, the people give money to the church at the end of the service. So, pastor or priest, once we get a good word it’s time to pay up then, right? Wrong!! That is nothing more than the Old Testament law known as “tithing”, which basically said we must give a tenth of our crops and livestock to the Temple at Jerusalem. The problem with that is twofold. First, the temple no longer exists. Second and most important, when Jesus died on the cross for all our sins the Old Law (or Law of Moses as it was called in Jesus’ day) died with him, because Jesus was the fulfillment of that very same Law (see Matt. Chapter 5 verse 17). The reason tithing is still taught today is because it compels people to give money to enrich the churches. It has nothing to do with Scripture, it’s all about the money. The TV evangelists are the worst of the lot. Some of these people have their own private jets. I personally know of a pastor of a mega-church right here in Atlanta who drives a Bentley convertible, which is a quarter-million-dollar automobile. He’s a prosperity preacher and it shows. One day when this particular “bishop”, as he loves to call himself, stands before God to give an account of his life, he will have to explain why he apparently misappropriated church funds. By then it will be too late, and an entire warehouse full of Bentley convertibles still won’t save him.
Let’s not be like that, everyone. If materialistic stuff is what you mean when you say,”I’m blessed”, you have no idea what a real blessing looks like. It’s time to get up to speed in the way we live our lives. We are to serve others without necessarily expecting anything in return – no strings attached. According to the teachings of Christ, the starting point for this is supposed to be from within the churches. So long as churches continue to buy jet airplanes and Bentley’s for their pastors, priests or “bishops”, the needs of the people cannot possibly be met. Let us never forget that it’s not about me, it’s not about us, but it’s all about Him. The church members are not there to serve the church unless it is in service to the greater community through that church. As for serving the members, those mega-churches should be reallocating the funds spent on ostentatious planes and automobiles towards a nice Sunday brunch after church, and let the homeless single mothers with children be the first in line. Now that is what it means to be Christian!