The King Who Satisfies
I used to smoke; and I have a confession to make—I loved every cigarette I ever smoked, right up to the end. I never reached that point where I was sick of it. I quit not long after Loanne and I got married, and I quit for her—she wanted me to quit, and I loved her and wanted her to be happy. And now, I’m happy I did. But it wasn’t an immediate thing: for a little while those two desires—to keep on doing what I enjoyed and to make my new bride happy—went to war with each other. And the stronger desire won out.
This is the way it always is. Knowing something is harmful for us doesn’t stop us from wanting it or liking it—even if a part of us wants nothing to do with it, that sneaky desire for harm is still there, screaming at us to fulfill it.
This question of warring desires is implicitly central to today’s text, and Luke weaves the different elements of the narrative together in such a way that he shows us a lot of different things at once, and all of these things play off of and influence one another.
If you remember, in chapter 8 Jesus showed us his authority over nature, over the spiritual realm, over sickness, over death itself. And now, in verses 1 through 17 of chapter 9, he’s going to make things even clearer, by showing why that authority had come, and how it would work itself out.
Prologue: The Mission
9.1 And he called the twelve [disciples] together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
7 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, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9 Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.
So that is the context: Jesus is sending out his disciples with no supplies, that they might live day to day on faith alone, and that they might proclaim the gospel and perform miracles that validate that gospel. And Herod, the king of Galilee, is hearing of all of this, and finally starting to wonder who this Jesus is. This will be important later on, so keep it in the back of your minds.
Human need (v. 10-12)
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. 11 When 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. 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.”
The disciples’ suggestion to Jesus shows just how incomplete they still are. They have come back from preaching the gospel and performing miracles; they have literally spent the entire day watching Jesus perform all these miracles, healing the sick…and it doesn’t even occur to them that Jesus’s power might extend to the hunger of the crowds.
It would be easy to laugh at how dense the disciples are, to not see that this too might be an opportunity for Jesus to exercise his divine power…but we do the same thing, don’t we? We call on God’s help for things that we can’t handle on our own—healing from disease, overcoming a particularly persistent sin, getting an apartment owner to accept our offer even though we don’t have the necessary funds… We pray for these things, and we trust him to help us.
But ordinary things that we do day in and day out? It never dawns on us to ask God for help in these areas, because we don’t feel like we need his help there.
Take sleep, for example. Sleep is something we’ve always done. For most people, sleeping is not hard to do. Everyone sleeps. Babies sleep (even fetuses sleep before they’re born). You don’t have to learn how to do it.
But if you think about it, the time we sleep is one of the times when we are the most vulnerable. This is why we invented smoke detectors, or security alarms. We’re not paying attention to potential danger, because we’re sleeping. We’re not able to protect ourselves should danger come, because even if we’re roused from sleep, we can’t react the way we need to. (Have you ever seen someone try to spring to action after a threatening noise wakes them up in the middle of the night? It’s hilarious.)
We are utterly unable to take care of ourselves while we sleep. And yet, it rarely occurs to us to ask God to keep us safe while we sleep, or to thank him when we wake up in the morning, alive and healthy, to start a new day.
That’s what’s happening here. For the “big” things—incurable diseases, demonic possession, death—Jesus is there, ready to provide. But for something as ordinary and universal as hunger… “Jesus, send them away so they can get some food.”
And if we’re honest, Jesus doesn’t really have to prove himself here—their suggestion is understandable, and he could send the people away to get food—but he’s going to prove himself anyway.
Divine provision (v. 13-16)
13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
Right then, the disciples should have known something was up. Jesus’s suggestion was laughable. We see in v. 14 that there are “five thousand men” there. (And that’s not counting women and children; the actual size of the crowd would have been more in the neighborhood of 20,000.) Even if the disciples had been loaded down with food, it would have been ridiculous to try and feed them all.
In addition, the disciples were Jews, so although they were uneducated, they would have known the stories. They would have seen the echo. We see Elisha do almost exactly the same thing Jesus is about to do in 2 Kings 4.42-44—there are a hundred men present; Elisha’s servant has twenty loaves of barley bread; and Elisha said exactly the same thing to his servant: “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the LORD says: ‘They will eat and have some left over’” (v. 43). And it happens.
So they should have known Jesus was up to something. But of course, they don’t see it coming.
Second half of v. 13:
They 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. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 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.
Have you ever seen a magician pull rubber balls out of thin air? This is like that, except it’s no illusion. In v. 16, Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, the Greek literally reads, he “kept on giving” them. Basically, as he broke the bread, more bread would appear in its place. As he handed the fish over to the disciples, more fish would be there to replace the one just given.
I’m speculating here, but I’m guessing that as the disciples made their way through the crowd, passing out the bread and the fish that Jesus is miraculously multiplying, they would have remembered the story of Elisha.
They would have remembered the stories of the people of Israel in the desert, and how God provided manna from heaven for them to eat.
They would have remembered that one of the very names they used to speak of the God they worshiped was “the Lord who provides”.
And they would have made the connection—this man Jesus has that same power. Yahweh provided for even the simplest needs of his people; the same holds true for his Messiah.
Satisfaction (v. 17)
Now lastly, there is one final detail that is the proverbial icing on the cake. V. 17:
17 And they all ate and were satisfied.
So these people didn’t just have enough to hold them over until they could get to a real meal. They ate and were satisfied. They were full, and it was good. They wanted nothing more. And not only did they all have plenty to eat; they had more than enough. Second half of v. 17:
And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
The provision surpassed the need. Jesus provided for them in such a way that they didn’t know what to do with all they had received.
Now I want you to take a minute to remember the context of this book: why is Luke writing it, and for whom is he writing it? He’s writing it to a man named Theophilus, if you remember from our earlier weeks in this series. Theophilus is more than likely not a Jew, but a Greek of some importance. And Luke is writing this book, he says in 1.4, to convince Theophilus that the things he had learned about Jesus were true.
Now it’s possible that Theophilus knew a good bit about Judaism beforehand; it’s possible he was somewhat educated in the Scriptures and would have recognized the things I mentioned before, those echoes to the Old Testament that Jesus’s disciples certainly would have seen.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that these details went over his head. Let’s say that Theophilus is simply reading this story as a novice. (It’s possible that some of you here today are hearing this story in the same way.) What would he have seen, and what would he have understood from the way Luke has structured his narrative? What conclusions would he have reached?
The first conclusion Theophilus would have reached—the first conclusion we are meant to reach when we read this text—is this: that the gospel of God’s kingdom is Jesus himself.
The disciples are sent out (in v. 2) to proclaim the kingdom of God, to share the good news of the gospel, and to heal (to prove that this good news is legitimate). So they go out with nothing, trusting God to provide for their needs. They preach the kingdom, and they perform these miracles. And after a while, word gets back to King Herod about everything that is happening.
If you remember, before having John beheaded, Herod was interested in what John was saying; he was at least somewhat interested in these questions of morality and repentance. But now, things were different. Herod had surely heard about the miracle worker from Nazareth going around, healing people and teaching strange things, but he would have been of little concern for Herod, because he was one man.
But now, suddenly there were twelve more men going around doing the same things, with his power, in his name. Herod hears what the disciples are doing, and the message that they are proclaiming, and what is his response? V. 9:
Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?”
Given the disciples’ ministry, the focus had shifted from questions of Jewish law and morality and repentance to the person of Jesus himself.
So this is the first thing we are meant to see, along with Theophilus. The good news is that the kingdom is here. God the Creator has come to establish his reign on this earth, and he is doing it through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The second conclusion we’re meant to reach is this: that God provides for and satisfies his children.
We see Jesus sending out his disciples with nothing, showing how God provides for his children, even in these simple questions of what to eat and where to sleep.
We see Jesus multiplying the bread and fish—once again showing his supernatural power over created things—providing food for these people who were hungry.
And we see this final detail Luke gives—And they all ate and were satisfied, twelve baskets left over—provision in excess.
The obvious conclusion? God provides for his children, and satisfies them with what he provides.
Now of course, you might say that this doesn’t fit with our experience: that there are times in everyone’s life where we don’t have everything we need.
And the same thing holds true for the disciples. Jesus told them to go out and not take any food or provisions, and notice that Luke never says that they always had food and always had shelter. I guarantee you that there were nights when they went to bed hungry, or they didn’t go to bed at all, and had to sleep on the ground. Jesus will even say as much later on in this chapter, in v. 58—someone comes to him and says they want to follow him, and he responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
There are nights when, although you’ve done everything right and been obedient to the letter, you will not have a place to sleep.
And that is why what Luke says in v. 17 is so important: And they all ate and were SATISFIED.
Think of the apostle Paul. Paul spent much of his ministry in prison. Cold, hungry, isolated, facing death at any moment. Most people would not hold up well under such conditions. But do you remember what he said in his letter to the Philippians (which he wrote from his prison cell)?
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be CONTENT.
Notice, he doesn’t say, “I can be content because I’m Paul, super-apostle.” He says, I have LEARNED to be content. He has learned it. He has spent a lot of time hungry, a lot of time in danger, a lot of time without many things we think of as basic human needs.
And what did he learn during all that time? That his God was faithful. That nothing had fundamentally changed about him, or his identity in Christ, or his access to the Father, or his eternal security. That everything he really needed was always there.
God provides for his children, perfectly. Not always in the way we want, but always in the way we need…even if what we really need at any given time is to not receive what we think we need. And as we walk in obedience to him, as we turn to him for help when we’re in need, we’ll find that he is always faithful to drive us toward that which is most important for us, what is best for us, what will teach us the fullest measure of joy in him, what will ultimately satisfy us.
God always provides for his children better than they could ask, and he satisfies us with what he provides. As the psalmist puts it in Psalm 34.10:
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord LACK NO GOOD THING.
So those are the conclusions we’re meant to reach. How are we supposed to respond to those conclusions? In bringing us to those two conclusions, Luke is calling us to two responses.
The first is this: recognize that you want to be satisfied. You don’t just need provision—you want to be satisfied. You want to be happy.
It could well be that some of you are hearing this for the first time—if that’s the case, I hope you’re hearing this news—that God provides for his children’s every need—as the good news it is.
But I know that what I’m saying is nothing new to many of you. You’ve heard this before. You know that Jesus is the essence of the gospel, you know you should submit to his authority, and you know he’ll provide for you and satisfy you if you do. You know these things.
But let me ask you something—what difference has it made, really? Has knowing the right things made you want the right things?
How much of your time is spent desiring the same old sins you’ve always desired? You know the gospel, yeah—but you’re still distracted by your desires for illegitimate affirmation, desires for people to see you as successful, desires for sex without commitment, desires for retaliation against those who have wronged you… And often you pursue those desires—you cut corners to be recognized; you sleep with someone who isn’t your spouse (or you indulge in fantasies about sleeping with them); you lash out in anger against those you feel have wronged you.
Or it may not even be something sinful. What about good things? We want a family. We want children. We want sexual intimacy with a husband or wife who loves us. We want a comfortable apartment or a good job. We know these aren’t bad things, and because they’re not bad things, we pursue them.
But here’s the thing: far too often, we desire these good things for their own sake. When we do something—whatever it is—we’re implicitly saying that that thing is worth doing. When we desire something, we implicitly say that it is desirable. Now, we may not say it aloud—we’d never affirm that sure, sex outside of the context God designed for it is great! Revenge is great! What other people think of me really is that important!
But we still pursue these things. We still do them, or at least want to do them. Much of the time we do things we'd never explicitly say are worthwhile, and we desire things that we'd never say are desirable.
Why?! Why do we act this way? Why would we ever actively want or do something that’s not worth wanting or doing?
This is what Jeremiah meant when he said (Jeremiah 17.9):
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Or Paul, when he said (Romans 7.15, 19):
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Brothers and sisters, we have to understand that our hearts are looking for something, but they don’t know where to find what they want. So they grasp at straws, even if those straws they grasp at are obviously subpar; they don't know how to stop grasping. But because we are sinners, our hearts are naturally oriented in wrong directions and don't know how to get back to what will actually satisfy them.
So in the end, we find it difficult to read the Bible, because it seems so far removed from these ordinary, day-to-day pleasures we want to enjoy.
We find it difficult to pray, because we’ve prayed for these things before (or we’ve prayed for God to take sinful desires away) and nothing has changed.
We find it difficult to worship, because we’re discontented with the lot we’ve been given.
Consequently, God seems distant and, frankly, not all that relevant to our lives.
And knowing all the right things about the gospel does nothing to change all that.
So here’s the question: how can we point our hearts in the right direction, to actually pursue that which will truly satisfy them?
It is simply not enough to know the gospel will satisfy us if we don’t use the gospel to train our hearts for satisfaction. And that’s the second response Luke is calling us to.
We must use the gospel to train for satisfaction.
Many of you, whether you realize it or not, still see the gospel as “simple” good news—as valuable information to have. But the simple integration of valuable information is not enough. The gospel will have no effect on you if you see it as mere information to be digested. Many of you know the gospel well, but you don’t yet use the gospel to train yourselves to be like Christ.
The gospel you know is the means God has given you to train your heart to be like him. The gospel is the weapon God has given us to wield in our fight for holiness. Every day, every minute, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we must take the gospel we know and put it to work in our lives.
We do that in a multitude of ways, but let’s stick to the context of this text. Let’s imagine that you’re facing a situation where you need help, or you desperately want something.
You need a roommate, and you don’t know where to find one.
You need a job, and you’ve knocked on every door, only to find them thrown in your face, one after the other.
You want sex, and it would be so much easier to just click, rather than go through all the trouble and heartache and commitment of an actual marriage (a marriage which, so far, you haven’t been able to find anyway!).
This is where the gospel comes into play.
I said before that Luke is showing us a lot of different things in this text; and here is where all these different threads come together.
The disciples are sent out to proclaim this message: the kingdom of God has come, and that kingdom comes in the form of a person, a king, named Jesus. He is a king who has demonstrated a consistent desire, not to lord his authority over his people, but to provide for his people. He heals the sick; he feeds the hungry; he helps those who cannot help themselves, in the exact right way they need helping.
He provides for the lives of his people, giving them everything they need in order to do that for which they were created, and he often does it in surprising and confusing ways that prove to be perfect once we have a bit of perspective (like, as we saw last week, not healing a little girl right away, allowing her to die, and proving an even better provision for her family’s need by raising her from the dead).
He proves himself time and again both able and willing to give his people exactly the right thing at exactly the right time, even if they never would have believed that this really is what they needed.
And even more than providing for their lives, he provides for their salvation; he provides for their ultimate need. He rescues them from their sin, which separates them from God, and he does it by taking that sin on himself and dying in their place, so they wouldn’t have to.
The question Luke is driving us to ask ourselves is, If the kingdom of God has come through a King who does such things, WHAT DOES THAT TELL US ABOUT THE KING?
The King who would do this is the sort of king whose reign is perfectly and ultimately satisfying. The sort of king whom it is a joy to follow.
The trade-off is a no-brainer: in submitting to his authority, we receive in exchange that which satisfies us; and we find (perhaps with some surprise) that our deepest satisfaction comes not from getting what we want, but from the King himself. From knowing him. From being a part of his family.
The kingdom has come. And that kingdom is Jesus. In Jesus we find provision for our every need, and contentment in what he provides.
So how do we train our hearts to be satisfied in him?
We look at the situation facing us today; we submit to our king’s authority to decide what it is we need; we trust him to provide it; and we submit to his provision—we accept to be content with what he gives us, even if it’s not what we asked for.
And if we do this, we’ll find that every single time, what he decides to provide for us is infinitely better than what we had asked of him. Every single time, we eat and are satisfied.
And his provision is so spot-on perfect every time that little by little, we stop worrying about how he will provide for us, because we’ll have learned how good and faithful he is.
Little by little, the provision is eclipsed by the Provider.
As we follow Christ and trust him to provide, we find ourselves satisfied—not by what he gives us, but by all that he is.
Trust him, brothers and sisters. The kingdom has come. That kingdom is Jesus. In him we find provision for our every need, contentment in what he provides, and satisfaction in who he is.