Jesus’ least impressive miracle is probably the feeding of the four thousand. Now don’t get me wrong, feeding at least four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish is amazing. I can’t do it. Still, this miracle doesn’t impress many people and it doesn’t get picked for many sermons. The reason it is unimpressive is in the math: four thousand is less than five thousand.
If you read through the book of Mark you will read about the feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6:30-44. This miracle is more impressive for several reasons. It comes first, there are an extra one thousand people fed, and to top it off Jesus does it with a mere five loaves and two fish instead of a gratuitous seven loaves and a "few" fish the second time around. Then, two chapters later in Mark 8:1-10 Jesus does that anti-climactic feeding of—well, less people.
When reading through Mark, you expect the second feeding to be even bigger and more sensational than the first one—but it isn’t. This makes a person wonder why Mark would bother recording this at all? After all, none of the Gospels list every miracle that Jesus performed. Wouldn’t it have made sense for Mark’s fast-paced Gospel to leave this one out or replace it with something less disappointing?
Four thousand is less than five thousand.
Mark knew what he was doing. He recorded both of these miracles because they actually happened and because he was trying to make a point. The point isn’t just about Jesus’ great power. It is also about the human ability to forget what just happened.
Jesus had just fed five thousand people and now a similar situation arises—with less people—and the disciples still fret. “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” they ask.
It is amazing how quickly we can lose confidence in God.
Remind yourself of the things God has already done. Remind yourself of the mighty things recorded in the Bible. Remind yourself of the great things He has done in your life. If God can put the stars in the sky and part the sea, He can do the less taxing job of taking care of your needs. If the Father was willing to send His beloved Son to be hung on the cross in the place of you as a sinner, will He not also be willing to care for you now that you are His adopted child? “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rm. 8:32) If God can feed the five thousand, don’t doubt that he can feed the four thousand. If He can do the big thing, He can do the smaller thing.
Four thousand is not five thousand.
Critics love to claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. Any discrepancy in the details is a sign to them that the Bible is in error. For example, John records the cleansing of the temple at the start of Jesus’ career but the other writers put in Jesus' last week. Matthew states that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount on a mountain but Luke mentions a flat place. The list goes on.
With that in mind, ask yourself what critics would say if Matthew had only recorded the feeding of the five thousand and Mark had only recorded the feeding of the four thousand. Critics would go on and on about contradictions and errors. Now, imagine how thee critics would respond if you tried to explain the inconsistency by suggesting that maybe there were two miraculous feedings—with different details. You would be laughed at.
The fact that Matthew and Mark record both of these miraculous feedings demonstrates that Jesus sometimes did impressive things more than once. In the same way, Jesus probably taught some of his key teachings many times in many places. Why not? Each of us has heard speakers reuse material. With that in mind, is it really absurd to think that Jesus may have cleansed the temple more than once? Is it really a stretch to think that Jesus may have thought the “Sermon on the Mount” was worth teaching to more than one crowd? Certainly, there may be other ways of resolving these apparent contradictions, but one legitimate possibility is that Jesus did some things more than once. For all we know, there was also the still-less-impressive feeding of the three thousand.
Yes, after feeding five thousand people feeding a measly four thousand might not impress everyone, but the fact that Matthew and Mark include it teaches us not to lose confidence in God’s power and not to lose confidence in God’s Word.