The Miracle of the Empty Baskets

“And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.”

Matthew 14:20

Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? (Psalm 78:19)

Listen to this Reload as a Podcast on the go.

The five thousand men listening to Jesus were starved.

It was late in the afternoon, toward evening. The crowd hardly cared for prophecy, yet they were about to make history. It wasn’t the heads of leviathan (Psalm 74:14) that held their attention now, it was the gnawing pain in their stomachs. They had heard all the stories of manna in the wilderness; could there be bread brought to them too?

Funny, isn’t it, how unspiritual someone becomes when they are hungry? The Lord will often move a man past his self-will through hunger to get to the real man. American Christians have had the privilege of voluntary fasting to exercise our love for the Lord. Many believers in other times and places have not had the option- theirs was a forced deprivation.

The Lord Jesus had drawn this crowd away from home, resource, and comfort. He had kept them longer than they planned to stay. He had taught them right up until the Passover evening was upon them, so that now, if they chose to find food, they would be unclean and unable to keep the feast. Some of them were so faint, they would not make it home if they didn’t get some sustenance. They had put all their eggs in one basket; His name was JESUS.

Then, the impossible happened. A disorganized mob was set in groups of 50s and 100s in order. A young man volunteered his personal lunch to Jesus Christ. A prayer was prayed, some bread was broken, and the loaves and fishes multiplied in the hands of the disciples to fill every hungry appetite. The whole multitude went home happy and satisfied.

“And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.”

Luke 9:17

This cherubic miracle stretches one wing over the Old Testament; we find manna falling at Moses’ feet for his nation, and David’s meal from the Tabernacle feeding 400 hungry soldiers. The other wing spans across all four Gospels all the way to the time of Jacob’s trouble in Revelation, where we find the woman representing Israel is hid in the wilderness “that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” (Revelation 12:6)

A majestic typology! But in this case appears an additional marvel. This anomaly is less miraculous, but still curious: Where would this crowd find empty baskets for all the extra food created?

“And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.”

Mark 6:43

A Few Theories

They could have brought the baskets full, and now they were empty. I imagine some had brought food for a prolonged stretch of wandering in the wild with Jesus. Certainly other families packed lunches, but now that they were empty, they were available.

Noting how the Scripture says “twelve baskets” — the number of disciples Jesus had– we could guess that the apostles themselves brought them. These nomad twelve probably kept empty baskets to be able to resupply as they travelled from town to town. Like theory number one, however, they were at this point empty, and in need of filling.

The Lord could have created twelve baskets, much as he multiplied five loaves and two fishes. It would not have been a greater miracle to make baskets than it would to make food. The Lord Jesus could have provided the containers for the overflow of blessing.

Wherever the baskets came from, we know they were empty. Whether the Lord Jesus, or the disciples, or the crowd, or the lad; all we know for sure is that they held nothing nearly as valuable as the ‘leftovers’ from a massive banquet in the desert.

Find You Some Empty Baskets

Let me spiritualize this event into our lives. When God leads you into a phase of life that seems unfruitful and unfulfilling to your basic needs, doesn’t He always provide in a miraculous way? When you step out by faith to follow him into the unknown, doesn’t it surprise you how God is never out of His element?

The Lord regularly provides for believers: “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20) “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) It’s just like Jesus to over-deliver on His promises. David testifies: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (Psalm 23:5)

But without somewhere to receive and store that blessing- how quickly does it fade away! How wasteful not to try to disperse it, or preserve it, or at least to enjoy it!

We need to keep some empty baskets around for just these occasions. Here’s three reasons why:

First, an empty basket will help you to remember the blessing LONGER.

Our memories are so very short. Our minds are not a living room of pleasant conversation, they are more like the thoroughfare of a mall, littered with so much noise, garbage, and traffic. We can’t stop to enjoy anything, we’re just trying to survive.

Before walking out the door of my house, I always do a pocket check. Back pocket: wallet. Front pocket: keys. Side pocket: phone. I can go many places and meet many obligations if I keep these things with me. And when I get distracted, having these things refocuses me on my priorities. I just have to have an empty pocket to place them in.

Keys, wallet, phone are all important enough to carry if there was no ‘pocket’ to keep them. But they are so easy to forget when they are not kept close.

Likewise, God’s light for your path from the Scriptures, His recent answers to prayer, and the constant access by faith into His grace are so worth remembering. But often we have picked up so much baggage, we just don’t have a ‘pocket’ for them.

The point? Make room for the important stuff. Keep an empty basket around.

Second, an empty basket will help distribute the blessing FARTHER.

The Lord filled twelve baskets, because he had twelve disciples. He was teaching twelve men how to bless others. What better way for them to bless others than by filling their empty baskets with abundance.

You see, those disciples were capable of meeting their own needs with just their two hands. In Luke 6:1, the Bible tells us “that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.”

This was a great principle for sure. It was also a lawful practice. Notice that they weren’t commanded at this point to load up the baskets to feed the multitudes that would follow Him. No, their labor was for themselves. Divine providence meets the needs of the world.

The point is that we often frantically try to store up to cover the massive withdrawals that will be made upon our lives. But manna cannot be stored, it is gathered to be our ‘daily bread.’ It was God who fed the five thousand, AND the four thousand, and all the thousands beside. We just have to carry the empty basket to hold what God is going to do.

Third, the empty baskets helped them to trust LATER.

Not everyone gets to enjoy life from a full basket, but we all know what it’s like to be empty. Carrying around an emptiness of health, or wealth, or friends, or stability handicaps our lives to the same level as everyone else. While few may equate to the high times of fulness; all can relate to the low times that an empty basket portrays.

It does us good to remember that the basket was not always empty. The reason we carry it around is proof of overflowing blessings. Christ fed a multitude not just once in His ministry, but at least twice. (Mark 6:34-45, 8:1-9) After the second miracle, the Lord Jesus reproved his disciples’ unspiritual reasoning:

“And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?

Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?

When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve.

And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven.

And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?

Mark 8:17-21

Understand what, Lord? Understand that regardless of the need, God meets it. Regardless of the resources, God supplies it. Regardless of the miracle, there will be empty baskets needed!

Extra basket, anyone?

Those baskets may have clambered on the backs and packs of the lumbering, weather-beaten crowd. How easy it would have been to toss them aside- who needs it? But when the Master of Miracles was done, how glad they were to have suffered them!

You may recognize some of these baskets in your own life.

That prayer journal with more needs than answers-

That margin of your Bible that hasn’t seen a note in years-

That longing in your heart for a prodigal son or daughter-

That testimony you give that still doesn’t have a happy ending-

That witness you gave that was harshly rejected-

Don’t throw away the empty basket! It may not help you now, but it will certainly help you later. At last, when it fills, it will sustain you for the next leg of your journey.

Finally, my fellow basket-bearers, remember that God designed the basket as well as the blessing it would later contain.

With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And, aye! The dews of sorrow
Were lustered by His love:
I'll bless the hand that guided, 
I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.
-Anne Ross Cousin, "The Sands of Time are Sinking"

The origin of your basket may not seem miraculous, but by no means was it a mistake. Paul taught Timothy: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.” (2 Timothy 2:20)

Many vessels, all in the same great house, the church of Christ. Many vessels, yet what makes them sanctified, meet for the master’s use? Emptiness. Availability.

You may not be proud of that unfinished journal or those unanswered requests, but keep them around. You never know how one afternoon with the Lord Jesus Christ may leave you fuller in mind and soul and spirit than you ever thought possible.

“When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.
Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

John 6:12-14

3 Replies to “The Miracle of the Empty Baskets”

  1. Thanks for this blog Lewis, was an enjoyable read. I was struck by the statement that “manna cannot be stored, it is gathered to be our daily bread”… so true, because God was teaching them through the daily provision of manna “that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”

    God was teaching them faith out in the wilderness. Faith! Every day they were relying on God keeping his word. Because we can trust God, we can trust his supply of grace, but we, I, just so easily default to a life within my control and wherewithal rather than trusting in the sufficiency of God.

    It’s also quite timely, because I’ve been sitting on some thoughts for a good while from this passage about “gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost”. What a rich miracle that God is still performing today.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: