[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, earlier today.]
Today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 14:13-21, tells us about Jesus’ miraculous feeding of more than five-thousand people. This incident is recounted in all four gospels, not only in Matthew’s, but also those of Mark, Luke, and John. In addition to that, Matthew and Mark also tell us about a time when, similarly, Jesus fed more than 4000 people. The feeding miracles get more attention in the four gospels than does the history of Jesus' birth--the narrative of the first Christmas--which only appears in Matthew's and Luke's gospels.
But it’s fair to ask what exactly is so important about these miraculous feeding incidents that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writers of the four gospels made certain to tell us about them?
What is the significance of the feeding of the 5000?
And, more to the point, what is the significance of this incident for people gathered for worship in 2014?
The first thing to be said is that Jesus Himself thought His miraculous meals were important and that the lessons they taught about Him and His kingdom needed to be remembered by disciples like us. In Matthew 16:9, He asks the disciples: “Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?” But what are the lessons that the first disciples and that we twenty-first century disciples are supposed to take from the feeding miracles?
Take a look, please, at our lesson. It begins: “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
The thing that Jesus heard had happened was the execution of His cousin, John the Baptizer.
Jesus was undoubtedly grief stricken.
On top of that, He had to know that now, both the crowds who had reposed so much hope in John and the authorities who had taken John’s life, would turn their focus, for good and ill, but mostly for ill, on Him.
Jesus came into our world to die for our sins and to rise to give new life to all who believe in Him. With John’s execution, Jesus’ own suffering and death drew closer.
So, Jesus, just as He had done when John had been arrested some time before withdrew to a solitary place.
But when Jesus got off the boat meant to take Him to a place of peace and respite, He was met by an enormous crowd. We've all been there, haven't we? We're all set for downtime and suddenly, without warning, there's a party at our house.
But in this circumstance, Jesus, true man as well as true God didn’t vent His spleen. He didn't say, “Go away. I need time to myself.”
Instead, Matthew says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd and healed people. So we see the very first significant thing in this incident even before Jesus fed the crowd. It’s this: The God we know in Jesus Christ is available.
Jesus is interruptible.
He has time for us.
He’s anxious to listen to us.
He has compassion for us.
He has compassion for you.
A woman came to me for counseling years ago. She gave an impressive catalog of her sins. There were a boatload!
She wanted to be right with God. She wanted Jesus. But she was certain that Jesus would refuse to hear her, that God would never forgive her, and that God wouldn't even have the time for her.
I assured her that if we want Jesus, it’s evidence that His Holy Spirit has already been at work on our hearts for this simple reason: Jesus always wants us.
Even if we’ve made it a habit to violate every one of the ten commandments every day, Jesus is still available with forgiveness and new life.
He’s available to us too, when we’re hurting.
Next in our lesson, we read: “As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’ ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered. ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said.”
The disciples weren't being ogres here. They were being completely sensible.
They were in a remote place. They didn’t have enough to feed this throng.
The disciples weren’t suffering from compassion fatigue. They simply saw no way to feed all those people.
And they were right. There was absolutely no way they could feed the 5000.
But Jesus told them, “Give me everything you have. I’ll make something of it.”
The second significant about this miracle: We can’t; God can.
Jesus says, “Go, make disciples.” We say, “We can’t.” Jesus says, “Go and I’ll make disciples through you.”
Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” We say, “If you knew how annoying my neighbor is, you’d know I can’t do that.” Jesus says, “I know how annoying your neighbor is. Furthermore, I know how annoying you are. Make yourself available and I will love your neighbor through you.”
Jesus says, “Feed the hungry. Care for the poor. Give the hope of the gospel to those who aren’t even interested.” We say, “There’s no way we can do that, Lord.” Jesus says, “Depend on me and act; ready, fire, aim; I will make a way.”
In Mark 9:23, Jesus says, “Everything is possible for one who believes." Give Jesus your loaves and fishes; He will take care of the rest.
Let me point something out here. This entire incident happens wMithin the context of the disciples being together with Jesus. God, of course, can work in the lives of individuals. He does it all the time. But no one will remain long connected to Christ outside the fellowship of the Church. Or our connection will become self-directed. We’ll go off on our own tangents. In the fellowship of the Church and in the fellowship of small groups within the Church, we grow together, we keep each other on track, we encourage one another, we lovingly call each other to the carpet. The disciples never would have had the courage to give Jesus those five loaves and two fishes if they had stood alone with Him on that hillside. The Church is Christ’s creation. It is His very body in the world. Being a Christian is no solo operation.
Verse 19 says: “And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.”
This folks, is truly a foretaste of the feast to come. Believing Jews had for centuries looked forward to the time when the Messiah would invite all who believed in Him to His eternal table. And in Matthew 8:11, Jesus had said: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
You and I are privileged to receive a foretaste of Jesus’ eternal table every time we receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We see the connection with Holy Communion (and the ultimate messianic feast to which it points) in the verbs describing Jesus’ actions as He fed the 5000, all of which appear in the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper, where Jesus instituted the Sacrament. Jesus takes the food. He gives thanks. He breaks the bread. He gives it to the disciples. And the disciples give it to the crowd.
From the time Israel wandered in the wilderness and fed on manna, God’s people have looked to God to feed them, to provide for them. Jesus teaches us to pray for “our daily bread.” We look forward to that day when “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language [all who have turned from sin and trusted in Jesus Christ as their God and Savior and Lord over their lives], [stand] before the throne and before the Lamb” and partake of all the blessings God has in mind for His people.
Here, in our lesson, in the shadow of John’s execution, with His cross clearly ahead in Jesus’ sights, Jesus gives a clear sign that it is all true, that our hopes in Him are well founded.
The One Who could feed a multitude with a few scraps of food is good for all His promises.
He is the way and the truth and the life.
He is the only way to God. He is the way to new life, freed of sin and death.
He is our only hope.
The feeding of the 5000 is a sign that everything the apostles told us about Jesus, everything we confess about Him on Sunday mornings, is true.
The lesson ends: “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
With our modern sensibilities, we may read that bit about “besides women and children” and think, “What a sexist, patriarchal thing for Matthew to write.” I can understand how some might think that.
But consider this for a moment: In first century Judea, women and children were supposed to be barely seen, never heard, and certainly not accounted for. But Matthew accounts for them! He makes a point of mentioning the women and children for the simple reason that in the eyes of Jesus Christ--in the eyes of God--every human life matters. Every man. Every woman. Every child. All are the objects of His love and compassion. All need Jesus. And Jesus wants to bring life to all who are willing enough to receive Him as their Savior and King.
There’s much more to this incident than we have time to talk about today. But remember, please, the four things that we've talked about today that give it significance, that make it important.
First, the God we know in Christ is always available. Call out to Him, as Martin Luther put it, “in every time of need.” He will hear.
Second, give yourself to Christ and He will take care of the rest. It won’t always be easy. There will be times you question His will and His wisdom. (I know that I sometimes do. "God," I ask, "do you really expect this of me?" And knowing from His Word, the Bible, that He does, I strive to accept His will.) Struggle to surrender and do God's will and, often even against your will, He will fulfill His purposes for your life.
Third, Jesus has prepared a feast for us, a celebration that will last eternally for those who trust in Him. Knowing that encourages us any time we’re laid low by life or just feeling, and this is a technical theological term, blah. Neither blah nor tears are the eternal destiny of those who follow Christ.
Fourth, in the eyes of Jesus Christ, everybody counts. He died for all. He rose for all. He offers everlasting life to all who believe in Him.
Now, if you can't remember those four things, then just remember Jesus. He is our God and our only hope. He's all you really need to remember. Amen!