Sermon notes 08-02-20          The Means to the Miracle                 Pastor David King

Matthew 14:13-21 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 This is probably one of the more familiar stories in the whole Bible, for good reason.  It’s the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels.  When you think of all the accounts there are of Jesus doing things like walking on water and changing water into wine and calming the storm and raising the dead and many healings and other miracles Jesus did, it is kind of amazing to realize that this story of feeding the 5000 is the only miracle of Jesus that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all describe.

That ought to make us want to give some special attention to this story.  The fact that this story is retold four times in the Bible ought to cause us to seriously consider its importance to us, but we may actually have become so familiar with this story that we fail to notice the details of how this miracle took place.  Sure, we know that Jesus fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish, but we might have overlooked the means through which Jesus performs this miracle.  The means to the miracle are what I want to talk to you about this morning.

The story begins with the words, “Now when Jesus heard this….” So we need to briefly go back and see what it was that Jesus heard.   The first twelve verses of Matthew chapter 14 describe the brutal murder of John the Baptist, whose beheading was ordered by King Herod.  Verse 12 tells us that after his murder, John’s followers buried his body and then went and told Jesus.  This is what Matthew was referring to in verse 13 when he said, “When Jesus heard this.”

Upon hearing about John’s death, we can imagine that Jesus would naturally have been grief stricken, and he understandably sought to get away and be alone.  He withdrew, Matthew tells us.  Jesus goes off in a boat to a desolate place – that term “desolate place” is used twice in this passage to describe the location where Jesus withdrew – but no sooner does he step foot on shore then Jesus sees a great crowd.

Jesus’ response upon seeing the crowd is one of the most important parts of this story.  In spite of his desire, and his need, and his intention to withdraw, to get away, to be alone in his time of grief, Jesus does not turn around and get back in the boat; he does not try to get away from the crowd.  No, the Bible tells us Jesus had compassion on them and healed those who were sick.

This is one of the recurring themes in Matthew’s Gospel, that Jesus is moved by the need he sees in people, the need for healing, for nourishment, for comfort, for truth, for peace.  Jesus has compassion, and his compassion causes him to take action.  Compassion is an important characteristic of Jesus, and it ought to be an important characteristic of those who follow Jesus.

We see that the followers of Jesus in this story do have a measure of compassion.  His disciples anticipate a need in the people—specifically, the need for food—but they take no real responsibility for the need and in fact consider themselves helpless to meet the need.

It’s interesting to me that the disciples express their concern about the lateness of the evening and the need for the crowds to go buy food, even though there is no mention of the crowd complaining of hunger.  It would seem that up to this point, the more important concern of the crowd is spiritual and not physical hunger.  I wonder if maybe the disciples are just ready for this day to be over.  But nonetheless, the crowd will surely need to eat; the disciples are right about that.  So they tell Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food for themselves.

What Jesus says in response must have surely exasperated the disciples to no end.  He tells them, “They need not go away.  You give them something to eat.”  We can easily imagine the disciples’ response.  “What?!! How in the world do you expect us to feed thousands of people, when all we have are these five loaves of bread and 2 fish?”

Now, I want us to especially think about these words.  The disciples said, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 They said, “We have [these things],” but we should ask the question, how did they happen to have them?  Where did they get them, how were they able to acquire them?  John’s Gospel tells us there was a boy who had them. But the answer is that ultimately, they were provided by God, right?

When we think about it honestly, we will acknowledge that we have nothing that we did not receive from God.  Someone might say, I have worked hard for what I have, but I would ask, how were you able to work hard, where did you get the strength, the intelligence, the ability, who put you in the location and situation where you had the opportunity to be rewarded for hard work?  Friends, when it comes down to it, none of us have anything that we did not receive from God.  So when the disciples say, “We have … five loaves and two fish” they are saying to Jesus, this is what we have received from the providence of God.

So then Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”  ‘Give back to me this portion of what God has provided.’  And after he orders the crowds to sit down on the grass, Jesus says a blessing over the five loaves and two fish.

Then it says Jesus gave the bread and the fish to the five thousand, right?   No—and this is an important point—Jesus does not give the bread and fish to the five thousand men, plus women and children.  He gives them to the disciples, and the disciples give them to the crowd.   Matthew tells us in verse 20, “And they all ate and were satisfied.  And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over:” one basket of leftovers for each disciple.

It’s a great miracle, but here’s the main point we should notice: Jesus does not act alone to perform this miracle.  He uses his disciples; in fact, he seems to need his disciples to be a means to the miracle.  And friends, Jesus is still performing miracles today, using his followers to meet the needs of others.

The pattern is still the same; it goes like this:

  • Jesus gives us the ability and the compassion to perceive a need in others.
  • Jesus compels us to meet the need with the resources that he has given us.
  • We in faith give back to Jesus a portion of what he has given to us.
  • Jesus takes and blesses the portion we give back to him and miraculously meets the need through us.

Brother and sisters, we cooperate in meeting the needs of others on behalf of Christ by giving back a portion of what God has given to us.  The church is the means through which God has chosen to meet the needs of the world.  When we give to the church, we are giving back to God what he has given to us so that he can use our offerings to meet the needs of others on his behalf, through the ministries of the church.  Jesus is still working miracles to meet the needs of the world, through the ministries of his church.  But it requires our cooperation in giving back what we have received from him.  The question is, are we cooperating by giving back?  (George Harrison: Isn’t It a Pity, isn’t it a shame, How we take each other’s love without thinking any more.  Forgetting to give back. Isn’t it a Pity). It would indeed be a great pity if we were to take the love of God for granted, and forget to give back. When we give back to God, God uses us to be means to miracles.

The story of the loaves and fishes reminds us that God does not work alone, but through people like you and me.  God gives us the power to work for good in the world, and when we cooperate with Jesus, there is always more than enough.

This story points most vividly to Holy Communion.  Notice that Jesus takes the same actions in the story of the loaves and fishes that he takes during the Last Supper.  He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to his disciples.

The story of the loaves and fishes and the celebration of Holy Communion each remind us that through Christ, God is actively working for good in the world, working toward the redemption of the world, reconciling the world to himself.  Let us now share in the sacrament of Holy Communion.