Sermon / August 3rd, 2014 / Pastor Terry Defoe / Matthew 14:15-16 / On the Job Training
15 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."
16 Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
(New International Version)
We all love stories. And we all have our favorites – stories we don’t mind hearing over and over again. The stories people tell often begin with the words:
“Do you remember the time when…?”
The Bible text we’ll be looking at this morning is one of those favorite stories. It deals with some on the job training that Jesus’ disciples experienced. You know, some of the miracles recorded in the Gospels are told only once. The story before us this morning is told not just once in the gospels, not twice, or three times, but four times! As a matter of fact, it’s the only miracle story told in all four gospels. I pray, as I always do, that God would bless our consideration of His Word this day.
It was springtime in Israel. The rains of March and April had come, and the countryside lush and green. The brown hills had soaked up the spring rains and the flowers were now blooming and the hills were green again. It was Passover time. At the time of Jesus, Passover was Israel’s great religious feast, similar to Easter in our day. For the Jews, the festival of Passover meant a holiday from school for the children, and a break from work for the adults. At Passover many people went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
But this was also a sad time in Israel. That’s because John the Baptist had just been beheaded. Many people, including Jesus Himself, considered John the Baptist to be the greatest prophet of the last 400 years in Israel. They looked to John for inspiration, and now he was dead – killed by King Herod. People were wondering how this could have happened.
John’s death affected Jesus, too. After John died, Jesus wanted some quiet time to grieve, and to pray, and to remember. So He got into a boat and sailed out across the Lake of Galilee to a remote place. But the crowds could see from the shore where he had gone. They followed along the shoreline, keeping an eye on his boat, and when Jesus stepped ashore, many people were there to meet Him.
Jesus of Nazareth was well-known for his healing and teaching ministries. His popularity was growing rapidly. He was the ancient equivalent of a rock star, and huge crowds gathered to hear Him. So what was Jesus’ reaction to the crowd that day? Was he irritated? Angry? Did he feel imposed upon? No, we are told that he had compassion for the people. To Him, they were like sheep without a shepherd, especially now that John was gone.
So, instead of some quiet time, Jesus spent the day teaching the people and healing the sick. It got to be late in the day, and one of His disciples said:
“Lord, the hour is late and the people don’t have any food. We’re a long way from the villages. Maybe you should send them home now.”
It seemed that Jesus was so busy, he had forgotten about the time. Jesus had a question for Philip,
“How are we going to buy bread, so that all the people can eat?”
Phillip thought about it for a while and replied,
“It would take more than 200 denarii [that is, more than 200 days’ wages] to meet this need – and even that wouldn’t be enough to feed all these people.”
Jesus asked his disciples to look around and see what they could rustle up. The disciple Andrew found a young boy who had five loaves of bread and two fish. John chapter 6, verses 9 and 13, says that these were barley loaves – that is, a cheaper and coarser bread – the kind of break that poor people ate. Thankfully, the young lad was graciously willing to give up what he had. So Jesus invited everyone to be seated on the grass.
He then took the bread…
He looked up into heaven…
He gave thanks…
And broke it…
And gave it to his disciples…
And they, in turn, distributed it to the crowds.
As Jesus did this, both the bread and the fish were multiplied in his hands. The disciples were the waiters that day – waiters who served 5000 guests at the Lord’s banquet. The disciples did the Lord’s bidding and, as they watched, a miracle took place. It’s clear from the story that Jesus intended that none of His gifts – His bounty – be wasted. Each of his disciples gathered up a basketful of what was left over.
Now comes the final twist to the story. After all these things had taken place, Jesus and his disciples got into a boat and sailed back across the lake. Out of earshot of Jesus, they discussed these things among themselves.
“Who brought the bread?" they wanted to know.
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, replied in words that went something like this:
“Don’t you understand? Don’t you understand who I am? Don’t you understand the generosity of God? Don’t you understand that God will take care of your needs and the needs of all people? Don’t you understand, even after all you have seen?”
One of the hallmarks of Jesus' ministry was His amazing compassion. Every encounter in the Gospels that Jesus had with hurting people was characterized by his compassionate touch. A wise Christian leader once said:
"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
Compassion will open doors that have been closed by criticism and condemnation. Compassion is a wonderful medicine for a broken heart or a cynical spirit. Compassion is the glue that binds people together. John Fawcett's hymn, Blest Be The Tie That Binds, describes its compassion:
"We share each other's woes,
Each other's burdens bear,
And often for each other flows,
The sympathizing tear."
Let’s take a moment to dig a little deeper into our text this morning. You may have already noticed that, in this text, there are many indirect references to Holy Communion. Consider again these words –
Jesus took the bread…
He looked up to heaven…
He gave thanks…
He broke the bread…
He gave it to his disciples…
They then passed it along to the others …
And everyone ate and was satisfied.
The Greek word “eucharist” means “to give thanks.” That’s what Jesus did just before the miracle took place. Did you know that early Christian artwork often used bread and fish as symbols of Holy Communion? When we read John’s account of this story, we find that the feeding of the 5000 occurred just before Jesus’ said,
“I am the bread of life.”
In the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, the feeding of the 5000 comes just before Jesus’ extended discussion of Holy Communion. Later on in John 6 Jesus says,
I am the bread of life. Whoever he eats my flesh and drinks my blood, I will live in that person and that person lives in me. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die but will live forever.
Just before the feeding of the 5000, Jesus uttered a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. Not many days afterwards, he would do the same thing when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. I’d like to suggest that the Biblical account we’re looking at this morning is so popular – and so well known – because it captures the essence of all the people involved.
First, it captures the essence of Jesus as the wondrous Son of God. Second, it captures the very essence of God the Father – His abundant and extravagant generosity and grace. And then, thirdly, it captures the very essence of his disciples, individuals like us who struggled to understand God’s will and His ways.
In Jesus’ hands, the bread and the fish were transformed. And that’s definitely a miracle. But did you notice that there’s another transformation going on here, one that, in the long run, is actually more important? Did you notice that the hearts of Jesus’ disciples were being transformed that day? They were slowly beginning to understand the meagerness of their faith on the one hand, and the greatness of God’s grace on the other. You know, some people spend a lot of time arguing as to whether this kind of thing could actually have happened – that is, whether Jesus could actually multiply the bread and fish. But when people focus on that part of the story, and when they argue about that, they’re missing the point – they’re missing the very heart of the story – the part that deals with the transformation of their own heart and their own attitudes – by God’s amazing grace.
By His Holy Spirit, working through the Word and the sacraments, God is prompting all of us to offer him our five loaves and two fish – whatever they might be. By His Holy Spirit, God is reminding us that he can work with – and He can multiply! –whatever we give him. By the enabling of the Holy Spirit, we can offer God our lives. We can offer him our gifts. We can offer him our time and our talents and our treasures. To us, they may not seem like much. But God promises that He will use them – and He will multiply them – and great wonders will be done through them – by His grace and by His power.
In our text this morning, a young boy brings his meager gifts to Jesus, and Jesus does something very special with them! Our text this morning is reminding us – in a very powerful way – that God’s will is to multiply what we have and what we do. The Apostle Paul once said,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That’s the way God does things in his kingdom. And, when you think about it, that’s the point of the story. I think that’s why this story has been told over and over again down through the years. It goes to the heart of our faith. It goes to the heart of our relationship with God. And it goes to the heart of the stewardship of the resources God has given us.
It has been said that, “The kingdom of God is not about ‘just enough.’” In Luke chapter 6, verse 38, Jesus says,
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.”
My point? When God gives, He doesn’t give just enough. Instead, when God gives, He gives in great abundance. In first Timothy chapter one, the Apostle Paul says,
“The grace of our lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
God gives grace, and love, and faith – and what He gives is always more than enough. God gives us “Life – and He gives it – to the full.” With God, there’s not only fulfillment, but a surplus. That's the way it is with Jesus. Even in the wilderness, even at the close of day when as night is falling, if Jesus is there, there is fulfillment, abundance, extravagance, an overflowing of grace.
Consider this: in John chapter 2, the wine gives out at a party after a wedding, and what does Jesus do? He turns water to wine! Not just some water into a little bit of wine. He makes, according to John's reckoning, 180 gallons of the bes- tasting wine they ever had. Now think about that for a moment. Isn't that a lot of wine? Isn’t that just a bit extravagant? Jesus didn't just turn water into wine, which would have been quite a sign in and of itself. He made 180 gallons of it. Now that’s an abundance! That’s amazing grace.
Consider, if you would, the father of that wayward prodigal son. The Father didn't just welcome back his son. We would have done that. No, the father welcomed him back with a huge, expensive, wild party. Now that’s extravagant! And the observant elder brother even complained about his Father’s extravagance.
How about this? It wasn't that the Good Samaritan stopped and helped the wounded man in the ditch. We would have done that. It’s the way he stopped – what he did. In modern-day terms, the Samaritan would have put the wounded man in his car. He would have taken the man to the hospital. And he would have said to the staff,
"Here, here's everything - all my credit cards, my checkbook, everything. I'll be back here in a week and, if that's not enough money to treat this man's wounds, I'll give you even more."
Isn't that just a bit overly generous on the part of the Samaritan? Jesus loved to tell stories like this – stories of such abundance and extravagance overflowing. Why? Because God is like that. God could have made one type of flower - say, a red poppy - and this would be miracle enough for most of us. And yet – look around – consider all the colors and shapes of the flowers God created. Wouldn't you call that excessive? Extravagant? And all the rich panoply of races, all the colors of people, all the diversity of shape and size, of sound and sense. Our God is a God who, when he starts creating people or flowers or birds or stars, just doesn’t know when to stop.
Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 20 tells us that God gives
“Exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think.”
Do you know what’s most amazing about the story before us this morning? There was more left over at the end than there was at the beginning! But, isn’t that how God does things? One pastor said to his congregation, after sharing this thought with them: NOW LET THAT BE A LESSON FOR YOU! It is a lesson, isn’t it. It’s a good lesson. A gracious lesson. Thanks be to God for his incredible gifts – for the gift of life, and salvation, and sins forgiven, and the promise of heaven someday. Thanks be to God for the cross and the empty tomb!
This morning we’ve seen how Jesus taught His disciples by some critically important "on the job training." For Jesus, the streets and alleys, the hillsides and the valleys were his classroom.
“Come, follow me.
Come and see," he would say.
Jesus’ disciples learned about His compassion by seeing it in action. There’s an old saying that’s got a lot of truth to it. It’s about the best way to learn something. It goes like this:
“Involve me, then I’ll understand.”
Involve us, Lord! Amen.
Let’s Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We want You to take us through some “on the job training. We want You to teach us how things work in your kingdom. Take our five loaves and our two fish – and multiply them – for our good, but most of all for your glory. In Jesus’ most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.