Sunday the 6th of August 2017
During the past week I have been over in Warrnambool, Victoria for pastors’ conference and while I was there, together with the other pastors, we did some work together with the Gospel reading this week, from Matthew 14. This led to some great discussions and different viewpoints around a reading that is well known, as it is Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. So I have decided this week to preach on this reading and share with you some of the wisdom that God spoke to us through it.
Today’s Gospel reading is not the only time in scripture that God has provided bread for his people to eat, in fact throughout the Old Testament God often provided bread to his people in great time of need. An example of this that I would like to point out is in 2 Kings 4: 42-44.
In this account a man comes to the prophet Elisha with: “twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said. 43 “How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked.
But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’” 44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.”
Notice that in this account Elisha the prophet referred to what the Lord had said, and that it ends with everyone having been filled and having leftovers, “according to the word of the Lord”. This miracle was not Elisha’s doing—this was God acting through his word to bring about his purpose.
The people of Israel knew this and believed it, that their God would provide for them through his Word bringing miracles to his people.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus was in an isolated place with a large crowd and they were hungry. So the disciples said to him: “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.” 17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
What did Jesus expect these disciples to do? Were they able to feed the crowd? Of course the answer is no, that was impossible. So why did he ask them?
In accounts such as this one it is easy to focus on the miracle of the multiplying of the bread and the feeding of the crowd, but miss the point. This was what actually happened to the people themselves. They had expectations that were to be fulfilled which meant they failed to see Jesus Christ the Son of God among them.
Jesus asked them to do the impossible to point to himself as the one who is the Word and speaks the word of God. 18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 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. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
In every other account of God providing bread for his people in the Old Testament, the focus was on the word of the Lord bringing about his purposes; the Word of the Lord providing for his people. Hence Elisha says: “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says…” God provided when his priests and prophets interceded for the people or where the Lord spoke through them, whereas Jesus did not do this. He said, “Bring them to me.” The disciples were to bring to Jesus what they had, no matter how small it seemed to them. He then gave thanks, broke the bread and multiplied the bread. He did not ask or intercede; he spoke and it was done. Jesus spoke and brought about God’s purposes.
Often this is missed in the hearing of this account. On many occasions I have heard many arguing about the plausibility of the miracle, rather than the point of Jesus’ actions. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and his word is the word of God.
I don’t know about you, but this is where faith in Jesus tests me. We all have times in our lives where Jesus asks us to do things, that for us seem impossible, but he still asks us. Perhaps Jesus asks us to walk through difficult times, help difficult people; perhaps he asks us to forgive those who have deeply hurt us; perhaps he asks us to treat our enemies with love. These things may seem impossible to us—we just cannot do what he is asking of us. One of the tasks that Jesus says to his pastors of his church is to feed his sheep. “You feed them” spoke to us all at the conference. This is the difficult task for all pastors, who face many difficulties and challenges and sometimes it feels impossible.
But the next thing Jesus says is, “Bring them to me.” All Christians and followers of Jesus are to trust that Jesus is the one who does what we cannot. He is the one who does the impossible, he is the one who speaks his word and brings about his purposes. We just need to bring what we have to him. And this requires faith. So often we focus on what we have to do; on what is expected of us by God and others; we often try very hard, but there are times when it is impossible for us. But it is not impossible for Jesus. I believe that this is the point being made here by Jesus to his disciples.
A few chapters on in Matthew 17 after Jesus came down from the mountain where he was transfigured, he was approached by a man who came to him because his son was suffering from a demonic attack. (v.14-21) The man said, “I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” Jesus went on to say: “Bring the boy here to me…” and he spoke and the boy was healed. The disciples asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Notice the similarities here. What they were trying to do was impossible, but Jesus said: “Bring the boy to me…” as Jesus said earlier with the bread and fish: “Bring them to me”. You see faith in Jesus Christ is not faith in what we can do through him, but is about trusting that he can do the impossible through us. Jesus spoke the word and the miracle happened; it brought about God’s purposes.
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand was not so much about the actual feeding as it was about who Jesus Christ is, and his authority to speak the Word of God into the lives of God’s people. This is the challenge for all of us who follow him, not just those disciples. Do we trust that Jesus will do what he says, that the Word of God will accomplish its purpose, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of the world? Do we trust him to do what is impossible, or do we focus on ourselves, our own lack of knowledge, ability and lack of faith?
God certainly asks a lot of us as his people. As Christians we are to try to follow him and be faithful to his Word which means actually living out our Christian faith. But there are times where this means that even though we do not do all that God expects of us, that we bring what we have to him, and trust him to work his Word in us. In this way faith is a matter of trust that Jesus will work as he promises to.
I encourage each of you as you journey with our Lord through this life, to bring what you have to the Lord and let him work through his Word in your life. I encourage you to trust that Jesus is true to his promises and is working in your life bringing about his purposes, even if they are not obvious to you. I also encourage you all to take comfort in this; take comfort in the fact that Jesus can and does do what you yourselves cannot do in your own strength; I encourage you to give your burdens to him and allow him to take and carry them for you. Finally, I encourage you to rest assured that Jesus is the one who provides for all of your needs and to trust him in this.