Matthew 14: 13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Bring them to me.
As we continue our study of Matthew's Gospel this morning, we come to a very familiar story which teaches us lessons that constantly need to be re-visited. The account happened immediately after Jesus received the news of the death of John the Baptist. John’s followers had come to Jesus and reported the news to him.
What happens next is one of the most notable stories in Jesus’ ministry. It is so important, that it is one of the few stories told in all four gospel accounts. The Holy Spirit moved upon each of the Gospel writers to record this event. Each of them tells the account in their own way, and record different elements and details about the same event and interesting to note, they did not know each other and only John had been present. It cannot be dismissed as a mere 'parable'. It is reported to us as an historic event. Jesus truly did feed a large multitude of people with a few loaves of bread and a few small fish.
The Holy Spirit inspired the gospel writers to record this event affirms again that Jesus Christ is the Son of God fully human and fully Divine. It also helps us to learn to respond to the seemingly impossible situations of life by trusting Jesus in them. This is something that people of faith have found to be true throughout the centuries: that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
I believe that what we are to do with impossible situations of life can be summed up in the words of Jesus in verse 18 of the Gospel reading when Jesus says, ‘Bring them here to me.’ He doesn't give us a magic formula to solve our problems on our own. Rather, He gives us Himself; and invites us to cast our cares on Him.
The first principle the story teaches is not to despair over the seemingly impossible.
As we read the Gospel we pick up on a sense of despair on the part of the disciples over the seeming impossibility of their situation. Matthew tells us that the number of people needing to be fed was “five thousand men, besides women and children” If we count the wives and children of the five thousand men, this hungry multitude could easily have been over twenty-thousand people. Apparently, they were so eager to go to where Jesus was and hear Him teach that they forgot to bring a picnic. All that the disciples had found to feed this multitude was “five loaves and two fish.” It wouldn’t take long for even the most optimistic person to conclude that it simply couldn’t be done.
But Jesus knew the impossibility of the situation. He wasn't caught off-guard by the tremendous need of the multitude. And when we read John's account, there is a fascinating insight into Jesus' intention with impossible situations. John writes:
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.
First of all they despaired over what they didn’t have. Philip quickly sized up the crowd and said that it couldn’t be done financially. It would take more than “two hundred denari, which was roughly equivalent to eight months wages to feed such a crowd. They just didn’t have the money to do what Jesus was suggesting. And even if they did; Bethsaida was a tiny little town, and there weren’t enough stores and markets to buy the food.
Secondly they despaired over what they did have. All they had was the lunch that a little boy had brought, nothing more than the ancient equivalent to a “McDonalds Happy Meal”. Of course one of the truly great miracles in this story is that a little boy was willing to give up his lunch and that he hadn’t eaten it already!
Thirdly, they even despaired over the humble nature of what little they had. It wasn’t just five loaves and two fish but; as John tells us, it was five barley loaves and two small fish. Barley loaves were pretty poor things to offer to people. Barley was cheap, and was usually reserved only as animal feed. The word used to describe the fishes is one that refers to a tiny fish that you eat whole; much like our sardines or whitebait - and they only had two!
And finally, they despaired over the enormity of the task. The disciples said to Jesus; “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” Clearly the disciples didn’t want anything to do with this problem and on a purely human level, who could blame them? The disciples were simply being realistic, the situation was humanly impossible.
The disciples summed up the situation and decided that the best course of action would be to send the people away. They were focused on the resources and not on the people or on their needs. But Jesus was “moved with compassion for them.”
When we face a challenge that is bigger than the resources we have to accomplish it and when we simply don't know what we are going to do, that is when we need to stop and remember that Jesus knows about the challenge, and waits to see whether or not we will trust Him to guide us through.
This story tells us that even though Jesus was tired and needed rest, his great concern was the people and their needs. When He turned to the disciples and told them to give the people something to eat, it was more than just a test to the disciples. It was an expression of His real, genuine love for the people who had come to hear Him. He cared about the people’s needs, they mattered to Him. One of our greatest challenges is not the impossibility of a difficult situation, rather, it is whether or not we are willing to trust Jesus with it.
When Jesus heard about the loaves and fishes He said ‘Bring them here to Me.’ He took that little picnic lunch and multiplied it into a meal for thousands of people. He satisfied the hunger of a stadium-sized crowd with it; and even multiplied it so much that there was twelve baskets-full of leftovers. One for each of the doubting disciples perhaps. How could Jesus multiply a few loaves and two small fish to feed a huge crowd of people? I don’t know the mechanics of how it happened. But I know that Jesus is the Son of God; and He can do the seemingly impossible. When Jesus said ‘Bring them here to Me’ it helps us to understand that once we do, the impossible is no longer our burden to carry alone. In this event Jesus was asking for the solution to the problem in Matthew 11:28 Jesus says ‘come unto me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest’; Whatever it is, the principle is still the same - bring what you have, the problem or what you think is the solution - ‘Bring them here to me.’
It’s fascinating that, when they brought that small lunch to Jesus, He didn’t simply wave His hand over it and turn it all into a huge seafood restaurant. Using the meagre resources that were given to Him could have had an immediate, marvellous, and very dramatic effect. But instead, He seemed to go through a process that took time.
Firstly He had the multitudes sit down, there was form and order, the disciples would be able to walk amongst them and distribute the food fairly and the people would be able to see the miracle taking place all around them.
Secondly He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven He blessed them. He took the time to give thanks to God and to acknowledge Him for His provision (something that is sadly lacking in society today) and finally He divided it up and gave it to His disciples. These were the very men who were complaining that this was impossible and no doubt they were still thinking that it was impossible when they were told to distribute the food. Five small loves and two little fish, at most all they would have started with was a piece roll and a fish head or tail each. The biggest test of their faith would have been to give away that which was in their hand, and that small step of faith activated the miracle.
Such a short episode in Jesus ministry, one afternoon which turned into one of the most well-known and mind-blowing events in His three years on earth. The simplicity of the principle this passage teaches us about faith is almost as hard as trying to work out how to feed 500+ with five loaves and two fish. But the truth remains the same. When we are challenged with the seemingly impossible – don’t despair bring what we have to Jesus, for nothing is impossible for Him.
Before this and any sermon goes to print I have to first preach this to myself and I am aware of how difficult this is for us to do. We want to try and sort things out for ourselves. Moreover we often think it is only the impossible things that we need to pray about, when it was simply that the people were hungry that prompted the miracle. An every-day occurrence yet still as important to Jesus as a life- changing event.
I pray that I will learn this simple yet profound lesson and hope that you will join me in the challenge.