If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 14. As we have been studying in the gospel of Matthew, we have noted a progression from Matthew 11 unto this point: Matthew 11 highlighting the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ, Matthew 12 contrasting Christ's character with the character of the Pharisees, and Matthew 13 showing us that special use of parables in Christ's teaching and recording us for us seven kingdom parables, stories which illustrate important truths about the kingdom that Jesus was coming to preach. But Matthew 13 also records for us what begins to be a turning point in Christ's ministry, as more and more there is opposition to Christ and His disciples and their preaching. The Pharisees had opposed Him early on, but now even the crowds are beginning to doubt Him. He isn't the kind of Messiah that they were expecting. They were longing for someone who would bring them physical relief and relief from the oppression of the Romans, perhaps a king who would sit on the throne of Israel and deliver them. But Christ had not turned out to be like what they hoped He would be.
And so in the wake of the crowd's disappoint with Him, in the wake of the opposition of the Pharisees and Sadducees and now we've already learned in Matthew 14 verses 1-12, now the opposition of Herod. Herod now fears that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead and is ministering in his own region and He is worried about the effect of Christ. In that context Christ withdraws from Galilee, He goes across the lake to the northeastern side, He seeks a place of solitude for rest for Him and for his disciples. And in that context we come to the passage we are going to study today. Let's look then at god's holy word in Matthew chapter 14 beginning in verse 13.
Father, we ask that by your Spirit you would make this your word food to us this day, spiritual food. We ask that by it you would bring to mind those things that we need to confess to you and so cause us to repent. We ask as well, O Lord that You would come near to us if we are downcast and so encourage us by Your word. But in whatever way Your word should speak to us, we ask that it would be done. And we ask that You would use this preaching of the word and our active hearing of the word for the spiritual good of our souls and the building up of Christ's kingdom. We ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
When you come to Matthew chapter 14 you are coming to the end of what biblical scholars call the great Galilean ministry. It's estimated that Jesus began this long ministry in Galilee sometime maybe at the end of the year A.D. 27, maybe in December of AD 27. And that that long ministry in Galilee continued until about April AD 29, so a two year ministry in Galilee is now coming to an end once you have gotten to Matthew chapter 14. William Hendricksen says this: “One more year and the Lamb of God will by means of His death on a cross render satisfaction for the sins of all who trust in Him.” When you get to this point in Christ's ministry, He is only one year away from the betrayal and crucifixion at Calvary.
At this significant point, Jesus performs what is perhaps His most famous miracle–the feeding of 5,000+ in the midst of his ministry on the northeast shore of Galilee. Let's look at this passage together and see what truths Christ has for us in this important place.
I. Jesus gives us an example of compassion for others.
The first place I'd like you to look is in verses 13-16. There we see a beautiful picture of the compassion of Christ and we learn that we as Christians ought to emulate this kind of compassion demonstrated here by Christ. Now before you can appreciate the force of this passage as a whole you need to understand the context. Jesus knew that He needed rest and He desired some solitude. He desired time to pray and to be with His heavenly Father. So He withdrew from his public ministry, got into a boat with His disciples, went to the other side of the lake seeking some solitude. And when He got there the crowds had already anticipated His movements and they had made their way from little towns like Capernaum and elsewhere, and they had made their way to the seashore so that when He stepped out of the boat they were already there. Hundreds and hundreds of them waiting for Him to minister.
Christ was tired. He was in need of rest. There was never a better time in Jesus' ministry where He could have rightly said, “Look, I'm tired. Go home. I need rest. I have been ministering in Galilee. My disciples are under pressure because John has already been killed. They know that Herod could do the same thing to them. My cousin, my forerunner, John the Baptist, has died just a few weeks back, and I need time to think about that and pray about that.” Jesus knew that the martyrdom of John the Baptist was yet another reminder from God to Him that His hour was coming and coming soon. Who knows what thoughts that set forth in Jesus' mind, because of the loss of John, His cousin and friend and forerunner. And Jesus knew that His disciples needed relief, too. You can imagine what it could have been like ministering the word of God, knowing that at any moment Herod's men could arrive and do to you exactly what they did to John, throw him in prison, allow him to languish for months, and then eventually be executed. Not on a judicial charge, but on the whim of a wicked woman. And so you can imagine the pressure on the disciples in that kind of a setting. And Jesus knew that He needed to get them out of that setting for a moment so that they might commune with God, recharge their spiritual batteries we might say, retreat from the work so that they might be ready to go out and minister again. And so if ever there was a time where Jesus had a right not to minister in his public ministry, this was such a time.
But when Jesus steps ashore and sees the crowds, His reaction is immediate and instinctive. He does three things when He sees the multitudes. First, Matthew tells us He feels compassion on the multitudes. And this is not simply a feeling, this is not simply an emotional response, because it works forth in two other things. Not only does He feel compassion for them, Matthew tells us that He began to heal their sick. And though Matthew doesn't tell it, Mark and Luke and John do tell it. He not only had compassion on them and healed them, but He taught them.
So Jesus' response in this time of His own need, to the needs of others, is to have compassion upon them, to heal their sick, and to care for them. We should not underestimate the importance of this picture. It clearly impacted the disciples. This is the only parable in all of the New Testament gospels that is recorded in each of them. There are many parables in the gospels. Many of those parables are recorded in three of the gospels, but this parable is found not only in the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but it's found in John as well. The disciples clearly thought that this parable was of great importance. So they recorded it in each of their accounts of Christ's ministry.
As Jesus gets out of the boat, He begins to minister to the people. And the disciples, very practically minded, come to Him at the end of the day and they say, “Lord, the hour for buying food and even for eating food has come and gone, and we are in a remote location. There is not one town where all of these people can go and buy food, and anyway, the shops are starting to close up. The marketplace is closing up and people are going home. It's going to be dark soon. We are in a lonely, isolated place where there is no food they can gather, the hour is already late. Lord, you need to send these people home.” And Jesus' response to them is, “No. You feed them.” The disciples, of course, were at a loss. But Jesus’ words to them were exactly correspondent to His own compassion towards the multitudes. As Jesus was showing compassion towards the multitudes, He wanted his disciples to have compassion towards the multitudes.
Jesus' response to the crowds following Him serves to impress upon His disciples the mandate for their own self-sacrificial ministry. Jesus had called His disciples to be shepherds of the flock. And in this passage He is giving them an example of how you shepherd a flock. The shepherd denies himself for the sake of the flock. That's the example that He's set for them. The disciples very practically wanted to send the people home. But Christ, because He knew that He was the people's shepherd, desired to care for them. And He wanted His disciples to have that same type of attitude in ministering toward the flock. William Hendricksen says this: “The needs of people sick and ignorant and disconsolate and hungry meant far more to Jesus than His own convenience and ease.” And so He healed their sick in spite of His own needs and their earthly materialistic motivations for following Him.
It must not escape us that by doing this under such circumstances, Jesus was also setting an example for the disciples. And in a sense for the entire church throughout the ages. Jesus is modeling perfectly self-denial for the sake of ministry and compassion on people who were hard in their hearts. If you read John chapter 6 which gives a long account of this —-it is very clear that the people were quite attracted by Jesus' ability to heal. Surprise, surprise. But they were not interested at all in His claim to be the Messiah who was setting up, not an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom.
In fact, John tells us that when He preached the message “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you will not inherit eternal life. You will not be a part of the kingdom.” They were offended. Now Jesus knew that. Jesus knew that this crowd was not necessarily following Him for spiritual reasons with spiritual motives. And yet His heart goes out to them. He shows them compassion despite the state of their hearts and in so doing He gives his disciples an example and He gives us an example.
At First Presbyterian Church we have a long legacy of love for the truth and love for the Scriptures.
The inerrant word of God has been faithfully ministered in this pulpit from the day it was built. And may God continue that under His blessing. We have a great legacy for giving, and for giving to missions. But I think that we have a long way to grow in exactly this area. We need to show the same kind of concern that we do for the truth of God's word and adherence to sound doctrine and to the cause of missions. We need to show the same kind of emphasis in our compassion towards those in need, not only in our own congregation, because in this great congregation many people come here Sunday after Sunday with their hearts broken. And often times they go home unattended to because we are in our own comfort zone. We are ministering in our own circles and getting with our own friends. And we are not walking in with a view to showing compassion towards one another.
But then there's another step, isn't there. There are all those people, some of them just a few blocks from us, in desperate need without the gospel, in the most trying of human circumstances. And we, as the people of God, have a mandate from the Savior to care about them. Not simply to feel guilty about them and sprinkle a little money in their direction every once in a while, but to tangibly with our own hands touch them and show them compassion. When God brings about the day that we have as great a love for the truth and as great a manifestation of compassion as is called for here, we may well say that we are in the midst of revival. Will you pray for that with me? Is that a desire in your own heart? That you would manifest a strong love for the truth and a coordinate love for one another and compassion on those in need? Is that not what Christ is modeling here? What a force that would be. What would the world be able to see. What would the world be able to say if First Presbyterian Church manifested that love for the word in truth and that compassion towards those in need. May God make that a reality in our lives.
II. Jesus demonstrates that all the power for ministry comes through Him.
Now we see something else in verses 16-20. Not only does Christ set an example for His disciples and for us, but Christ also displays His divine power in a quite extraordinary way. We Christians need to appreciate our Lord's divine power here. In verses 16-20 we have the account of Jesus calling for the disciples to bring Him those loaves and fishes and let Him show them how He will provide for the multitudes.
And there are several lessons that the disciples needed to learn in the command that He gave to them. You'll remember in verse 16, after they've said, “Let’s send the crowds home,” He says to them, “No. They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” There are three important lessons that Christ is teaching his disciples in that little command. You give them something to eat.
The first lesson that He is teaching them is the responsibility to minister. Have you ever noticed how often in the gospels the disciples respond to someone coming to Christ by saying in effect, go away? Have you ever noticed that? In Matthew chapter 15, we're going to come to a passage where a Canaanite woman, a Syro-Phoenician woman, comes to the Lord Jesus for help. And you know what the disciples tell her? Go away. Well, that's evangelistic. And there's another passage. Do you remember the people bringing children to Christ and they want Christ's blessing on those children. And you know what the disciples say to them? Don't bother the master with your children. Go away. Leave us alone. This is the core of the missionary force that's going to take the world. The disciples are constantly telling people in effect, don't bother the Master and don't bother us. Go away. And here the Lord Jesus Christ is saying, “Don't tell them to go away. You give them something to eat.” He is saying to His disciples, He is saying to us, “I am placing the responsibility on you to minister. It's not an option. You don't have a choice. You're mine. I've bought you with a price. You minister, you serve, you give, you show compassion. It's not your option to say go away. You minister. You serve.”
But there's a second thing He's teaching by giving them that command. He's teaching them that in order to minister the way He wants them to minister, they can't do it in their own power. Look at what He tells them to do. “Feed the multitudes.” Well, they immediately recognize that they can't feed the multitudes. It's obvious to them. “We've got five loaves and we've got two fish. There are more than 5,000 people out there, Lord. How in the world are we going to do it.” The disciples, you see, need to learn their own inability to carry out Christ's command to minister before they are able to minister.
Do you hear that? They need to know that they do not have the ability to minister before they are able to minister. Because that ability, that power, that source, that strength is only found in Christ. And so the very command of Christ to the disciples, “You feed them,” is going to drive them to their knees. Drive them to their faces in dependence on Christ because they don't have a clue how they're going to do this. And frankly they don't have a clue how Christ is going to do it, no matter how many miracles they'd seen Him perform.
So by telling the disciples to give the crowd something to eat Jesus in not only stressing the responsibility for compassion, but He is reminding them of the true source of ability to minister. They will never to be able to discharge the command that Christ has given them in their own strength. Only Christ can do what He's told them to do. And so Matthew Henry puts it this way: “Ministers can never fill people's hearts unless Christ fills their hands.” That's how all ministry goes. When you're at the point where you feel outmatched in ministry. You think, Lord, there is no way that I can help this person. Lord, there is no way that I can help this group of people. You are right where God wants you in ministry. Because all true Christian ministry is beyond our own personal resources. All true Christian ministry is prayerfully dependent on Christ and totally dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit to do work because we cannot heal up wounded hearts as much as we want to. And we cannot bind up the broken hearted and raise the dead as much as we might want to. Only Christ can do that. So when Christ calls us to minister in compassion to others, He's not saying, “I want you to figure out how to get it done.” Rather, He's saying, “I want you to be so reliant on Me that you tremblingly go forth knowing that you are totally overmatched, but I am not.”
When you feel overmatched for service to Christ, Christ has you exactly where He wants you to be. In fact, the worst service we can do for Christ is when we think we can handle it ourselves. And so as we minister we need to remember this too. We face incredible obstacles in our own culture in doing ministry. It looks bleak. You look and you ask, what will be. And the next generation if it's like it is now. We look at our own city and we say how in the world can we match the problems that we have to minister to. Here's the answer. We can't. But He can. And when we realize we can't but He can and we're going to go and do it anyway, not knowing how He's going to minister through it, we've gotten the right answer. And so Christ calls us to minister. All the power necessary for feeding the sheep comes from Him, the chief shepherd of the flock and it comes from Him alone. And so we minister only in the Lord's divine power and seeing this miracle wrought is a reminder of how limitless that power is.
III. Christ only can meet the soul needs of people. Jesus is the source of life.
Now there's one other thing I'd like to point to your attention. You'll see it in verses 19-21. Christ is pictured in this passage as the only one who is truly able to meet all the soul needs of people.
In this passage we learn that Christ is able to meet all the soul needs of people in feeding the multitudes Christ is showing his disciples that He alone is able to supply all our needs material and spiritual. In fact, that is the third lesson that He teaches. Do you recall I said that in saying to them, “You feed them ,” Jesus taught three lessons? One of their lessons was their responsibility to compassion. One of the lessons was they didn't have the power in themselves to do the ministry He was calling them into. But the third lesson that they are to learn is that Jesus Himself is the source of life. He is the one who has what they need. I don't have what they need. There are so many times when you are kind enough to invite me into your life and tell me what's going on. And there are so many times when I wish that I could wave a wand and help you more than I can. But I don't have the answer in me. But He does. All I can give you is what He gives into my hand. But He is the source, He is the answer.
And so the disciples are to learn that in this passage in John 6, where Jesus calls Himself the bread of life. He is able to give bread because He is the bread of life. He is able to feed the bodies and souls of these people because He is the source of all spiritual strength. And so the disciples need to learn that. The crowd, of course, is totally ignorant of that. We know from John chapter 6 that this crowd by and large was impressed by the miracle that Jesus did, and were impressed by the physical healings that Jesus was performing that day, but they were not impressed by His preaching. I want to point out that Jesus still had compassion on them anyway, and He still ministered to them even though He knew that so many of them were rejecting Him. This miracle points beyond the specific provision of that bread. It points beyond the gift of the bread to the giver of the bread. Jesus' point in doing this miracle is to draw the disciples’ eyes from the physical provision of bread to Christ's spiritual provision for what we need for eternal life. As that bread was necessary or that food was necessary to go on living, so the spiritual provision which He makes for us is necessary if we are going to have eternal fellowship with Him.
That is what Christ wanted his disciples to see.
And I want to say in passing, that this miracle also points to Christ's fulfillment of the Old Testament. God, through Moses, had provided manna to the children of Israel in the wilderness. God, through Elijah, provided a continuous supply of flour and oil for a widow in need. God, through Elisha, fed 100 men with only 20 barley loaves and had some left over. God, though His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, fed 5,000 and more, and we don't know how many more. The writers just tell us 5,000 men and however many women and children were there; 5,000 and there were 12 baskets left over. The Lord is showing you there the exceeding sufficiency of Jesus Christ to meet every soul need you have. Listen to what Matthew Henry says: “Those whom Christ feeds He fills.” See, He didn't give them a little smidgen. He didn't give them a nibble, a taste. He gave them enough to eat until they were fat, satisfied. And He had 12 baskets leftover and Matthew Henry observes, “One for each apostle.” They started off with five loaves and two fish and ended up with a basket apiece. Not bad. Christ is more than sufficient for every need we have. The only thing standing between us and his filling of that need is our willingness to admit we have a need, but you see we are prideful and we don't want to admit that we are poor and in need of compassion. We don't want to admit that we are sinners who have offended Him and offended one another. And Christ reaches out and says, “I can fill every need.”
What's stopping you? What's the obstacle in your heart today to receiving the provision that Christ says is there for you? Is it your pride? Is it the consequences of confessing the sin which is between you and God, perhaps you and others? I pray this day that God would break down the walls of any hard heart in the congregation and would draw us to Christ who feeds us eternally. And if you're a believer and you're weak and you're doubting, I pray that you'd see again in this historical account the extravagant way in which the Savior is able to provide for every need you have. He can fill it and leave 12 baskets full leftover. Let us go to Him in prayer.
Our Father, we ask this day that you would break down the doors of our heart and that you would come in and draw us to Christ the Savior and that we would trust on Him, that we would receive Him alone and not with bare words of our lips, but that we would receive Him with our hearts and our lives and that we would eat and we would fellowship-we would feast with Him both now and forevermore. We ask these things in Jesus' name, amen. Amen.