Matthew 14:13-21, "Feeding the 5000"
[READ Matthew 14:13-21] [READ vs 13-14] Compassion serves as the compelling motive for this miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Jesus had withdrawn to be alone upon hearing about the death of John the Baptist. He went away from the cities and away from the crowds, but they followed him anyway. He gets to the other side of the lake and there they are... waiting for Him. Ready to hear from Him. Ready to watch what He does next.
Imagine that you’ve worked two or three years with no vacation. You’ve invested in your work to the point that you’re always working. Even when you’re at home, you’re thinking about it, you’re talking about it, you’re doing little things here and there. Your work does not exist between the hours of 8 and five. Your life and your work and one. And on top of that, perhaps there’s various relationships in your life that are just draining you emotionally. Perhaps you’re helping a friend work through a particularly trying period in their life or your dealing with family drama that never seems to end. And everything in your life has built up and up. It’s escalated to a point that you didn’t even know it could. You need a break. So you make one last push. You drag out the luggage, you pack up your family, load down the minivan, make three different trips to the store to get everything that you were supposed to get done on the first trip, you’ve rushed and scrambled to get the last couple projects done, and you head out of town for a few days. Several days with just you and your family. You get to the destination. You step out of the car, you take in the view, and you take a deep breath of the fresh air. The stress and worries are already leaving. One last thing to do. You pick up your phone to turn if off. You are just seconds away from being completely unplugged, seconds away from peace. Just as your finger is moving for the power button, you get a call and that name pops up on the screen. And you know immediately that there’s something wrong. And you know that if you take that call, that you’ll have to get back in the van. You have a choice. They knew you were going off the grid, they just need to deal with things themselves for a few days. It’s not that long. You give so much of yourself. This is my time. Just a little while. What do you do? Do you answer the call for help, or do you ignore it?That’s the kind of situation we see here in verses 13 and 14. He could have sent the crowds away. He could have stayed in the boat and try to evade the crowds. The text tells us instead that He had compassion them and healed their sick. The needs of the suffering outweighed his desires, even in a time of great sorrow.
One thing I want us to take note of in this passage is the writer. This is the only miracle that is recorded in all four gospels. The different gospels were written for different audiences with different themes that were being portrayed. It’s interesting to notice the differences in how the Holy Spirit works through each of these writers to convey different aspects of the same event. Remember that the book of Matthew was written for the Jews. The Jews believed in a coming king, the promised Messiah. He wrote this account of Jesus’s life and ministry to show them that Jesus indeed was that Messiah, the King of Kings. So that’s the lens that we need to look through when reading Matthew’s version of the story. We must remember the authority He had as King of Kings. We must also be remember the expectation that is placed on us to follow the example given by our King.
The word “compassion” means pity, sympathy, kindly sorrow. The greek word here, splanchmizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom- ahee) translates directly as “to have the bowels yearn”. It was the understanding of people at this time that the stomach was the center of emotions. If you think about it, it makes sense. I don’t know about you, but when I get really nervous, I get sick to my stomach. Emotions can be so strong that you feel various physical sensations. Compassion then means for your heart to ache and cry out in pity and sympathy for the suffering that you see. If there is anyone who has to right and the authority to protect his time and spend it as he chose, it is the King of the universe. Instead he had compassion on these people. His bowels yearned. He ached with sympathy.
And when we consider the meaning of the word and observe Jesus’ actions, we realize that compassion not merely a thought. A man comes home from work to sit down in front of the TV and start chomping on some Doritos. Then, through the window he sees someone walking down the street. They’re limping, they’re crying, they have several bleeding cuts. How does he respond? He keeps chowing down on Doritos. He’s not moved with pity. He may recognize how awful the event is, but there’s no yearning of heart. He assumes the person is almost home, so they should be able to get help there. That’s not compassion. It’s knowledge. Information. We’ve taken someone’s suffering and reduced it to trivia at that point. True compassion is when the yearning of our hearts bursts out in expression. That’s what we see in Jesus. His compassion burst out, His personal plans and “needs” took the back seat. As a result, he healed their sick. Compassion is not a thought, it is an action.
Verse 15. The disciples observe the circumstances. The day is coming to an end. This massive crowd is out in the middle of nowhere. There’s no food and everyone needs to eat. They disciples are probably getting quite hungry themselves. They recognized the need and came up with a solution. It seems to make a lot of sense. But Jesus’ challenge to them was to do something. Don’t just pass the problem to next person in line. Act. Our King’s example in the face of suffering was to act to meet the needs.
Verse 17. We know from verse 21 that about five thousand men ate plus women and children. That means that we can estimate that the crowd was as large as fifteen or twenty thousand people. And the only food they had was 5 loaves and two fish. We know from John’s account that these were barley loaves and that all of this food was from a boy. These were small loaves, so this was not even a big meal. This was lunch for a boy. Barley loaves were the food of the poor. In context, the disciples question was how are we supposed to feed 15,000 people with one poor boy’s lunch? That’s when Jesus miraculously multiplies the food to feed everyone and end up with more crumbs and scraps than what they even started out with. Bread was a very important part of life for people during this time. It was a central part of their daily nourishment. There are places the Hebrew word for bread is translated as food. Jesus’ provision of bread also serves as an illustration of His provision of our necessities. And an abundant multiplying of bread also communicates God’s abundant blessings. With the meager meal of one boy, Jesus was able to provide sustenance to thousands.
Kyla and I were in the states a couple of weeks ago and we spent a few days in Dallas TX. Historically, Dallas has always been a very rich city and it continues to be so today. It always shocks me in the little time I’m there how many cars I see that cost upwards of $200,000 and $300,000. All kinds. The amount of wealth that’s there is just crazy. When we visit with different pastors and listen to sermons of other pastors in that area, you catch on very quickly that the prosperity gospel is one of the biggest obstacles they’re facing right now. In a city like that, where people have an abundance of wealth, people are quick to read this story and take comfort that if you go to a church and are a fairly good person that God make you rich. It’s comforting to them, because if you’re rich, then you don’t have to do much soul searching to consider the sins you need to repent of because you are obviously in God’s favor. We want to read this story and be assured that God is going to be our sugar daddy. But that’s not the message.
Canada is also a very affluent nation. I think the wealth is a little more evenly dispersed due to the socialism we have. And because of that, we have a heavy reliance on our government. So when we face problems and have needs we are quick to see what provisions our government has for us. Now don’t get me wrong. God has richly blessed us. I’m very thankful for the technology of modern medicine. I believe that God gave me two extra years with my Dad through it. I’m thankful for affordable health care. I’m thankful for countless blessings that God has provided me through technology, our government, etc. My point is the we live in a country where most of our needs our met. The expectation is that most people have what they need.
We also live in a country that prides itself with being respectful and tolerant of other’s views. We say that you can believe whatever you want as long as you don’t force that opinion on anyone else. We serve a God who tells us to boldly proclaim just the opposite; that we are all guilty and that our only hope is to change our views and behaviors. Hence, we get labeled as unloving, disrespectful, and narrow minded. But because we know that people value tolerance, we know that there is safety here to believe whatever we like, just so long as we don’t step on others toes. I think that’s why we have so many small towns around this entire province where there are isolated believers who aren’t part of a body of believers. They can’t take action. They can’t evangelize. That would be rude. Their faith will die with them. Therefore every day more of those Christians die and more people come into adulthood that haven’t been told of the full truth of the Gospel because we were afraid they might feel bad. That’s why atheism and agnosticism are the fastest growing belief systems in this country by a long shot. By a frightening long shot. So here’s the danger for us. We don’t fully grasp the thrust of passages like this when we read them because we’ve become insensitive. We see problems and tragedies and we don’t respond with compassion. We may not act at all. We trust that some organization will address the issues in time. We see suffering and don’t let it become anything more than information. Just like the disciples, we pass the responsibility on to someone else. But the compassion and power of the Gospel should compel us to act. We cannot be willing to hide in safety of our minds while refusing to show and share the love of Christ.
Jesus took a poor boy’s meager supplies and fed 15,000 people. Are we so narrow minded to think that this miracle relates only to food. We are all broken and sinful people, but that’s part of the beauty. God wants to use meager supplies (us) to multiply nourishment, the truth of His Gospel and the collective work of His people to countless others. We need to remember that there is true power in Christ. Rather than only relying on government assistance, maybe someone simply needs to learn stewardship, selflessness, and Godly priorities. Rather than pursuit of vengeance through a lawsuit, maybe there are times where we need grace and forgiveness. Rather than bouncing from relationship to relationship to fill our loneliness, the need is for contentment and hope in Christ. The people who received the food of this miracle still had to return to lives where they had to work. They still lived in a broken world where there was great needs and suffering. So do we. Following Jesus does not mean that every physical need will be miraculously provided for you. Johns Gospel shows us just that, But we must not forget that there is true hope, peace, power, forgiveness, strength, and new life available to all who would trust in Christ.
This miracle in Matthew begins a string of 6 miracles. What interesting is that the first and last miracles in this grouping are nearly identical. The first of course is this feeding of the five thousand. The sixth is the feeding of the four thousand. These two feedings serve as bookends. Also of note is that the third and fourth miracles are broken up with a discourse between Jesus and the pharisees. It’s important that we take note this structure. The fact that there are bookends with a teaching in the middle is a clue that Matthew is drawing our attention to this teaching. It serves as the focal point and lens for understanding these 6 miracles. We just read about how Jesus multiplied food, but His teaching will emphasize that it’s not what goes into the body, food, that is the most important thing. It’s what comes out. The actions that come out from us show the health or darkness of our hearts. Therefore we would do Scripture great injustice to interpret this miracle as a mere provision of food or as a promise for our material needs. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah saying “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do the worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. He is concerned with our hearts. He wants our hearts.
There are countless good causes in this world to contribute to, but we must not forget that there are both physical needs and spiritual needs. We can talk and lecture and preach at people, but if we have not the love to compel us to sacrifice, to help and serve when it’s difficult and dangerous and a risk to us as Christ did, then what exactly are our words saying and accomplishing. Likewise, we could fill up every spare minute of our lives and give every last penny to various causes, but if all of our efforts amount to meeting only physical needs and never actually teach and explain the love of Christ and the hope that we have in him, then again, to what end have we served? Paul captures this notion perfectly in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 [READ].
The Southern Baptist Denomination is the largest denomination of protestant churches in the world. It’s largest period of growth over 100 years ago. Before the late 1800’s, churches were faithful to confront sin in their fellow Christians. As the people strived for purity and faithfulness to the Word, the proclamation of the word spread. In the 1900’s, the church became greatly concerned with outreach and social justice. The church was very active in meeting the needs of everyone. This was a good thing. However, interestingly enough, with this new emphasis the churches were longer faithful to confront sins and the growth of the church declined drastically. Their desire for relevance compromised their faithfulness. Their message became easy, shallow, and incomplete.Then, during the Great Depression, the government began to take on a much greater role in the welfare of it’s people. The church then relinquished much of it’s service to the paid positions of government workers and the growth of the church dropped even lower. The lesson here is not that we shouldn’t be concerned with suffering, we see from our King Himself that we should, but we cannot forsake the full truth of the Gospel in serving.
Jesus was moved by the yearning of His heart to deny Himself and relieve suffering. Here he healed the sick and fed people. Ultimately, He denied himself to take on our sin and punishment that we might know the blessing of union with God the Father again. Compassion. His compassion required action. This is the example that our King set for us.