I don’t pay much attention anymore, but in college we would get together and watch faith healers. My entire dorm had one TV in a TV room, and the group needs to come to consensus on what to watch. Nobody at my school bought into the faith healing services, but we found it oddly entertaining.
After watching him heal people, the appeal for money would come. For $25, I’ll send you a piece of cloth that I prayed over. God will respond to your act of faith, and do a miracle in your life. They would call it a “seed gift.” You initiate the transaction with God by planting a seed, and God will respond by bringing forth a harvest in your life.
Of course, if it didn’t happen, the problem was not with the magical cloth. If there was any problem, it was your lack of faith. Perhaps a bigger gift would be in order?
Pretty soon, reports of abuses started to emerge. Some of these men had private jets. They lived in lavish homes. The money would flow in. It wasn’t long before these men came under investigation from both the government and the media.
I thought about all this as I was pondering the miracle we look at today: Jesus feeding 5000 people at a single event. This miracle is an unanswerable proof of our Lord’s divine power. To satisfy the hunger of more than five thousand people with such a small a portion of food would be impossible without a supernatural multiplication of the food.
This is the kind of thing that no impostor or false prophet would ever attempt. He might pretend to cure a few people. He might do some things with trickery and persuade unthinking people that he was powerful. But he would never attempt such a mighty work as what we have here.
There’s maybe 10,000 people at this gathering. (The Durham Bulls Athletic Park) All of them are watching what is happening. All of them are feeling the twinge of hunger. All of them leave having eaten until they are full. There’s no way to manufacture this.
Jesus provides a much needed meal for these hungry people. He had compassion for their needs, and he met those needs. He took what little was on hand, and he multiplied it to meet the needs of the multitude. He did it by working through his disciples.
Principle One: Jesus provides by showing compassion - setting aside his own needs. (Matthew 14:13-14)
If you subscribe to Colonial’s email list - the “Call to Prayer,” then you receive information and updates on the needs of people within our fellowship. One of the things that happens from time to time is that we’ll get a prayer request, but it will include a request such as “no visitors please.” I get that. I’ve felt that way in times of joy and times of pain.
I remember what Chad was born, Lorie didn’t want her mom to come until a few days afterward. She wanted a period of quiet reflection. When I experience great loss, and sometimes when I’m in some sort of a jam, I want to be alone for a bit. I want to process the situation. I want to grieve quietly and privately. Not everyone is like that, but I can relate to what we see in Jesus as this parable begins.
Jesus not only loses his cousin, but a very important biblical figure. John the Baptist was responsible for preparing the way for Messiah. Because of John’s commitment to Jesus, John is executed. Of course this isn’t Jesus fault. But this is a deep and personal loss for Jesus.
Matthew 14:13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Jesus got is a boat and sailed to a place where there was no people. Just an isolated area of shoreline. Somehow the people get wind of where he’s heading, and they make their way to that spot. You just want to say - give the guy some space! Don’t you see what’s happening to Him? Can’t you see the streaks on His cheeks? He is grieving! Death is hard, even for those of us with eternal hope! Just give Him some time, for crying out loud!”
Jesus provides for the needs of the crown by showing them compassion. While he needs to be alone, the people need Him. So he set aside his own interests.
The Greek word translated “compassion” in verse 14 refers to a deep inward churning of the bowels. I know that’s a pretty graphic picture. However, you’ve probably experienced such compassion, to the point of pity, that you actually felt it physically. Maybe it’s a phone call from a loved one who just received a grim diagnosis. What’s happening in your thoughts and emotions takes on physical symptoms. That’s this word.
Jesus feels this way alot! It’s the same word that Jesus used to describe how the good Samaritan felt when he encountered the injured man. It’s the word that describes how Jesus felt toward the widow whose only son had died.
This gut wrenching compassion of Jesus causes him to set aside what he would prefer doing at this moment in order to minister to the crowd that needs him. We are to live that way.
Handbook: Our compassion for others leads us to share our money, our meals, and our home. We give words of peace and comfort and hope. And even when we’re exhausted or grieving or raw ourselves, we don’t harden our hearts. As Jesus would say in John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” The Father has proven His love by sending His one and only Son. The love of the Father and the Son and the Spirit was not limited to emotions—God acted on it. Likewise, we as followers of Christ are not called to feel compassion but to be compassionate.
Jesus knew that more than anything, the crowd needed HIM.
John Piper: “Jesus didn’t come into the world mainly to give bread, but to be bread. He didn’t come to be an ever-ready bellhop for our bellies, but to be the all-satisfying bread for our souls. O, he cares about our physical lives in this age, but he cares 10 million times more about our eternal lives.”
Jesus will spend that day teaching the people and ministering to their needs and healing them of their illnesses - all because Jesus provides by showing compassion.
The second way Jesus provides...
Principle Two: Jesus provides by doing the impossible with what we have. (Matthew 14:15-18)
As the story continues, the disciples seem to have forgotten who they are dealing with in Jesus. Jesus had just spent the day healing and teaching. Now they look around at the food situation, and their minds jump straight into pragmatic mode.
During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, we had a swimmer on our team named Katie Ledecky. She won one silver and four gold medals. She obliterated her competition and her own previous records. To look at her, this was all unexpected. Olympic coaches receive a 60 page document on each athlete called an “Elite Athlete Health Profile.” The second sentence in Ledecky’s profile said “The findings are remarkably unremarkable.” She’s usually the shortest person in the pool. She doesn’t have a long torso. Her hands and feet are small. She’s the kind of athlete where you get more than what you expect.
The disciples are in this mode with Jesus. Healing and teaching is where Jesus is in his groove. Now we’ve got the food issue to take care of so we better tell Jesus to wrap it up and get the crowd dispersed.
Matthew 14:15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Can’t we picture the disciples whispering to each other: “Doesn’t Jesus know how late it is? Just because He can go 40 days and nights without eating doesn’t mean everybody else can!
As evening approached and the sun was beginning to set, the disciples suggested sending the crowds home to get something to eat. They were out in the middle of nowhere and they felt completely inadequate to deal with this situation. The disciples had no idea just how much they really had for meeting the people’s needs. This was like standing in front of Niagara Falls and still not being able to find anything to drink.
Jesus wanted them to recognize their insufficiency.
He also wanted them to realize His sufficiency in at least two ways.
First, Jesus meets needs in us. His sufficiency to meet the deepest needs in our lives is undoubtedly a key aspect of this story. In John’s account of the story this point becomes even more clear, as Jesus used this miracle to teach the crowds that He is the bread of life (John 6:35). He isn’t simply the One who gives what satisfies; He is the One who satisfies. To put it another way, He came not merely to give us bread, but rather to be our bread - to be the sustaining Satisfier of our souls.
Jesus not only meets needs in us, but Jesus meets needs through us. If the point of this story was only to show us Jesus’ sufficiency, He could have called down bread from heaven right into people’s laps. The people would have seen and maybe even recognized Him as the new Moses as the mannah started falling. However, Jesus not only prays for the Father’s blessing, but He also calls His disciples to do the serving.
One of the key lessons that our handbook leads us to is to trust in Jesus to meet our needs.
We declare our lives or surroundings a wilderness: “There’s just no hope in this town/family/job.” “I’m just not being fed at my church.” “My marriage has been dead for years.” We put our own timeline on spiritual matters: “I’m too old to really make an impact.” “He’s too set in his ways to change.” “If only I’d heard God call me 20 years ago.” We decide that we just can’t help others with their needs: “I can’t help her until she’s ready to help herself.” “I just give up; he never listens to me.” “I’ve wasted my last breath. I’m done.”
What Jesus would say is: I have compassion for you, so bring me your needs. Bring Me your wayward kids of all ages. Bring Me your stress and your checkbook and your loveless marriage. Bring Me your lack of patience and your abundance of pain. But bring it all and trust Me with all of it. Don’t hold back part or try to handle some on your own. Bring it here to Me. I am the only One who has a solution and a promise and a hope.
This is the opposite of how the Israelites dealt with problems. They grumbled and complained and blamed. They yelled at Moses and wanted to go back to Egypt. Their human assessment was that they were hopeless, so their solution was a return to slavery. He alone can do the impossible with what you have. But you’ve got to bring it to Him. All of it.
Jesus provides by showing compassion.
Jesus provides by doing the impossible with what we have.
Principle Three: Jesus provides by meeting needs through His followers. (Matthew 14:19-21)
Matthew 14:19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
When the disciples first approached Jesus about the need to send everyone away to buy food, He said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Jesus’ intention all along had been to use His disciples to meet the needs of the crowd. He knew the masses were physically hungry for a meal. He also knew that their spiritual hunger was even deeper. Sending the crowd away would only meet the physical hunger. Using His followers to meet the physical needs of the crowd as He met their spiritual needs would bless everyone.
The point is that Jesus most often provides for people through his people. When Jesus feels compassion for the grieving widow, he provides for her by sending someone to encourage and bless her. When Jesus feels compassion for the parent of the rebel, he provides by providing counselors and people who can support and encourage that parent. When Jesus feels compassion for the orphan, he sends parents to adopt that child into a family.
The problem is in the human side of the equation. If there are unmet needs in the church, it’s not because God lacks compassion or that he is impotent to provide. The problem is that God’s means of provision are being disobedient.
Here’s the lesson: Jesus provides by showing compassion. Jesus provides by doing the impossible with what we have. Jesus provides by meeting needs through his followers.
End with this quote from the handbook: Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby
“The world loves the spectacular. God has proven that He is certainly capable of the extraordinary, but He often chooses to work through the ordinary and seemingly insignificant. In this way He demonstrates His love and His power…Christians often accept the adage ‘the bigger the better.’ We measure success by the number of people involved in our ministry. We seek spectacular displays of God’s power. We must learn to view success as God does. God is interested in the heart; He is pleased with obedience.”