Matthew 14:13-21 – When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “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.
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. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The first sentence of this text says, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (14:13). In order for us to know what Jesus had heard about, we need to glance back to the beginning of chapter 14. There we have the account of King Herod putting John the Baptist to death. Herod knew that the people considered John the Baptist to be a prophet and therefore was hesitant to put John to death. King Herod had wanted to get rid of John because John had rebuked Herod for having an affair with his brother’s wife. He resisted his desire to kill John because he feared the reaction of the people and he knew there was something special about John.
In spite of his thoughts about John, Herod beheaded John. He did this because he made a foolish oath to the daughter of the woman he was having the affair with. He told this daughter that she could have anything she wanted. She demanded that John be beheaded. The Scriptures are not clear about how long before the feeding of the five thousand this event took place. However, we do know that it was long enough that Herod began to think that some of Jesus’ miracles were being done by a resurrected John the Baptist. What news did Jesus hear to make him go to a solitary place? Some think it was the news that John was killed. Others think it was the news that Herod was accrediting Jesus’ miracles to a resurrected John the Baptist. Either way, it sets the scene for the miracle that follows.
Even though Jesus went to a solitary place, the crowds still followed him. Rather than turning the crowds away, Jesus was compassionate toward them and healed their sick. As the day went on, the disciples noticed a problem. There were a lot of people and there was not enough food to feed everyone. The disciples brought this to Jesus’ attention and offered a suggestion for a solution. The disciples said, “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” (14:15). This suggestion of the disciples seems like a good idea. And yet Jesus was about to show them that they ought to turn their problems over to God.
Jesus tried to show the disciples that they should look to him for the solution. Jesus said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (14:16). Rather than requesting Jesus’ assistance, the disciples pointed out their small amount of food, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish” (14:17). At no point in this discussion do the disciples ask Jesus for help. The disciples were offering up their own solutions. They thought it would be best for the people to find their own food. Even when Jesus told the disciples to give the people some food, the disciples could only think about their small amount of food. They didn’t think about the fact that Jesus had shown his divine power many times before.
The disciples had witnessed Jesus proving himself to be God through many miracles. We might think that this would have prompted the disciples to remember all the times that God had provided for people in the Old Testament. They might have thought about how God had directed events so that Joseph became a ruler in Egypt. As a leader, Joseph gathered together an abundance of food so that people would be spared during the famine. God provided food through the good planning of Joseph. Or perhaps the disciples might have thought about how God had provided manna from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years.
In our Old Testament lesson today, God urges us to come to him. Isaiah writes, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! … Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:1, 3). In these verses, God is saying that we should come to him first and foremost for our spiritual needs. The picture is similar to the times when Jesus refers to himself as living water and the bread of life. We come to God for our spiritual needs and God invites us to do so. God also invites us to come to him for our physical needs. Even though the disciples brought the problem to Jesus attention, they tried to fix the problem themselves rather than letting Jesus take care of things.
We often act just like those disciples. When problems come up in our lives, where do we turn first? Let’s say for example that a father is injured in an accident and is unable to work. Does the family bring their problem to God in prayer or do they immediately start worrying about how they are going to survive without the father’s income? When we start to feel the financial crunch because of the high gas prices, increasing food prices, and hours being cut back at work, do we trust in God to take care of us or do we again turn to that sin of worry. Just like the disciples we may try to come up with all kinds of solutions on our own. And just like the disciples, our ideas might be good ideas, but are they taking our trust off of our Savior?
It is hard to get rid of our worries. It is especially difficult when we have trouble seeing how God is providing for us. We might get frustrated when people tell us that we just have to trust in God to take care of things. This can be frustrating if we have absolutely no idea how God is going to make the pieces fall into place. We might wonder: How is God going to provide for my family? How is God going to help me find a job? How is God going to make this terrible sickness work for my good? All these worries are temptations that try to prevent us from looking to God to provide. The sinful thing to do would be to doubt the love of our God.
Yes, our worries do make it difficult to look to God first. However, our faith reminds us of all God’s blessings. Through faith we see that he gives us what we need.
In the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand we see that Jesus gives the people exactly what they needed at that time. Everyone had their hunger satisfied and there was even a little bit left over. The text says, “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. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children” (14:19-21)
On that day, Jesus miraculously provided for the needs of the people. He again showed his power as God. The people on that day did not need to worry about their food. In his sermon on the mount Jesus pointed out that God provides for the birds and therefore he will most certainly provide for his people. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26). God has provided for all the animals of the earth and we are much more valuable to him than the animals. Much more important than our physical needs, Jesus provides for our spiritual needs.
The proof that God will continue to provide for our bodily welfare is the fact that he has done exactly what he promised to do when it comes to our forgiveness and eternal life. The Apostle Paul states it in such a beautiful way in Romans 8. God loves us and nothing can separate us from the love. Paul said in verse 37, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We are conquerors, we are champions and it is not because of anything we have done. Jesus is the one who conquered the devil for us. Jesus battled throughout his entire life to be perfectly obedient to the law. He took away our sin and guilt through the punishment of the cross. He conquered the grave through his resurrection.
Now, we get all the credit for his victory. God promised to forgive us and Jesus worked out our salvation through the cross. God loves us and nothing can separate us from that love. Paul says this very well in verses 38 and 39. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. He preserves us and he provides for us.
It is the gospel promise of forgiveness and eternal life that lead us to trust God with all our heart. He has done it all for us just like he said he would. Of course, we could sinfully reject his love but why would anyone want to do that. Recounting his grace just reaffirms the fact that he has provided for all our needs and he will continue to provide for all our needs. He took care of us spiritually by forgiving us and creating faith in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. He continues to care for us spiritually by preserving us in the faith, strengthening us, and leading us home to heaven.