the Five Thousand
A sermon based on Matthew 14:13–21
Sunday, August 24, 2014 – Pentecost 11A
The huge crowd gathered around the man, hanging on his every word. They leaned forward to watch his every move, hardly daring to blink. They heard that if they came to see this man, they would see the spectacular, the unbelievable, even the miraculous. And they were not disappointed. What they experienced was incredible, in the truest sense of the word: It was hard to believe what they saw with their own eyes.
David Copperfield made all 305 feet and all 450,000 pounds of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbor simply vanish. It disappeared. There was no trace even when the helicopters flew over the top of the island.
Of course, what David Copperfield did was merely an illusion. You can still visit the Statue of Liberty today. But what Jesus did in our sermon text for this morning was no illusion. It was no sleight of hand. There was no setup, no gimmick, no trick. And Jesus didn't make anything vanish, but made something multiply. With only five loaves up bread and two fish, Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people. And when they all ate their fill, there were twelve large baskets full of leftovers! Here's how it happened, according to Matthew 14:13-21…
13 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.
I. The Miracle in the Gospel (Jesus Fed 5,000+)
When Jesus heard what had happened… that is, when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod… he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Perhaps he knew Herod would come after him, thinking him to be John the Baptist raised from the dead. Perhaps he wanted time to instruct his disciples and prepare them for the hard truth that following him would mean execution for them too. Or perhaps he just wanted some time alone away from the crowds, to just be with his Father and mourn the death of his cousin and friend.
But either way, Jesus' sabbatical was short-lived. His vacation too quickly came to an end when the crowds, who heard the news of Jesus' move, ran ahead of him on foot. Hearing of this [withdrawal], the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. He couldn't escape the busyness of being the Messiah, or at least of being the Miracle Worker.
But Jesus didn't shoo them away. He didn't say, "I'm on vacation. Leave me alone!" or "Don't you know my cousin was just murdered?! Can't a guy take a day off to mourn?!" No. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
And apparently, that job took all day. Soon it was dinner time and the disciples were without dinner. They were hungry and assumed everyone else must be too. So they urged Jesus, "Send the crowds away, so they can go… buy… some food."
But Jesus had other plans. Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." And you know the miracle that followed.
But you know, the NIV Bible kind of goofs up here. The header for theses verses reads, "Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand." But it wasn't just five thousand that Jesus fed! Jesus fed more than five thousand! That count didn't include the women and children. Perhaps Jesus fed seven thousand or ten thousand or even more with just five loaves of bread and two fish!
In John 6 Jesus tested his disciples by asking, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (v.5) And Philip said that two hundred denarii—that's two hundred days wages—wouldn't buy enough food! Let's put that into today's terms. Let's say you make $10/hr. for an 8 hour day. That would make a denarius about $80 in today's money. 200 denarii would then be worth about $16,000! If a lunch box like you get on the airplane only cost $4, then $16,000 would still only feed 4,000 people. Philip's math was pretty good.
And yet, without money, without a dozen chefs, without a McDonalds, even without a Sam's Club or Walmart nearby, Jesus fed more than five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. And there were twelve basketfuls of leftovers when they all ate all they wanted and were satisfied, literally in the Greek, "were all filled up"—they ate all they wanted until they were stuffed.
Cool miracle huh? Wouldn't that be neat to have as much fish and bread as you wanted, miraculously multiplied for you, for free? But that's not the point. That's what many of the Jews wanted, actually. They wanted Jesus to become their king that he might rid the world of hunger, that he would be their bread factory, their fish plant, maybe even their money tree as they could sell the left overs to other nations. But Jesus was not here to be their bread king. That wasn't the point.
The point was that Jesus demonstrated his power to care of his people and Jesus has the desire to do so. Jesus was showing them and us that he has compassion with action.
II. The Miracle of the Gospel (Jesus Feeds Us)
And the same is still true of us today, isn't it? Jesus has compassion on us. And that compassion takes action as he feeds us every day.
Jesus still multiplies the grain that we might eat. In 1803 a man by the name of Thomas Robert Malthus made a prediction that if the world population continued to grow at the rate which it was trending, the human race would soon die off because the rate of food production could not keep up such population growth. We would simply become too numerous to find enough food and would all starve or die of disease. And this Malthusian Catastrophe as it's been called has been made popular again just last year by Dan Brown's latest book, Inferno. And yet, here we are, more than 200 years later. The world population has gone from 1 billion people 1800 to over 7 billion people today. And we have an abundance of food!
And we Alaskans especially know how well God still multiplies the fish right? Every year hundreds of thousands of fish escape the fishermen on the Kenai and the Kasilof Rivers to make it back to their spawning grounds. But do you know how many are caught each year from those hundreds of thousands that once spawned? Preliminary reports of Fish and Game for the show that commercial fisherman alone (not counting dip netters and sport fishermen) have caught 258 million salmon in just this year!
There's no doubt about it: God still multiplies food! Even though it may not be in such a spectacular way as on that Galilean hillside, he still gives us each day our daily bread, even without our asking.
And yet, how often don't we take those gifts for granted? We grumble and complain when Walmart's out of our favorite snack again. We whine to our parents or to our spouse, "There's nothing good to eat in the house. When are you going shopping?" We gripe, "I don't really like this food. Do we have something else?" And when we do, we really grumble and complain, whine and gripe against God.
And that's just talking about food—let alone the other complaints we make about internet speeds or older vehicles or clothes out of style. What selfish, spoiled, ingrates we too often show ourselves to be!
And you know that for our sins we deserve to be punished for such ingratitude. And you know that if we were left to figure it out on our own, we would have been doomed to die, not of famine or disease, but forever separated from God. And you know that this Hellish Catastrophe, as God has so named it, is not just a prediction or a theory. It's not just an empty threat. It is a promise from God for all who rebel against him.
But Jesus has seen us in our sorry condition. He saw our fate and our certain doom. He knew that that Hellish Catastrophe would take us all. And he had compassion. His heart ached when he considered our plight. His stomach churned at the thought of us in hell forever away from him.
And his compassion led him to action again. So Jesus wouldn't be just a bread king. He wouldn't just take care of mankind's physical needs. He would provide for their greatest spiritual need. Rejected by the crowds after this miracle because he refused to be their break king, he lost a huge following. Many turned on him. And only a short while later, others would be screaming for his death. "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
And you know that the one who miraculously multiplied the bread and fish could have easily come down off the cross. But he didn't. He willingly died for us and for our sins. He willingly endured that Hellish Catastrophe that should have been ours that he might save us from it.
And all of his miracles—like feeding of more than five thousand—prove that he is not just an ordinary man, but that he is God. They prove to you and me that as God he could pay for our sins and for the sins of whole world. These miracles prove we are forgiven!
And so, by this account of the miraculous feeding of more than five thousand Jesus still feeds us. By his Word, he still feeds us with that life-giving, faith-nurturing food. Yes, Jesus feeds more than five thousand. He feeds us still with physical food, with spiritual food. He feeds us all by his Word every day, assuring us that we are forgiven, that we have peace with God, that we will be with him in heaven, all because of his compassion in action.
And we can't help but respond by giving thanks. Jesus, who is God, still paused to thank the Father for the five loaves and two fish. How much more so won't we thank God for what he's given to us.
And we give thanks not just in words, but in actions. We have compassion on others that leads us to take action. In a few weeks you'll have your dollars multiplied when you receive your permanent fund dividends. Consider using a portion of that to help share the Gospel here. (cf. www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give) Consider giving just one tenth of what you didn't work for or earn, but just received, back to God in thanks for the physical and spiritual blessings he's given you. Or if you'd rather not give to Grace, go to www.WELS.net and click "Give a Gift" to support a mission where God's people are feeding others both physical food and the word of God.
And don't just give your dollars, but give your time as well. Look for ways to serve others. You can start right here. Visit www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Serve to find out how. Or simply serve others in your own home with greater compassion in action.
No matter what you do, do something to thank God for feeding more than the five thousand. Thank him for feeding you—with bread and with fish, but especially with the Word that assures you that you are forgiven for Jesus' sake, by his compassion in action. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.