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Sunday 8 February 2015 – Feeding of the Five Thousand

Reading Matthew 14: 13 ― 21

Sermon by Bill Davey ― Elder at B.B.P

Overview of the message today:

We will:

  •  highlight a key principle from the teaching of Jesus;
  •  review the background to this creative miracle ― where and when it  occurred;
  •  seek to learn from this miracle [Feeding the 5,000];
  •  recognise the links between this miracle and the Jewish history [Exodus];
  •  identify some links with other New Testament themes.

A Principle from the teaching of Jesus:

In Matt. 5: 17 ― Jesus taught: “I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets  but to fulfill them.”  (NIV)

This week The Narrative Lectionary highlights one of the best known miracles of Jesus ― our Messiah ― when He feeds 5,000 people near Lake Galilee.

When Pastor Robin invited me to present this material he tasked me to give real thought to the writings and work of retired Bishop N. T. Wright, renowned New Testament theologian, something which I have done:

Tom Wright recommended that when we read the Gospels we always consider: “….. the activities of Jesus should always be viewed as the climax of the story of God and His dealings with His People Israel [the Jewish people].”(N. T. Wright)

The story so far ….. (Background)

John the Baptist, the cousin of our Lord was executed by king Herod in the fortress prison of Machareus on East side of the river Jordan, after the king was tricked into making a promise to his step-daughter, Salome.

Jesus was grieving and needed time to be alone for prayer.

Timing and the setting to this miracle.

 In the early weeks of April, A.D. 29, the twelve disciples returned to Capernaum; where Jesus was waiting for them. They were in need of a holiday break, after a month of strenuous ministry.

They would take Peter’s boat, and cross to the Eastern shore of the lake, as they had done before.

However the enthusiastic crowd would not let them escape as easily as that. As their boat was headed towards the north-east; the crowd could keep it in sight, and walk along the shore. It was only two miles to the Jordan, from the north end of the lake; another three miles across the plain of Bataiha.

The people gathered in the foot-hills on the Eastern shore. By boat it would be about four miles, direct from Capernaum. Once again, the twelve missed their holiday break.

This is probably the largest crowd ever addressed by our Lord.

Pilgrim groups from northern Galilee, from the Decapolis, and from regions to the north of Palestine usually camped by the lake for a few days before the last lap of their journey down the Jordan valley and up to Jerusalem for the paschal feast.

Our Lord began his teaching, probably before midday, from a hillock a few hundred yards from the lake. About seven hours later, when the sun was sinking behind the Galilean hills, some of the apostles raised the question of feeding the people, with Jesus. The few provisions some had brought had been eaten long since. (Adapted from writings of R. Cox)

Jesus gave priority to the needs of the people.

He taught and ministered to them for many hours. He healed all who were sick or unwell, and He liberated others who were deeply troubled in spirit.

As evening approached one, or two of the disciples, made a helpful suggestion ― “Wouldn’t it be good to send the people away to buy food”. But Jesus responds, “If you care for them ― why don’t you give them something to eat?”

Think of the likely excuses that would have been offered in response to His challenge.

I / we couldn’t feed them ― there are too many people;

I / we don’t have enough energy / know-how / money /

skills / time, etc.

Jesus then rescues the situation by taking what they do have available to them:

[5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish ― a little boy’s lunch.]

We are probably familiar with how the story unfolds:

Jesus gives instructions for the people to sit in orderly groups;

Jesus takes what they do have (the bread and the fish);  and looking up to heaven,  gave thanks, for what they have;  and broke the bread (and divides the fish);  and gave the food to His disciples to distribute.  Everyone has more than enough to eat, and 12 baskets, filled with left-over pieces are collected.

A lesson to be learned from this example:

When we are doing what Jesus requires of us, we can be sure that Jesus will always accept what little we have, and then, giving thanks, He will cause our contribution to be made more than adequate for His purposes.

Our offerings, in this day and age might relate to:

  •  our energy and time;
  •  our art and craft skills;
  •  our other natural skills and talents;
  •  any spiritual gift we have received.

Now returning briefly to our Gospel account:

Jesus had been mindful of the needs of His disciples for a time of rest, and so directed them to go to the other side of the lake.

He then sent the crowds home, and finally, went to a quiet place, for the personal prayer He so desperately needed.

Jesus still needed prayer-time to deal with His own grief ― regarding the death of His  cousin ― John the Baptist.

What happened after that ― Well that’s another story for another day!