Here is the sermon largely as preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York. The sermon highlights somethings that Jesus does while we wait for a miracle. Indeed, we will see that Jesus did somethings that are very important before He fed the 5,000. The sermon audio is available here.
So much of what we ask of God in our particular context has to do with the healing of our physical bodies. And no doubt you have come to understand by experience that there is often a significant delay between asking for healing and seeing it, if we even get to see it during this life. Nevertheless, we believe that God answers these prayers—that God does miracles—not normally instantaneously, not always completely during this life, but we know that despite delays we will one day experience full healing – even a new body. Unlike in areas of the world where starvation is common, when we ask for food there is often not much of a wait to get it. But there are other things that we do not always get right away. As a church we may pray for a miracle with our finances, or we may pray for our church to become more organized at meeting each others’ needs, or for our evangelism efforts to lead to the salvation of many. And these things do not always follow immediately. You will find in many English Bibles some uninspired headings so that you will know what you will find in the text that follows. And as one might expect the heading for our passage today would read, “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand.” And notice as we read the text today that there is a significant delay before Jesus actually feeds the five thousand. It opens as the twelve that Jesus sent out to preach and cast out demons came back to Him and told him how they had taught the people that they should repent and how they had cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
- So apparently Jesus delayed the miracle of feeding the five thousand in order to teach.
- Yes, our English Bible headings are right to call this unit of text the feeding of the five thousand, but first Jesus taught the crowds and discipled the disciples. When Jesus does a miracle it is common for Him to see the person or people in need and be moved to compassion for them and then do the miracle. Here Jesus saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and then He began to teach them MANY things (v.34). We already know from the earlier verses that people had not had an opportunity to stop for a bite to eat and then rather than just feed them with physical food, Jesus tends to their Spiritual hunger until the time of the day had grown late. To some extent Jesus had created these latter conditions in order to disciple his disciples. He was training the twelve to be leaders in His church and they come to Jesus saying, ‘There isn’t really any food around and it is now late, so how about we send this crowd off to the surrounding countryside and village to buy something to eat?’ And like a good teacher Jesus tells the twelve, “You give them something to eat.” And they say that there is no way that they have enough money to buy enough food for a crowd that large. And Jesus tells them to go see how many loaves of bread they have. Jesus is discipling the disciples – He wants them to learn something here – and this is the way that He often disciples.
- And sometimes when the miracle we want is delayed it is because Jesus is teaching us something or teaching the crowds something through us. Jesus may be teaching something through us to our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or still others while we are waiting for that miraculous healing. And Jesus may be using the time while we are waiting to be healed to disciple us so that we follow Him with our whole hearts and can discover how to lead others to Jesus. And the same is true for us as a church – Jesus may very well be teaching our community something through us as we struggle with our finances or be taking some time to disciple you as evangelists before letting you see the fruit of that evangelism. (But the miracle that we are waiting for in this text is the feeding of the 5,000.)
- The feeding of the 5,000 teaches that Jesus is the fully divine Good Shepherd of Israel who organizes us and miraculously feeds us.
- At least, the twelve should have learned this lesson from the feeding of the 5,000. It is simply astounding how many Old Testament allusions Mark gives us to make this point. For example, Jesus had compassion on the crowds, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus was quoting the prophet Zechariah where the prophet tells us that Lord God will one day shepherd His people. And for another, we all know Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Hold on a moment, Mark said that they were in a desolate place – a desert – and yet where did Jesus tell the crowds to sit down in verse 39 – “on the green grass.” Thus the feeding of the 5,000 was designed to teach the disciples that Jesus is the fully divine Good Shepherd of Israel. Or consider the curious way that the crowds were organized – “in groups, by hundreds and by fifties,” (v.40). When you read that you should be thinking – why by hundreds and by fifties? And the answer is that the shepherd Moses had organized Israel by hundreds and by fifties (Exo 18:21, 25, Deut 1:15). Thus Jesus is organizing a new and true Israel. And the way the story is told is meant to remind us of the giving of manna and quail in the wilderness, except now the manna and quail are replaced by bread and fish. Remember too that it was not Moses who gave Israel manna and quail – it was God – further showing that Jesus is fully divine (that He is the Lord God of Israel). The problem is that the twelve were slow learners. Mark tells us that the twelve were utterly astounded when Jesus walked on water, “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (6:52). They should have understood that Jesus could walk on water because Jesus is the Lord.
- And today the feeding of the five thousand teaches us that Jesus is our fully divine Good Shepherd who organizes us and feeds us. As you are waiting for that miraculous healing, through you Jesus may be leading others to see that He is the divine Good Shepherd working all things together for the good of those who love Him. Or Jesus may use that situation while we wait for healing to disciple us. As the finances always seem to fall into place for whatever God has called His church to do, Jesus wants us to discover that He is worthy of our trust for all our needs. Or consider how the Good Shepherd organizes us as a church. He is the head of the church. And He has organized His flock into many congregations and feeds us. Even each household represented here is a miniature church where we are fed the Word though we still have to come together to receive the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, Jesus is organizing this church to meet the needs of the community around us and to feed the true Israel who gather to worship here just as He does in many churches throughout the world. And while you wait for this miracle to happen here Jesus will be discipling the elders and deacons and through them discipling some of you. There will always be people who do not want to wait for the miracle, but remember that in the midst of waiting Jesus is teaching the crowds and discipling the disciples that we may know that Jesus is the fully divine Good Shepherd of Israel who organizes us and miraculously feeds us.
- Therefore, despite delays we shall not want.
- The people in the text did not want for food – the text tells us there were 5,000 men fed and 12 baskets of left-overs, which unlike the manna in Exodus this bread would keep until the next day. A count of 5,000 men means that the crowd probably was somewhere around a minimum of 15,000 people that Jesus fed. The people were divided up by household, by hundreds and by fifties. This is why they had a rough estimate of the number of men. But despite the huge turnout, the people did not want for food – they all ate and were satisfied.
- Thus we too can know, Jesus is the fully divine Good Shepherd of Israel, despite delays we shall not want. When we learn that lesson that Jesus is the fully divine Good Shepherd of Israel and we are to find our satisfaction in Him, then we will never be hungry. We will not be hungry because we find our satisfaction in Jesus and not the thing that we want to miraculously happen. Jesus is our bread of life, despite delays we shall not want for food. And thus when we eat and are filled we will be satisfied, unlike Israel during their wilderness wanderings. Jesus is our shepherd, we shall not want for leadership. Each one of us can know, “The Lord Jesus is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And as a church we know that there will always be left-over bread to go and share with our neighbors and coworkers, our friends and our enemies. This is the reason that Reformed churches traditionally would have two offerings. One offering was taken for the needs of the pastor and the church and then after communion they would take a second offering for the poor. Indeed, there is always left-over bread to share with the poor – both material bread made from grain as well as Spiritual bread—the body of Jesus Christ—upon which we can feed by the Holy Spirit through faith. May Jesus disciple us this week and work miracles unto salvation for many—even if, the miracle of their salvation be delayed for a time. Amen.