Please read 2 Kings 4: 42-44 and Matthew 14: 13-21, and then pray; Lord Jesus, you are the bread of God, the bread of life sent from heaven; feed my inmost being that I may be strengthened and empowered to serve you with all my heart, mind, and soul. Amen.

Recently we were engaged in thinking deeply about one of Jesus’s greatest parables – the Parable of the Sower – which I referred to as his No. 1 Parable (see sermon). Today we consider one of his greatest miracles – the feeding of the 5000. We need to approach this miracle story with a sense of reverence, awe, and wonder, as once again we find ourselves standing on holy ground. This miracle story is of inestimable value to the individual Christian and for the life of the Church for whom Christ died. Together, we will “meditate on God’s wonderful deeds, (Psalm 145: 9-10), and proclaim them to the world.”

This miracle’s significance is revealed by the fact that it is the only miracle of Jesus (apart from his resurrection) which is recorded in each of the 4 gospels. (Matthew 14: 13-21, Mark 6: 30-44, Luke 9: 10-17, John 6:1-13). There are a few minor differences in the detailing of the story as each evangelist seeks to stress certain factual points, but the main substance of the story shines through each account – Jesus performed a wonderful and awe-inspiring creative miracle which blessed in excess of 20,000 people. He fed a vast multitude with next to no material resources. (Matthew 14:21) This was a far greater miracle that one involving the faith of God’s servant Elisha. (2 Kings 4: 42-44)

All of Jesus’s miracles were motivated primarily by divine compassion for people. In this story we hear that Jesus had decided to withdraw to a solitary place after hearing of the execution of John the Baptist and being aware of Herod’s fascination in His miraculous powers. Grief is often best faced by a period of solitude – but having the Twelve in the background must have been a source of comfort for Jesus. However, solitude and silence would not last long as a vast crowd tracked Jesus’s journey to the other side of the lake. Mark records that some of the crowd “ran” around to the other side of Galilee to intercept Jesus. (Mark 6:33) such was their enthusiasm and desperation. Quiet moments on the boat would have to suffice because as Jesus and the twelve landed, the large crowd had already arrived, and he immediately discerned their multiple needs – mainly for healing and teaching. He fed them with teaching about the Kingdom of God and then proceeded to heal all their sick.

This was always Jesus’s method – he taught and healed; he taught the people, and then demonstrated the presence of the kingdom by healing the sick! And when he healed the sick, he healed all in the crowds who had come to him for healing. No-one missed out on his compassionate healing touch. Through his compassionate healing ministry Jesus revealed the compassionate heart and nature of God. (Psalm 103: 4, 8, 13, Psalm 145: 8-9) God loves to have compassion on those made in his image; broken human lives draw out the compassion and mercy of God. And as Jesus was “God on earth” – God incarnate, the compassion of God streamed from his heart and into the lives of broken people through his powerful and merciful healing touch. Before we hear about the feeding of this multitude of God’s creatures, we can imagine miracle after miracle of healing. Bodies are restored by Jesus before bellies are filled and satisfied. The Kingdom of God is here in this remote place! (v15)

Perhaps it is worth stating that just as compassion flowed from the heart and hands of Jesus – so it should constantly flow from the hearts and lives of his servants – you and I. Our lives and service must be “clothed with compassion.” (Colossians 3:12) This is the fruit of the Spirit working within us and through us to bless those around us with deep needs and concerns. One of the great marks of the Church of Jesus Christ should be compassion for suffering humanity. Are you a compassionate person? How is that compassion manifested and worked out in your life? Is Christchurch a compassionate Church fellowship? Jesus never suffered from “compassion fatigue.” Neither should his people.

This would have been a long and tiring day for Jesus. He had received distressing news; he had travelled; he had taught the huge crowd; he had healed many who were sick; then we get the interjection of the disciples as stomachs start to rumble.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it is already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (v15)

This seems on the surface to be a very sensible and caring suggestion from the disciples. However, Jesus had something entirely different in mind. He already knew what he wanted to do. (John 6:6) The compassion that had flowed and brought healing to the sick had not dried up. There was still more water to come from the Rock. (Exodus 17:6) It was now the moment to feed the hungry. Although the whole crowd had not been sick, the whole crowd were hungry and needing to eat. But how could this happen? Only Jesus could supply such a massive need – but how would he do this? What was upon his mind?

Jesus makes it clear that there is no need to send the huge numbers of people away. The disciples can feed them. (16) But the disciples do not have anything – and have located only five loaves of barley bread and two fish. From John’s gospel, we discover that this food was being offered by a single boy from the crowd. (John 6:9) The barley loaves (the bread of the poor) and the two fish are “small” (John 6:9) – just enough to tame the hunger of the boy. But then comes the great turning point in the story;

“Bring them here to me.”

Bring whatever you have to me. The disciples obey the instuction, but have no idea what Jesus will do next. We then have the divine action of Jesus and four important verbs are shared with the readers of this gospel of the Son of God. Jesus, the Son of the living God, now –

  • Takes the bread (and the fish)
  • Blesses the bread (by looking up to heaven and giving thanks)
  • Breaks the bread
  • Gives the bread (to the disciples to distribute)

Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives out the bread. Where else in the gospels do we hear the connection of these 4 verbs? We hear them in the story of the last supper (Luke 22:19) and in the Emmaus Road resurrection story. (Luke 24:30) This is the way of Jesus.

After Jesus has taken, blessed, and broken the bread, he then gives it to the disciples to share with the crowd. There is a miraculous multiplication of the food on offer – and we are told that “all ate and were satisfied.” There was enough food for all to have not just a satisfactory bite, but a satisfactory meal. But the story is not finished. There is more. There is more, because there is more food. The disciples went on to “pick up twelve basketfuls” of broken pieces that were leftover. They each filled a basket with left over food.

And then the shocking punchline at the conclusion of the story.

The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (21)

In actual-fact, this was not the feeding of the 5,000. It was more like the feeding of the 20,000 plus. The number is estimated, just like the number of Israelites who marched out of Egypt at the time of the exodus (Exodus 12:37), but this number is mentioned at the climax of the story for its effect. Jesus fed a truly gigantic crowd of people with “small” resources just as God had fed hundreds of thousands during the wilderness years. This was a truly stunning miracle, and this is why all four evangelists include it in their gospels. But what are lessons we can learn from this. I will mention four things today;

Jesus is the unique miracle worker testifying to the fact that He alone is the Son of God. Nothing is impossible for him. Just as he turned gallons and gallons of water into wine – so he multiplied the food set before him on this occasion. And He did this. The disciples merely brought the two fish and five loaves, organised the seating of the crowd, shared the multiplied amount of food amongst the seated men, women, and children, and then gathered up the leftovers. This is the Jesus every Christian (including you and I) walks with throughout life, trusts in for salvation, and knows personally in their hearts to be their living Saviour, the Lord of all creation, and the Bread of life. As John writes in his gospel; “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name. (John 20:30) Does this story fill you with wonder and awe? Have you come to know and believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God? (John 6:69) Do you experience life in his name? Eternal life? Has the Miracle Maker transformed your life?

This leads me on to the second point which is a vital one to understand. Jesus did not come into this world primarily to give bread but to be bread for the world. This is why John chapter 6 is one of the longest and most significant chapters in the N.T. Johns begins by detailing the miracle (6: 1-13) but then takes up most of the rest of the chapter with Jesus’s amazing revelation that He is the Bread of life. I am the Bread of life he declares twice with forthright boldness! (35,48). He is the Bread of God, the Bread which came down from heaven, and He alone can give life in all its fullness to the world. (6:33). Jesus invites everyone to come to Him so that their deepest hunger can be satisfied, and their deepest thirst for true life can be quenched by him forever. (35).

I am the bread that came down from heaven (6:41) exclaims Jesus. Have we eaten of this Bread? Jesus is God’s unique offering of love, compassion, mercy and salvation to the world. We are urged to feed on him in our hearts by faith. We are called to trust in Him for salvation, peace with God, reconciling joy, and eternal life? Jesus came first and foremost TO BE BREAD. Bread for you! Bread for all! Have you eaten of this heavenly bread? Is Jesus your Saviour and Sustainer?

And yes, Jesus did feed the hungry, and he calls his disciples to do likewise (Matthew 25:35). We are called to exercise compassion toward the hungry of our world. We are called to support our local foodbank! We are called to share the bread God has graciously given to us. But more important even than this, we called to share Jesus himself – because He is the ultimate Bread. He is the Bread of Life. He is the Bread that will satisfy the deepest longings and needs of human souls. We must share Jesus! He is the miracle worker. He is the source of eternal life and hope for the world. I repeat again, He came from heaven to BE BREAD!

Thirdly, Jesus will always and forever supply the basic needs of his people – his Church. When Jesus looked at the crowd as he stepped out from the boat, he saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd – and so he had compassion on them. (Mark 6:34) Jesus is the good Shepherd of His people and for His people. This is why we sang Psalm 23 at the outset of our worship this morning. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Christ will supply the needs of his bride for whom he died, his flock for whom he rose again! As the Church marches forward in mission – it will lack no good thing. God will provide the necessary bread, and all the other things basic for living and serving for Jesus’s sake. In fact, more often that not, there will be an overflow of provision and we will also experience the blessing of leftovers! Don’t we pray regularly “Give us this day our daily bread?” And doesn’t God answer that pray – and supply more than our basic need?

As Christchurch continues to obey and honour God in His mission, we will not lack anything we need. We are supported and sustained by the Bread of life and the Good Shepherd. Psalm 23 is precious, but so are the truths contained in Psalm 34;

Fear the Lord you his saints, for those who fear him lack no good thing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:9-10)

Jesus instructed his disciples not to worry about the basics in life such as food, clothing, and shelter; but rather to concentrate on kingdom work and vision.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to as well. (Matthew 6:33)

Within the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, there is an emphasis on the Twelve. What comes to mind is the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the twelve apostles. But together, the tribes and the apostles represent the whole Church. And the whole Church will have its needs met by its Good and Great Shepherd – the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter the size of the Church, far greater that 5000 or 20,000 (today it stands at 2.4 billion) – Jesus Christ has the power and authority to supply the needs of all His chosen Ones. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1) – and so there is no need for this Church or any true Church to panic about what we need to fulfil the mission God has called us to serve! God will grant all we need. When we have a serious need, Jesus says to us as he said to his disciples; Bring it here to me; We need to do only two things. Firstly, look up towards heaven (like Jesus did) in prayer and seek God’s provision and blessing. Secondly, we must honour and obey Christ as the head of the Church. As we remain in the Vine – we, the branches, will be constantly fed by His life and power!

Fourthly, and finally, this amazing feeding miracle points us forward to the glorious future heavenly banquet that awaits all God’s children and Christ’s disciples. All Jesus’s miracles reveal God’s compassion, but they also demonstrate the presence and the promise of the Kingdom of heaven. Through this miracle, our Lord Jesus clearly demonstrated the presence of the Kingdom in His person. The Kingdom had come with Him! But there is a glorious and unprecedented day yet to come, when Jesus and His everlasting Kingdom will arrive upon the earth in all its fullness and glorious effulgence!

My friends, what we have in this astonishing miracle is but a foretaste of the glorious banquet to come. I think there will be a little bit more on offer than barley loaves and fish on that day and for the rest of eternity! On the last day, when we are raised up by Jesus, we will then be seated at the banqueting table of heaven which shall be upon the earth. Then there shall truly be no more hunger, no more weakness and sickness, no more heartbreak or tears, no more mourning and death, for the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

As the apostle Paul puts it; “I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

It therefore seems apt to end this sermon with the concluding wonderful words and declaration of faith contained in Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”  AMEN!

Rev Peter Clarkson (6.8.23)