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Kingdom Lessons

August 6, 2023 |Kingdom Lessons|Matthew 14:13-21

JD Cutler

For the sermon audio, click here

As we make our way through the gospel of Matthew, starting today and over the next couple of weeks we will shift from the parables of Jesus that we have been looking at to some of the miracles of Jesus.

Another way to look at it is that we are going to move from Jesus teaching about the kingdom of heaven to showing us what it is like in the kingdom of heaven.

The miracle we look at today is not the first miracle Jesus did but it is the only one that is recorded in all four gospel accounts. The only other miracle that is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is the resurrection.

For those who have been even loosely affiliated with a church growing up, it is a well known parable. Jesus feeds five thousand men with a handful of bread loaves and a few fish.

The danger when we come to a story that we are familiar with, especially one as miraculous as this one, is that our familiarity with it can dampen our awe at the miracle contained within.

The other mistake we can make is simply to be in awe of the miracle and miss the message within.

Today I hope to strike the balance between appreciating the miraculous event for what it is and rightly understanding the lessons contained within.

This morning we are going to look at those lessons under three divisions.

Open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 14, at verse 13. Picking up shortly after where we left off last week.

The first thing we find in our text is that…

Jesus models for us service beyond our self-interests

Matthew 14:13-14 (ESV) 13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Now when Jesus heard this- the immediate reference in Matthew is to the unnecessary and gruesome death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod the tetrarch. In the Gospel of Mark and Luke we find that this timing also corresponds to the return of the twelve apostles after being sent out by Jesus to proclaim the kingdom.

This withdrawal seems to be brought on by a few reasons.

One, surely Jesus was mourning the death of his cousin, John the Baptist.

Two, rumors were probably already swirling that Herod was scared that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead.

Three, we know Jesus' mind probably went to his own impending death at the hands of the Roman government.

Four, it also seems to be an attempt to get away from the pressing demands of ministry.

In Mark we find these words, 31 And he (Jesus) said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

This season of his ministry has been busy for him and the disciples; add the emotional toll of John’s death, the disciples coming off their mission of going from town to town proclaiming the kingdom and healing the sick. It is not hard to see the motivation, is it? Mark records, from Peter’s own experience, that in these days, they were so busy meeting the needs of the people that they didn’t even have a chance to eat.

He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself- or as translated in Mark a desolate place by themselves. The term is literally to a desolate place with his own. Jesus is trying to separate himself and his disciples from the crowds, from the demands of ministry, from the busyness of life.

We certainly can’t blame him for this, can we? We all know what it is like to need some time for ourselves, to take time to spend with those closest to us. A time to be refreshed, to process what has happened, even just to eat together in peace.

Jesus’ retreat plan involves them getting in a boat and headed to a desolate, sometimes translated desert place.

The idea is an uninhabited piece of land, away from the towns, away from the cities. They are going to cross over the Sea of Galilee to a place outside of Bethsaida. The problem is that from the vantage point of the shore, you could see the direction the boat was heading and predict where it was headed. So the crowds begin traveling around the shore to follow him. The Bible says…

They followed him on foot from the towns- I picture a group starting out, as they travel through a town, someone asks what they are doing and they tell them about their intention to follow Jesus to be healed, to see him, etc… and in each town the crowd grows and grows. So much that the Bible says that it was…

A great crowd- a multitude of people

So let’s get our bearings for a minute. Jesus and disciples are on a mission to escape to the wilderness for a little needed R&R step out of the boat and the first thing they see is a great multitude of people streaming towards them!

What Jesus does next models for us what service looks like in the kingdom of heaven.

If you want to know how your life should look as a citizen of the kingdom, you don’t need to look any farther than its king, right? What does Jesus do? He serves in spite of what we may call his self-interests, as least in his humanity. Before we look at his response, let us not move too quickly past the situation at hand for the disciples.

You can almost feel the potential tension. Serving the people comes crashing into their own self-interests of getting away, of resting. Which, by the way, isn’t necessarily wrong. Rest is biblical and good, Jesus intentionally spent time apart from the crowds investing in his disciples. Nothing about what they want is wrong, but what happens when the good we want for ourselves conflicts with the needs of people in front of us?

Honestly, we would not have blamed the disciples if they immediately put back out to sea, would we?

It wouldn’t be absurd to us if Jesus dismissed them and told them to come back later.

We would understand because this is what we would have probably done, right?

But what did Jesus do? He immediately enters into ministering to the multitudes. Why?

Because his compassion for them outweighed his concern for himself.

He had compassion on them- we talked about this terminology a few weeks ago, he was moved in the deepest part of who he was to help them with the issues they were facing. He Healed their sick. What moved him?

Mark says it was because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

So Jesus taught and he healed, essentially, he went right back to what he had been doing.

This is who Jesus is, because it is who God is. Again and again eclare God’s compassionate nature.

Psalms 145:8 (ESV) 8 The LORD is gracious and merciful (compassionate),slowthe Psalms d to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Psalm 51:1 (ESV) 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy (compassion) blot out my transgressions.

Psalms 86:15 (ESV) 15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful (compassionate) and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

If this is who Jesus is, then it ought to be who his people are.

How do we know if we are like this?

You are headed home after a long day and your phone rings and you know that the needs on the other end of this phone call has the potential to derail or consume your evening if you answer it.

Hearing or seeing a need of a brother or sister at church that you know meeting will cost you that money you have been saving up to treat yourself to _________.

Knowing that if you ask that person that you know is struggling if there is anything you can do, you will be intentionally offering up your time, talents, and resources at personal cost to yourself.

How we respond in situations like this, when our service to others and our self-interests clash, is a good indicator of where our hearts are.

How do we follow Jesus’ example of serving that takes us beyond our own self-interests?

We have to cultivate compassion.

Compassion is being moved to meet a need, particularly when you have the means to do so.

The question is not whether we feel like serving, but can we help?

We will never be a faithful follower of Jesus until our compassion for others outweighs our concern for ourselves.

So the first thing we see in this feeding of the 5,000 is that Jesus models for us service beyond our self-interests, the second is to realize that…

Jesus calls us to responsibilities larger than our resources

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”

Evening- this word can mean either the time from 3pm to 6pm or from 6pm to nighttime. Since after the miraculous feeding and sending the disciples away we are told that it is evening, we are to understand this as the first.

It’s likely they sat out on their trip in the morning and now it is pushing late afternoon and the disciples are ready for it to be over! Remember they came here to rest and debrief after their journeys.

The disciples came- Jesus has been healing and teaching all day and the crowd isn’t showing any signs of going away on their own, so they want Jesus to send them away.

Send them away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves- seems like a reasonable request at first doesn’t it?

I mean, haven’t you done enough Jesus? Didn’t we go on this trip to get away by ourselves? Isn’t it about time you sent them away to fend for themselves? We might even give the disciples some credit that their concern was for the crowds. Right? I mean, Jesus I’m looking around and there are over 10,000 people here, if they don’t get moving soon they are going to be stuck in this uninhabited place with no food and no place to stay. Don’t you think it is in their best interest to get moving?

“Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions.-Mark”

You give them something to eat- We can miss the emphasis here, this is not simply a remark from Jesus, this is a command. You guys give them something to eat. Jesus says, they don’t need to leave, or it is not necessary for them to leave in order to find food, you give it to them.

The disciples recognized the need around them, there were thousands of people who in a few hours would be hungry and stuck in the wilderness without food. We may find within this alone things to commend the disciples.

I mean, they were taking into account the needs of the multitudes, they were strategic in their thinking, right? If this many people are going to get to a town in order to find food and shelter, they better leave now. They knew that Jesus was the one who would have to send them away, so they ‘make him aware’ of the situation.

But Jesus turns it around and lays the responsibility of feeding the multitudes plainly at the feet of his disciples.

You feed them.

Cross References- How precisely this back and forth between Jesus and the disciples happened is impossible to know, but we know a few additional details from the other gospel accounts that help us round out what is happening here.

We know, for instance, that there was a moment where they contemplated the means of meeting this responsibility.

Luke- They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.”

We also know there is a moment where they contemplate the cost of meeting this responsibility laid at their feet by Jesus.

Mark- And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

John tells us that helped draw out these contemplations. Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

We have only five loaves and two fish- here we find the crux of the problem.

Jesus has told them to feed these people.

To feed over 10,000 people, they would have to go and buy food for them in the nearby towns, to do so they would need over eight months of wages to even buy enough to feed everyone a little bit.

What they have is five loaves of bread and two fish in the middle of nowhere and very little if any money.

Now, I know it messes with the Sunday school version of this story, but very likely this was the disciples' food that they had brought and this young boy had simply been tasked with carrying it. Which is why Jesus asks for them to go and see how many loaves YOU have. Regardless, the essence of what Jesus says is, do an inventory on what resources you have to meet this responsibility I have given you.

A subtle shift, but one that more closely aligns with the situation. They had brought a meager ration of bread and fish so that they could eat here in this place when they got away from the crowds, Jesus now calls them to meet a far greater need than what they have resources for.

We ought to be wary when we feel like we can meet our responsibilities as followers of Christ with our own means.

We either are not giving credit to God for his work in our lives or we are not living out the responsibilities we have been given.

I mean, can we just put to bed this nonsense about God not giving you more than you can handle.

The whole of Christian life is more than we can handle in our own power.

I can’t even find it within myself, apart from God’s power to even want salvation in the first place.

Having been saved, I am constantly faced with my meager resources to battle sin, to live in light of the gospel, and to advance the kingdom of God in my life.

All of Christianity is being called to responsibilities far exceeding my resources.

This is far from the last time Jesus calls these disciples to responsibilities beyond their resources.

Before he ascends into heaven he charges these men to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Picture it, this ragtag band of fishermen, tax collectors, zealots. Nobodies, from a small corner of a great big world. No resources, no schooling, and no influence.

But there as he does here, he does not leave us in our own power to meet the responsibilities before us. He promises that he will be their power until the end of the age.

What do we do with this understanding that Jesus calls us to responsibilities greater than our resources?

We do what the disciples do, we take a look at the magnitude of the responsibility, the meagerness of our resources, and we entrust them to the God of the universe to accomplish in and through us what he has called us to do.

We will never be a faithful follower of Jesus until we realize how inadequate we are for the task at hand.

So the first thing we see in this feeding of the 5,000 is that Jesus models for us service beyond our self-interests, the second is to realize that Jesus calls us to responsibilities larger than our resources, and finally we humbly acknowledge that…

Jesus uses our meager resources to magnificent ends

18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Bring them to me- turn them over to me

Ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass- This is an interesting detail. He has the disciples have the people to sit down on the grass, in groups of about 50.

Essentially, he has the disciples prepare the people for a feast, when at the time, there is no feast.

The apostle John specifically brings this idea to light when he ties the events of this day to what is happening in Jerusalem.

John 6:4-6 (ESV) 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

So Jesus has them sit down for a feast, more specifically, he has the disciples have them sit down for a feast.

Surely they can’t know what is coming, but they trust that Jesus is going to do something magnificent, even with their meager resources.

This is a pretty great picture of faith in action. Faith moves us to ‘act as though’ in response to God’s commands, trusting that if he has commanded it, he will accomplish it. This is a consistent idea throughout the miracles in scripture.

1 Kings 17:8-16 (ESV) 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

2 Kings 4:1-7 (ESV) 1 Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” 2 And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” 3 Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. 4 Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” 5 So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

Preparing to enter Jericho before the walls fell, the priests stepping into the water before it dried up at their feet, Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water, the men rolling the stone away before Jesus called Lazarus out, on and on we see this idea of trusting God to do what he has said he would do despite our seemingly helpless situation, our surprisingly meager resources, or our obvious lack of abilities, etc…

Broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples-

(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) Matthew does not tell us how this happened, but Mark hints that the bread multiplied in Jesus’ hands as he broke it. We could translate: “Giving thanks, he broke the loaves and kept on giving [bread] to his disciples” (Mark 6:41). So the disciples distributed the food to the crowds, but Jesus fed them.

Disciples gave them to the crowds-

Jesus' divine intervention did not free them from their responsibility, rather it enabled them to meet it in his power.

Jesus' divine intervention did not free them from their responsibility, rather it enabled them to meet it in his power.

Ate and were satisfied- unlike Philips estimate that even with 8 months of money they could barely get enough for everyone to get a bite, Jesus abundantly provides so that everyone not only eats, but is stuffed.

Twelve baskets of leftovers- Jesus tells his disciples in John, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.

Five thousand men, besides women and children- We don’t know the full number here, but regardless how many women and children were there, feeding five thousand men from 5 loaves of bread is miraculous.

Which is the whole point of this record. If all we take from this is that we should feed the poor, or that we should serve even when it’s inconvenient, we miss the whole point.

Only God can do this and the people get it. In John’s account, we find these words. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

They are ready right then and there to make Jesus their king. What had been debated in the temple courts, challenged in the synagogues, became very clear in the light of this miracle in the wilderness. No one but God and his anointed could do this.

However, as we learn in the following passages in John, the people are more interested in making him king for the free food than for the right reasons.

Their wrong motives do not diminish the fact that this miracle testified to who Jesus was.

Jesus took the meager resources of his disciples and worked in such a way that the people recognized that only God could have done what had happened.

The disciples organized the people, the disciple gathered the meager resources, and the disciples distributed the food, but it was Jesus who met the need through his divine and miraculous work.


Here is the challenge within the account.

Would you, a disciple and follower of Christ, through compassion for others, serve them by giving up what little you had so that the name of Jesus would be manifested among those impacted through his work?

I am afraid too many of us would be content to share five loaves of bread and two fish between the 12 of us than to surrender what we have to Jesus so that he can accomplish his magnificent purposes.

Does Jesus need what we have? Of course not. Could he have made bread and fish appear out of nowhere to feed the crowd? He could have. But God chooses to work through regular men and women like you and I who are prepared to fully surrender what we have for his purposes.

Three lessons that call us to a greater understanding of the kingdom of heaven. May God give us ears to hear this morning. Let us pray.

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