Food of Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 3, 2014, Pentecost VIII

Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

From the Book of Genesis:
Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.”

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
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 blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they were all satisfied.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Chapters 14-20 of Matthew have sometimes been called “The Retirement of the King.” During the period of time recorded by Matthew in these chapters, Jesus often withdrew from the crowds and spent time alone with His disciples. There were several reasons for these withdrawals: the growing hostility of His enemies, the need for physical rest, and the need to prepare His disciples for His death on the cross. Unfortunately, the disciples were often caught up in the excitement generated by the crowds that wanted to make Jesus their King.

However, we must not think that these withdrawals, or periods of retirement from the crowds, were periods of inactivity. Often the crowds followed Jesus and He was unable to remain alone. He would unselfishly minister to their needs in spite of His own need for rest and solitude.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus and His disciples desperately needed rest (Mark 6:31); yet the needs of the multitudes touched His heart. Jesus was “moved with compassion” when He saw the needy multitudes. They were like sheep that had been lacerated from brutal fleecing – torn, exhausted, and wandering. Twice He was “moved with compassion” when he beheld the hungry multitudes without food (Matt. 14:14; 15:32).

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 14:31-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:4-13). It was definitely a miracle. Those who teach that Jesus only encouraged the people to bring out their own hidden lunches have ignored the clear statements of God’s Word. Think about it. Would the crowd have wanted to crown Jesus King simply because He tricked them into sharing their lunches? Not likely.

It takes little imagination to picture the embarrassing plight of the disciples. Here were more than 5,000 hungry people and they had nothing to feed them! Certainly the disciples knew that Jesus was powerful enough to meet the need, yet they did not turn to Him for help. Instead, they took inventory of their own food supply, which consisted of five barley loaves and two fish that a boy had and a limited treasury. When they considered that evening was upon them and that their location was isolated, they came to the conclusion that nothing could be done to solve the problem. Their recommendation to Jesus was to “Send them away!”

During their time with Jesus, His disciples had watched Him as He had, healed a Leper (Matt. 8:1), healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5), healed Peter’s mother in law (Matt. 8:14), healed numerous people who had evil spirits and various diseases (Matt. 8:16) and raised a girl from the dead (Matt. 9:25). The disciples had seen all of this and they still didn’t come to Jesus for help.

Jesus watched His frustrated disciples as they tried to solve the problem, but “He knew what He was intending to do” (John 6:6). He wanted to teach them a lesson in faith and surrender. Jesus says: “They do not need to go away; YOU give them something to eat” (Matt. 14:16). And how did the disciples answer Jesus? We don’t have enough money; we only have five loaves of bread and two fishes donated by a boy. Wrong answers!

Jesus has given us some steps that we should take in solving life’s problems.

First, start with what you have. Andrew found a boy who had a small lunch, and he brought the lad to Jesus. Was the boy willing to give up his lunch? Yes, he was! God begins at where we are and uses what we have.

The second step is to give what you have to Jesus. Jesus took the simple lunch, blessed it, and shared it. The miracle of multiplication was in His hands! We’ve all heard the expression: “Little is much if God is in it.” Jesus broke the bread and gave the pieces to the disciples, and they, in turn, fed the multitudes.

The third step is to obey what He commands. The disciples had the people sit down as Jesus ordered. They took the broken pieces and distributed them, and discovered that there was plenty for everybody. As His servants, we are “distributors,” not “manufacturers.” If we give what we have to Him, He will bless it and give it back to us for use in feeding others.

The last step is to conserve the results. There were twelve baskets filled with pieces of bread and fish after the people had eaten all they wanted. But these pieces were carefully collected so that nothing was wasted (Mark 6:43; John 6:12). I wonder how many of the pieces the boy took back home with him. Imagine his mother’s amazement when the boy told her the story!

If we earnestly seek His involvement in our plans, and we have nothing much to bring to the table, He provides what we need. His strength makes up for our weaknesses. That is the essence of faith.

There are at least 3 lessons regarding faith in this passage:

The first is that God desires to stretch our faith. God wants us to mature in our faith and in order to get us to do that He often puts us in situations where there is NO way we could EVER possibly do what He’s asked on our own. That’s what Jesus is doing with the Disciples in this feeding of the 5,000. He had put them into a situation they could only accomplish if God did a miracle.

The second lesson in this story was that Jesus’ objective was not to feed the 5,000! The church does not exist to feed the poor, or to take care of the needy. The church exists to serve Jesus Christ and bring people to salvation. However, if the church serves Jesus Christ, IT WILL feed the poor and take care of the needy. If our center of attention ever gets off of Jesus and becomes focused on good works without Him being the center, we’ll have lost our very reason to exist. We exist as a church to serve Jesus Christ and to give Him glory. That was the purpose of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000: to glorify Jesus and build faith in God.

The third lesson in this story is that Jesus asked His disciples to be His PARTNERS in this miracle. Remember, up until this time, Jesus had been doing all the work and His disciples only observed. But now He tells His disciples: YOU give them something to eat!

A Godly faith should challenge us to do as much as we can for Jesus. You look around this church, although we are small, you’ll see men and women of faith investing themselves in ministry for Jesus; Everything from the prayer ministry, to visiting the shut-ins and nursing homes, to sending children to summer camp.

These folks realize that you don’t have to be a preacher to be a servant of God. They realize that they are a priesthood of believers. They don’t have to ask my permission (or anyone else’s) to be involved in any of these ministries. They have realized the privilege God has given them to allow them to be His partners.

God’s tests lead to realization that God really wants to use me, and that I have value and purpose in His service. And that’s the effect the miracle of the 5,000 had on Jesus’ disciples. Did you realize that this is the ONLY MIRACLE recorded in all 4 gospels. No other miracle has that honor. But this one did. This event was such a turning point in their lives that it became one of their greatest testimonies.

The Apostle John recorded a sermon on “the Bread of Life” that Jesus gave the next day in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:22ff). The people were willing to receive the physical bread, but they would not receive the living Bread – the Son of God come down from heaven. The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 was actually a sermon in action. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and only He can satisfy the spiritual hunger in man’s heart. The tragedy is, men waste their time and money on “that which is not bread” (Isa. 55:1-7). People today are making the same mistake.

Last week, Pope Francis issued 10 tips for a happy life (Jesus Christ was missing):
1) Live and let live
2) Be giving of yourself to others
3) “Proceed calmly” in life
4) A healthy sense of leisure
5) Sundays should be holidays; Sunday is for family
6) Create dignified jobs for young people
7) Respect and take care of nature
8) Stop being negative
9) Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs
10) Work for peace

God did not promise us a life of happiness on earth, only unending joy in heaven. Even our founding fathers did not guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps the Pope was trying to reach out to the secular world and missed an opportunity. In Exodus 20:8 we read, “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Sundays are not holidays, but should be set aside for worshiping God. Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). This is a command, yet the Pope says not to. Is Pope Francis sharing the food of faith; the Bread of Life – Jesus Christ or is he leading his sheep to the slaughter? You decide.

Jesus still has compassion on the hungry multitudes, and He still says to His church: “Give them something to eat.” How easy it is for us to send people away, to make excuses, to plead a lack of resources. Jesus asks that we give Him all that we have and let Him use it as He sees fit.
A hungry world is feeding on empty substitutes while we deprive them of the Bread of Life. When we give Christ what we have, we never lose. We always end up with more blessing than when we started.

Let us pray:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

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