A miracle is what happens when God suspends the natural order of creation in order to display His power and bring glory and honor to Himself. We’ve seen some miracles in Matthew’s gospel already, especially the man with the withered hand in chapter 12, and the healing of many in chapters 8-9, including bringing a dead girl back to life. Here we see a so-called nature miracle. It is a miracle in which something in nature is changed in a way that is not natural. It is not that God works against nature, but that He suspends the rules of nature temporarily and works directly with something. In this case, Jesus feeds thousands of people with five loafs and two fish. In doing so, He proves that He is the greater Moses, and He shows us the way to the wedding banquet of the Lamb in the new heavens and the new earth.
Firstly, it is helpful to contrast two meals. Herod offered a party for his friends, and Jesus offers a banquet to sinners. James Montgomery Boice, whose sermon on this passage I wish I could just read word for word to you (it is that good!), has a great description of this contrast: “The first party is given by a king in his palace, the second by a Galilean preacher in the desert. The first was for the important people of this world, the second for the masses. The first was for Herod; it was his birthday. The second was centered on the crowds. The first was a drunken orgy, the second a pleasant country meal. The first was immoral; the high point was Salome’s provocative dance. The second followed holy, edifying teaching by the Lord. The first ended with the murder of John the Baptist, the second by the feeding of those who had no food. The first was for this world only; the second anticipated the heavenly marriage supper to which people from every tribe and nation are invited and to which the poor of many nations will come.”
What happened here and why it is important for us? Well, let’s look and see. First, we see Jesus withdrawing because of the news He had about Herod’s feast. Now, remember that the account of John’s death is a flashback. So the thing that Jesus had heard was what Herod thought of Jesus, which was that he thought John the Baptist had risen from the dead. Jesus did not at this time want to cause any kind of political unrest, since His kingdom was not a physical kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom. So He withdrew. He did not want people crowning Him king of the people. However, He could not escape from the crowds. The text says that they followed Him, on foot from the towns. He went into a boat and crossed the lake to a deserted place. When the people followed Him, He could have been upset and annoyed that He was trying to get away from people, and yet they still kept on coming. Instead, He had compassion on them. There is every indication here that the people who followed Him were acting out of faith. They knew that He could heal them, and so they came to Him. The key word here is compassion. Jesus had compassion for them.
Well, after healing them all afternoon, the disciples who had gone with Jesus thought about the time. It is not necessary here to attribute impatience to the disciples. They were thinking about the crowd, too. They wanted the crowd’s physical needs to be met. Of course, it never occurred to them that Jesus might be able to feed them with such pitifully small stores as what they had with them. So they made the very natural suggestion that the crowds be dismissed so that they could buy food in the neighboring towns. However, Jesus here does something quite unexpected. He tells the disciples that they should give the crowd something to eat. The word “you” in the original is quite emphatic. YOU give them something to eat. This is, of course, a test of their faith. As one of the other Gospel accounts tells us, Jesus already knew what He was going to do when he asked the question.
Now, notice something very interesting here. Jesus could have called down manna from heaven just like God did in the time of Moses. He could have snapped His fingers and there would have been food. But that is not what He did. Instead, He took what the disciples had, blessed His Father in heaven for the provision, and then multiplied what his disciples had in such a way that everyone could get fed. As the hymn has it, “Little is much when God is in it.” In fact, when you look at the leftovers, twelve large baskets full, there was more left over than what they had when they started! This is truly a miracle. Some liberals try to make it sound as though it is not a real miracle, but that what Jesus did made everyone feel generous so that they opened their own food stores, and everyone thus had enough. But that simply is not what the text says. The text tells us that it is a bona fide miracle.
There are many applications for us. Firstly, and most importantly, Jesus cares for us when all the important people in the world do not. The Herods of this world do not care for you and me. James Boice says helpfully, “Even your friends are more interested in themselves and their problems than about you and your problems. So why do you spend so much time worrying about what others think and so little time bringing your cares to Jesus?” Herod only cared for himself. Jesus cares for others. He cares for the world. He cares so much that He was willing to die for the world and shed His own blood as a sacrifice in our place. And the effect of that seemingly small amount of blood has multiplied and multiplied over the course of history until billions have been saved by it. Jesus cared for the crowd and always had time for them. He also has time for you.
Secondly, we need to know that apart from Christ we can do nothing. Again, James Boice helps us out here: “Since Jesus knew the nature of the problem and was already aware of what He was going to do, the only reason He said what He did was to impress on the disciples that they could do nothing by themselves.” What we have is a gift from God, and what we have cannot accomplish anything unless we take what we have to Jesus, just as the disciples did. This is especially relevant for us pioneers in North Dakota to consider. We are very easily tempted into thinking that we are self-sufficient, since we can do practically anything. Well, you can, at least. About all I can do is to follow directions in an assembly manual! But people who are so competent in so many areas can tend to think that they do something first, and then God blesses it. Maybe they ask God for a blessing almost like an afterthought. You get done finishing a house and say, in effect, “Oh, by the way, God, would you please bless this house?” I personally am tempted to this kind of thinking in sermon preparation. I am tempted to finish the sermon and then ask the Lord to bless it when I preach. This is all backwards. We need to ask the Lord’s blessing and guidance before we make these decisions, and before we construct our houses, and before we do anything for God.
While it is true that we can do nothing by ourselves, it is also true that Jesus is all-sufficient to help us and to turn our nothing into something. Jesus is sufficient for our every need, not just to fix all the problems we create from trying to do things our way. He is also sufficient for forgiveness, and eternal life. Is He sufficient for your every need, or do you not need Him? Those who think they do not need Jesus think they are rich, when they are in fact poor.
He doesn’t need our help, and yet He has decided to use us anyway. I remember one seminary professor making an analogy with one of his children who wanted to “help” him paint the fence. This child was six or seven. The seminary professor knew that he didn’t need his child’s help, and that his child was much more likely to contribute to chaos rather than to order. However, he included his child because he wanted the child to learn and to do something with his help. Jesus is a bit like that. He doesn’t need our help, and yet He doesn’t do much of anything in the church without using us. His sufficiency makes up for our bumbling, fumbling, clumsy, klutsy mismanagement of God’s good gifts to us.
So, Jesus cares for us. We can do nothing by ourselves. Jesus is sufficient, and yet Jesus uses us anyway. Lastly, we need to have compassion on others. Sometimes people are annoying. Sometimes they come to us at what we think is the wrong time. And yet there is still that opportunity to serve them. We need to take advantage of that opportunity. We do not always have such opportunities. They come and go. But when we see one, we need to take it. The real miracle, then, will be what we see happen as a result of God’s grace and sufficiency working through our own insufficiency. Then we will truly see God at work in miraculous ways.