YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT
Key Verse 14:16
“Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’”
Chapter 13 was a chapter of secrets all about the kingdom of God. If you missed this chapter and its secrets, you missed the way to heaven— literally. Jesus sat down and spoke for hours about the kingdom of God. He explained in details what the kingdom of God is about. He described it in such details that no one in heaven or no earth had ever before done so. And he described it in such a way that even the local farmer and baker and butcher could understand it. He spoke in parable form, a form like stories to make it interesting and easy to remember so that those who hear it would never forget what they heard. He spoke like that so that they might go back home and retell the story of the kingdom of God to their children and friends and neighbors, and so that they in turn can do the same. Jesus told such vivid stories about the kingdom that when people heard they were riveted to their seats and hungry for more. The stories Jesus told about the kingdom of God spoke of what the kingdom of God was like. They spoke of a kingdom unlike anything people had ever heard of or imagined. The kingdom of God was not some place people might go to when they die. The kingdom of God is here and now! It is invisible unlike the kingdoms of the world; It is a power beyond any power known to men; It is an unstoppable influence, once it starts it will spread until it consummates the whole world; And it has a life of its own! When one seed is planted, it breaks forth to everlasting life. And that everlasting life is the gateway to heaven. And the seed is the very word of God which falls on the human heart. If only that human heart would just receive it, believe it, accept it, cherish it and embrace it! But all these things were hidden from the people. Jesus didn’t explain these things to those whom he told the parables to. (13:34-35) He only explained them to his disciples because asked him to explain them. (36) If you want to understand the Bible and learn the secrets of the kingdom of God, you will need to study the Bible. You will need to give your heart to the word of God, pour yourself into it, because the kingdom of God is a treasure beyond our imagining.
Look at verse 51. We now need to pay close attention to the striking question our Lord Jesus winds up the seven wonderful parables of chapter 13. Look what he asks his disciples: “Have you understood all these things?” Have you understood these things? This question reminds me of Jesus’ question to Martha: “Do you believe this”? And what this is, is none other than personal application! And it aims at the heart of anything that we hear— when we listen to the word of God, whether we are reading or studying or listening to a sermon! Have you understood all these things, Jesus asked? Any teaching without that personal application is like mailing a letter without an address. It may be one of the most wonderful letters ever written, the contents vital or even deeply moving, and signed by the greatest of people. But the letter is now useless because it will never reach its destination. Our Lord Jesus’ question is truly a glorious example of what real heart searching and personal application is all about: “Have you understood all these things”?
What is the use of hearing the word of God unless you truly understand what it means? And how can you understand what it means if you are not listening? And how can listen if your heart is not in it? Some come to church to socialize. Others come to Bible study because they are expected to. Others come to make a show of it. The world is full of people who never listen to a word of what is being said, and even when they are listening, they have no intention of applying what they hear into their personal lives. Jesus’ question is sharp: “Have you understood all these things?” Have they reached your heart? Have they made their home there? Have they so affected you that you are moved by them to change your life, your habits, your way of thinking, your plans, your outlook, your attitude, your very self in order to abide by them? Have you understood all these things? Have you been listening? Otherwise, you might as well have been listening to the blowing of a trumpet or better yet, you might as well be listening to a sermon delivered to you in some other language. It is your heart that must be moved by the word of God. And it is your heart that must also carry and nurture the seed of the word of God— an encouragement, an inspiration, a repentance, a hope, a deliverance, a response to God’s call to a task he has set upon your heart which you have been avoiding. Your conscience must always be on alert, your mind always made to listen and your heart always made to respond. So many Christians lack the personal application, this heart searching that Jesus here calls us to do. So many go to church these days and think they have done their duty. But they never receive any impression on their hearts from the word of God. If you ask them what they learned, they cannot remember even one word. But those who do listen, become stewards of the kingdom like Jesus’ disciples. (51-52)
Look at verses 53-58. Jesus then moved on to his own hometown, the place where he had spent years among the people he had grown up with; people whom he had known and who had known him. And as usual Jesus gave himself to teaching the Bible. And what do you think their reaction was? Matthew tells us they were all amazed! We wonder what they were amazed at though. Had they been amazed at the beauty and the depth of the teaching, a teaching that had so deeply moved their hearts that they couldn’t but see the glory of God in it! Had they been so amazed that they were cut to the heart and moved to repentance? Had the seeds of the kingdom of God been planted so deep in their hearts that were now ready to obey and follow the Lord of glory in the way of truth? I don’t think so! The fact that people are usually amazed and impressed by a teaching doesn’t usually mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything unless it has genuinely made an impression on their heart; unless it has cut to the root of their pride and humbled their soul enough to recognize how sinful it is and how desperately they need God’s mercy. These people were amazed but for the wrong reason. Matthew tells us that they were amazed because they were offended that Jesus who had grown up among them dared to give them the word of God. But what does it matter who gives us the word of God! Should we not receive it even if it given from the lips of infants? Yes these people had seen Jesus grow up among them. He was one of them. He wasn’t educated in a famous institution. Still, no one could deny that the hand of God was upon him, working in and through him. But pride is a terrible thing in the human heart. Pride shuts the heart even to the truth of God and hinders it from receiving the one thing that God would give it— mercy. It was out of his great mercy that Jesus visited his own hometown. And when mercy visited them, they despised it. I wonder sometimes if we are able to recognize mercy when it visits us!
Let’s read verse 57b. “But Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’” This wasn’t some philosophy for us to study and analyze, or a new teaching Jesus was giving us; it was simply a truth which Jesus was stating. Of course, Jesus knew how they would respond to his teaching. But it didn’t stop him from going to his hometown to teach them the truth. And he wasn’t discouraged when they refused to listen or when they rejected him. Why? Well, he had a conviction that he was sent by God to serve the gospel to everyone, even at home in the heart of a hostile territory where he and the gospel weren’t particularly welcomed. He also loved them in spite of their rejection and longed for them to humble themselves and receive the word of God into their hearts. Simply, he was eager to give them life. Verse 58 says: “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” And there’s the trouble! That was their downfall! They had no faith! That’s what usually happens when there is no faith. When and where there’s no faith, there is no work of God. And where there is no work of God, there’s no life; there’s only death. Hearts and lives grow worse until they shrivel and die. On the other hand, where there’s faith, the Lord of mercy is there with his mercy and blessing. And where there’s his blessing, there’s life abundant.
Look at Matt 14:1-12. They tell us something about the condition of the times. The times were such that the seed of God’s word surely fell on hardened hearts. One such hardened heart was King Herod who killed John the Baptist for speaking the truth of God. And when Jesus heard what had happened to his cousin and coworker, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Jesus should have been angry and vengeful about this incident. Maybe even a little despaired! But instead we know that Jesus never resorted to such emotions at all. He went to pray. In a crisis like this Jesus did what any man of God could do, pray and receive the comfort and strength one needs at a time like this from God. And God strengthened him.
Look at verse 13. When Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to seek God’s peace at a time like this, the crowds followed him. They followed him with more than usual demands and totally insensitive to his own need to be alone at this time. Actually we can say that they had come at the worst possible time. How would anyone respond to them? Read verse 14. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” It’s truly amazing how Jesus felt; it’s amazing what Jesus did! Jesus had compassion on them; Jesus healed their sick. This is our precious Lord, full of mercy and compassion. He tended to their needs and healed their sick probably one by one. At the time, John’s life was lost to the cruel and immoral king Herod. Jesus could have drowned in sorrow and lamented over that life for a long time. But instead of dwelling on the one lost life, our Lord Jesus turned his heart to the many suffering people to give them life. They may have not been the nicest people on earth. Among them there must have been some who’s hearts were unthankful, rebellious, despaired, burdened and troubled by many things which made them rejects and misfits. In other words, they weren’t easy to embrace and to show compassion to. But Jesus showed compassion to them anyway and healed them. Compassion is a wonderful thing to learn from the Lord. Compassion isn’t pity. Compassion connects your heart to the heart of someone who’s suffering and makes you want to help them and relieve their suffering. Compassion rises to the level of love. But it’s not something that’s inborn in us. It’s actually something we learn. We learn it from Jesus as we study the Bible and make up our mind to learn his way of doing things. Then, compassion begins to grow in our hearts as we decide to practice it on others as Jesus himself did.
Let’s see how the disciples saw this crowd? Look at verse 15. “As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’” Let’s think about this for a moment. Jesus’ disciples were moved by Jesus’ shepherd heart for the crowd. But at the same time, they were probably exhausted too. They may have also been a tad upset that there were no breaks at all in serving this large crowd. These disciples really had no time to rest at all day. Suddenly they had this brilliant idea! “Send them away so they can get some food and have strength to come back tomorrow.” It was really a good and reasonable suggestion. It was also a very considerate suggestion on their part. They had done their best for the crowd. They’d reached their limit. But the way that Jesus saw their suggestion was completely different. He saw it first as a way of escape from their responsibility for the crowd. Jesus also saw this as a good opportunity to teach them something about what shepherd life is all about. And one more thing, he wanted to also teach them something about how to do the impossible work of God.
So how did Jesus help them? Read verse 16. “Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’” First of all, Jesus saw the crowd as sheep without a shepherd. They were helpless and needed a shepherd with them all the time. They need not be sent off to take care of their own needs. Their needs ought to be taken care of by the Shepherd. He himself was ready to take care of their own needs. And this burden of responsibility would fall on those who follow and serve the Shepherd— his disciples. Why is it then that Jesus placed the burden of such great responsibility on his disciples? How could the disciples possibly supply the needs of this crowd, when they themselves had little or nothing left to give?
Jesus knew that his disciples couldn’t possibly supply this crowd with all the food they need to eat. But Jesus wanted them to be responsible for the crowd’s needs anyway— whether they had the means to do it or not. Why? Because Jesus called them from the start to be the shepherds of God’s sheep, to walk in his footsteps. Jesus considered them shepherds from the start. And to Jesus, leadership has nothing to do with whether one has means or not. To Jesus, leadership is just a matter of responsibility! Without a sense of responsibility, no one can serve the work of God. For the most part there are two kinds of persons in the world. There are those who have no sense of responsibility, especially the responsibility towards others; these are useless when it comes to being responsible towards others, because their main concern and responsibility seems to be to themselves. Then there’s the other kind of people and they are those who develop a sense of responsibility, especially a responsibility towards others; And that sense of responsibility usually comes mainly from their sense of gratitude towards God’s grace to them— the God who loved them and who showed them undeserved mercy in their lives in their times of need. When they are counseled in the word of God and introduced to the shepherd life, they quickly take up the mantle of the shepherd life, taking up responsibility as a shepherd, as a teacher, as a servant, as a coworker with Christ Jesus in the enormous mission field of kingdom work. Responsibility comes with calling in a disciple’s life. A disciple without responsibility towards the work of God and God’s sheep is a useless disciple. Therefore, responsibility has nothing to do with whether one has the means to be responsible or not. It has everything to do with whether you have a sense of God’s grace in your life or not. Jesus challenged them to see if they had grown in a sense of responsibility— if they had it within them. We grow in a sense of responsibility when we begin to acknowledge the grace, mercy and compassion of God for us.
Those who have tasted or known the grace, mercy and compassion of God for them and for others, have embraced responsibility for the forsaken of this world. We don’t need any means to take responsibility for the welfare of others, especially the spiritual welfare of others. We only need a sense of responsibility, a compassionate heart that knows the grace of God. When Jesus counseled his disciples to take personal responsibility for the crowd, he knew they had no means to provide for this huge crowd. But Jesus did not want them to despair and give up because the situation before them was impossible. What Jesus wanted them to have was faith. In other words, Jesus wanted them to take up the responsibility by faith. Decide to embrace the crowd with faith in God who never lets you down and who always provides the means to serve him— when you take up the responsibility. Jesus knew well enough that none of them can do anything to feed he crowd. But God can and does! We need to learn this faith! The work of God does not depend on you and me— whether we can or cannot do it— whether we have the means and ability or not! But the work of God is always by faith. By faith means God does it through your faith. Faith is everything! Faith is the power of God that works in our hearts to do something impossible. Faith is the path to cross over from what is impossible to what is possible. We really only need faith.
There is something else. We also need to always experience the work of faith! That is, we need to serve God with our bear hands, with nothing but faith! And that’s exactly what Jesus did to help his disciples in this situation. He helped them find a starting point of faith in an impossible situation? Look at verse 17. The disciples said, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” It was a terribly small amount to distribute among a large crowd of people. But it was the starting point of their faith. It was humanly ridiculous and insignificant. But it was really all that Jesus wanted from them. It was really all they needed. And it’s usually all he wants from anyone of us. It was their meager offering and he accepted their 5 loaves and 2 fish. And Jesus blessed it. In reality he was blessing their faith. And with this faith Jesus was able to do the work of God which was the feeding of the five thousand that day. The work of God could be something else on another day, and their faith would be something small again, like a mustard seed. But it too would move mountains and do the impossible work of God when God blesses it. On that day, their small faith was enough to do the great work of God. (18-21)
May God help us to be responsible and faith filled Bible teachers and shepherds to give his flock something to eat— to serve them until they grow to be disciples of Jesus. May God bless you to offer and use your 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed his people all over the world. May God really revive this ministry and make it a world mission center again by your faith. Amen.