Giving Thanks and Breaking Loaves

Giving Thanks and Breaking Loaves

I want to begin this morning by asking you to think about someone you love, a friend, family member, co-worker, what have you…. Now think about why you love that person. If someone were to ask you what was so special about this person, what would you say? What attributes might you list to indicate why this individual is loveable in your eyes? Are they funny, able to make you laugh? Are they kind? Are they hard-working? Are they truthful? Those are some of the attributes that would make my list.

Well, this morning we have an opportunity to learn more about the complexity and wonder of Jesus and why we love him. So far, from our consideration of Matthew’s portrayal of him, we’ve seen:

Jesus’ tenderness as he has gone through the towns and villages “teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom[,]…healing every disease and sickness” and having compassion on the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”[1] Jesus had a heart for others.

We’ve also seen his high expectations for he teaches that our love for him must exceed not only the love we have for our family but it must exceed even the love we have for our own lives.[2] This brings to mind a quote I once read by Mother Theresa: “Sometimes I find it hard to smile at Jesus. He can be very demanding.” Indeed, he can! He’s very intentional in teaching that to be his disciples requires our full devotion—though what we give him ultimately pales in comparison with what he gives us.

And as an example of what he gives us, we’ve seen Jesus’ kindness in calling all who are weary and who labor and heavy-laden to himself for he is gentle and humble in heart and seeks to give us rest for our weary souls and to ease our heavy burden by offering us his light one.[3]

We’ve seen Jesus’ justice in using parables to demonstrate not only the reality of spiritual warfare over which he is ever victorious but also to make clear that our response to his teaching will result in either blessing for those who turn to him or cursing for those who reject him.[4] The offer is open to all who hear. The choice is ours as to whether we or not we’ll seek and receive his blessing—that is, God’s blessing, by following him.

Well, as we turn to our passage this morning, we’ll continue to see why it is that Jesus draws us to himself by his very being. It begins by noting, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (v. 13). Now though what immediately precedes this passage is a historical flashback recounting John the Baptist’s beheading, scholars agree that this event isn’t what caused Jesus to withdraw but rather it was Herod’s comment recorded at the beginning of the chapter. Jesus’ reputation—all the things he had taught and the miracles he had performed—preceded him. And so we’re told in verses 1 and 2 that Herod, who had put John to death, “heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him’” (vv. 1–2). In other words, it seems that Herod had a guilty conscience not only for having imprisoned John when he rebuked Herod for becoming involved with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, but also for having put John to death at Herodias’ request.[5] And apparently Herod’s guilty conscience led him to conclude falsely that John had returned in the person of Jesus and this is what enabled Jesus to do the miracles he did.

Well upon hearing about Herod’s response Jesus withdrew for his time to be taken had not yet arrived. Some of the other Gospel accounts additionally mention that he invited the apostles to join him after they had reported to him all that the deeds that they, too, had done.[6] But for Jesus getting away was easier said than done. When the crowds heard that he had withdrawn “by boat privately to a solitary place,” they nonetheless “followed him on foot from the towns” (v. 13). Again, his reputation as a healer preceded him and people understandably wanted to be near him.

Yet rather than seek to continue to escape from the crowds, we’re told in verse 14, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” As was his wont, Jesus put the needs of the crowd over his own desire to be alone with his inner circle of disciples. He saw their needs and he met them because he loved them. He was never too busy to care for others. He was ever giving of himself.

The disciples, on the other hand, were more pragmatic. In verse 15 we’re told, “As evening approached, [they] 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.’” And lest we too quickly conclude that the disciples were uncaring, we need to realize first, that the crowds were comprised of about 5,000 men—this is why this account from Jesus’ life is often referred to as “The Feeding of the 5000.” Yet though all four Gospels tell about Jesus’ miraculous feeding, only Matthew indicates that in this instance “men” literally means “men” and isn’t intended generically for, he adds, this number didn’t include women and children (v. 21).[7] So it’s likely that the grand total present numbered over twice this amount. That’s over 10,000 people needing food. But second, it’s also important to know that the disciples only had five loaves and two fish on them (v. 17).[8] Viewed from this perspective, sending the crowds away can be seen as being not only the practical thing to do but also the kind thing to do for evening was approaching, daylight was subsiding, and they were all gathered in a remote place, so best to send the crowds away before it got too late so that they could get some food.

Yet rather than follow the advice of his disciples, Jesus replied, verse 16, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Now this would be a mystifying instruction for how in the world could he expect the disciples to feed so many with so little food? As they pointed out to him, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish” (v. 17). But again, rather than concede the unlikelihood of being able to feed five-to-ten thousand people with such a meager amount of food, we’re told Jesus’ response beginning in verse 18: “‘18 Bring them here to me….’ 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” Have you ever wondered about the origin of saying grace—of giving thanks—before we eat a meal? This is it. Jesus took these five loaves and two fish and thanked our heavenly Father for them and then he shared what he had with all who were present.

Still, what an unusual situation this is. Can you imagine being among the 5000–10,000 hungry crowd, being asked to sit down, and then wondering—especially if you weren’t among those fortunate enough to be sitting in the first few rows—what the point of all of this was? By normal reckoning, five loaves and two fish simply wouldn’t get very far. It was enough food for two, maybe four people at best. Yet after telling his disciples to give the people something to eat (v. 16) and then giving thanks for these two meager fish and five loaves, Jesus directed them to give them to the people. And they all ate. All five thousand men plus the women plus the children ate (v. 21).

And this wasn’t a matter of each person taking a micro-bite out of concern that the next person might not get some food. No, we’re told in verse 20 that “[t]hey all ate and were satisfied.” Each person was able to have their fill. Ron and I were talking this week about what this must have been like to witness. Did the fish miraculously keep re-growing—already prepared—before their eyes? And what about the bread? Did it somehow become whole each time someone grabbed a piece? We can’t know. We’re not told. What we are told, at the end of verse 20, is that after everyone had eaten to their satisfaction, “the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” Our God is not a stingy God, but a bountiful God. He loves to lavish good things upon those who are his. As James reminds us, every good and perfect gift comes from our heavenly Father above.[9] This was true not only in New Testament Times but also in Old Testament times as God miraculously and abundantly provided manna and quail for even his grumbling and complaining people in the wilderness.[10] So, too, he now abundantly provided bread and fish for the crowds who had sought him out. And so, too, he continues to provide for those who are his for God is ever God and his bountiful nature towards those who are his remains.

Now I don’t know if this miracle from the life of Jesus was an inspiration for George Mueller (1805–1898) or not—according to one source he had read the Bible almost 200 times by the end of his life[11]—but there’s a well-known account about this evangelist and Director of the Ashley Down Orphanage in Bristol, England that is reminiscent of this story from Jesus’ life. Now you should know that Mueller didn’t believe in asking for funds for his ministry, trusting instead in prayer and the Lord provision thereby. With that in mind let me read you the following account from Mueller’s life:

The best known story involves a morning when the plates and bowls and cups were set on the tables, but there was no food or milk. The children sat waiting for breakfast while Mueller led in prayer for their daily bread.[12] A knock at the door sounded. It was the baker. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “I couldn’t sleep last night. Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast, so I got up at 2 a.m. and baked some fresh bread.” A second knock sounded. The milkman had broken down right in front of the orphanage, and he wanted to give the children his milk so he could empty his wagon and repair it.[13]

Isn’t that marvelous? Do you have this kind of faith—a faith that is willing to pray and trust God for your daily bread when there’s no bread to be found? If not, do you wish you had this kind of faith? I know I wish I did. And I’m learning. Even in the short two years or so since I’ve been serving as your pastor, I’ve been so touched to see, as Ron and I have prayed for so many of you, how the Lord works; I’ve been so touched to see the many ways our gracious Christ has met so many needs; I’ve been so touched to see to see how our kind Lord is able to sustain and encourage us even in the darkest and most difficult times in our lives; I’ve been so touched to see the many ways God is able to provide daily bread of all sorts.

Think about what Mueller—not to mention Jesus—did. Without having sufficient food to feed those who were present, Jesus nonetheless thanked God for the two fish and five loaves. Without having any food to feed those who were present, Mueller asked God for their daily bread. I find this so terribly moving, this confidence in God’s provision; this confidence in God’s goodness; this confidence that knows God is a loving and heavenly Father who desires to—and delights in—taking care of his children. And as I was reflecting upon this passage this past week, it occurred to me that what we have illustrated for us here is a vivid and real-life example of what Jesus had earlier taught his disciples—that our heavenly Father knows we have need of food and clothes and drink. And what he asks of us is to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness knowing that, being confident in the knowledge that he will provide and take care of these basic necessities of food, clothes, and drink. Again, and as we also noted last week, Jesus calls us to “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things”—food, drink, clothing—“will be given to you as well.”[14] That is what God is like. That is what Christ Jesus is like. And we must never forget that our gracious and Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit knows we have need of all these things. He may provide them supernaturally as in this morning’s account of the multiplying of the fish and the loaves. Or he may provide them serendipitously and providentially as in Mueller’s account. Or he may use you and me to provide them for one another or for others for we are called to have the same mindset and outlook as that which was Christ Jesus’.[15] As Jesus didn’t simply thank our Father but then proceeded to break the loaves and share them with others, so we are called to share what we have with those around us. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians, “1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” This is what Jesus is like. This is just one of the reasons we can love him so.

Because he was never too busy to care for the needs of others—and neither should we be.

And Jesus is tender with others. He never missed an opportunity to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven and to teach the truth about himself and to heal others—and neither should we.

And Jesus was intentional and clear—he was a good communicator—and so should we try to be.

And Jesus was kind, offering to carry our burdens as we come to him—and so should we do for others.

And Jesus was just, teaching clearly the consequences of accepting or rejecting—and so should we do.

And Jesus was compassionate, always willing to heal and care for the sick—and so should we try.

And Jesus was generous, providing more food than the crowd could have anticipated—and so should we be.

And Jesus was confident and trusted in God’s provision—and goodness—knowing that God delights in caring for us—and so should we be.

For though Jesus was the Christ, though he was the promised Messiah, though he was God in the flesh, we must never forget that he was also fully human. He was the most human person since the Fall ever to walk the face of this earth—for before the Fall and Adam and Eve were human as God intended. But unlike us who have all yielded to temptation at some point, though Jesus was tempted as we are, yet he never sinned.[16] True humanity—humanity as God intended—is sinless humanity. So in Jesus we have a perfect picture of what it means to be human, i.e., to believe in and trust and thank God at all times and to share what he’s given us with those around us at all times. All other examples of humanity because they are tainted by sin are, in a sense, less than human. They are less than God intended for his image-bearers.

But because of Christ, we can have hope. For one day, when we join our dear Jesus at the great wedding banquet[17] with all who are his, we will experience full humanity as God intended. We will all eat and be satisfied. We will no longer need to pray for our daily bread for we will be satisfied. We will no longer need to seek God’s kingdom first for we will be in God’s kingdom.

But in the meantime, in this time in which Christ’s kingdom, in which God’s kingdom has been inaugurated by King Jesus but has yet to be fully consummated, we’re called to live as he did. By sharing our time with others. By sharing our gifts with others. By sharing our experiences with others. By sharing our wisdom with others. By sharing our lives with others. For this is what he did. And he calls us to share ourselves with one another. As the chorus goes, “Oh how he loves you and me—he gave his life—what more could he give?” Jesus ever thanked our loving and heavenly Father for what he had—and then went on to share what he had with those around him. Sisters and brothers, let us similarly give thanks for and break and share our loaves with all whom he’s placed in our lives. For in so doing we will be expressing and living out why we love Jesus. In so doing we will be lifting up kind Jesus that by his Holy Spirit he might draw more to join his eternal family to the glory of our loving and heavenly Father.

Let us pray.

Hymn #349 verse 1 for closing song?


[1] Matthew 9:35–36.

[2] Matthew 10:37–39: 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

[3] Matthew 11:28–30: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

[4] Matthew 13: Parables of Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, Yeast, Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Fish in the Net.

[5] Matthew 14:3–11:Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.

[6] The Feeding of the 5000 is recorded in all four Gospels. Parallels may be found in: Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–15. Mark (vv. 30–31) and Luke (v. 10) both mention that Jesus withdrew with his apostles after they reported to him. John notes that Jesus went on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples (v. 3).

[7] Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes that Matthew “was writing to the Jews, who did not permit women and children to eat with men in public. So they were in a place by themselves.”

[8] According to John, the loaves and fish were from a small boy. John 6:8–9:Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

[9] James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

[10] See Exodus 16.

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[12] Matthew 6:11: Give us today our daily bread.

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[14] Matthew 6:33.

[15] Philippians 2:5: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

[16] Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

[17] Matthew 8:11: I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.; Revelation 19:6–9:Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

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