Matthew 14:13-21 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 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." 16 Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." 17 "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered. 18 "Bring them here to me," he said. 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. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
In the movie, “God’s Not Dead,” two Christian pastors have a refrain that they repeat between themselves a number of times during the movie. The first pastor says, “God is good ...” The second pastor replies, “… all the time.” Then the second pastor starts, “And all the time …” the first pastor finishes, “… God is good.”
Those words are significant throughout the movie, whether the pastors’ cars keep breaking down so that they can’t go to Disney World, or a college student is put on trial by his atheist Philosophy professor, or an unbeliever is diagnosed with cancer, or a Muslim student is kicked out of her home for being converted to Christianity. From beginning to end, God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.
That refrain can certainly be seen in our sermon text. Jesus has just learned that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded at the behest of King Herod’s devious stepdaughter. So, with a heavy heart, mourning the loss of the forerunner of the Christ and wishing to be alone, Jesus withdraws by boat privately to a solitary place in the desert.
Though Jesus goes out to the wilderness to be by Himself, to a desolate place, the sheep cannot help but be drawn to the Shepherd in their midst. For the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd, and they follow Him. Giving no thought to preparations, they have to follow Him. They don’t bring a lunchbox or pack a water bottle. No sippy cups or fruit snacks or even baggies of Cheerios for the kids. They just went.
When Jesus lands and sees a large crowd, he has compassion on them and heals their sick. Even though He desires to be by Himself, Jesus does what the Son of God does. He doesn’t send them away. He doesn’t lecture them on being unprepared. He has compassion on them. He heals their sick. He cares for their hurting. He puts broken lives back together again.
As night falls along the Sea of Galilee, the disciples ask Jesus to stop and send everyone home to get a bite to eat. “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.” The disciples were sensible, and sending the people home was the sensible thing to do.
But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages!” (Mark 6:37) “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish” (Matthew 14:16).
The disciples saw all of the problems and none of the possibilities. They could estimate how many months’ wages it would cost; they could tally the measly resources on hand. Their math didn’t fail them, but their faith did.
Can we blame them? They were being reasonable; they were being practical. We do the same thing. We say, “How am I going to survive? How am I going to pay all these bills? How can I possibly take care of my children, or my parents — or both? How am I going to find time to do everything I need to do?” In other words, we focus on our supposed shortages.
Children are filled with excitement and uncertainty at starting school. You are hesitant to completely trust that God has a plan when you are behind on your mortgage payments and credit card bills. You are cautious in believing that anything good could come out of your child needing expensive braces or you being diagnosed with cancer or your parent suffering from dementia.
We are very short-sighted people. We only see what is in front of us. We have difficulty trusting the unseen, being confident of the unknown, and having hope for the future.
That’s why the Bible teaches us that faith encompasses all that trust, confidence and hope: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
We and the disciples are sensible people. We are realists, bottom-line type people. We like everything nice and orderly. No pain. No fuss. No detours. We want a plan for everything and everything fitting into our plan.
But God does not live within the boundaries of the sensible.
Look at the example of Joseph. God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery by jealous older brothers when he was 17 years old. Then he was thrown in prison by the lying, manipulative wife of Potiphar. Then he was forgotten in prison by Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer. But when he was 30 years old, God made Joseph second in command of all of Egypt. This happened so that the sons of Jacob would move to Egypt and become the nation of the children of Israel. This happened so that the children of Israel could be rescued from Egypt and returned to their Promised Land 400 years later.
Or look at the example of the apostle Paul. Throughout his ministry he was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, put on trial and imprisoned again until he died in prison. Yet God used all those events to cause Paul to move around from Philippi to Thessalonica to Corinth to Ephesus, etc. God then used Paul’s imprisonment before his death as a time when he could write epistles to all the congregations he had visited.
Jesus does not live within the boundaries of the sensible. It was not sensible to tell fishermen who had been fishing all night and caught nothing to go back out in the day when the fish went deep and try again – but Jesus did, and provided a great catch. It was not sensible to assert that a girl who had died was simply asleep – but Jesus did, and then showed it by raising her from the dead. And in the same way it was not sensible for Jesus to tell His disciples to feed a crowd of well over 5,000 hungry people: “You give them something to eat.” But Jesus did. Perhaps the disciples were getting used to that by now, as part of their continuing education, for they don’t object – they simply take what they have and give it to Jesus. Five loaves of bread and two fish. And it is enough. For anything in the hands of the Lord is always enough. And more than enough.
Where did Jesus direct His eyes? Not to a supposed shortage. Not to the small amount of food or the huge crowd. No, He looked up to heaven, and — get this—He gave thanks! Instead of complaining about a shortage, He thanked God for the blessing, and then in His miraculous power as the Son of God, He handed it over and the disciples handed it out to the people.
When there is a shortage, that is a time for God to supply abundance. When there is illness, God can provide the healing. When there is heartache, God provides the love. When there is a need, God always has a way of providing for that need.
We see from the story of Joseph and Paul and the feeding of the 5,000, that God is a big picture kind of God. We focus on the here and now. Our eternal God is looking centuries into the future. Then He works backwards to make sure that everything that is happening right now will be of benefit to His eternal kingdom in the future.
Instead of seeing our supposed shortages of blessings in this life, perhaps Jesus wants us to take a step back and take in the big picture. As those redeemed by His own blood, won’t we take the opportunity to follow the one who freed us from sin and death, and look up to Him? Won’t we see that at any time, Jesus can take a little and turn it into far more than we think is physically possible? Won’t we see the compassion of a Lord who healed the sick and fed the hungry, and recognize that His direction of our lives is filled with compassion? Won’t we give thanks for every blessing? Can’t we give thanks even if God seems to be withholding His physical blessings from us?
The bigger picture is that God not only cares for our physical needs by providing us food and work and wealth and healing, He more importantly cares for our spiritual needs. From the hands of the Lord’s servants today, Jesus continues to feed multitudes – not with bread and fish, or mere bread and wine, but with His own body and blood. He does not leave us to discover our own “spirituality,” or send us away in search of our own spiritual nourishment, but He comes to provide for our every need. And not just a morsel – enough to get by. But He gives an abundance of His forgiveness, life, and salvation. That we be filled with Him and His life.
Because the hands of Jesus that held those five loaves of bread and two fish and fed so many people, were the same hands that took the nails and wood of Calvary. The hands of your Savior, who came to provide what you need the most – the restoration of your life with God in the forgiveness of your sin. And to provide this forgiveness and restoration for not just 5 thousand or 5 million or 5 billion people – but each and every person. Every person, including you and me. Jesus ascended the cross that the sins which separate us from God be on Him and not on us. That He receive the condemnation for them and not us. That He die and not us. That taking our sin and dying our death, we live His life. Our old man dying and a new man rising. For now risen from the dead, Jesus lives to give us that life and those gifts He won for us. To continue His work, to feed and forgive and save.
That is the bigger picture. That is the picture that God always had in mind from eternity. That He would save you through His Son, Jesus. Not because it was sensible … or practical … or rational. He did it because God does not dwell within the boundaries of the sensible or practical or rational. He did it because God is good all the time and all the time God is good.
Or think of it this way: have you ever noticed that great mornings come from rough nights?
Great victories come from persistence and struggles?
Great achievements come from hard and tenacious work?
Whenever the people of God were hungry, God provided a miraculous meal.
Whenever the people of God shouted victory, it was because they had spent nights weeping before God.
If you are going through a dark tunnel where you are weak or ill or hungry like the 5,000 people gathered in that remote place, know that God is allowing this to happen not because He likes to see you suffer, but to shape you in the form of Christ.
So when you hear of Joseph’s struggles or Paul’s beatings or hungry followers or experience your own pains and persecutions, make this refrain your own: “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” Amen.