Matthew 14:13-21 Feeding 5,000 Families by the Power of God

by Robert Brow   Aug. 1, 1999     (

(A sermon preached at Christ Church, Cataraqui, Kingston, Ontario)

"Those who ate were five thousand men, besides women and children" (14:21).

They didn't count the women and children in those days, so at least ten thousand people "ate and were filled." And there were still twelve baskets of food left over (14:20)..

But some people think there was no miracle. They imagine people just shared what they had for the picnic. But that is a very trivial interpretation. By the end of that long day walking half way round the Sea of Galilee, with many sick people who needed healing, the people were tired and hungry. Mark's Gospel says they had nothing left to eat.

You see when the Son of God took birth, he emptied himself of divine power, and became fully man (Philippians 2:5-8). But, like us, he could draw on the creative power of God.

It was only a hundred years ago that people learned to draw on Hydro electric power for their homes. Fifty years ago we learned to harness atomic energy. And only very recently we have learned to use the awesome power of computers to change the way we do business. Every day we are learning to use more of the creative powers in our genes for healing our bodies. But of course all those powers were there long before we learned to access them.

You remember in the temptation in the wilderness Satan knew that Jesus could access the creative power of God to change inanimate matter to bread.  "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread" (Matthew 4:3).

In the feeding of the five thousand families Jesus drew on the creative power of God which is described in the first chapter of Genesis. For bread you need "plants yielding seed of every kind" (Genesis 1:12). And even the simplest wheat seed requires incredibly complex creative power.

In the creation of the simplest fish every single cell needs more computing power than in all the computers in our world. But bread and protein would be useless to us without the creative power which God built into our digestive system. For every meal every day of our lives God designed our liver to process 900 different chemical changes in the right sequence.

From that original creation God has now provided sufficient food to feed 8 billion people (that's 8,000 million) in our world every day. Every meal is an incredibly complex miracle. Admittedly some people go hungry, but that is not a lack of resources on God's part. There are the greedy who corner the market for profit and huge amounts of food are wasted and misused. But as the population increases by the billion, it looks as God has designed our planet to provide indefinitely the supply of food that is needed.

The miracle of feeding 5000 families is therefore a sign of Jesus being able, when it was needed, to access the creative power of God. By calling on that power the impossible became possible. That is why I cannot grasp the logic of experts who declare that the Son of God would be quite unable to do anything that we haven't yet figured out how to do.

Admittedly humans do not often turn water to wine, walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead, or feed 5000 families at a sitting. But, having become fully human, Jesus lived his life by the Holy Spirit to access the creative power of God. Even when ordinary humans look to the power of the Holy Spirit amazing power is released. So I am not surprised that from time to time Jesus, the Messiah, prayed and the normal natural order was transformed by the power of God.

Now let me focus on one verse that describes exactly how Jesus accessed that power. "He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the crowds" (14:19). That is exactly the five step sequence that we use in our communion services all over the world.

He first told the people to sit down (14:19). And I am glad you have come to sit down in this place. In a few minutes I will say "Let us be seated at the table of the Lord." And you remember he said "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst."

The next thing he did was to take what was offered to him. In this case it was a boy's lunch. His mother had prepared five little bread rolls and two smelt (that's the smallest kind of fish we eat in Canada). And in our communion service we can offer whatever we have. He can cope with "Lord I am a basket case, here it is." We can bring our anger, and some of you are very angry with your family, your work, those who have robbed you. Jesus is also glad to take our weakness, our worst sin, the awful mess we have made of our lives. Matthew, the writer of this Gospel says he brought his mafia tax collecting extortion business (Matthew 9:9-10). In our reading today many people brought their sick friends (14:14). Mary Magdalen brought seven devils. Whatever we bring can be transformed by the creative power of God.

Then we read "He looked up to heaven, and blessed" (14:19). The psalm writer sang "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name" (Psalm 103:1) So blessing is really giving thanks for what God has done, is doing, and will do. We can give thanks for our home and the food we eat, the situation we are in (even if it seems disastrous) and we can also bless people (even the unpleasant ones) by giving thanks for them.

When the doctor has given you medicine, take it with thanksgiving. Many people just cry out "For God's sake, help me." Try praying "God, thank you for healing and giving me life again and again in the past. Thank you that you are healing me right now. Thank you that you are going to use this medicine to heal me in the future." That kind of thanksgiving draws on the creative power of God. Medication taken with thanksgiving is a hundred times more powerful than what we receive with a grouchy heart.

The effect of thanksgiving shows immediately as a radiance on a person's face. Their body language changes. You have all seen an ugly face become strangely beautiful, so there is hope for us all ! Which is why the communion service is also called the Eucharist (the Greek word - eucharistia- means thanksgiving or gratitude). As we give thanks we go out transformed "from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Paul had certainly learned from Jesus and the early Christians the astonishing power of thanksgiving. He wrote to Timothy : "Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God's word and by prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4,5) Thanksgiving can make unpalatable food nourishing. Paul also said, "Giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20)

So in feeding the 5,000 Jesus used thanksgiving to access the creative power of God.  Another term for the communion service is "The Breaking of Bread." "He looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves."That is because bread has to be broken to be eaten. A wine bottle has to be uncorked.

You remember Mary of Bethany had to break the flask of costly perfume for the anointing of Jesus for his crucifixion. A birthday present does no good to us if we leave it on the shelf : it needs to be unwrapped. Instead of trying to hide who we are, and the dark hurts and secrets of our life, we break them open and offer them to God for his creative power to touch them in unexpected new ways..

The fifth part of our service is the giving of what we bring to the world.  "He broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were satisfied." In this service as we reenact Jesus' accessing of the creative power of God in the feeding of the five thousand families, all sorts of wonderful things begin to happen in our lives, and our families, at work, and in the community around us.

You have come here to sit with the Son of God in this church. He will take whatever you have to offer by way of weakness, sin, and failure. Join with him in his thanksgiving, and see what begins to happen in your life.

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