Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. -- Matthew 14: 22-23 (NLT)
The feeding of the five thousand. The only miracle other than the resurrection which is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. Since the counted number of five thousand did not take women and children into consideration, most Biblical scholars agree the true number fed that day exceeded 10,000 people. All with five loaves of bread and two fish. After all had their full, there were still 12 baskets of leftovers teaching us that when God does a miracle there will be an overflow we cannot imagine! There is so much theology within this one account but today I want to focus on what happened after the miracle. I think that sometimes in modern Christendom we tend to move on too quickly. We do not appreciate what has truly happened when God pours out a miracle in our lives. When the doctors report is proven wrong by the report of the Lord. When the oil refuses to run out in the middle of our own financial crisis. Even the daily miracles we take for granted. When our kids return home safely. When we maintain a good job in a bad economy while those around us are struggling. When we live quiet lives marked with the peace of God, while the world continues to deteriorate around us. Miracle after miracle God performs in our lives yet all we do seemingly is want more. Modern Christianity has devolved into a "bless me" theology that rudely forgets all God has done while petulantly expecting what we do not deserve and becoming offended when we do not receive. That is how something as plainly heretical as the Circle Maker rises to the top of the Christian book sales. We have turned the Almighty into a spiritual ATM where we expect to be able to make withdrawals at our leisure and pleasure and when they don't come because of our own disobedience or lack of reverence we think we can just draw a circle in the sand and defy the Living God until He meets our demands. What does the Bible say?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 4: 6-7 (NIV)
Note the two very important words here -- "with thanksgiving." The NLT Version says "thanking God for all he has done." It is difficult to experience the peace of God if you are not thankful for everything He has already done in your life. If we are constantly looking for the next blessing before we even appreciate the last one. I said once in a sermon that blessings are not things we look forward to receiving but rather those things that we are already thankful for having. God is not the luxury penthouse apartment in a skyscraper -- He is the foundation that ensures it stays standing.
I see two distinct lessons with the Gospel accounts of feeding of the 5000 based upon how Jesus reacted. The first is found in the key verses above. What does Jesus do? He sends everyone home and goes alone to pray. No disciples and no distractions. When God pours out the miraculous in our lives we need to get by ourselves and get close to God. Now, I recognize that sounds pretty basic but how many of us actually do this as a practice when God pours out His blessings into our lives? Why is it that God included the "with thanksgiving" in those verses about the transcendent peace of God? Because it is the thankfulness that protects us from a few things. First of all, it protects us from the lies of the devil. Life is a series of ups and downs. Mountaintops and valleys. It is in the valley though that the devil works overtime trying to turn you against God. Trying to convince you that God has forgotten you. Being thankful also protects us from fear because we will remember all God has already done in our lives in similar circumstances. Why was David so willing to face Goliath?
But David persisted. "I have been taking care of my father's sheep and goats," he said. "When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I'll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!" -- 1Samuel 17: 34-37 (NLT)
David new that his circumstances were irrelevant to the God he served. Lastly, being thankful protects us from petulance before a God we are supposed to approach with reverence. You can draw all the circles you want -- you are not changing God's will! Do we truly understand what God has done for us when He allowed His only Son to be crucified? Have we grasped the infinite blessing He has already given us? To have our sins forgiven? To have our names written in the Lambs Book of Life? If He gives us nothing else beloved He has already given us everything we could have dreamt of and did not deserve. And He did this for us while we were still living in complete rebellion to Him! Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;
I will tell of all Your wonders.
I will be glad and exult in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. -- Psalm 9: 1-2 (NASB)
Do we give thanks to the Lord with all of our heart or is it just lip service and let's move on to the next miracle I want? Do we share the wonders that He continuously does in our lives with others? Do we find gladness within our exultation of the God we serve? These are questions we need to ask ourselves today. When God feeds the 5000 in our lives do we spend time with Him alone and thank Him? Or do start planning the feeding of the 4000 before the 12 baskets of leftovers are even gone? Jesus went to pray after this miracle. And He also did so alone. There are definitely advantages to being in a corporate church body. We are not supposed to forsake the fellowship of the brethren. The Bible says that two is better than one. But there is advantage also in going to God alone in prayer. I think sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that our church life is our walk with God and that is not the case. Our service unto God is found in our church life. Our Martha is found in our church life. But our Mary can only be found by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Prayer meetings and church services are very important but our own personal walk is even more important because Jesus said that Mary has chosen the better thing! Look at the key verses. Jesus could have gone back to His disciples and prayed with them. This was an awesome teaching moment, no? But Jesus number one relationship was always with the Father and so should ours. There would be plenty of time for the disciples but for now -- it was time to get with God because He just poured out one heck of a miracle!
When was the last time we did a miracle inventory in our lives? When was the last time we thanked Him for our children and families? When was the last time we thanked Him for our church and our Pastor? For our job and sustenance? For our health and the health of our family? For the report cards from the kids? For the car that still works? For the eternal life we now live? For the blessed assurance we have? For not being where we once were! It may be time to get alone and get with God. It may be time to thank Him for the miracles we have already received. Many say that prayer has turned into a whine list when it should be a thank you list. Please, do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with laying our petitions before God and asking Him for the desires of our heart. Thanksgiving however should come first. The thankful heart petitions without demanding. The thankful heart doesn't need to draw circles in the sand because it understands the sovereignty of God and that when God says "no" -- that is a blessing to be thankful for as well! He knows best -- not us. The second lesson I see in the reaction of Jesus to the miracle of feeding the 5000 is found in the Gospel of John:
Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don't be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval." -- John 6: 26-27 (NLT)
John's Gospel tells us that the crowd sought Jesus again the day after the miracle. Jesus decides to take them deeper and weed out those who were only there for the show. The lesson for us today is also to go deeper into the things of God if we are to expect deeper miracles. The deeper lesson is that as difficult as it may be we are to focus on the Miracle Maker -- not the miracle itself. Look at these verses. Jesus calls them out -- "You want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs." What a powerful challenge for us today as well! Why do we want to be with Christ? Why do we get up on Sundays and trek to church? Why do we serve in ministries or pay our tithes? Are we there to be entertained? Are we there to have our ears tickled by a smooth sounding preacher? Are we there to feel a little bit better about ourselves? Are we there out of duty and obligation? Once again, too many modern theologies push the bless me perspective where people are turning out because they want something (blessing) from God instead of turning out because they have received something already (blessing).
What proceeds next in this story is Jesus taking the crowd deeper and deeper into the things of Christ. He starts by explaining that they should not be chasing perishable things such as food but should be motivated by enduring factors such eternal life. That their focus is in the wrong place. How much of modern churchianity needs a new focus. We have our focus on secular leadership principles, earthly prosperity, and gimmicky worship instead of on the one true God. Jesus teaches us:
"So don't worry about these things, saying, "What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. -- Matthew 6: 31-33 (NLT)
What are we seeking? That is essentially what Jesus is asking this crowd. Are you seeking the bread I gave you yesterday? The crowd then actually says this to Jesus:
They answered, "Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? -- John 6: 30 (NLT)
What can you do? Show us a miraculous sign? He just fed them the day before with a schoolboy's lunch! What more do they want? Jesus has said that only an evil and adulterous generation would ask for a miraculous sign. The kingdom of God is all around us. Miracles occur every single day if we would use the eyes God has given us. Yet still we can sit there like this crowd waiting for the next miracle. Or worst, demanding the next miracle. Jesus has had enough at this point and takes them deeper by explain that He is in fact the Bread of Life. That didn't go over so well:
Then the people began to murmur in disagreement because he had said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They said, "Isn't this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. How can he say, "I came down from heaven'?" -- John 6: 41-42 (NLT)
The harder the teaching became the more human reasoning they sought to discount it. As it was so it still goes today. We too can be fine when the 5000 are being fed but don't teach me the hard stuff. Give me more of that miracle water. Give me more of the grace alone, love wins, this is my best life now theology because I just want to draw circles in the sand until I get what I want. Don't talk to me about sin and repentance -- judge not! Don't talk to me about the blood and the cross -- you want my tithe don't you? Don't talk to me about false conversions because the truth is I want to continue to live like hell while pretending I am on my way to heaven. Jesus decides to go even deeper and flush out the people who just wanted the show. He tells them that they must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood in order to have eternal life. That leads to one of the saddest verses in the Bible:
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. -- John 6: 66-(NLT)
How many in the post-Gospel church have essentially done just this as well. I saw a preacher once correctly state that the reason that a Joel Osteen can be so successful is because the people demand him. It is what the people want. They do not want to focus on the things that lead to eternal life. They want their ears scratched:
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. -- 2Timothy 4: 3-4 (NLT)
They will look for teachers who will tell them what they want to hear beloved. And looking they are. Everyone wants the miracle but not everyone wants the deeper things of Christ. Not everyone wants the relationship because relationships are work. They take time and effort. At this point, Jesus watches those that claimed to be followers walk away and He turns to the 12 and asks them if they too will leave. Finally, someone answers correctly:
Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God." -- John 6: 68-69 (NLT)
I am dumbfounded at times with my agnostic friends. I do not understand how you can believe in God yet not care what He might think or want. Yet inside the halls of the church the offense is even more egregious. How can you know and taste the truth yet surround yourself with leaven? How can you understand that only Christ sets you free and then willingly shackle yourself to false teachings and doctrines? How are we so easily fooled? Because when the really hard teaching comes we walk away. As we close today I want us to better appreciate the miracles God does in our lives. I think if we want to see them, they are there every single day. When we start to appreciate what God has done then we shift our perspective from the flawed "bless me" understanding to the correct "I am blessed" understanding. Then when God showers even more blessing upon us we can react as Jesus did here and seek God even more. To desire to know the deeper things of God even if they cost us something. We are "saving" a generation of saints who have things backwards. We are essentially teaching that we can hold onto who we were and simply add Christ to it. Instead we should be teaching that in order to come to Christ we must crucify who we were. Then we will not walk away when the teaching gets tough. Even though there are prosperity hucksters, self help gurus, motivational speakers, and a plethora of false teachers to choose from who are just waiting to scratch our ears, we too like Peter before us will turn to Jesus and say -- "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God." Amen and amen.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- January 17, 2013