The Matthew Series 37. THE GOOD SHEPHERD PROVIDES!
Story of the old couple – “You forgot the toast!”
THE FEEDING OF THE FOUR-THOUSAND Matthew 15:29-39 29Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 32Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” 33His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” 34“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” 35He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. 39After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.
Point 1: THE GOOD SHEPHERD’S PROVISION
John 10:11-14 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…’
I have really been enjoying this study over this past week. I am so moved by the tenderness that Jesus displays towards people. He’s not a weakling, or a coward. As we see from the verses in John – Jesus has the courage to lay down His life to protect His sheep. Jesus is no coward, but He is so very tender. When He’s telling His followers not to be people who worry, He uses these words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Isn’t that tender? In the week before His crucifixion, as He spends time in Jerusalem, He is overwhelmed with love and sadness and cries, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
In our passage today, we see again the tender loving-kindness of the Good Shepherd towards His flock.
First, see His loving-kindness towards them displayed in healing the sick and restoring the broken. Picture Jesus sitting on the side of a hill as hundreds or thousands of people are brought to Him, flung down before Him, and He attends to each one with wise words, gentle care, a warm touch and a miraculous healing. As He heals, He teaches: He teaches them about the Father, He teaches them about the Father’s Kingdom, and about how the Father is busy making all things right.
Second, see His loving-kindness towards them displayed in His compassion. A day and a night go by as Jesus teaches and heals, teaches and heals. Jesus is wrapped up in His ministry towards the people, and the people wrapped up in awe at His words and amazement at His miracles. Another day and night go by. The people still aren’t willing to leave Jesus, so amazed are they. But while they are yet too overawed to notice their need, Jesus sees that they are getting hungry; and He has compassion on them – splanchnizomai – He is moved to act on their behalf.
Third, see His loving-kindness towards them displayed in His making them lie down and feeding them. I was struck by verse 35: He told the crowd to sit down on the ground – anapesein – literally to lie down, or lean back. It reminds me of Psalm 23: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.
We see that the story of Jesus feeding the four-thousand is a fulfilment of Psalm 23. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and as the Good Shepherd, He lovingly perceives the needs of His flock, and tenderly provides for their needs.
Do you trust Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to lovingly perceive your need, and to tenderly provide for you? Consider your greatest need, the one that seems most impossible. Do you trust that Jesus is concerned and is able to completely provide?
Jesus cares for, and is able to provide for His sheep.
Think about the challenge you are facing, the most impossible one. Realise that the challenges in this story were big too.
Firstly, there was the GREAT crowd: 4,000 men, not counting women and children.
Secondly, there was the time: it had been THREE DAYS of little or no food. If Jesus had fed them on day one, they would have been hungry. Now they are famished: desperately hungry.
Thirdly, there was the location: They were in a REMOTE place. Sometimes Jesus would send out His disciples to borrow: as in when He sent them to find a room to borrow for the Passover, or when He sent them to borrow a colt for His ride into Jerusalem. But here there was no one to borrow or buy from.
Fourthly, they had SCANTY resources: Seven loaves and a few small fish. In fact, the disciples make their provision seem as small as possible: “Jesus, we only have a few, small, fishies.”
But have challenges ever stood in the way of God’s ability to provide?
When the Israelites came out of Egypt en masse, they were no small group. The Bible says they were 600,000 fighting men, not counting the old, the women, or the children. As was their way, they got hungry and crabby and began complaining to Moses. Moses doesn’t have a coupon for a life-time’s supply of KFC buckets, and he quickly turns to God for help. God tells Moses not to worry: He’ll provide (Numbers 11:21-22)
But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”
It was an impossible challenge, but God’s arm was not too short to reach the need of the people. God rose up a wind that drove masses of quail into their camp, till they filled the camp to about three feet above the ground. And so they had more than enough food.
This isn’t the only instance of God’s miraculous provision of food in the Old Testament. Who can forget about the Manna, with which God miraculously fed the Israelites 40 years in the desert; have you forgotten the water which supernaturally came from the rock when the people were thirsty?; how about when Elijah was supernaturally fed by ravens in the Kerith Ravine; or when the jar of flour and the jug of oil never ran out for the Widow at Zarephath; Elijah was again fed by supernatural means when an angel provided his meals for 40 days through the desert; and God provided for a widow by making the oil in her jar fill many other jars, so she would have enough and not have to lose her son to her dead husband’s creditors.
Here’s another interesting story which you probably didn’t know about. Do you know that this story of the multiplication of bread is not the first story of its kind in the Bible? Neither is the feeding of the five-thousand. In 2 Kings 4 we have a precursor to this story. Let me read it to you. (2 Kings 4:42-44)
A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God (Elisha) twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said. “How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked. But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the LORD says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’” Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.
Did you know that was in the Bible?
Anyway; each one of these stories faced enormous challenges: GREAT crowds (600,000 men!), much hunger, remote locations, and scanty or none-existent resources. That didn’t stop or hamper God’s ability to provide, even to super-over-abundantly provide!
Let’s turn again to our story.
Jesus looks at the great crowds around Him and has compassion on them. He doesn’t want to send them home because they haven’t eaten much in 3 days and it’s a long way home for many of them. So, He calls His disciples to huddle up: time to make a plan. His disciples respond the way you or I would: “What are we supposed to do about it, Jesus? All we have are these seven loaves and a few, small, fishies. How can we, poor and needy as we are, help them?”
What is more remarkable about the Disciples response is that they had just recently seen Jesus do an incredible miracle and feed more people with less resources than they now have.
Why did the disciples not just trust Jesus?
They had forgotten.
Point 2: THE DISCIPLES’ FORGETFULNESS
Before we judge the disciples too harshly, let’s think about the circumstances they found themselves in.
To you or I, all we need to do is flip one page back and read the story of the feeding of the five-thousand. To the disciples, it had been perhaps days or weeks since the feeding of the five-thousand. Much had happened since then. Often, possibly, on their journey through Tyre and Sidon, they had gone hungry. Perhaps they’d had a few days like the Sabbath day when they appeased their hunger with ears of corn plucked along the way, with Christ performing no miracle for their relief. The disciples knew that Jesus isn’t a genie – He doesn’t snap His fingers and provide a luxurious, decadent table of eats whenever the hunger comes. It had been weeks since Jesus had fed the five-thousand with five loaves and two fish. We, too, forget the miracle of yesterday.
Not only had it been some time since the feeding of the five-thousand, but also, it had been three days since this teaching/healing event had started along the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps on day one, the disciples had thought Jesus might re-create the miracle. Perhaps on day two. But by day three, perhaps the disciples saw hunger on the border of exhaustion, and thought that if Jesus were going to repeat the miracle, He would have done it already, as before.
Not only had it been weeks since the feeding of the five-thousand, and days since this gathering had started, but the disciples had even failed to understand the meaning of the first feeding! They hadn’t learnt that in feeding the five-thousand, Jesus was showing Himself to be God – Almighty, Creator, Shepherd, Healer, Saviour. They hadn’t understood. After feeding the five-thousand, sending the disciples away in a boat, and then walking to them on the water, the disciples had a wobbly. Why? Mark tells us that “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened”. They didn’t recognise Jesus for who He was yet.
Whatever the reason, the disciples had quickly forgotten the miraculous provision Jesus had given just a short while before. But they aren’t the only ones who are forgetful.
Think about this: four-thousand people fed miraculously here, on this day. Five-thousand fed miraculously then. Include women and children, and you have tens of thousands of people healed and fed through incredible, amazing miracles. HOW MANY DEFENDED CHRIST a few months later at His trial? Not a single one.
People are quick to be amazed. I did a quick study on how many people Jesus amazed in His ministry. People were amazed by His miraculous power over sickness, His miraculous power over nature – when He calmed seas or withered trees – they were amazedby His miraculous power over death and power over demons. When people saw these things, and heard His great teachings, their brains grappled to understand its implications. People’s shrivelled hands were being straightened, people’s deaf ears were being opened, dead children were being raised to life: These were almost ‘You have to see it to believe it’ moments.
In fact, there’s even the account after Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. He meets His disciples in a room, and Luke tells us, they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement. Their brains literally went tilt and refused to work anymore because of how incredible the event was that they were witnessing.
People are both quick to be amazed, and quick to forget.
Despite feeding the four-thousand, none of these were there to stand between Him – the Son of God – and the chief priests and elders at His trial.
Despite seeing Jesus walking on water and calming the sea when He stepped into the boat, the disciples ran for the hills when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus.
Despite seeing God mete out terrible plagues on the gods and people of Egypt, the Israelites quickly forgot and built a golden calf to be their god.
Despite walking to safety through the Red Sea on dry land, as God supernaturally made a way for them to live, within three days the Israelites were grumbling about thirst and making plans to head back to Egypt.
Despite seeing fire fall from heaven and consume his sacrifice in front of the hordes of Baal worshipers on Mount Carmel, just a few short days later, Elijah was afraid and fleeing for his life into the desert, telling God to just take his worthless life.
People are quick to be amazed, and quick to forget.
You and I are no different. We are quick to be amazed, and quick to forget.
Point 3: OUR FORGETFULNESS
Let me ask you; have you ever had a need so great, and a challenge so enormous, and could see absolutely no way around what you were facing? Did you cry out to God? Did He provide for you in a way that showed you that there was absolutely no way it could have come about naturally?
We’ve heard stories like that here in the Church. Someone is lying in a hospital bed being kept alive by nothing but machines which are about to be turned off. As people pray over the hopelessly lost person, their eye opens and they regain consciousness. Months later, they’re walking around like nothing ever happened. A woman is barren and has no chance of having kids, yet shortly after people start praying, she finds herself pregnant. A man is hopelessly lost in an addiction to sex and pornography, and no amount of determination for over a decade sees him free, but God takes over and the addiction is finally broken. A couple desperately need a car, but can’t afford one. No problem for God; in answer to prayer and nothing else, a car is given to them for free. A marriage is broken through infidelity and lies and has no way to be fixed. But God. A child is running headstrong into the world and headlong into hell with no signs of ever coming back. But God.
What is your story?
I don’t doubt you have one. Have you forgotten it?
We are prone to forget. Thus, we need a way to remember. In our Young Adult Bible study we have a running line: Andrew spoke months ago about writing a book full of how God had recently overcome great hurdles for him that had no other possibility of success. Now when, in answer to prayer, some great way is made where there was no way, we talk about adding it to Andrew’s book. I long for that book to be written.
We’re prone to forget. And in our forgetfulness, we’re prone to allow our hearts to wander away from God. We need some way to remind ourselves of God’s great provision.
1st Samuel (7) tells us the story of how God undertook for the Israelites in their battle against the Philistines. The great judge and prophet, Samuel, said to Israel: “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods…and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” And that’s what the Israelites did. The LORD heard their cry for help, and when the Philistines lined up to engage Israel in battle, “the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites”.
This was an IMPOSSIBLE challenge, the Israelites had no reason to expect a victory here, anything less than being wiped off the face of the earth. BUT GOD, the Good Shepherd, heard the cry of His sheep, defended His flock, and sent the wolves running.
Now Samuel, recognising our tendency to forget God’s great goodness and provision, did something that we should consider doing in our lives: Samuel set up a monument to remember. He “took a stone and set it up…He named it Ebenezer, saying ‘Thus far has the LORD helped us’.”
What is your Ebenezer?
Is it a rock that you set up in your garden, that whenever you look at it, you’re reminded of God’s awesome provision in an impossible situation? Is it a book that you’re writing all the accounts of the impossible-turned-completed obstacles you faced? Is it a wall in your room that you are covering in post-its that tell of God’s victories in your life – the miraculous provisions, the supernatural healings, the amazing empowerings? What is your Ebenezer?
You see, you and I don’t need to live as the disciples did – quickly forgetting God’s provision, quickly falling into fear over the next challenge we face. We can walk from one challenge to the next in confidence, like one who has faced a thousand battles before and overcome, unafraid of this little challenge because we have learnt without a shadow of a doubt: MY GOD IS BIGGER THAN THIS – HE WAS YESTERDAY, AND HE WILL BE TODAY AS WELL. You and I can OBEY God today, and walk in full TRUST of God tomorrow, as we REMEMBER what He did yesterday.
Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by thy help I’m come And I hope, by thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home,
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love, Here’s my heart. O take and seal it; Seal it for thy courts above.