Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Enormous Miracles, All in a Day's Work: Matthew 14:15-36

Feeding the 5,000
15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."
16 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!"
17 They said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish."
18 And He said, "Bring them here to Me."
19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them toward the crowds,
20 and they all ate and were satisfied.  They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.
21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.
Let's do a speedy review of where we left off since it's been a little while since we've been in Matthew (my fault - sorry!).  Jesus was exhausted and emotionallly distraught over his cousin getting executed, yet when he saw how much the crowds were in need of Him, He had compassion on them and chose to minister to them.
*That* is why is the disciples' reaction here can be considered not just "a human reaction," but in this case, a moral mistake.  Yes, it is perfectly natural to become exhausted (as they surely were) and think "logically" or "practically" and assume that the crowds were hungry, so it was time to get everything moving.  BUT, not only had they already witnessed Jesus perform amazing miracles, but they had *just* seen Him exhibit a superhuman degree of love toward the people.  In this case, telling their Teacher that it was a bad time to hang out with the crowds was second-guessing Him - a lack of faith.  Worsening the situation is the fact that, as we learn in John 6:8-9, the bread and fish were donated by a little boy - presumably what his mother had packed him for his meal.  This means that the boy had enough faith to believe that Jesus could truly do something with it, and he was willing to sacrifice his own comfort - both things that the disciples lacked.  This is a poignant example of how we shouldn't assume that those of high religious respect (the disciples then, or clergy, seminary graduates, etc. today) are more godly or spiritually mature, or have more faith, than even the lowliest of believers.  But at the same time, no matter how poorly the disciples are doing in this story so far, it still stands that Jesus chose *them* to be His closest followers - which is wonderful news for us, because we can rest assured that no matter how often or how badly we screw up, God still loves us and craves an intimate relationship with us.
Here's another critical thing to notice about this passage:  Jesus instructed them to do something for Him (feed the crowds), but they were unable to do it by themselves (they only had a bit of bread and fish).  So, He did everything they couldn't do for them (miraculously multiplied the food), then provided that for them to carry out His original instructions (He had them pass out the multiplied food).  In just the same way, if God tells you to do something, but it seems impossible, I can guarantee that He will provide a way for you to do it.
Finally, let's talk about the fact that there were 12 baskets left over.  I don't put too much weight into Biblical numerology because I believe some groups overdo it to their own doctrinal detriment, but in some cases I think it entirely appropriate, including here.  Sometimes, numbers in Scripture are symbolic.  In this story, I see two possibilities - maybe one's true, maybe they're both wrong, maybe they're both right.  I'm speculating; judge for yourself. :-)  One possibility is that the 12 baskets represent the twelve tribes of Israel, thereby demonstrating a completeness in God's care for and protection of Israel.  In Jesus's day, Israel was suffering greatly under Roman rule and felt quite abandoned by God, so if the people saw the 12 baskets and interpreted it that way, it would have been very impactful.  This would also fit with a prophetic promise of God never abandoning Israel; even though the Church is made mostly up of Gentiles (non-Jews today), Israel is still God's people, and prettymuch the whole point of the End Times is to draw Israel back to Him...so, yes, Israel is very important.  Another possibility is that the 12 baskets represent the twelve disciples.  Since they had just exhibited a lack of faith in Him, it seems to me that witnessing the huge crowd be fed, and then each having an entire basket left over would be an image they wouldn't soon forget, causing the lesson to stick in their minds longer.

P.S. I personally know two people who the above story - food multiplying miraculously - has actually happened.  God still works today.
Walking on the Sea
22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.
23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
24 But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.
26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!"  And they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."
28 Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."
29 And He said, "Come!"  And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
31 Imediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
33 And those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!"
34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennasaret.
35 And when teh men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick;
36 and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.
When we transition to this account, we see that Jesus, at this point, does send the crowds away - so He can go off and pray.  Although we shouldn't get so focused in on our own emotional/spiritual states that we shove everyone out of our lives (like refusing to help someone because you scheduled that time for Bible study - because, in truth, that's wholly counterproductive in getting close to God!), we also need to be careful not to get so burned out from ministry that our own walks with Christ suffer.  I believe with every fiber of my being that this is one of the primary arrows in Satan's quiver.
I also find it a bit humorous that (as far as we know) the disciples didn't question Jesus's insistence on doing something they thought odd (staying behind) this time.  They had short-term memories when it came to God's power, just as we all do, but at least the lasted a few hours, lol. ;-)
This is one of my absolute favorite stories in the entire Bible because I'm obsessed with the power of water, so to have a God who conquers that amazes me.  If you've been around the ocean or a waterfull or a giant outdoor fountain, you know what I'm talking about. :-)  But beyond that, Matthew's account of this event is my favorite because it's the only one that mentions Peter's excursion out of the boat.  I love this because it's where we fit into the story - it's a symbol of the entire Christian walk.  And it always makes me wonder...Did Jesus wait on the mountain and arrange this whole situation *just* so Peter, one man, could have this personal experience?
Okay, so what's the deal with Peter asking Jesus that if it's Him, to command him to come out?  I mean, what kind of test is that - if it wasn't Jesus, couldn't the ghost they thought it was just lie and tell him to come out?  Well, what I think is going on is is Peter knows that the voice of God is POWERFUL, and that ever fiber of his being will recognize it as the very voice of the Almighty.  It's kind of like in Ezekiel 1:28-2:2 when Ezekiel can do nothing but fall on his face at the vision of the Father in His glory, but the Spirit enters him and literally pulls him to his feet - he has no choice in the matter, God is *that* overwhelming.  Just the same, I think Peter knew he would absolutely, completely overwhelmed by the voice of God and automatically climb out of the boat and walk toward Him.  So, is this a way to "test" if the figure was indeed Jesus?  Yes.  Was it also a reaction from deep, deep within his soul to seeing God Himself conquering this storm, stirring up un-squelchable yearnings to just be with the God of the universe?  I think that's definitely it, too!
Peter's short stroll on the waves is a great picture of our Christian walks.  So often, it seems we hit the peaks in our walk where we're all gung-ho and take off running.  But then...we get scared and lose faith.  We get bogged down by spiritual warfare, or distracted by sin, or afraid of what other people think will think of us, or afraid of financial issues, or afraid of even physical retaliation, or whatever.  But the irony is, we still believe in God's power, and while we are doubting, we cry out for Him to save us - just as Peter did.  The moment he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves (lesson there!), he lacked the faith to keep walking forward - but he still held faith in God's power to save him.  It's an entirely illogical paradox, but we all do it.  It's like in Mark 9:24 when the man proclaims, "I do believe; help my unbelief!" 
So what's Jesus's response?  "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"  From what we know of Jesus's character, I seriously doubt He said that with anger.  Instead, I hear Him saying it very softly and kindly.  He's not reprimanding Peter here, He's gently pointing out the logical flaw we just discussed.  Frankly, I think His point is powerful enough by itself that it doesn't need angry emphasis.  Also notice that Peter didn't have to reach for Jesus - he just called out for Jesus's help, and Jesus extended His hand and grabbed hold of Peter.  God wants to save us, and wants to help us along our walk - we don't have to flail about to get His attention.  He's already there.
Finally, let's touch on the healings that went on after they got to the other side.  First of all, if Jesus was exhausted before - and then prayed and walked across a stormy lake - He definitely is now - yet, once agian, He ministers to the crowd despite that.  Second, this is the third set of major miracles in one day - feed the 5,000, walk on the sea, heal a bunch of people.  Yeah, our God rocks. :-)  Third, I wanted to clarify something.  Jesus's cloak was not "magic."  These people wanted to touch His cloak out of reverence - they felt unworthy to make actual contact with the Messiah Himself.  Touching the cloak healed them not because of anything inherent to the cloak, but as a reward for their faith.
Got a question?  Think of something I missed?  Leave a comment below. :-)
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: Christ Feeding the Multitude, artist unknown.  Wikipedia.  {{PD-1923}} Public domain in the United States.
Image Number Two: Walking on Water, by Ivan Aivazovsky.  Wikipedia.  {{PD-1923}} Public domain in the United States.

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