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“Thankful for Jesus’ Merciful Healing and Provision”

Oct.9, 2011 Mt.14:13-21


It’s easy enough to be thankful when things are going well. But it’s a test when things go wrong, or we face discouragement: can we still celebrate ‘thanksgiving’ when we feel like WE’RE the ‘turkey’, or have been taken advantage of?
    After being robbed, the Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote this in his diary: “Let me be thankful.First, because I was never robbed before.Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life.Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
    That takes a special quality to see the upside of a real downturn. The Holy Spirit active in our lives through abiding in Jesus releases grace inside us to help us discern how to be thankful even in the bad times.
    In today’s passage from Matthew 14, we see Jesus respond at what was likely a very sad and sorrowful moment in his life. V13, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” What had happened? The beginning of the chapter relates the beheading of John the Baptist - the death of a great prophet, all over an illicit marriage, a young woman’s dance, and a king’s vanity and pride, not wanting to be humiliated in front of his dinner guests. So senseless! So unjust! Now, imagine the force with which this must have hit Jesus. John the Baptist had been His forerunner, the first to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. John had had his own disciples before Jesus came along - some of whom later continued their discipleship under Jesus. It was John who had actually baptized Jesus, formally presenting Him to the Jewish faith community.
    Jesus must have held John the Baptist in very high regard. Look at how Jesus describes him in 11:9ff: a prophet; ‘more than a prophet’; God’s messenger that would prepare the way of the Messiah; one after whom the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing. All of these are showing honour toward John. In fact, Jesus says, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Wow - now that’s an accolade!
    So, when Jesus hears the news of John’s beheading, it hits Him hard. Partly because He knew John personally, and His ministry had picked up where John’s left off. But probably also because of the bigger implications: the injustice of it all. Here’s John, a relatively righteous man, boldly speaking out against immorality in the palace, and what happens to him? He gets incarcerated, then eliminated. The system was wicked. Sin had won another fight, claimed another godly life. The evilness of the forces arrayed against prophetic voices like John’s and Jesus’ was overpoweringly apparent. And, as had happened to John, so would happen to Jesus: the Baptist’s demise must have been a heart-breaking reminder to Jesus of His own looming death not far off.
    Jesus was grieving.Adjusting.He needed time and space to process all this. He needed to get away, far away from the hustle of ministry and the press of the crowds. So, when He heard the news, “He left in a boat to a remote area to be alone” (NLT).
    I point this out at the start of the passage, because it becomes the context in which God produces one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, miracle in all of Jesus’ ministry. The feeding of the 5,000 is the ONLY miracle recorded in all FOUR of the gospels (Matthew Mark Luke and John). It was such an unmistakable and outstanding demonstration of Christ’s supernatural power and sovereignty that, as John’s gospel records (Jn 6:15), after it happened, the people intended to come and make Jesus king by force. (Now, there’s a way to get yourself elected: if you can’t cut taxes, just feed the masses!)
    But note the timing: Jesus was at a supremely low spot before it happened, mourning the death of His ‘mentor’ (in a way, perhaps) and prominent fellow Kingdom-worker. Yet, this time of grief and felt need for personal withdrawal becomes the very point at which the Father crowns Jesus’ own ministry with a mighty miracle. Even our darkest moments can become occasions for God’s glory to be manifested.
    So, here’s a question for reflection here: What dark tunnel is currently bothering you? Is there room for Jesus to join you there, and make a difference?


Jesus just wanted to be by Himself; to withdraw to a private spot, find “a solitary place”. But those plans were scuttled. V13b, “Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns.When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd...” Now, just press ‘pause’ there a moment. How would you feel if that were you? Suppose you were deliberately ‘getting away’ for some personal time to resolve a recent big shock or loss, and when you get there, find a crowd waiting for you with tons of demands, crying out for you to look after THEIR needs? Would you be pleased? I don’t think I’d even get out of the boat! I’d have turned around and sailed off promptly to some other part of the lake. I mean, is there no respect for a person’s need for privacy?
    But that’s not what Jesus did. We’re told, “Jesus saw the huge crowd as He stepped from the boat, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (NLT) Amazing! Not one word of rebuke! I’d have been flipping out, and here Jesus welcomes them and proceeds to tend to their personal emergencies, one by one by one hundred by one thousand.
    This goes to the heart of who Jesus is – how He’s different from us in our fallen sinful selfishness, pride, and wilfulness. What remarkable humility and graciousness! Our pathetic condition mysteriously induces Jesus’ compassion rather than His rejection. Likewise back in 9:36 Matthew records on a similar occasion, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” To have ‘compassion’ in the Greek is literally to ‘be moved as to one’s bowels’ – as that was thought to be the seat of love and pity. You might think of it like this: when Jesus looked out at that sea of human misery and illness, it was a ‘gut-wrenching’ experience for Him. Jesus the God-man, divine love incarnate, is geared to respond to our need, our plight. In humility He sets aside His own personal needs to serve those who call on Him.
    William Cowper wrote, “Man may dismiss compassion from his heart, but God will never.” So on Thanksgiving weekend we can thank Him for having compassion when we were going under in sin and ignorance; His grace intervened to save us when we heard the Gospel and were granted faith to receive Jesus.
    A question for reflection here might be: How might pride be preventing you from ‘bothering’ Jesus with your problem? Can you trust Him to be the judge of real need? Have you experienced Jesus turning to help you, not reject you, in your weakness?


Jesus had chosen well a remote place to get away by Himself. The countryside was deserted - until the crowds came. But this meant that, as the day went on and multitudes were healed, the disciples became increasingly concerned that they had the makings of a social disaster on their hand. There were no supermarkets, no restaurants, no Tim Horton’s pit stops nearby where the thousands upon thousands of increasingly hungry peasants could buy a doughnut to stave off stomach pangs. After about 3 pm with just a few brief hours left til sunset, they approached the Master and suggested He dismiss the crowds so they could make the trek to surrounding villages in time to find food before nightfall. Besides, wouldn’t Jesus welcome the opportunity to finally have some time to Himself? He must be exhausted!
    It seemed like a very good idea at the time. But Jesus’ response must have made their jaws drop. V16, “Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away.You give them something to eat.’” In the original Greek, ‘you’ is emphatic: YOU feed them (NLT).
    Now, there’s a ridiculous idea! No way could the disciples feed this crowd. Was Jesus so burnt out - drained by healing hundreds, and emotionally toasted by John’s death - that He wasn’t thinking straight? But He had a look in His eye that hinted He meant what He said. FF Bruce comments: “No situation appears to Him desperate, no crisis unmanageable.”
    The disciples admitted they had only five loaves of bread and two fish. Not even enough of the flat barley cakes to share one each among the twelve of them. And now they were supposed to just give them away out into the crowd? What would that leave them?
    V18, Jesus said, “Bring them here to Me.” Can you trust the little you have into My sovereign care? Will you dare to let Me be Lord of the limited resources you so jealously guard - your vehicle, your gadgets, your savings ‘nest egg’, your home, your budget, that ‘resume’ you’ve been trying to beef up to make it seem like you’re really someone? Are you willing to release your children to the career I call them to, whether that be what the world calls a ‘good job’ OR relying on Kingdom resources like a missionary or other full-time Christian worker? “What’s that in your hand? Bring it here to Me.” And as Moses discovered, God could work wonders with a mere shepherd’s staff, changing it miraculously into a serpent to show His almighty power.
    A question here: What’s the ‘little’ you have that Christ is beckoning you to entrust to His use? How are you ‘holding out’ on Jesus (loaves / money / etc.)? What might He multiply if you yielded things to His control? The principle: When we commit totally to the Lord the ‘little’ we DO have, it makes room for God’s awesome supernatural power and goodness to operate. If this Thanksgiving it seems God has given you ‘little’, don’t despise what you have, or what He may make of it when you hand it over to Him. Thomas à Kempis wrote: “Be thankful, therefore, for the least benefit and thou shalt be worthy to receive greater.Let the least be unto thee even as the greatest, and let that which is of little account be unto thee even as the greatest.If the majesty of the Giver be considered, nothing that is given shall seem small and of no worth, for that is not a small thing which is given by the Most High God.”
    On this past Wednesday, a record-breaking harvest of 160 acres of soybeans north of Monkton involved over 120 combines. It’s estimated to have raised about $200,000 for hunger relief through Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which matched 4:1 by CIDA should result in about $1 million to combat world hunger. How did that start? 5 farmers got together. Now, ask ME to raise a million dollars for famine relief and I’d probably give you a blank stare! But these 5 farmers each gave the “little” they had - and God multiplied it tremendously.


In what Jesus does next, there are unmistakable echoes of the act of Communion, the Lord’s Supper. At the core of the ceremony are 4 verbs: take - bless - break - give. Now look for these in v19: “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.” Take - bless - break - give: it’s all there, like a stadium-scale foreshadowing of the sacrament of communion. And this is where the miracle starts to happen!
    Brokenness is at the heart of Christian transformation. Without repentance, no one can be saved. It’s in that relinquishment, that confession, that complete self-surrender that we become open to God’s miracle of regeneration, being ‘born anew’ from above by His Spirit.
    Is there some brokenness in your life you can offer to the Lord this thanksgiving – some failure or disappointment that needs His blessing? Can you start to give thanks for life’s rocky episodes that have broken you? While to the best of my knowledge Steve Jobs was not a believer, I found it interesting that he admitted that being fired from Apple computer was the best thing that happened to him: later when he was re-hired, he came back mellow and more mature. The ‘breaking’ of him was the ‘making’ of him. Often that’s the way God works in saving hard-hearted humans.
    A question here for prayerful consideration: What ‘brokenness’ in your life right now do you need to entrust to Jesus’ hands for blessing and surrender?


Who knows what the disciples were expecting after that? Maybe enough for the children to have a nibble - a snack to give them just enough energy to get back home? But God had a blessing waiting that went far beyond any expectations. V20, “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” They all ate - if Matthew’s estimate of 5000 men not counting women and children is the guideline (since according to Jewish culture the men would eat in public as a group, and the women and children separately as another group) - we’re talking upwards of 10-15,000 people likely! “They all ate - and were satisfied.” They didn’t go away hungry; they went away satisfied, as NLT puts it - “they all ate as much as they wanted.” (Like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord!) God’s not stingy in His blessing, not miserly. In fact how many baskets of leftover pieces were there? 12; how many disciples? 12! That number is not a coincidence – God was saying to the disciples, “You can trust Me to meet your needs as individuals.”
    The principle here: God doesn’t skimp on His grace: He supplies our needs as unique individuals, and more! Needs of daily provision - food, shelter; needs of well-being - health; social needs - families, and sisters and brothers in Christ in the church who love us and care about us. Spiritual needs - forgiveness for our sins, cleansing of guilt by the power of Jesus’ blood, eternal hope of heaven, fellowship with His Holy Spirit, guidance and precious promises through the marvelous revelation of His Word, the Bible. Take time to celebrate before your Heavenly Father all the ways His grace has blessed you!
    For reflection here: This weekend, think of some ways God’s grace has been amply shown to you; share that story with someone.
    The 17th-century minister Jeremy Taylor was persecuted for his faith. His house was plundered, his family driven out, and his estate confiscated. He wrote: “I am fallen into the hands of publicans and they have taken all from me.What now? They have not taken away my merry countenance, my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they have still left me with the providence of God, and all His promises...my hopes of Heaven, and my charity to them, too, and still I sleep and digest, I eat and drink, I read and meditate.And he that hath so many causes of joy, and so great [should never choose] to sit down upon the little handful of thorns.” Let’s pray.