August 2, 2020

Message for August 2, 2020- “The Miraculous Truth!”

(From Matthew 14: 13-21)

   There is only one miracle story about Jesus that is recorded in all four of the Gospels—it is the miracle story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 people in the desert.  Each of the Gospel authors considered this miracle story to be a critical component of their own message about the life and ministry of Jesus. Why do you think that this story was such a powerful one for the Gospel authors?  Certainly, Jesus performed many wonderful healing miracles that were not recorded by all four of the Gospel authors.  What, then, is so special about this particular miracle of Jesus?

   The author of the Gospel of Matthew is widely assumed to be the Tax Collector Matthew, whom Jesus called to become one of his Disciples.  Matthew, also called Levi in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, was a Tax Collector, one of the most loathed of professions within the ancient Jewish tradition. The proof of this is found in the Gospel of Mark Chapter 2.  It records Jesus as going to Matthew’s house for dinner after he called Matthew to follow him.  When the Pharisees learned that Jesus had done this, they rebuked him, asking “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus replied.  Thus, Matthew the tax collector was taken into the inner circle of Jesus’ Disciples.

     I suspect that the irony of his situation was not lost on Matthew. He was given a second chance at life—a rich new life in Jesus.  He had the opportunity to experience first-hand the miracles Jesus performed in his ministry of compassion and healing.  Matthew became personally convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah of God foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Matthew’s Gospel was written to those of Jewish tradition and faith, in order to convince them to draw this same conclusion about who Jesus truly was.  He included the miracle story about Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 people as an integral component of his portfolio of convincing evidence.  Let us now explore this miracle story in greater detail so that we may discover its essential truths about Jesus.

     The occasion of the story is Jesus withdrawing into the desert, a secluded place, with his Disciples after he learned of the death of John the Baptist.  The crowds of followers discovered that he was going there and followed him to that place.  The scriptures record that Jesus had compassion for those who came to him, and he taught them and healed the sick among them.  It became late, and the Disciples bid Jesus to send the people away to the towns to buy food to eat.  “They need not go away,” Jesus said, “you give them something to eat.”  The Disciples must have looked at Jesus as if he had six heads—What, feed 5,000 people?  Had Jesus lost it?  They had only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish among them. How could they possibly feed 5,000 with this meager amount of food?   It seemed impossible to them. They still did not yet understand their Master, and his sufficiency to meet their needs.  Jesus knew exactly what was needed and what he would do.  He asked the Disciples to bring the loaves and fish to him, and to have the people sit on the grass.  Jesus then looked toward heaven, blessed the food, and began to break it, giving it to the Disciples to distribute among the crowd of people.  The scriptures tell us that all ate their fill of the bread and fish, and the Disciples filled 12 baskets with leftover broken pieces!  Twelve baskets!  Now that is some miracle!

    I believe that the sheer magnitude of this miracle is one reason that all four authors have included it in their Gospel messages.  Surely, word would have gotten out around the region about a miracle of this proportion—feeding 5,000 with a few loaves and fish.  As a Disciple of Jesus, Matthew was an eyewitness to this amazing event.  Not only did Jesus feed the entire  crowd of people with the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, but there was an abundance of food leftover—12 baskets were gathered up after all were fed.  Jesus was more than able to feed the hungry crowd that had gathered, and there was, in fact, enough food for many, many more hungry souls.

     Jesus often shared with his Disciples and followers that he used things in the natural world to reveal to them deeper spiritual truths.  Bread is considered to be a staple of life. Jesus fed the 5,000 in the desert with physical bread for the nourishment of their bodies.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life.”  Just as physical bread nourishes the body, Jesus, the bread of life, is the life-giving nourishment for the soul.  The feeding 5,000 with bread to spare symbolizes for us that Jesus is more than able to provide life-giving spiritual nourishment to all who will believe in him and receive this gift from him.  Matthew witnessed the miracle of feeding 5,000, and he believed this miracle to be proof positive that Jesus was truly the promised Messiah, the Son of God.  He wrote his Gospel as a witness for others, so that they too would believe, and in believing receive the bread of life.

     I was saddened, in doing some research for this message, to learn that many churches today are not preaching the feeding of the 5,000 as a true miracle story.  Instead, they lay claim that the true relevance of this story is that it instructs us about the value of sharing.  By sharing what was available in the desert, and trusting in God’s provision in Christ, great things were accomplished for the kingdom of God.  I do not disagree with the truth about the value of sharing and trusting in the sufficiency of God’s provision, but I believe we need miracles in our lives today as much as they were needed in Jesus’ day.  Miracles point us directly to God as the true higher power reigning over our world. They take us out of our own head and our reliance solely upon our own sufficiency.  With all of technology and science available in our modern world, we still need to occasionally stand in awe of the majesty and power of our compassionate and loving God.  If we have learned nothing else from these days of COVID-19, it is that we still have human vulnerability and gaps in the proficiency of modern science and technology.  We, like Matthew, still need to experience those miracle moments that we can neither predict nor control.  They reveal God to us in unexpected and marvelous new ways, if we can receive them as true “God events.”   For Matthew, Jesus’ miracles pointed to exactly who he was—the promised Messiah and Son of God.  Matthew wanted his readers to believe in the truth he had experienced as a Disciple of Jesus through miracle events like the feeding of the 5,000.  It gave him a marvelous new life and a compelling new mission—to spread the truth about Jesus with his own Gospel message.  I have often been reminded that the truth remains the truth whether or not we choose to believe it.  Miracles humble us, and they point us toward God. Our world today could use some humility, and the means by which to walk in faith when we do not have either the clear sight or a ready solution.  Miracle moments, both great and small, provide new opportunities to grow our faith life—if our hearts remain open to believe—to believe.

    Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.*   Amen.

*”Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”- Helen Lemmel (words and music, 1922)(UMH # 349)