What God Can Do Through You
Summary: Jesus, seeking time alone, does miracles for countless thousands and involves His disciples.
This morning we come to one of Jesus’ most well known miracles – the feeding of the five thousand. It’s mentioned in all four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – all of them tell about us this event. That should get our attention, because obviously the Holy Spirit impressed the need on each of them to report this. And if God sends four people your way to say the same thing, you’d be very wise to listen.
In my preparation and study this week one thing that really stood out to me was the context of the miracle – to consider it in light of the events leading up to it. If you were here last week you remember John the Baptist had confronted Herod Antipas, or Herod the Tetrarch, the political ruler of the region, about an adulterous relationship. John was Jesus’ cousin and colleague in ministry – he was recognized by the people as a prophet. But when John spoke up about the unrighteous relationship between Herod and the woman who was now his wife, the confrontation led to his execution. In verse 12 we learn that after his death, his disciples came and buried his body and then went to tell Jesus what had happened. That’s where we pick things up this morning.
But you also need to know: the other gospel writers tell us that around this time, Jesus had commissioned His own disciples and sent them out two-by-two on an evangelistic campaign with power to work miracles and cast out demons. They visited the surrounding towns and villages and called people to repent, or turn from their sin, and turn toward the Kingdom of Heaven. And now, they arrive pumped up about what they’ve experienced and ready to give a report, perhaps at the same time John’s disciples arrive with the news of his death.
There’s both excitement and sadness at the same time – and Jesus responds by saying, let’s get out of town for a little bit to think it all through and process things. So we read,
Matthew 14:13 When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself.
Matthew doesn’t mention the disciples coming along, but Mark does. Writing about this same moment, he says Jesus invited them to come too:
Mark 6:31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.
So if we take what we learn from Matthew and what we learn from Mark, we see there’s a lot going on – tons of people coming and going, there were always people seeking some prayer or healing from Jesus, but now you’ve also got some people freaking out about what just happened to John and all the guys who just got back from their trips and want to tell their stories of what happened. You understand what the scene is like because all of our lives feel like this at times – you’re overwhelmed with inputs and it looks like a hurricane hit your calendar and inbox.
So Jesus grabs the disciples and says, let’s get away for a little while, spend some time together and some time in prayer to refresh our souls so we don’t get carried away with the frenzy of the moment.
13 (cont.) But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. 14 And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.
Now, I want to remind you again that Jesus was trying to get away from everyone. He was intentionally trying to avoid people for a little while. But how does He react when they chase Him down?
He is moved with compassion. And the language here is that He’s moved with compassion to the depth of His being. This tells us something important about God – it reminds us that He sees, and He knows, and He cares about what is happening in our lives.
And, marvel at this, He’s not just thinking about people that will worship Him one day. Actually, we know that many of these people will walk away from Him the very next day. And yet, He’s still moved with compassion for them. He is, as we read in Ex 34:6 “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.” He delights in mercy – Micah 7:18. He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt 5:45). And it’s His kindness that leads to repentance (Rom 2:4).
So, He spends time with the people and Mark tells us He taught them many things (Mk 6:34). In other words, He preached to them. He instructed them. He told them about God and the Kingdom of Heaven and the changes that needed to happen in their lives and the things that God was preparing for all who would worship and serve Him. And the day wore on until:
Matthew 14:15 When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
John tells us this was a test “for He Himself knew what He would do” (Jo 6:6). But here is where you have to remember the context again: they had just returned from a miracle missionary trip. They had just seen healings and cast out demons as they prayed for people. On top of that, they were at the wedding in Cana when Jesus turned water into wine. Miraculous options should be well within the realm of possibility in their thinking. But for some reason, though they have seen God do incredible things in the past, though they have experienced God using them personally, they’re not quite sure what to do about the situation in front of them. Can you relate?
17 And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”
18 He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.
Now, typically, students provided for their teachers, but here the roles are reversed. The Shepherd feeds His sheep. God miraculously fed His people in the desert with manna and tells us of the feast that will occur one day at the marriage supper of the lamb in Heaven. Jesus feeding the 5000 is just another example of God’s provision for people.
But please notice this: Jesus had compassion on people who DO NOT worship Him, people who do not believe Him, people who will turn their back on Him when He won’t do or say the things they want. This crowd has gathered today, but John tells us most of them will leave Him tomorrow and still Jesus feeds them, He feeds them all of them, regardless of their loyalties. God is kind to us and still we resist Him.
Also notice this too: He doesn’t have to involve the disciples, but He does. God often works through His people to accomplish His purposes. He puts things into the hands of His people and says, now, here, you take this and give it to others. There are countless needs all around us today. Overwhelming needs. And we’re made aware of more and more of them all the time – physical needs, emotional baggage, mental confusion, and spiritual brokenness – you couldn’t solve them all even if you had a stack of cash and no other job. But God sees, He’s compassionate, He’s not overwhelmed, and He’ll use you if you’re available to Him.
20 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.
The leftovers are important because they’re proof that everyone was full (John 6:11). No one went away wishing they could have had a little more bread. Jesus completely satisfied their desires.
21 Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
This is significant because this miracle directly touched more people at once than any other miracle He performed. At least five thousand human beings received food that appeared out of nowhere. They put it in their mouths, and they chewed and they chewed and they chewed until they were no longer hungry. This is no psychosomatic healing of a nebulous ailment, and this isn’t just five thousand witnesses – it’s five thousand participants, they all personally experienced the event.
John tells us the people were so amazed by what Jesus did that they were getting ready to take Him by force and make Him king. Sitting in groups of 50 had been a convenient way to distribute the food, but it also seemed to some like a good way to organize a Messianic army and they were getting the wrong picture, so Jesus need to break up the party. He told everyone it was time to go home and sent the disciples away.
Matthew 14:22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples (note that word – He made them, compelled them, forced them to) get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.
23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.
Finally, He can take a couple of hours and think and pray. Which, if you remember, was the whole point of trying to get away today. And Jesus doesn’t just spend a few minutes, He’s there from the time when evening came – let’s say 7 o’clock until somewhere between 3 and 6 o’clock in the morning. When was the last time you spent 8-12 hours in focused prayer and meditation and Scripture? When was the last time you gave that much attention to God and to your soul? We waste time on so many things, so many things that have no value, and we wonder: Where did all the time go? But we neglect the things that are eternal.
Friends, God is there, and He wants to meet with us. He has given us His unchanging Word, He tells us things about Himself. We can know as much of God as we choose to, the problem is, we make poor choices too often. We don’t shut everything else out so we can focus on our souls within.
We’re less like Jesus alone on the mountain, and we’re more like the disciples all crowded into the boat.
Jesus had sent them away but on the return trip they ran into some major storms. These are common occurrence on the Sea of Galilee, the shape of the terrain and the nature of the climate in the region means violent storms can come up out of nowhere, and one had.
Matthew 14:24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.
They’re a good 3 or 4 miles from land, and they’re getting smashed by waves. It’s after 3 in the morning and they’ve been out in the sun all day. They’ve been rowing and straining against the storm, but they’re also enduring it. There’s no cabin on the boat that they can retreat into. They don’t have some fancy North Face or LL Bean parka – they’re soaked and they’re tired. But, Jesus is coming.
Matthew 14:25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.
26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
Let me make two observations here. First, we don’t know exactly how long they were caught by the storm, but it had likely been going on for a while because they weren’t making much progress. And that’s an important thing for us to take note of – we often want Jesus to show up in our storms, but we want Him to show up as soon as things start to get rough. We don’t want to travel any farther than the fringes of difficulty before we’re rescued. And that’s OK. We shouldn’t go seeking difficulty in our lives, but when it comes, we also need to learn a spirit of endurance. God promises to be with us in the storms, but He doesn’t always promise to deliver us immediately out of them.
Second, note that God has always ruled over the waters. In the very first words of the Bible we’re told that His Spirit hovered over the waters at Creation, and we later learn that He parted the waters for Moses and Joshua, now He simply walks on them, and – and take special notice of this – He calls Peter to do the same.
28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
Once again, remember the greater context. The disciples had just come back from their own mission trips where they had seen amazing things and just a few hours ago they participated in the feeding of the 5000 – asking to walk on water is an expression of Peter’s increasing belief and availability. Peter lets his prior experience lead to present faith.
And notice: Peter shows us some wisdom here. He doesn’t immediately hop out of the boat and start walking on the water towards the Lord. He asks the Lord to call him. In the same way we should not rush out into serving the Lord unless He calls us. Those who jump into missions and other forms of Christian service without hearing God calling them often wind up burning out and may find themselves spending all their energy trying to keep a ministry alive that the Lord may not have even wanted them to start in the first place.
So, Peter asks for a calling, and it comes.
29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.
Don’t assume that it’s not possible just because you’ve never done it before – if God is calling you, He will make you capable. Just keep your eyes on Him – learn from Peter.
30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
Suddenly Peter gets side tracked by the circumstances. He starts to notice what he’s doing and what is going on around him. His focus shifts from Jesus to the world and he says “There’s no way I could this!” and he starts to sink. He’s right. In his own power there is no way he could have done it, but God called, he obeyed and God enabled. The problems started when he began to focus on what he was doing instead of on Who he was doing it for.
Can you identify with stepping out and then sinking? It’s common to have faith enough to start, to step out, but rare to have faith to endure. Trials, dangers, difficulties, and enemies come our way. But here’s the thing: Peter is closer to Jesus on the water than in the boat. And when he slips, Peter still has the wisdom to call out to the only one who could save him.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Peter prayed such a simple prayer: Lord save me. And it was enough.
Can I remind you of something you already know? Jesus will grab you too. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever – if we step out to serve Him as He has called us to do, then He will catch us when we fall.
And let me ask you something – when you read those words, how do they sound in your head? What is the tone in Jesus’ voice when He asks the question? How you think He sounded says a lot about how you see God. I don’t think He had angry tone, but a saddened, loving tone, meant to encourage. It was as if Jesus was saying, “O you of little faith, you were doing so well, why did you doubt?”
God deals gently with His people, he has love and pity for us before we are saved and He continues to display it as we grow; He knows our weakness and his love suffers long.
32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
34 When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, 36 and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.
It’s right back to ministry, right back to the hectic pace. But it’s OK – He’s spent the necessary time with His Father. And along the way the disciples, especially Peter, have learned what is possible if they come and participate when He calls.
So, what can we learn from all of this? First, let’s notice how Jesus responds to the frenzy we found when we started this morning – He doesn’t search out a better task management system, He doesn’t just start delegating things, He certainly doesn’t lash out at the people around Him because He’s stressed out and His temper is short. He doesn’t collapse into a ball and start crying. There are questions lingering, there are people seeking direction, there are needs to be met and do you see what Jesus does? He says, let’s get away, let’s seek God, let’s pray. Let’s go to a deserted place.
Not to escape. Not to shirk His responsibilities. Not to shut it all out and pretend it’s not real. But to remember what’s really real. To put things back in their eternal perspective. To see the whole picture. This was a common practice of our Lord, and it’s something we should all consider – when you get bad news, when the pace is frantic, when the stress levels sky rocket – how often do you withdraw, even for an overnight, and seek God; to pray and read the Scriptures, and to be reminded of capital t Truth, to put everything else back in perspective and seek guidance?
Now, Jesus is God. If that means anything, it means He’s better than us. Wiser than us. Smarter than us. He has more bandwidth than us. His mission is to seek and to save lost souls. It’s kind of a big responsibility, but He still made a priority of time away, time alone, time in prayer. What does that say to us?
How much vacation time do you get? How much sick time? Do you use it? I don’t. Now, I do try to get away. But usually it happens like this: I get to the point where I have so much on my plate and so many decisions to be made, so many things to process that I can’t see straight. And then, it’s usually my wife that says, “Honey, you need to go away. You need to go to a deserted place and you need to spend some time with the Lord.”
And you know what? Every time it happens, I come back refreshed, I come back with things settled, I come back with guidance, I come back built up in the truth. The problems haven’t gone away, the to-dos still need to be to-done. But I have reassurance, I have prioritization, and I have encouragement in my soul.
Brothers and sisters, some of you need to get away. You need to book a campsite or a hotel room. One of my favorite getaways is Annapolis, it’s not deserted, but it works for me and it’s close enough to be accessible while far enough away to feel like you’re away. But you need to find a place to go to get away from everything – you need to pack a journal, and a Bible, and not much else. Pack like you’re going to the hospital because it’s not a vacation, it’s surgery on your soul. Go, and lay out everything before the Lord, ask for His guidance and receive His direction – He’s given you His Word and it’s full of promises and direction.
Of course, this is something you can repeat in little ways throughout the day by taking a breather, having lunch away from your desk and spending time with the Lord. Or in the mornings and evenings, reflecting on your day in light Scripture and prayer.
God sees and knows everything that is going in your life, and in the lives around you. And He wants you to come to Him to deal with it. The Bible clearly says that God is calling each of us to Himself and He has made a way for us to come through Christ’s death on the cross where all of our disobedience and rebellion along with our incompetence and not good enough was dealt with and paid for.
We’re going to celebrate communion now, to remember all that Christ has done for us, and through us – to thank Him for all He has made possible in our lives. Let us also use it as a time to renew our availability to Him and to ask the question: am I increasingly available to God? Can He involve you in His work the way He used the disciples to distribute the bread? Can He call you to come to Him like Peter? And will you obey, even if there are winds and waves? Will you set apart time to spend with Him, time away from all the other distractions of life so that He can bring you back and use you even more?