11th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 14:13-21 Sermon (4 Gospel harmony)
July 31, 2005


Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
166 "Blessing And Honor And Glory And Power"
481 "Jesus The Very Thought Of Thee"
519 "O God Of Bethel By Whose Hand"
579 "Put Thou Thy Trust In God"

(from Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6)

“They (the 12 apostles) departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Now Herod, the tetrarch heard of all that was done, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John (the Baptist) had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ and he sought to see him.

The disciples (of John the Baptist) came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. The apostles also returned to Jesus, and told him all they had done and taught.

Jesus said to the apostles, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest for awhile.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure, even to eat. And he took them and withdrew apart to a city called Bethsaida, on the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.

Now many saw them going, and knew them, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. They ran there on foot form all the towns, and got there ahead of them. As he landed, he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing.

Now the day began to wear away; and the twelve came and said to him, ‘Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are in a lonely place.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’

Lifting up his eyes then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to have a little.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?’ For there were about five thousand men.

And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.’ Now there was much grass in the place, so they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.

After taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate, and were satisfied. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, and of the fish, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, ‘This was indeed the prophet who is come into the world!’ And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him a king, Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray.”


This morning I decided to share a bit of my text study with you by reading the account of the feeding of the five thousand out of all four gospels. This is called a harmony. So why did I choose the feeding of the 5000 for this harmony study? I did it simply because this is one of those rare occasions where all four evangelists have recorded the same event. All four have something unique to add to the story, and yet they convey the same miracle, the same numbers, and the same purpose behind the miracle.

I have chosen one particular aspect of this story however to focus upon. It may appear to be insignificant, however I believe that there is much to be said in its regard. It is found in John’s account of the miracle, where we read: “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?’”

So today as we study this miracle according to the four Gospels, let’s especially consider this boy mentioned only in John’s account, and what he did. Let’s consider how great things happen from small gifts.

We know from the outset that this particular miracle of Jesus means a great deal to the four evangelists, and ultimately to God himself, for God caused all four men to record it. And that indeed says something. This is a tremendous event, and a great miracle. But, as our text for today states, Jesus and his disciples had been doing other miracles before this one. It was the news of those other miracles which caused Herod the tetrarch turmoil, and led him to seek Jesus. But most importantly, it was the news of those other miracles especially the healing ones that caused the great crowd of people to follow Jesus and his disciples to Bethsaida, where they were seeking a little bit of peace and quiet. They had been busy, with no time to even eat; and besides that, they needed a little time to collect themselves after the shocking news of the beheading of John the Baptist.

And so, when Jesus and the disciples get to Bethsaida, which was across the Sea of Galilee, here were all these people standing there waiting for him. Of course Jesus and the disciples were looking forward to having a little time to themselves, however when Jesus saw them, he had compassion on them, because, as Mark records, “They were like sheep without a shepherd.” They were standing there, all eyes glued on Jesus. They wanted to hear what he had to say, and many needed to be healed of various diseases.

Well, among this crowd of people was a boy. Like I said earlier, only John makes mention of him, which makes his actual presence only incidental to the miracle. The miracle, besides the healings that Jesus was doing, was the fact that 5000 men, plus women and children (15,000 might be a conservative estimate) were all fed as much as they could eat from five barley loaves and two fish. It was this boy who gave his loaves of bread and two fish to Jesus, and from there Jesus works his miracle.

Now the reason I mention that the boy is only incidental to the miracle, is not because he isn’t worth mentioning, or that what he did isn’t worthy of a sermon topic. Rather, some have decided to take this boy’s actions and turn it into the miracle itself. Allow me to explain.

It’s becoming more and more in vogue among liberal theological circles to deny the miracles of Jesus, saying that such things are contrary to nature and couldn’t happen. And so, the way they explain the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 is that when this boy came forward and offered to share his lunch, it so moved the crowd of people, that they all pulled out their lunches as well to share them with the rest. With this understanding, the feeding of the 5000 was no more than a large scale pot-luck dinner.

According to this philosophy, the people, afraid to share because they thought they wouldn’t have enough, discovered to their surprise that when they shared what food they had, there were twelve baskets of food left over after everyone had eaten. And of course, they say that the miracle represented by the feeding of the 5000 was that people learned to share with one another.

Now how about that for a load of theological garbage? If this was indeed the thrust behind the whole miracle, why is John the only one to mention the boy in the first place? If everyone had food with them, why were the disciples so concerned about the fact that nobody had any food? If the only miracle here was that people learned to share, why doesn’t Scripture say so? Why are people so intent on discrediting miracles in the first place?

But like I said, the boy and what he did, although incidental to the miracle itself, yet it teaches us a very good lesson. And I would like to talk a bit about him, and what we can learn from his actions.

It’s quite clear from all four accounts that the crowd of people was not expecting this gathering with Jesus. They quickly assembled and went hastily from various parts of the surrounding region to get to Jesus. They didn’t have time to get themselves properly prepared to go, they just went—so quickly in fact, that even on foot, they got to the destination before Jesus and the disciples did.

Well, among this crowd was this boy, and he had his lunch with him. It would be my guess that he had planned on being away from home for awhile, and so his mother had packed him a lunch to take along with him. It’s also my guess that when he saw this crowd of people, he decided to change his plans, and follow them to see what was going on. He had probably heard about Jesus, and most likely he wanted to see what Jesus was all about.

And so, he sits there intently listening and soaking it all in. Then when Jesus and the disciples start talking about food, and how were they ever going to feed all these people, he remembered his own lunch that his mother had made for him.

Now I would also guess that this boy’s parents had been good teachers, telling their son that he should always be willing to share what he had with others. He was also probably quite moved at hearing Jesus preach the Gospel and heal the sick. He could at least contribute his part, however small that part would be.

Now I would doubt that the boy could have known that he was the only one who had food in the place. But he was. And so there stood Jesus, with his mother’s home-made bread, and the two grilled fish. Jesus took the bread, held it up to heaven, turned his eyes upward, and said a prayer of thanks.

What happened next was something this boy could scarcely believe. Jesus was taking that bit of bread and those fish, just enough for himself, and he began to divide it amongst the people. And he kept dividing, and kept dividing, and it never ran out! And then, after everyone had eaten as much as they wanted, the disciples collected 12 baskets of leftovers, out of his simple lunch his mother had packed for him.

When we read the four accounts of this miracle, and the part this young boy played in it, we can see one very great lesson in it for us. And that is, that great things happen from small gifts. God can take those small gifts, and work a miracle with them. That’s a lesson this boy learned. A gift, given unselfishly from the heart, a gift given to God for the right reason, whatever the size, God can take that gift and work a miracle with it. This miracle proves that.

As we get to the end of our text today, we find Jesus going off by himself. John says that Jesus knew that these people wanted to take him and make him a king by force. He had fed them, and they wanted to make him into a type of “bread king”—which means that with Jesus around, they would never go hungry.

The crowd however didn’t grasp the purpose behind the miracle. And so if we read on a little further in John 6 past the account of the miracle, we find Jesus saying: “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you….I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst….for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

I believe we all have trouble seeing beyond the gifts at times. We have this tendency to look at food and earthly possessions, and not see the giver behind them. We tend to spend more time seeking those things, than we do seeking the Lord; and sometimes we completely exclude him.

If we look at those people sitting out there on the grass in Bethsaida, they were hungry and they had eaten their fill of the loaves and fishes Jesus miraculously distributed to them. But in only a matter of hours, they would be hungry again, and they would need to eat another meal.

Jesus had compassion on them, and fed them lunch. He also healed their sick. And the purpose of his miracles was to call attention to himself, the true Son of God, the only bread of life. And everyone who came to Jesus in faith would know what he meant by saying he was the true bread of life, and that those who came to him would never hunger or thirst again. That’s because Jesus not only was there to take care of physical hunger, but he also provided food for their spiritual hunger. He gave them the bread of life.

I used the boy in John’s account to illustrate how God can make great things happen from small gifts. Let’s apply this now to our own lives. Look at us, spiritually dead in our sins. We are helpless, and in no way can we provide this bread of life for ourselves. God takes our lives and makes something great happen. He takes our sinful soul, and transforms it by his grace. He gives us a faith whereby we grasp and eat the bread of life; a faith that sees Jesus as our only Saviour from sin.

And as believers, as those who continually feed from this bread of life, he continues to make great things happen for us. He continually forgives us and gives us strength for service; and on that last day, for those that have that true bread of life, he will be raised up on the last day and will have eternal life.

Until that time, this example of the boy in our text should serve to remind us that no matter how hopeless it may seem, no matter how trivial or how small, we should always be encouraged to share what we have, in faith that God can work a miracle with small gifts. And what is the gift? Sure we are to contribute financially as we are able to the work of the Lord, but most importantly, it is ourselves, our very lives that we need to keep giving to God in faith—that miracle of faith that God has so richly blessed us with.

The four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have emphasized the importance of this first feeding miracle. Over 15,000 people were fed that day from five barley loaves and two small fish given unselfishly by a young boy. But most importantly, Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God. Jesus was there to give them the true bread of life. Jesus was there to give them himself for the forgiveness of their sins, and thereby promising them eternal life in the heavenly kingdom of God.

For this great gift, we too should realize that whatever we have, that our entire life, regardless of how small or insignificant we think it might be, that when given to God, out of a thankful and unselfish heart, he can and will make miracles happen from small gifts.

I’d like to close this morning with a poem by Avis Christiansen:

I have not much to offer, to Christ my Lord and King;
No wealth, no might, no wisdom; no noble gift to bring.
Five loaves and two small fishes? But what alas are they
Among the throngs of hungry, who crowd life’s troubled way?

Five loaves and two small fishes? Not much dear heart, 'tis true;
But yield them to the Master, and see what he can do!
Placed in his hands of mercy, thy little will be much
‘Tis not the gift that matters, but his almighty touch!