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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

“Miracle Of Miracles”

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. 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. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21

Our Gospel lesson for today is the story of one of Jesus’ miracles that we all know well. It’s recorded by all four Gospel writers, so we come across it frequently. And because of its familiarity, I think sometimes we take it for granted, or just skim over it, without stopping to see what message it might have for us, besides the fact that Jesus could perform miracles because He is God.

The setting is near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has been told about the death of John the Baptist and tried to be alone. But the crowds followed Him and He healed their sickness.

Now, when evening came, the disciples realized that there was a problem, and they took it to Jesus. They told Him that they were in a remote place, the day was over, and the people were hungry. Now Jesus knew the sun had gone down, He knew the people hadn’t eaten, and He knew there weren’t any stores nearby. But that was all right. He knows our problems too, but He still wants us to bring them to Him. That way we not only acknowledge that we have areas in our lives that need improving, and situations in our lives that need correcting – but we also acknowledge that we want Him involved in the improving and correcting work. And that’s as it should be. That way He can help us.

But the disciples’ next step was a mistake. Instead of presenting the problem to Jesus, and then listening for His solution, they told Him how to handle it: “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Made sense, didn’t it? Sounded like the logical thing to do – really the only thing they could do – but it was wrong!

Do you ever do that? Do you ever tell God about a problem and then tell Him what to do about it? “Lord, I need more money, so I need this certain job; there’s no other way I can make it!” “Lord, make this relationship work out. I know he’s not a Christian, and he’s not very ambitious, and he doesn’t treat me very well – but there isn’t anyone else! If I don’t marry him, I’ll never get married!”

Do you ever pray, “Lord, here’s my plans for today – or this week, or this year – please bless my plans.” Of course, if we’re feeling generous, we give Him multiple choice: “Lord, here’s three different ways I can accomplish my goal – pick one of them.”

The Apostle James ran into the same attitude back in about AD 45, and wrote, “Now listen, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)

Or maybe we tell Him our problems then just leave, without giving Him a chance to answer. “Lord, my wife and I are having real problems. She says I don’t talk to her enough, and I wish she’d shut up once in a while. She says I don’t discipline the kids like I should, but how can I when she’s yelling at them all the time? She says I just come home and flop in a chair, but she doesn’t understand what’s going on at work. Lord, we aren’t getting along very well, and something has to change. Amen.”

We talk to God about a lot of things. But we do all the talking. And after we’ve talked for a while, we say “Amen” and we leave!

Suppose you did that to a doctor. You come into his office. He offers you a chair, so you sit down and begin to tell him about your aches and pains and ailments. And when you’re through, you get up, say “Goodbye” and leave! What would the doctor think? He’d probably think some nut had come into his office by mistake!

God has patients visiting Him every day like that. Patients who tell Him their problems and then tell Him how to solve them; and patients who tell Him their problems and never listen to His solutions.

If we don’t spend quiet time reading His Word and meditating on it; if we don’t look for answers in the Bible, and expect to find them; if we don’t discuss our problems and decisions with other Christians; if we don’t watch for open and closed doors; if we don’t really want to know His will and walk in His will; how on Earth do we think He’s going to talk to us?

He could speak to us in winds and earthquakes and fires, but He usually speaks to us like He did to Elijah, in a still, small voice – which we won’t even hear if we aren’t listening! I’ve never seen anyone get their head on straight by sticking it in the sand!

We’ve seen that the disciples recognized the problem of over 5000 hungry people, and also that they suggested the very logical solution of sending them away so they could buy food for themselves. Since their solution was really the only logical one, Jesus surprised them when He said, “No, they don’t need to go away.”

Jesus surely hadn’t responded the way they assumed He would. And don’t we often feel that He doesn’t respond the way we think He should? There was nothing wrong with their suggestion, and there isn’t anything wrong with most of our suggestions to God either. But “No” is an answer, and Jesus told them the people didn’t have to go away.

How do you feel when God answers you “No”? Do you wonder if He didn’t even hear you? Like your prayers bounced off the ceiling and your message didn’t get through? Sometimes we want the right thing, but at the wrong time, and God is saying, “Yes – but not now.”

When He doesn’t respond the way you think He should, do you sometimes question, “Why?” “Why did you let this happen to me? I have a family to raise.” “Why did you let them die? He was so young – or she was so good!”

I kept asking God “Why?” for 3 years – from the Spring of 1978 to the Spring of 1981. I was convinced that God wanted me to work fulltime for Him, and I was sure that He wanted me to do so with the organization Carol and I had been working with. In those 3 years I thought I had my business sold 3 different times, but each time the deal fell through. And I asked, “Why, Lord? This deal was perfect, and you know I have to sell the company in order to be able to do what you want me to do.”

And in those 3 years, several times I got bad signals from the organization I was planning to work with, and I asked, “Why, Lord? What’s happening anyway?” In fact, after 2 years I quit the organization, and then I had no idea of what I was supposed to do. I wondered sometimes if the whole thing was just my idea!

But then, all of a sudden, things started to happen, and circumstances, events, and people all started to point to the seminary, something I hadn’t really thought of for over 20 years! And in 6 months we closed the business we had owned for 20 years, sold the house we had owned for 15 years, moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I was at seminary – studying Greek! ☹ Of course I’ll have to admit that I still ask sometimes, “Why, Lord?” 😊

Have you ever said, “I can’t!”? “I can’t control my temper – or my language.” “I can’t quit that habit.” “I can’t love my husband – or my wife – or whomever.” “I can’t be completely honest and still make money – or get ahead in my job.” Or, if you don’t have any of those problems, how about, “I can’t witness.” “I can’t teach Sunday School.” “I can’t visit people.” “I can’t understand the Bible.”

And you’re right – we can’t do any of those things. And the disciples couldn’t feed all those people either. But here’s the good part: they did feed the people, and we can do the things we think we can’t. But we don’t do them alone – we do them with Jesus’ help!

Now here’s the best part of our story. The disciples have said, “Here’s the situation and here’s how to handle it.” Jesus has said, “No, handle it yourselves.” They’ve said, “We can’t.” And now Jesus can act! He said, “You’ve got 5 loaves and 2 fish? Bring them here to me.” (Now, you know they had to wonder why.) Then He told the people to sit down on the grass. And then He blessed the loaves and the fish, broke them, and gave them to the disciples, for them to give to the people. Now, we aren’t told exactly how the distribution went, but here’s how I picture it. Assuming there were 1000 women and children in addition to the 5000 men, each of the 12 disciples had 500 hungry people sitting in front of him. And each disciple had less than 1/2 a loaf of bread and 1/6 of a fish!

So how would you begin to distribute that? “A little crumb of bread and little pinch of fish for you. A little bit for you – and you – and you.” But wait a minute! They still had as much as when they started! So, a bigger piece – and then bigger. And then they were shouting – and giving everyone all they wanted! And more, because there were a dozen basketsful left over! With Jesus’ power, the disciples had fed over 5000 people!

Now, the miracle wasn’t just that the food multiplied. God does that every time a grain of wheat grows into a spike bearing hundreds of grains – and every time the eggs of one fish hatch into hundreds of fish. It was a miracle, of course, that He did it so fast. But the greatest miracle was that He worked through His disciples!

And just as great a miracle is that today He works through us, too! If only we will come to Him and say, “Lord, here’s the situation. I can’t handle it by myself. Show me your will and lead me in your ways.” And with His power, we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13)


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