"Bring It to Jesus"
(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Sunday, July 23, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
This past year has witnessed some pretty remarkable affirmations from God regarding our remodeling project. They way God has provided the talent and creativity from within our own church family; the way He has miraculously put us in contact with the necessary professionals to help us walk the project successfully through the permit process; the way He has provided a significant amount of capital in a short amount of time toward the project -- all of this demonstrates that God's hand has been on it all, and that we're heading in the right direction.
But when Roger called me the other day to let me know of the estimate from the contractor, what we need before we can actually get the project going, and how tight the time frame is, it seemed as if God was saying, "You've seen how much I can do; now, let's see if you will really learn to trust Me." God, it seems, has 'moved the bar' a little higher for us.
Roger and I talked and prayed together about what a 'teachable moment' this is for our church. We believe God wants us all to learn some things about Himself through this challenge. And so, I felt that it was God's will that I postpone the message that I originally planned to preach on this week, and turn instead to Matthew 14:13-21. This is a very familiar passage that, I believe, can teach us some principles about facing the challenge ahead of us.
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Jesus' earthly ministry had come to a turning point. King Herod Antipas, the ruler of the region of Galilee, had executed John the Baptist some time before; and he began to hear reports about the ministry of Jesus that disturbed him. Apparently, the disciples of John the Baptist had come to Jesus and told Him of Herod's execution of John -- and of Herod's attitude toward Jesus as well. From this point on, we see Jesus' earthly ministry becoming less and less public; and the personal training of His disciples receiving His increased attention. This, in combination with the need that He and His disciples had for a period of rest (Mark 6:30-31), caused Him to depart with His disciples from the region of Galilee to a little fishing town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee called Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). Matthew's gospel tells us that Jesus went off "by Himself"; but obviously, the meaning is that He went off by Himself along with His disciples.
What happens next is one of the most notable stories in the earthly ministry of Jesus. It is so important, in fact, that it's one of the few stories that has the distinction of being told in all four gospel accounts. Matthew says,
"When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. 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." But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." He said, "Bring theme here to Me." 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 it to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children (Matthew 14:13-21).
I'm pretty sure you've heard this story before. It's one that's impossible to spiritualize and turn into a mere 'parable.' Each gospel writer -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- tells this story in their own way, and records different elements and angles to it; and yet they all tell the same basic story as if it really happened. Jesus really did feed a large multitude of people with a few loaves of bread and a few small fish.
Why did the Holy Spirit see to it that every gospel writer told this story? Why is it so important for us to read and believe? I suggest that it's because God wants us to learn from it how to respond to seemingly impossible situations in our service to Jesus Christ.
Jesus was going to send His apostles out to proclaim His gospel in His name and to make disciples of every nation on the earth. They were commissioned with a humanly impossible task against tremendous odds, and would be challenged continually with limited resources. But, as Jesus said when He gave this commission, "... And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). This story is here to remind us of something that the Church has needed to remember and has found to be true throughout the centuries: that "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27).
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Before we look at some of the principles this passage teaches us, I need to remind you that it isn't presenting a magic formula to us. If we try to use the principles of this passage as if they were teaching us how we can 'do the impossible' in a "name-it / claim-it" sort of way, we'll be badly missing the point. This passage isn't giving us a list of things we can do in order to accomplish the impossible; and least of all is it a reason for us to begin work that we don't have the money for "by faith", under the presumption that Jesus will "multiply" the rest for us later.
Really, this passage is meant to teach us only one fundamental thing that you and I need to do when faced with seemingly impossible -- and that is, to turn what we have over to Jesus, and trust in Him to do the impossible while we wait for His timing.
I think the whole thing is summed up for us in the words of Jesus, recorded here only by Matthew. The resources were limited; but Jesus said, "Bring them here to Me" (v. 17). Three things are involved in such cases: (1) a genuine need, (2) insufficient resources, and (3) Jesus. When we faithfully bring those first two elements to Jesus, the impossible becomes the possible. But once we've turned things over to Him, we need to leave the matter in His hands and trust in His timing and in His wisdom. Success is always guaranteed when we turn things over to Jesus; but it's always "success" on His terms -- not ours.
Given that, let's look at what this passage teaches us to do when faced with seemingly impossible challenges.
1. Don't despair over the seemingly impossible.
This isn't a principle that's stated in so many words in the passage. Rather, it's a principle that's inferred from the facts of the story taken as a whole.
As I read the passage to you, did you pick up on a sense of despair on the part of the disciples over the seeming impossibility of their situation? Certainly it was a humanly impossible challenge. Matthew tells us that the number of people needing to be fed was "five thousands men, besides women and children" (v. 21). If you count the wives and children of five thousand men, this hungry multitude could easily have been over twenty-thousand people! And all they had to feed this multitude was "five loaves and two fish" (v. 17). It wouldn't take long for even the most optimistic person to conclude that it couldn't be done!
The apostle John, in his account of this story, puts it this way:
"Then Jesus lifted up His eyes and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little." One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?" (John 6:5-9).
Think about the ways the disciples "despaired" over the seeming impossibility of what faced them. First, they despaired over what they didn't have. Philip quickly sized up the crowd and said that it couldn't be done financially. It would take more than "two hundred denarii" -- the rough equivalent of eight to nine months wages -- to feed such a crowd. They just didn't have the money to do what Jesus was suggesting. And even if they did; Bethsaida was a tiny little town. There weren't enough stores and markets to buy the goods. They'd have to travel out of town to get the supplies.
Second, in terms of what they did have, they despaired over the humble source. All they had was the lunch that a little boy had brought. The text doesn't say this explicitly, but my suspicion is that this little boy heard what was going on and volunteered to give up his lunch for the cause (and if that's true, then -- like Dr. John Mitchell from Multnomah Bible College once pointed out -- one of the greatest miracles in this story is that a little boy was willing to give up his lunch!). But that's all they had: one little boy's lunch -- enough perhaps to satisfy the hunger of a little boy; but certainly not a multitude of several thousands of people.
Third, they even despaired over the nature of what little they had. It wasn't just five loaves and two fish but, as John tells us, five "barley" loaves and two "small" fish.
Barley loaves was a pretty humble thing to offer to people. Barley was cheap, and was usually reserved only as animal feed. One of the rabbinical laws even suggested that offerings for certain, particularly heinous sins should be made of barley instead of wheat or meat, because if the sinner was going to act like animals, then they should offer the food of animals for their sins (cited in Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, pp. 681-2). That tells you something of what people thought of barley loaves!
And what's more, the word used to describe the fishes is one that refers to a tiny sort of fish that you eat whole -- bones and all; much like our modern idea of sardines. And all they had were two of such fish! That would have hardly been enough to dress-up one barley loaf -- let alone five!
It might have made things easier for the disciples if they simply didn't have enough of some good quality food. But the food that they didn't have enough of wasn't even that good to begin with!
Finally, they despaired over the enormity of the task of buying food for that many people. All the gospel writers except John has the disciples saying basically the same thing, "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" (Matt. 14:15).
Frankly, the disciples didn't want anything to do with this problem.
Now, let's be honest. On a purely human level, the disciples were being realistic. The situation was humanly impossible; and in and of themselves, they couldn't even begin to accomplish what Jesus was proposing. But that's why the additional details from John's gospel are so important. John tells us that, when Jesus turned to Philip and asked where they could buy bread to feed all those people, "this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do". That fact alone is enough to take away our cause for despair. When Jesus presents impossible situations to us -- tasks that are bigger than we can do -- He is placing a test before us. He already knows what He -- not us, but He -- is going to do.
When, as a church family, we face a task like this that is bigger than we have the resources to accomplish -- or when you or I, as individual believers, find ourselves confronted with times when Jesus calls us to do something that is too big for us -- then let's remember that it's a test to see how much we trust Him. Don't despair over the seeming impossibility of your situation. Simply turn to Jesus and say, "This is going to be exciting, Lord. I'm glad that You know what You're going to do! I may not know what You're going to do; but I'm glad You do!!"
2. Be concerned with what concerns Jesus.
This second principle isn't something that we're spring-loaded to think about when we face a crisis. But it's one of the most important principles that this passage can teach us. As hard as it is to do, we must learn to stop and seek what it is that Jesus is concerned about in our seemingly impossible situation. We must look for the burden of His heart in it all.
Think about the disciples for a moment. What were they concerned about? They were concerned about not having to feed this mob of people. "Lord, please send them away!" they said. "Let them go to town and buy something for themselves!" They were concerned over the resources. They didn't see how the need of the people could be met through the resources available to them; and so, they proposed sending the people away so that they could take care of the problem on their own. Basically, they were focused on the resources; not the people or their need.
Now compare that with the concern of Jesus. What was His concern? Where was His heart in all this? This passage gives us lots of clues. First of all, you can see that, even though He and His disciples had tried to get away and have a time of rest and solitude, He wasn't bitter or resentful toward the fact that multitudes of people heard about it and followed Him on foot from the surrounding cities. When He saw them, He wasn't mad at them; but rather, He was welcoming toward them. It even says that He was "moved with compassion for them." He felt strongly and deeply for them.
And He didn't only have an attitude of love and compassion for them. He also demonstrated His concern by His actions. He healed their sick. Mark tells us that Jesus had compassion on them "because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34). Luke tells us that "He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing" (Luke 9:11). And so, even though He was tired and needed rest, He welcomed them and gave Himself for them -- even teaching them and healing them until it was evening.
Jesus' actions demonstrate that His great concern in all this was not the resources. His great concern was not to avoid the situation. His great concern was the people and their needs. When He turned to the disciples and told them to give the people something to eat, it was more than just a test to the disciples. It was an expression of His real, genuine concern for the people who had come to Him. He cared about people's needs. People mattered to Him more than His own needs -- more than the schedule -- even more than the seeming impossibility itself of meeting the needs of those same people.
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I'll be honest. I don't know what the outcome of our present challenge with the porch project will be. But there's one thing I know; and that is that God cares about people more than programs, or even porches. If He wants our church to have a well designed and beautifully built porch, it will be, in the end, because He cares about people. He wants a safe place for people to come to and worship Him. He wants people to be able to get in and out of the building safely, so that they can hear the good news about Jesus, to be taught about His love for them from the Bible, and to be brought into a saving relationship with Him. The question is, do we want the things Jesus wants, and as much as He wants them?
The Lord Jesus is never in as big a hurry as we are to make things happen. Could it be possible that we're facing this present challenge with the porch project -- a temporary set-back in the plan -- for no other reason than to make us stop and examine whether our priorities are the same as Jesus'?
And the same is true in our individual lives. I'm quite convinced that, when God places us in seemingly impossible situations, He's not concerned so much about changing the situation as He is about changing us. He doesn't need our help in dealing with impossible situations; because they're not impossible to Him. What He wants is to see to it that our hearts are conformed to His own.
What a difference it would be if, in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation -- rather than panicking and saying, "Oh no; Lord! What are we going to do?!!" -- we had the spiritual maturity instead to turn to Jesus and say, "Ok, Lord; what is Your concern in all this? What do you care about in this situation? What do You want to have happen? What do You long for? Who is it that's burdening Your heart right now, Lord; and what do You want to see happening in their lives? How can I glorify You in this situation? Show me where Your heart is in all this; and help me to conform my heart to Your concerns and Your wishes. Make my heart like Your own in all this."
May God change us so that we look for His concerns first of all!
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So far, the principles that we've drawn from this passage deal with our attitudes when faced with an impossible situation. The next principle, and the one that follows it, speak to our behavior in such situations.
3. Bring what you have to Jesus.
When the disciples told Jesus to send the people into town to buy food for themselves -- (By the way; it's always great when we try to give advice to Jesus, isn't it?) -- He told them, "They do do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." And that's when He gave the only solution to the problem that they needed. He said, "'Bring them here to Me.'"
Consider again what happened after they did so.
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 it to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children" (Matthew 14:19-21).
Jesus took a little, meager sack-lunch and multiplied it into a meal for thousands. He satisfied the hunger of a stadium-sized crowd with it; and even multiplied it so much that there was twelve baskets-full of leftovers -- one for each of the disciples. I'm pretty sure the little boy got more than he donated too.
None of this would have happened if the disciples had simply taken the little boy's lunch, made everyone sit down, lifted up a prayer of blessing, and then distributed it to everyone all in their own power, apart from Jesus. If they had done that, the lunch wouldn't have gone very far at all! The miracle of the feeding of the multitude happened only because they brought the little bit of food that they had to Jesus and let Him handle it.
When my two sons were very little, I used to read to them from a picture book of Bible stories about Jesus. We'd look at pictures of the stories of Jesus doing the seemingly impossible -- walking on water, or healing the blind, or raising people from the dead. And I'd always ask the boys, "How could Jesus do things like that?" And the answer was always the same. The boys even had it memorized: "Because He's the Son of God, and He can do anything." And that may not be an intellectually satisfying answer; but it is the correct one.
How could Jesus multiply a few loaves and two small fish to feed a huge crowd of people? I'm sure I don't know; but I know that He's the Son of God and can do anything. The situation was impossible until Jesus said, "Bring them here to Me;" and then, the impossible happened. I'm satisfied with that.
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This was all a matter of a personal dependency upon Jesus. "Bring it here to Me," Jesus said. And it occurs to me that this illustrates what it is that makes the difference between true Christianity and mere religion. The essential character of all the forms of cold, dead religion -- religion that is "Christian" in name only -- boils down to this: presuming to solve problems apart from Jesus instead of bringing them to Him in personal dependency on His mighty power. All religion that isn't built on the principle of "bringing it to Jesus" will lead only to dead, vacuous formalism and ritualism with no power. Such things may make someone look good and sound good in the eyes of men; but there's no power from God in it whatsoever.
In Paul's day, for example, a group of seven Jewish exorsists took it upon themselves to try to cast a demon out of a man in Jesus' name, without any dependency on Jesus Himself. "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches," they'd say (Acts 19:13). There was no personal dependency on Jesus in it; they just used His name as a magic formula. The demon said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" And the demon-possessed man jumped on them and beat them up so badly that they ran out of the house naked and wounded. (v. 15-16).
On another occasion, Jesus said,
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:21-13).
Jesus put it very short and to the point when He said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matt. 15:13). You can't live the Christian life without continual, personal dependency on the resurrected Lord Jesus Himself.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; nothing good will ever come from anything we do apart from Jesus. Jesus Himself said, "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). But nothing will be impossible if we take stock of what little resources we have, and then humbly obey Jesus' command, "Bring them here to Me."
The important thing is never the resources. Resources are never a problem in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. The only thing that's important is what you and I do with those resources; and the only thing to do with them is to bring them to Jesus. We "bring" them to Him, in a personal and dependent way, when we present our concern to Him in prayer, speak honestly and intelligently about our resources and limitations, entrust ourselves and all we have to Him so that He might do as He wishes with them, thank Him in advance for the result that He will bring about, and then wait on His timing.
4. Wait for Jesus' timing.
It's fascinating that, when they brought the small lunch to Jesus, He didn't simply wave His hand over it all and -- Blam! -- turn it into a huge Skippers seafood restaurant. He certainly could have. Or He could have thrown the food up into the air, and it would have instantly and mysteriously multiplied in everyone's bellies as tuna-fish sandwiches. His use of the meager resources that were given to Him could have been immediate and dramatic. But instead, He seemed to go through a process that made everyone wait.
First, Had the multitudes sit down. Mark tells us that they sat in ranks, in hundreds and fiftys (Mark 6:40). Jesus made people wait to get their food until other things happened first.
Second, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them. He took the time to give thanks to God and to acknowledge Him for His provision -- even if that provision seemed small and insignificant in human eyes.
Third, He divided it up and distributed it through His disciples. Just think of that! They were the one's who were complaining that all this was impossible; and no doubt, they were even still thinking that it was impossible as they began to distribute the food. Jesus could have distributed it all Himself, and denied them the privilege of being involved in a notable miracle. But instead, He took the time to include them and use them. And I have no doubt but that, as they distributed the increasingly multiplied food, their sense of wonder and awe over Jesus multiplied as well.
And as a result, everyone had a feast -- both literally and spiritually.
This reminds us of the principle that, once we bring our resources to Jesus, we must wait on His timing. Things might happen immediately after we turn things over to Him; or they might not. They might be solved by Him the way we want; or they might not. It's all up to Him. And when it seems as if He's delaying, who's to say that it's not because it was in His plan to accomplish several other things first -- things that were put on hold until we turned our resources over to Him?
I remember hearing a pastor friend tell me about how he turned his problems over to the Lord. He said that he thought of his problems as if they were a ball. He'd say, "Lord, here's my problem. You solve it." And then, he'd throw it up into the heavens, as it were, to the Lord. Then, he said, the problem would appear to come tumbling back down from the Lord and drop at his feet. "Greg," he said, "That's when the real battle begins. Once I've given a problem to the Lord, I've got to fight with all my being not to pick it back up again -- even when it looks as if the Lord isn't doing anything about it."
As Psalm 37:5 says, "Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass." May God help us to learn to do both: to commit our way to Him, and also to trust in Him when we do so.
Our church is faced with an exciting challenge. Who knows what Jesus will do? And perhaps in your own life, there's a challenge that you're facing right now that Jesus longs to demonstrate His own greatness through. The message of God's word is simply this: whatever you have and what ever you are, bring it all to Jesus. He can do the impossible when we trust Him and wait for His timing
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)