"Bring It to Jesus"
(Delivered Sunday, February 18, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; 8copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
As we continue our study of Matthew's Gospel this morning, we come to a very familiar and much-loved story. But as familiar as it may be, it teaches us a lesson that we still constantly need to be re-taught.
It's the story of something that happened immediately after our Lord received the news of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of King Herod Antipas. Herod, the ruler of the district of Galilee, had executed John because John had pointed out the king's sin. The disciples of John had come to Jesus and reported the news to him—the news not only of Herod's murder of John, but also of Herod’s fearful attitude toward Jesus as well.
And from this point on in Matthew's Gospel, we see Jesus’ earthly ministry becoming less and less public; as the personal training of His disciples receives more and more of His attention. Matthew writes;
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 is told in all four gospel accounts. Matthew says,
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The Holy Spirit moved upon each of the Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—to tell this story. Each tells this story in his own way, and records different elements and details about it. And yet they all report that the same basic events happened. It's a story that is impossible to “spiritualize”. It cannot be dismiss as a mere 'parable'. It is reported to us as a historic event. Jesus truly did feed a large multitude of people with a few loaves of bread and a few small fish.
But why was it so important for us to read and believe this story that the Holy Spirit moved each of the writers to include it? There's one thing we can be sure of; it wasn't in order to teach us about food. In John's Gospel, shortly after this story, Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:27). One reason the Spirit went to such great lengths to preserve this story for us is because it affirms to us that Jesus Christ is who the Bible tells us that He is—the Son of God in human flesh, and the Savior of the world. He is the One we must trust for salvation.
But I suggest that another reason the Spirit has preserved this story for us is so that we will learn to respond to the seemingly impossible situations of life by trusting Jesus in them. This story is here to remind us of something that believing people have found to be true throughout the centuries: that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
I believe that what we are to do with impossible situations of life can be summed up in the words of Jesus—recorded for us only here in Matthew's Gospel. Jesus says, “Bring them here to Me” (Matthew 14:17). He doesn't give us a magic formula to solve our problems on our own. Rather, He gives us Himself; and invites us to cast our cares on Him.
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Let's look, then, at what this passage teaches us to do when faced with seemingly impossible challenges. The first principle it teaches us is . . .
1. DON'T DESPAIR OVER THE SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE
Now, 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! Apparently, they were so eager to go to where Jesus was and hear Him teach that they forgot to bring food! And all that the disciples would have 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 simply couldn’t be done!
Now; you can be sure that Jesus knew the impossibility of the situation. He wasn't caught off-guard somehow by the tremendous need of the multitudes before Him. And when we read the apostle John's account of this same story, we gain a fascinating insight into Jesus' intention with the impossible situations that He allows into our lives. In John 6:5-9, John writes;
Now first, think about the ways the disciples “despaired” over the seeming impossibility of what faced them. See if you ever “despair” in the same way.
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”—which was 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 would have had to travel out of town to get the supplies—or have the supplies shipped in.
Second, they despaired over what they did have. All they had was the lunch that a little boy had brought—nothing more than the ancient equivalent to a “Happy Meal”. 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—as one great Bible teacher has said—among the truly great 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. It was enough perhaps to satisfy the hunger of a little boy; but certainly not enough to feed a multitude of tens of thousands of people. (Personally, I can't imagine that such a small amount of food would have made it past Peter—and he would still have been hungry!)
Third, they even despaired over the humble nature of what little they had. It wasn’t just five loaves and two fish but; as John tells us, it was five “barley” loaves and two “small” fish. Barley loaves were pretty poor things to offer to people. Barley was cheap, and was usually reserved only as animal feed. And what’s more, the word John 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 barley loaves! 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 all that good to begin with!
And finally, in consideration of what they had, they despaired over the enormity of the task. All the gospel writers except John tell of 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).
As a result, the disciples clearly didn’t want anything to do with this problem. And on a purely human level, who could have blamed them? The disciples were simply being realistic. The situation was humanly impossible; and in and of themselves, they couldn’t have even begun to accomplish what Jesus was proposing.
But that’s why an additional detail from John’s gospel is so important. I wonder if you noticed this detail when I read it to you. When Jesus turned to Philip and asked where they could buy bread to feed all those people, John added that “this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do”. That fact alone should be more than enough to take away any cause we might have for despair.
When we face a challenge that is bigger than we have the resources to accomplish—and when we simply don't know what we are going to do—let’s stop and remember that Jesus has sovereignly permitted that challenge to fall upon us, and He already knows what He is going to do. Let's rest assured that He is simply testing us to see whether or not we will trust Him.
And knowing these things, let's set aside all despair.
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Another principle this passage teaches us is . . .
2. MAKE SURE THAT YOU'RE CONCERNED WITH JESUS' CONCERNS.
This second principle isn’t something that automatically think about when we face a crisis. But I suggest to you that it’s one of the most important things 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. He isn't concerned about the impossibilities that we're concerned about. He is always concerned about something else—something greater and far more worthy of our attention. And we must look for the burden of His heart in it all.
Think about the disciples for a moment. What were they concerned about? Not about feeding the crowds; that's for sure! “Lord, please send them away!” they said. “Let them go to town and buy something for themselves!” They were concerned over the lack of 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 . . . and not on the people, or on their needs.
Now compare that with the focus of Jesus' attention. 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 needed a time of rest and solitude, He wasn’t bitter or resentful toward the fact that multitudes of people that followed Him on foot from the surrounding cities. When He saw them, He wasn’t mad at them. Far from it! 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 second, notice that He demonstrated His love and compassion for them 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 Himself was tired and needed rest, He welcomed the needy crowds and gave Himself for them—even to the point of 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 love 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 His busy schedule—even more than the seeming impossibility itself of meeting the needs of all those people.
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I believe this is one of the greatest challenges we face in a seemingly impossible situation. It's not the impossibility of the situation that is the challenge. Rather, it's whether or not we will be conformed to the heart of Christ in it. It's whether or not we will stop, examine ourselves, and see if we will desire the things that Jesus wants in it—and whether or not we will want them as much as He does.
I'm convinced that, when our sovereign 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 really wants from us the conformity of our hearts 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 instead had the spiritual maturity to turn to our Lord in prayer and say, “Dear Lord; please teach me what Your concern is in all this. Help me to see what You see in it. 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 have dealt with our own attitude when faced with an impossible situation. The next principle, and the one that follows it, speaks to our behavior in such situations. And of those, the first is . . .
3. BRING WHAT YOU HAVE TO JESUS.
When the disciples told Jesus to send the people into town to buy food for themselves (as if the Lord of glory needed their advice . . . !), He told them, “They do do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” They responded by saying 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 really needed. He said, “‘Bring them here to Me.’”
Consider again what happened after they did so.
Jesus took that little sack-lunch and multiplied it into a meal for tens of thousands of people. 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. It doesn't tell us this in the Bible; but I’m pretty sure the little boy was also given an abundance—far over and above what he had given up. I'd bet that he was very excited to bring it all home and show everyone!
Now; none of this would have happened if the disciples had simply taken the little boy’s lunch into their own hands, made everyone sit down at their own command, lifted up a prayer of blessing on their own authority, and then distributed it to everyone in their own power—all apart from Jesus. If they had done that, the impact of those five loaves and two fish would have been next to nothing! The miracle of the feeding of the multitude happened only because they brought the little bit of food that they had to Jesus.
Now; how could this have happened? How could it be that the food was multiplied so greatly? I have thought about this many times; and I'm afraid I just can't wrap my mind around it. But when I think about it, it reminds me of the times I used to read Bible stories to my children. We’d look at a picture-book of Bible stories together; and I'd show them the illustrations of Jesus doing these remarkable things—walking on water, or healing the blind, or raising people from the dead. And I’d always ask them, “Now, you tell me: How could Jesus do things like that?” And the answer they learned to give me was was always the same: “Because He is the Son of God, and He can do anything.” That's a theological insight that is so profound that only someone with child-like faith can grasp it.
How could Jesus multiply a few loaves and two small fish to feed a huge crowd of people? I don’t know the mechanics of how it happened. I don't know any human being that does. But I know that Jesus is the Son of God; and as the Son of God, He can do anything He choses to do. The situation was impossible with men; but not with the Son of God! Jesus teaches us, “Bring what you have here to Me;” and helps us to understand that once we do so, the impossible becomes possible. The problem is solved when it is brought to Him.
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And by the way; those words from Jesus—“Bring it here to Me”—illustrate what it is that makes the difference between mere “religion” and true, biblical Christian faith.
Have you noticed that, in our day—more than, perhaps, any other era in Christian history—there are more “Christian” books and materials on 'self-help' and 'recovery' than there have ever been? Stop by the Christian book store sometime and take a look at them all on the shelf! And yet, at the same time, have you noticed that all of it seems to have done us very little good? For all that is available, it seems to me that most people in church ought to be in better shape than they are. It all has led me to a conclusion, which I believe experience verifies: The increase of 'Christianized' self-help and recovery materials parallels the decrease of obeying Jesus' command: “Bring it here to Me”.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; nothing good will ever come from anything we can 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, personally, relationally obey Jesus’ command, “Bring them here to Me.”
The important thing is never the problem itself. Problems are never a problem for Jesus Christ. The only thing that’s important is what you and I do with those problems; and the only right thing to do with them is to bring them to Jesus. We “bring” what we have 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, and thank Him in advance for the result that He will bring about.
And any problem that makes us that dependent upon Jesus is a wonderful gift from God.
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That leads us to one more principle. After we bring what we have to Jesus, we must . . .
4. WAIT FOR JESUS' TIMING.
It’s fascinating that, when they brought that small lunch to Jesus, He didn’t simply wave His hand over it all and—Bam!—turn it all into a huge 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 as dinner in everyone’s bellies. His use of the meager resources that were given to Him could have been immediate, and marvelous, and very dramatic. But instead, He seemed to go through a process that took time, and that involved obedience to Him.
First, He had the multitudes sit down. Mark tells us that they sat in ranks, in hundreds and fifties (Mark 6:40). Jesus made people seat themselves into organized groups to get their food before He fed them. Perhaps He wanted them to be able to enjoy fellowship as they ate; and to be able to talk together about what they were about to see Him do.
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. He took the time to place the worship of His Father over the urgency of the need.
And third, He divided it up and distributed it through His disciples. And just think of that! They were the very 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.
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 expect; 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 finally turned our resources over to Him?
That's a tremendous test—to wait on Jesus after we have brought our problem to Him. But as Psalm 37:5 promises, “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.
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What great principles this passage teaches us about our Lord! We need to take them to heart at those times when we're challenged with the seemingly impossible. First, we need to repent of all despair; because everything is possible to Him. Second, need to make sure that we are concerned about the things He is concerned about in that situation. Third, we need to bring what we have to Jesus. And finally, having done so, we need to learn to wait on His perfect timing as we trust Him.
Let's learn to bring the impossible to Jesus. Nothing is impossible for Him.
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