Matthew 14:13–21 NLT
13 As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. 14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 That evening 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 food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.” 17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered. 18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. 21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!
The fame of Jesus had spread - everywhere but in his own home town that is! And when he gets to the other side of the Sea of Galilee there is a mob waiting for him. He has compassion on them and heals them.
But they stick around.
Eventually, they come to the point of needing to eat. WHY 5,000 men (and families) would head out to a remote place without provisions is beyond my imagination. Perhaps they just hoped to see or meet Jesus and ended up being welcomed and stuck around? I think that is the scenario here which we will see shortly.
They need food, and the disciples suggest they send them to the towns to get food. Imagine being in a small town like Carthage or Lowville and having 5,000 family units descend on you for dinner? There is NO WAY they could have supported that! And to buy food for that many people would take at least 1/2 of your annual salary!
SO, what do you do? A miracle.
They had 5 loaves and 2 fish. This was basically a single lunch or dinner. Loaves were NOT what we might think of today, but more like a roll.
ILLUSTRATE: I have 5 ciabatta rolls and 2 cheese sticks with me. If I were to break it up into pieces and give everyone in this room a piece of roll and a piece of string cheese, do you think you would be full?
Now, I can fit all of that into a single bag. Imagine if I gave all of you some roll and some cheese, and enough that you were actually FULL. How much would you expect to be left over? None, right? What if I collected 12 bags of left overs? There was less than one bag to begin with, and then everyone ate and then there were 12 baskets left over.
There is no mistaking this for anything other than miraculous. No matter how hard I try, I cannot take these 5 rolls and 2 string cheese and break them into pieces, eat some of them and then fill 12 bags full. And I am only one person.
At face value, this is another spectacular display of Jesus being sent by God, or even God himself, for only Yahweh can defy the laws of nature and make something out of nothing.
This is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded by all four gospel authors. The ONLY one! Equally as interesting is how consistent all four of them are on certain details. We know that each author is communicating the Jesus story through a different lens and as such will highlight specific details. So when all four of them repeat the same details, it is something to take note of!
What I thought might be fun is to take all 4 of the accounts and mesh (or mash) them into one account. I will use Matthew as the base text and then add in different colors the elements from other gospel accounts.
NOTE: this is a possible way to synchronize these verses - there could be other ways. There are some printed copies of this on the back counter if you want to take one with you for your studies. If you like comparing the teachings of the gospels, you might consider buying a “Harmony of the Gospels” or a “Synopsis of the Gospels”.
Let’s read that mashup - I’ll put it on the screen.
So what are the consistent details?
I am not sure how much to read into the numbers here. 7 items to begin with might be a “sabbath rest” reference or not. 12 baskets full of leftovers could be a reference to the 12 tribes or simply the fact that all 12 disciples picked up a basket full.
While there could be some awesome numerology links going on here, I do not want to over work the passage. This is narrative, so the facts are before us though there are often hidden or subtle secondary meanings.
For instance, there is one VERY significant phrase that shows up in all 4 of the accounts. It will be prominent later on in the story: ⚡
Matthew 14:19 CSB
19 Then he commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
Mark 6:41 CSB
41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke the loaves. He kept giving them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.
Luke 9:16 CSB
16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke them. He kept giving them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
John 6:11 CSB
11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks he distributed them to those who were seated—so also with the fish, as much as they wanted.
The narration of Jesus looking to heaven, blessing the bread, breaking it and handing it out is super significant to the story of Jesus. It will be VERY significant later on, so I will not jump too far ahead.
To bless the food, or bread, before eating was a common thing to do and still is today. How many of you say a blessing before you eat? While we might ask God to bless the food to our bodies - we should acknowledge that the greasy hamburger, super-salty fries and overly-sweet soda is probably not good for our bodies and just because we ask God to bless it does not negate the reality of what we are consuming :)
Blessing is more about blessing GOD and acknowledging GOD for the provision. I believe all I have is a gift from God and if nothing else, I can at least think him for it.
This posture of blessing and breaking bread will be one of the things that Jesus becomes known for … it is something we practice every month when we celebrate communion.
So those are the consistencies. Most of the details are similar, and each author has something unique in their recounting of the events, but they all recount the same basic event.
THIS is one of the stories that makes every Sunday School curriculum, right? It is one that many people who have never read the Bible from cover to cover still know about.
Why is this the ONLY miracle in all 4 gospels? Why is this included in this particular section of the gospel of Matthew?
How this fits into the immediate context. In this section of Matthew, there is a theme of Jesus being a prophet. In Chapter 13 we start with Jesus going to his home town where he is not accepted. This is the first time Jesus refers to himself as a prophet:
Matthew 13:57 CSB
57 And they were offended by him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”
Then, we read about John the Baptist being killed. There are several links that connect that story to this one. One of those links is the word “prophet”:
Matthew 14:5 CSB
5 Though Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd since they regarded John as a prophet.
Herod thought Jesus was John come back from the dead, and the people thought John was a prophet. In that case, the people and perhaps even Herod, acknowledged Jesus as a prophet - even though the religious leaders, his family and his home town did not.
HOLD that Prophet concept in your minds for a few minutes.
When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew. There are a few reasons he might have done this.
One could be to mourn the passing of his cousin and partner in ministry.
Another could be to get away from Herod lest Herod (who thinks Jesus is John incarnate) might try to kill “John” again! The region of Galilee where Nazareth resides is part of Herod Antipas’ district, so IF Herod wanted to kill Jesus he could do so. If Jesus got in the boat and went to the other site of the Sea of Galilee (to the North East) he would be in Herod Phillip’s district and safe from Antipas.
Mentioning Jesus as a prophet, as well as Herod Antipas killing the prophet John and thinking that Jesus was John come back to life, could very easily lead to the conclusion of Jesus, as a prophet, being concerned for his life.
However, I think there is an ever greater link to the prophets. There is a prophet that did a very similar miracle.
When we studied Elijah and Elisha, we mentioned that Elijah was a type of John the Baptist. Even Jesus made that connection in Matthew 11:14. We also mentioned that Elisha was a type of the Messiah. The miracles that he did were the same type of miracles that the Messiah would do. Let’s go back and revisit one of those miracles:
2 Kings 4:42–44 CSB
42 A man from Baal-shalishah came to the man of God with his sack full of twenty loaves of barley bread from the first bread of the harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.” 43 But Elisha’s attendant asked, “What? Am I to set this before a hundred men?” “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said, “for this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat, and they will have some left over.’ ” 44 So he set it before them, and as the Lord had promised, they ate and had some left over.
How many similarities do you see?
an exact number of loaves or barley bread (20 in this story)
John was certainly connecting this miracle with the one Jesus performed - he was the only disciple who mentioned there were 5 loaves of barley bread.
YOU give it to the people to eat
It will not be enough
there are specific number of men
they eat and have some left over
It makes sense that Matthew would include this narrative in this part of his gospel. It points to yet another way Jesus is a prophet:
a prophet is not accepted in his hometown
a prophet was killed for obedience to Yahweh
a prophet performs a miracle that defies physics
But not just a prophet, he is the perfect prophet! He is above all of the other prophets - even Moses!
Keep in mind, Jesus already said Matthew 12:41 that something greater than Jonah (the prophet) was here.
He also came to complete all that the prophets foretold.
Jesus also said he came to fill-full or fulfill the law and prophets in Matthew 5:17
IT IS a STATEMENT MIRACLE declaring that Jesus is something greater than the prophets, even greater than John or Elisha.
The Character of Jesus
While this narrative demonstrates the position of Jesus as the prophet above all other prophets and the completion of the prophets, it also demonstrates some awesome things about his nature and character.
Jesus welcomed them.
Though he wanted to be alone, he was not annoyed by the crowds but had compassion on them.
I can say that my first reaction when my plans are changed and when I need alone time and get raided - that initial reaction is not necessarily compassion!
Jesus never turned them away, did he? He sent them home, but he always met them and welcomed them. I love the way Luke explains it:
Luke 9:11 (CSB)
... He welcomed them, spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
Even today there is always a welcome from Jesus. You are never an interruption or an annoyance - you are welcome.
Jesus met their needs.
Second, he did not leave them to fend for themselves, but fed them.
I do not think the disciples were being unreasonable with their request to send the people away to get food. It was a logical suggestion. But Jesus wanted to do for them people what they could not do for themselves in a desolate place - be fed.
He met their spiritual needs by teaching them
He met their physical needs by healing them and feeding them
But most importantly, his very life and what he was doing on this earth was to meet an even bigger need that humans cannot meet themselves, the need for salvation.
Philippians 4:19 CSB
19 And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
What are the riches in glory in Jesus? Life. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Peace. Restoration. Mission. Wisdom.
Jesus is still doing that today for all who will call upon him, who will place their faith in him.
The Commitment of the Disciple
One of the other beauties of this narrative is how it speaks to us as disciples as well. For instance, in this passage we see that sometimes God tests us.
Disciples are tested.
We see this more clearly in the gospel of John than we do in Matthew:
John 6:5–6 CSB
5 So when Jesus looked up and noticed a huge crowd coming toward him, he asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread so that these people can eat?” 6 He asked this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
Sometimes, God might test us to see if we are willing to trust him. He always has a plan, but will we trust him when he reveals it?
James, the brother of Jesus, who eventually accepts that Jesus was the Messiah, talks about this in his letter.
James 1:2–4 CSB
2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Are you going through a test of faith right now? Praise God and trust him! He always has a plan.
Disciples are co-workers with God.
Jesus could have distributed the loaves by himself. Instead, he chose to involve the disciples. It has always been God’s design to partner with humans to accomplish his compassionate work in this world.
Matthew 14:16 CSB
16 “They don’t need to go away,” Jesus told them. “You give them something to eat.”
“YOU give them something to eat” was not a command of impossibility, setting them up for failure, but an opportunity for them to join him in his mission.
I LOVE that the disciples just did it! Not sure what was going through their minds! But we know their hands and feet followed instructions.
Sometimes we will feel out of our element doing the work of God - I do not have enough, I am not enough, I am not skilled enough, and yet that is when God can use us the most.
2 Corinthians 9:8 CSB
8 And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.
It is God who does the work. The disciples did not feed the 5,000 - Jesus did. The disciples just has to be obedient so God could work through them.
So, while the feeding of the 5,000 is a lesson as Jesus being the ultimate Prophet. Whether you believe it or not, he is.
It is also a lesson on the compassion of Jesus and the willingness to meet needs. If you are willing to come to him you can experience them both.
Finally, it is a lesson for you and me as disciples to remind us that God wants to use us as his co-workers and will often do so by testing our faith. Be willing and obedient.