A sermon by Martin Ambler on the meaning behind Matthew 14:14-14:21 The feeding of 5,000 people with a lunch basket of loaves and fishes
An English teacher and her class were studying well-known Proverbs. One day she gave them a test to see whether they understood what she had taught. She would give the first half of a proverb and then asked the students to come up with the rest of what it said. These were some of the answers that the teacher got from her students:
Don’t bite the hand that … looks dirty.
A penny saved is… not much.
Two’s company, three’s… the Musketeers.
Children should be seen and not… spanked or grounded.
Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and… you have to blow your nose.
Even though the students in that class had studied those parables for several days they still had trouble with the right answers. And even when Jesus’ disciples had been with Him for several months they still had trouble with getting their answer right too.
During the time they’d been with Jesus, His disciples had watched Him as He had…
• Healed a Leper Mat 8:1
• Healed the servant of a Roman centurion Mat 8:5
• Healed Peter’s mother in law Mat 8:14
• And He’d also healed numerous people who’d evil spirits and various diseases Mat 8:16 and they had even seen him
• Raise a girl from the dead Mat 9:25
They’d seen all of this.
They’d seen His power up close and personal. But now it’s late in the day they’re on a hill out in the middle of nowhere - and they’ve got a bunch of hungry people on their hands. The disciples are practical men, and they suggest to Jesus that He send the people home so they can get something to eat.
Jesus starts to test his disciples
It’s then that Jesus says the most unusual thing to them: He says:
"They do not need to go away. YOU give them something to eat." Matthew 14:16
Well, that would seem like a practical solution… except for two things:
1. There are 5000 men (besides the women and children) in this crowd
2. And they don’t have anywhere near enough food on hand to feed that many people
The Gospel of Mark tells us another part of the conversation. When Jesus says that they
should feed the crowd, “the disciples said to him, ‘That would take eight months of a
man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"
Now, the Gospel of John gives us another insight into this story. It says that Jesus had
been speaking to Philip when he was telling them that they should feed the crowds. And
John 6:6 says “He asked this only to TEST him, for he already had in mind what he was
going to do.”
This was a test!!!
When I got to looking at all the miracles Jesus had done to that point I suddenly realized
what was going on. Up until this point in time… Jesus had been doing all the work.
• He taught the people
• He healed people
• He raised people from the dead
And the disciples pretty much were along for the ride.
But now… it’s test time.
It was like that teacher who set the stage, by citing the first part of the proverbs to her
class, and then expected them to fill in the blanks.
In the same way, Jesus has set the stage for His disciples:
1. He’s given them an impossible situation
2. He has confronted them with 5000 men, plus women and children and then tells His disciples to feed them.
TEST QUESTION: How are YOU going to feed them?
And… how do the disciples answer?
We don’t have enough money “wrong answer"
We ONLY have 2 fish & 5 loaves - "wrong answer"
Give Jesus what you have and let him deal with the solution. Well, if those are the wrong
answers… what’s the right answer?
Without faith it is impossible to please God
The right answer: give Jesus what you have and let Him deal with the solution
Someone once observed that If God wants 7 - and you can give him 3 - He’ll add 4. If
you give Him 4, He’ll add 3. No matter what you give Him, He is capable of adding or
subtracting whatever He needs to, to get whatever He desires.
Hebrews 11:6 says “… without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone
who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly
If we earnestly seek His involvement in our plans, and we have nothing much to bring to
the table, He fills in the gaps. His strength makes up for our weaknesses. That is the
essence of faith.
The three lessons from this story
Now, as I was studying this passage, 3 things occurred to me (there may be more to learn,
but these were they things that spoke to me):
1st lesson God desires to stretch our faith.
God wants us to mature in our faith and in order to get us to do that He often puts us in
situations where there is NO way we could EVER possibly do what He’s asked on our
That’s what Jesus is doing with the Disciples in this feeding of the 5000. He had put them
into a situation they could only accomplish if God did a miracle. Hudson Taylor said:
"Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith."
If we could do it all by ourselves… what need would we have for God?
2nd lesson The objective was not to feed the 5,000 but to build faith
I discovered in this story of the feeding of the 5000 was that Jesus’s objective was not to
feed the 5000.
If that was all He had in mind, He could have sent them home. They didn’t need Him to
get food. They could have gotten their groceries somewhere else.
When Churches don’t understand this, they can fall into the trap of forgetting why they
Now I’d like you to listen to this carefully because I don’t want you to misunderstand
what I’m saying here:
The church does not exist to feed the poor, or to take care of the needy;
The church exists to serve Jesus Christ and bring people to salvation.
BUT if the church serves Jesus Christ, IT WILL feed the poor and take care of the needy.
If our centre of attention ever gets off of Jesus and becomes focused on good works
without Him being at the centre, we’ll have lost our very reason to exist. We exist as a
church to serve Jesus Christ and to give Him glory.
That was the purpose of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000: to glorify Jesus and build
faith in God.
3rd lesson Be partners in His Ministry
The final lesson I see in the feeding of the 5000 was this: Jesus asked His disciples to be
His PARTNERS in this miracle.
Remember up until this time Jesus had been doing all the work. But now He tells His
disciples: YOU do it YOU give them something to eat.
And how much food do the disciples come up with? (5 loaves, 2 fishes)
And it wasn’t even their food. It was the lunch of a small boy in the crowd!
They need a catering service, and they hand a Jesus a packed lunch!
But Jesus is NOT offended by that, He takes what they give Him … and He blesses it.
“He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two
fishes 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.” Matthew 14:19
When everybody had had their fill, they collected the fragments they ended up with 12
baskets full of food one for each uncertain, undoubting disciple!
Jesus took what the disciples gave Him and He multiplied it.
Why did He do that? Why did He ask the disciples to come up with the food?
He didn’t need their food. He didn’t need the 5 loaves or the 2 fish. He was Jesus!
All He needed to do was slap His hands and the food would have fallen from the sky…
complete with table service.
Why then did He do it the way He did? He did it that way because He wanted His
disciples to be His partners in ministry.
You don’t have to be a preacher to serve God
A Godly faith should challenge us to do as much as we can for Jesus. You look around
this church, and you’ll see men and women of faith investing themselves in ministry for
Jesus. Everything from the catering committee, to the ministry of flowers, to reading and
stewarding and leading prayers to the ministry of music to pastoral visiting and so on.
These people realise that you don’t have to be a preacher to be a servant of God.
They realize that they are a priesthood of believers. And they know that this congregation
is so invested in that kind of thinking that they don’t have to ask my permission (or
anyone else’s) to get into ministry. In fact, they know that the leadership here will do
everything we can to enable them to do even more.
They have realized the privilege God has given them to allow them to be His partners.
You must understand that you will never mature in your faith until you find ways of
ministering for Him inside or outside the church building.
I would never want to reach out someday with a soft, un-calloused hand -- a hand never
dirtied by serving and shake the nail-pierced hand of Jesus.
This miracle was a turning point in the lives of the disciples
One last thing: When God tests your faith... When He challenges you to do more than
you’ve ever done with your life... you should realize what a great opportunity He’s given
God’s tests lead to the realisation that God really wants to use you, and that you have
value and purpose in His service. And that’s the effect the miracle of the 5000 had on
This is the ONLY MIRACLE recorded in all 4 gospels. No other miracle has that honour.
But this one did. This event was such a turning point in their lives that it became one of
their greatest testimonies.
There’s an old Hymn that goes:
“Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart.
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave.
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have”.
May that be so, for each of us here today, that we may testify to the love of God in Jesus!