Excerpt from The Messiah Prophecy: Evidence of a Savior in the Gospel of Matthew available on Amazon May 18, 2018!
Fish Sandwiches and the Nature of God (Matthew 14)
Chapter 14 opens with a sad news report: Jesus learned that John the Baptist was executed in prison. Matthew took the time in the first few verses to report how John became imprisoned in the first place. John had spoken against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. This landed him in prison, but Herod was reluctant to kill John. Apparently Herodias was deeply offended by John, and she plotted with her daughter to manipulate Herod into having John beheaded. This act later haunted Herod, who must have been a superstitious man. When he later heard about Jesus’s miracles, he thought it was a ghost, John back from the dead. Despite his distress about having John killed, he gave in to the pressure and had him executed. John’s head was delivered to the daughter of Herodias, and his body was returned to his disciples to be buried.
When Jesus heard about this, He went away to be alone. He wanted to grieve, but was not able to because the people followed Him. This would have made me angry. I would have insisted that I needed some space. In fact, I am pretty sure I said those exact words to my kids yesterday. It is a good thing I am not Jesus! I am selfish. But Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion and came down to heal the people. He served them well into the afternoon and evening. Surely He would send them home then to get His alone time. But when the disciples suggested this, He commanded them to feed the crowd dinner instead.
I am struck by the contrast between Jesus and the ruler Herod. Herod was so self-important that he imprisoned and killed a man simply for speaking against him. He saw himself as so important that no one could ever disagree with him. Compare that attitude to Jesus, who was God, and had actual authority over natural things and spiritual things. Yet he did not put Himself over the people. Instead, He considered their needs above His own. And while Herod murdered people with his power, Jesus healed and brought people back from the dead with His. Jesus was a remarkable man, but He was no mere man. That is the point. He was God in the form of a man. The takeaway for me is that Jesus revealed to us the nature of God; ever-serving, ever-compassionate, ever-kind. Doesn’t it make you want to worship? Or is it just me? But Matthew said, “Wait, there’s more to get excited about!” (By the way, that is a paraphrase, it does not actually say that.) The rest of the chapter describes two of Jesus’s most famous miracles. The feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water.
As previously mentioned, after serving the crowd all day Jesus instructed the disciples to serve them all dinner. The disciples suggested he send them all away because they lacked enough resources to get it done. It was the end of a long day, and they were ready to rest. They pointed out the fact that the only food they had were 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. Basically all they had were a couple of fish sandwiches. However, he told them to feed the crowd of more than 5,000 with that single basket of food. The disciples started passing out the food, but they never ran out. Each time they reached into the basket, they found bread and fish. In fact, there were 12 baskets left over when they were all fed. I can’t help but notice that the number of baskets left over equals the number of tired disciples that assisted Jesus perform the miracle that evening. Was Jesus showing them that He would be their provision?
It does not say that Jesus intended this to be a word picture of the very nature of God, but this is how I see it. Jesus is always enough for me. When I expect my basket to be empty, I keep finding more: more love, more grace, more provision, more kindness and forgiveness. I do not have the ability to fill my own basket when it runs empty. That is why I send my children away for the sake of space. That is why I cannot see past my own face when I am stressed. But this story teaches me that when I sit at the feet of Jesus and have faith that He is the One Long-Awaited, Jesus - the King of Kings - will keep my basket full. Amen and amen. This makes me want to worship too!
This story resonates with me so much because I tend to feel “the lack” in my life. There seems to never be enough money, or time, or energy to do the things that are important to me. This story teaches me that in the hands of Jesus, my lack is transformed into abundance. All I need to do is place my meager resources in His hands and watch the miracle happen. And I always seem to notice that He does not provide merely enough, but much more than enough. My friends, ours is a God of abundance not lack.
Later that night, Jesus dismissed the crowd and sent His disciples to set sail on the lake. Jesus went up on the mountain to pray and finally mourn His friend in private. Hours later, the disciples were sleeping on the boat when something woke them. They saw a figure walking on the water and were struck with fear because they thought they were seeing a ghost. It was the second time in this chapter Jesus was mistaken for a ghost. But Jesus called out and told them not to be afraid. They realized then who it was, so what did Peter do? He told Jesus he would like to go out on the water as well. He saw Jesus doing something impossible, and the thought that if Jesus simply commanded him to do it too, he could. Jesus said, “Come." (vs. 29) Peter climbed over the side of the boat and swam to Jesus. No, that is what we might expect to happen, but what really happened is that Peter DID do the impossible. He actually walked on water! Way to go, Peter! Nobody else even got out of the boat. Peter’s faith was growing. However, he did not stay on top of the water very long. He became distracted by the waves. He took his eyes off of Jesus and sank. Oh, but for a moment...for a moment, he walked on water! It is likely this encounter became a touch point for him.
I imagine him sitting around campfires for decades to come. When the conversation lagged, when eyes drifted to the stars, when they missed their Lord who now sits at the right hand of God, Peter would whisper, “Remember that night on the boat after feeding all of those people? Wow! That was something!” It was something, indeed.
When Peter and Jesus climbed into the boat a few minutes later, the men worshiped and said, “Truly you are the Son of God." (vs. 33) Jesus had just asked Peter, “Why did you doubt?” (vs. 31) Matthew was asking his readers the same question, “Why do you still doubt?” One needs only to reach out and touch the hem of His cloak to be healed. One needs only to keep reaching into the basket to receive abundance. One needs only to have faith to do the impossible.