Theme: Training the Twelve
In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus was teaching his disciples to minister to the needs of others, and that our own service needs to follow in this way.
Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
We come now in our series to the story of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, which is the only miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ that appears in all four Gospels. That tells us that this story is important. I sometimes say that if God tells us something once we should pay attention. If he tells us something twice we should pay strict attention. And if he tells us something three times we should obviously give serious rapt and most obedient attention. But this story appears four times!
We are not sure why this is. Suppose we were sitting down to write four Gospels, what is the miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ that we would choose to tell four times? I would be very surprised if any one of us, certainly not the majority, would choose this story. What story would you tell four times? You’d perhaps want to pick the most spectacular one, as we might assess that. How about a resurrection? How about the resurrection of Lazarus? Why, if I were telling the story that’s the thing I would want to emphasize. What could be greater than that? And yet the story of the resurrection of Lazarus only occurs in John’s Gospel.
Well the very fact that we would react that way, and the differences between our approach and what we find in Scripture, indicates that we probably don’t understand this story because we don’t understand why God thinks it’s important enough to include in all four Gospels. Moreover, there were actually two miracles of this nature. In addition to the feeding of the five thousand, there was also the feeding of the four thousand, which is only told twice. So altogether there are six accounts of these two stories, and that means we should obviously pay attention to it.
Now the context helps a bit because we have been studying together some of the encounters of the Lord Jesus Christ with people that are found earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, chiefly in chapters eight and nine. And by the time we get to chapter 14, where this story is found, we have progressed a long way. Another way of saying the same thing is to say we’re in a different climate in chapter 14 than when we were in chapters eight and nine. How does the outline of the book go? Well, you can outline it in different ways, but one way is this.
In the fourth chapter at the very end in verse 23, Matthew introduces the ministry of Jesus by saying that he “went about teaching and healing the people.” Then in the chapters that immediately follow that he gives some examples of this teaching and healing. Chapters five, six, and seven are the Sermon on the Mount, which is an early collection of Jesus’ teachings. We find those same teachings in the other Gospels in different ways. Then in chapters eight and nine, he has the healings, which we are studying now. So, you have a first section which is more or less introductory.
Then there’s a second section that picks up at the point in which the ministry expands. This involves Jesus’ teaching of his disciples to go out and convey his message to others, and it involves his travels. And in the context of that there’s a great sense of expansion of the message. I suppose you can divide it in different ways, but I would see that in chapters ten, eleven, and twelve.
And then beginning in chapter 13, which contains the first parables of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, you have a restriction of his ministry in that he begins to develop a particularly private teaching. That is, the period of rejection is beginning, and Jesus concentrates now on those that the Father has given him in order that he might instruct them more perfectly and in private. The parables are an example of that. When they ask him why he is teaching in parables, he answers in what seems to us a puzzling way. He tells his disciples that he is doing it so that the masses won’t understand, and he is interpreting the parables in private so that those the Father has given me will understand.
With chapter 14 we come to the third section. This is a section that’s going to go on for quite a few chapters in which the emphasis is upon his private teaching or training of the twelve. That may be a puzzle at first, because we look at this and we say, “Well now, what could be less private than the feeding of five thousand people?” And moreover we say it’s not only a matter of his feeding the five thousand people; Jesus was also teaching the five thousand people and healing those among the five thousand people who were ill. That’s the way it begins. He saw a large crowd, and he had compassion on them, and he healed their sick.
I want to suggest, and I think it’s going to emerge in the story as we study it, that although Jesus certainly ministered among the masses at this period in his ministry, Jesus, nevertheless the heart of the story is seen in the training of the twelve. We’ve been asking how people are changed by these encounters with Jesus. If you ask the question of this story with the five thousand, the answer is that there was not a lot of change—at least not in this story. If we take the other stories into account, particularly John’s version of the same thing, we’d have to say they weren’t changed in the slightest, because they didn’t perceive anything spiritual in the story. What they thought was that they had found somebody who was able to do miracles and feed them. They said, “Well, if we have a king like this we’re not going to have any needs. Let’s make him king.” Consequently, Jesus had to reject that kind of response by the masses of the nation.
But if you ask if anybody was changed, you get a different answer. You have to say that the disciples must have been because they were on the inside workings of the story, as it were, and they learned what it means to minister to others in the name of Jesus Christ. So it’s with that kind of an introduction and in that framework that we need to approach it.
Review the partial outline of Matthew that is given. What are the three sections Dr. Boice mentions, and how does this help you to understand the flow of Jesus’ ministry at this point?
As mentioned in the study, this is the only miracle that is mentioned in all four Gospels. Read all four accounts, and note the changes, if any, that took place in the lives of those involved.