Theme: Withdrawal of the King
This week we see how God can use us, despite our empty hands.
Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, fhe withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


For some time now we have been looking at the change in Jesus’ ministry that is found in the middle chapters of Matthew’s gospel (chs. 11-16). Yet it is only in Matthew 14:13 that we come to it explicitly for the first time. We read in that verse, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
The change has been coming ever since Jesus spoke his warning to the cities of Galilee in chapter 11, denouncing them for their failure to repent and turn to him,- he warned that it would be more bearable for the notoriously wicked cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom on the day of judgment than for them (vv. 20-24). Chapter 12 is almost entirely about the Pharisees and teachers of the law, with similarly strong words. Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” (v. 34), the chief representatives of that “wicked and adulterous generation” that asks for a sign but will not come to faith (v. 3). After this Jesus began to teach in parables, saying that “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” must be kept from those whose hearts are calloused (Matt. 13:11-15). At the end of that chapter he is rejected by the people of his own home city of Nazareth (vv. 54-57). At the start of chapter 14 we read of Herod’s murder of John the Baptist and that John’s disciples reported John’s death to Jesus. It is at this point that we are told, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately. . .”
This section is characterized by three things: 1) Jesus’ private teaching of the twelve disciples, 2) repeated failures on the disciples’ part to understand or respond to Jesus’ teaching, and 3) glimmerings of true faith and growth. The climax comes in chapter 16 in Peter’s great Christological confession (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” v. 16) and Jesus’ subsequent teaching about the need for him to die and on the third day to rise again (v. 21).
We might suppose at this point that Jesus would have no more dealings with the masses. But surprisingly, instead of Jesus’ complete rejection of the crowds, we find him continuing to teach those who wanted to be taught—and healing and feeding them too!
Jesus had withdrawn to a remote area on the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Bethsaida (Mark 6:45), crossing to it from the western side by boat. He wanted to be alone with his disciples. But the people saw where he was heading and many walked on ahead around the lake so that they were waiting for him when he and his disciples landed. We are told that “he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (v. 24). In this way Matthew sets the stage for the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, which follows.
The feeding of this great crowd is the only miracle found in each of the gospels (see Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). So it must have made a tremendous impact on those who were present. However, there are different emphases in each gospel. Mark is closest to Matthew. Luke says that Jesus used the occasion to teach the people about the kingdom of God (Luke 9:11), which he had commissioned the disciples to do themselves in the passage immediately before this in Luke’s gospel. John’s version is the most independent and detailed. He says that the miracle was performed just before the Jewish Passover (John 64), and he follows his account with Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life (vv. 25-59). John’s points are obvious! Jesus is the new Moses who feeds his people with spiritual food, which if they eat, they will live forever. John’s account ends with Peter’s double testimony; “You have the words of eternal life” and “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69).


When did the change in Jesus’ ministry occur? ‘ Give three characterizations of this period of Jesus’ ministry.


The feeding of this great crowd is the only miracle found in each of the gospels. So it must have made a tremendous impact on those who were present.


Read the other accounts of the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44; Luke 17; John 6:1-14). Note the emphases in these accounts.

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