Theme: Withdrawal of the King
This week we see how God can use us, despite our empty hands.
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.
What is Matthew teaching by this incident—the feeding of the five thousand? The first lesson is stated clearly: Jesus cares about people, especially those who are poor or suffering. Verse 14 says, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
There is probably more to it than this, however, important as the mere fact of Jesus’ compassion is. We should remember that Matthew makes some of his best points by the way he links these incidents together, and if he is doing that here, we can hardly overlook the contrast between the party that King Herod threw on his birthday for his friends (see last week’s lesson) and the party Jesus throws in the wilderness for the crowds. The first party is given by a king in his palace, the second by a Galilean preacher in the desert. The first was for the important people of this world, the second for the masses. The first was for Herod – it was his birthday. The second was centered on the crowds. The first was a drunken orgy, the second a pleasant country meal. The first was immoral – the high point was Salome’s provocative dance. The second followed holy, edifying teaching by the Lord. The first ended with the murder of John the Baptist, the second by the feeding of those who had no food. The first was for this world only; the second anticipated the heavenly marriage supper of the Lamb, to which people from every tribe and nation are invited and to which the poor will come.
What explains this contrast? The answer is: Herod cared for no one but himself—his actions were determined by his lust for power and a desire to save face before his friends—whereas Jesus cared for other people. Jesus took time to heal, teach and feed them, even though his first desire was to be alone with his disciples and teach them. Jesus’ compassion for the masses is a reiterated theme in Matthew (see 9:36; 15:32 and here; also 18:27, 33; 20:34).
So the first clear lesson of this story is that Jesus cares for you, even though most of the other people in the world, especially the great and powerful people, do not. Most people who have power, prestige or money do not care about others at all, even though they may pretend to, unless they have been saved and changed by Jesus himself. And there are not many. Your co-workers do not care about you, at least not very much. Even your friends are more interested in themselves and their problems than about you and your problems.
I am not sure that Joseph Scriven’s poem of 1855 is good poetry, but it has the right theology when it asks;
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.
When we bring our problems to Jesus we bring them to one who not only cares about us and is compassionate but who understands us and is also able to help us in our need. Peter wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Contrast the two events—Herod’s birthday and Jesus’ miracle.
Research the other passages where Jesus’ compassion for people is the theme (Matt. 9:36, 15:32, 18:27, 33; 20:34), Can you find others?
When we bring our problems to Jesus we bring them to one who not only cares about us and is compassionate but who understands us and is also able to help us in our need.
Why do you spend so much time worrying about what others think and so little time bringing your cares to Jesus?
As you bring your problems to Jesus, thank God for the compassion he always has for you.