Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 25, 2015
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them 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 seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.
— Matthew 15:32-39, ESV
An initial reading of this passage can be misleading in at least two ways. Those with a liberal, critical point of view tend to point out that Matthew is simply telling the same story twice with different details. Those with a conservative, literal point of view may point out that it is two different events, though the latter is not quite as great as the former. Both of these aims miss the mark.
This is most definitely a second episode in the life of Christ in which He miraculously feds a large number of people. Mark records both, Matthew eyewitnessed both, and the word of God would not contain both stories if both of them did not happen. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. You can either pick it apart or let it put you together.
In this second story, however, it does seem on the surface that Jesus does less with more. Whereas in the first instance He fed five thousand men plus woman and children with five loaves of bread and two fish (ref. Matthew 14:13-21), this time He feeds four thousand plus with seven loaves and multiple fish. Yes, Jesus’ popularity has probably peaked and does begin to decline at this point. Yes, it took more initial food to multiply into a meal for a few thousand less people than before. But no, Jesus did not do less with more here. He did more with less!
Applauding the Same
There was a wonderful sameness to this second miracle that bears repeating. Jesus looks out over another large crowd that has been following Him, albeit superficially, because of Christ’s divine power to perform miracles. After walking off the beaten path for days, the food runs out except for a little bit of bread and fish. It’s enough for one person or a very small family, but certainly not enough for a crowd of thousands. Motivated by love, divine “compassion,” Jesus is moved to use His supernatural power. The Lord turns a little lunch into a bountiful buffet for a miraculous number of people, with plenty of leftovers to spare.
The love of God goes a long way. The power of God can accomplish anything. Every miracle that Jesus performed, every parable that Jesus preached, every account of Jesus’ life and ministry tells this same tale, and it never gets old. God loves, God provides, and God saves, albeit with a different cast and script in every new episode.
Admiring the Difference
This story is the same, but there are differences, too, and not just in the numbers. Compared to the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand was on different turf with different turks using different tools. For the first miracle, Jesus was ministering to Jewish people in the region of Galilee. In the aftermath, after Jesus refused to be the kind of earthly king the Jews wanted Him to be, they all walked away from Him, except for the twelve.
After that, Jesus took the twelve on a messianic mission trip into Gentile territory. He healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter (ref. 15:21-28), performed other miracles for other Gentiles in that Gentile territory (ref. 15:29-31), then led thousands of Gentiles back to a setting near the Sea of Galilee for this second miraculous feeding. Even the word for “baskets” here is different, denoting the kind used by Gentiles, not Jews. What do these differences teach us?
God’s compassionate love for Gentiles was just as strong and powerful as His love for the Jews. Nowhere in history was the barrier between people any greater than the first century divide between Jews and Gentiles (we still catch a glimpse of it today in the Israeli-Arab conflict). Jesus crossed it, deliberately and repeatedly, to demonstrate that the New Covenant gospel, unlike the fading away Old Covenant, was universal in its scope, reaching out to red and yellow and black and white.
The door to reach more was opened wide, and Jesus did it, Jesus did more with less.
Accomplishing More with Less
Remember that miracles are parables. We cannot duplicate the miracle but we can learn from the parable. Not one of us can make something out of nothing the way God can. Not even any of the religious hucksters on television have even dared to fake a miraculous feeding like the ones in the Gospels. But while we cannot feed thousands with a sack lunch, we can learn something from the Lord about compassion, spreading the gospel, and doing more with less.
In Matthew’s continuing commentary on race, Christ shows that Christians’ compassion and care for people should be viewed with color blinders on. As this whole section of Scripture shows us, and while no apology is necessary for being homogeneous, we can never be exclusionary and we must sometimes be intentional. Hang with the homeboys, yet never discriminate, and occasionally get out of your comfort zone to deliberately do something Christian for a person of another color or class. With just a little time and money, you can participate in a mission or mentoring project in your own town, or take a mission trip or support a child in a far away country. You can do more, even with less of your time and money.
In the New Testament’s continuing commentary on evangelism, Christ shows us that strategic and smart social ministry is the seed planting of the gospel. I hate to whip out a cliche’, but people really don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Jesus did not take out an accordion and start playing “Just As I Am” while calling the previously hungry Canaanites to come forward and make a decision for Christ. Their allegiance to the Lord in the aftermath of the miracle may not have been much stronger than the large group of Jews who rejected Jesus after He rejected their offer to be their leader on their terms. But here, Jesus opened a door that would become a gate that would one day welcome a flood of Gentiles into the kingdom of God. This lesser miracle was part of planting that giant seed. Jesus actually did more, with less, and there are ways we can do more with less today with real compassion, smart programs, and an unwavering commitment to the exclusive gateway to Heaven provided by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
People with a relationship with Jesus Christ are largely responsible to witness to and care for the people they have relationships with already. This is where more of their time and resources go. But some time and effort needs to be given to others, others you don’t know, in other places you may never go. With less, you can do more.
But what about those with no relationship with Jesus, yet? Are you hungry? Jesus could feed your body if He was here, physically. But He is here, spiritually, and He is more interested in feeding your soul. This body of Christ has ways and means to put a box of food in a hungry person’s hands, but like Christ, we want you to sit down in the kingdom of God even more than we want you to sit down for dinner. Jesus feed people like this on two days, but every day He was preaching the gospel and calling people to salvation and eternal life. Turn to God and believe the gospel and you will be saved. Then, you will be amazed at how God takes care of your other needs, too. Christ really can do more, even with less.