Psalm 77:16-20; Matthew 14:13-36 (text)
© Rev. Nollie Malabuyo • February 10, 2019 • Big Springs Community Church
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ: Our text today includes two of the most well-known miracles that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry: the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. But all unbelievers and liberals discount these two miracles as but pure myths and they’re in the Bible only for teaching principles of living. For example, here is an interpretation that spiritualizes the second miracle:
The disciples in the boat represent believers in the Church. The sea represents the boat; the mountain, heaven; the evening, the 2,000 years which have passed; the waves and the wind, persecutions and sufferings; and the fourth watch of the night, the return of Christ.
This kind of spiritualizing or allegorizing was very common in the medieval age but is still common among liberal churches today.
Also, because these two miracles seem far-fetched to the modern mind, they have been humored a lot. For example, someone said, “Believing that [Jesus walked on water] has nothing to do with whether he really did do it. ‘Belief’ cannot be the basis for historical conclusions; it has no direct relevance.” Others say that Jesus was actually walking on stepping stones under the water, while still others say that the water was only ankle-deep.
What about the feeding of the 5,000? I once heard a ridiculous liberal interpretation saying that Jesus sent his disciples fishing and they caught lots of fish. And they must have hauled a truckload of bread from surrounding towns. I also saw a cartoon illustrating what it would be like feeding 5,000 people today, saying that many would probably be asking: “Is it gluten free? Is there a vegan option? Are there nuts in those loaves? I’m lactose-intolerant. Does the fish contain mercury? Is it gender neutral?”
As Christians, we believe that in the Bible, every word was actually said or written, every event actually happened, and every person actually existed. The Bible is the Word of our perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God in heaven. Therefore, it is inerrant, infallible, sufficient for salvation, and the final authority of Christians and churches. We believe that there is one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We also believe that Jesus was fully God and fully human, with all the attributes of God and man. Therefore, we believe that Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish, and to walk on a stormy sea.
He is able to perform signs and wonders and miracles outside the realm of natural things because he is God, The Ruler of All Nature. So these two miracles are our two points this morning: A Royal Feast and A Fearful Walk.
A Royal Feast
Last Sunday, we learned that when Jesus heard that Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptizer, Jesus went into a boat and left the region and went to a remote place. He did this because his mission of preaching and teaching was yet to be completed. His hour of death has not yet come. Somehow, the people learned where he was, because like celebrities today, he could not hide from people who wanted to see his miracles, especially to heal their sick. Remember that Herod himself was glad to see Jesus personally to witness a miracle or two performed by him (Luke 23:8).
Additional information about the feeding of the multitude are also found in the other three Gospels. In Luke 9:11, when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, taught them about the kingdom of God, and healed the sick. In Mark 6:30, they were sheep without a shepherd, scattered and lost and no one to feed them. By that time, evening was near, and the disciples were worried and wanted Jesus to dismiss the people, so they would be able to buy food and eat before nightfall. But Jesus said no, and instead commanded his disciples, “You give them something to eat.”
It was an emphatic command, and the disciples were not only confused, but were desperate. How could they feed this multitude with only five loaves of bread and two fish? Remember that there were 5,000 men, and if the women and children were included, there could have been 10- to 15,000 people to feed! In Mark 6:37, the disciples estimated that they would have to spend 200 days’ worth of a laborer’s wages to feed all those people.
So they brought the five loaves and two fish to Jesus, and he ordered the people to sit down on the grass in groups of 50 and 100. Two things we must note here. First, the word for “sit” in Greek actually means “recline,” because people did not actually “sit” at meals, but “reclined.” We find this translation in Luke 12:37, where Jesus says in a parable that a master will return and serve a meal to his waiting servants, “He will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” Here we find a hint that Jesus the King was about to serve a royal feast to the multitude.
And this leads us to a second thing worthy of noting. When Jesus ate the Passover meal with the Twelve, he reclined with them, “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve” (Matt 26:20). It was at that table that he instituted the Lord’s Supper. And the language he used at this meal was the same as the language he used when he fed the multitude. He says in the last supper, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’” (Matt 26:26). In our text, we read in verse 19, “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.” Note the sequence of actions at both meals: taking, blessing, breaking and giving.
This is what Christ does for his people. Though he is powerful, he is also full of mercy and compassion. He is the Good Shepherd who guides, protects and feeds his sheep. He binds and heals the broken ones. He seeks those who are lost and wayward and brings them back into the fold. In John 6, we read that the day after he fed the multitude, Jesus also taught them. He encouraged them to work not only for physical food, but for spiritual food that gives eternal life. And this eternal life is given to those who will feed on him, the Bread of Life who came down from heaven (6:27, 48, 51, 33). Let us be mindful of this saving truth every time we partake of the bread and wine together.
A second truth that we should remember in this event is that Christ is the Almighty God. Through him, God created the universe out of nothing. When he fed the multitude, he multiplied the loaves and the fish as he broke them and gave them to his disciples (14:19). Contrary to unbelieving skeptics, Jesus created bread and fish to feed the multitude out of nothing. He did the same when he turned water into wine, as he added grapes and yeasts to the water from out of nothing (John 2:7-10). The great banquet that Jesus served the multitude from out of nothing was so much that after all the people were fully satisfied, there were twelve basketfuls of leftover food.
A third and final truth we can glean from this miracle is that many people have a warped sense of who Jesus is and what he did. In verse 22, we read, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” Why did Jesus immediately tell his disciples to get on a boat while he dismissed the crowds? We read the reason in John’s account. After the multitude saw this miracle, they wanted to make him their king by force (John 6:15). They thought that if this Jesus can perform such miracles, he must be powerful enough to drive away the Roman oppressors. And this is what many people in many churches do today. They sell Jesus to whoever wants to have health and wealth, saying that he can create riches out of their offerings. For shameful gain, they also perform fake healings in his name. But Jesus will say to them on Judgment Day, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (Matt 7:23).
A Fearful Walk
Jesus also needed to get away from the crowds because he had to commune with his Father in heaven. So he told his disciples to get on a boat and go to the city of Capernaum on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up to a mountainside to pray by himself. His disciples couldn’t wait for him, so they started rowing out to sea. But a storm came, and the winds and the waves became rough. Their experience as fishermen failed to alert them with a storm warning and a wind advisory. It must have been a fearful time at sea in the middle of the night.
But what’s even more fearful was the next event. They started out to sea late at night and rowed until the “fourth watch” of the night. In the ancient Roman world, the fourth watch was between 3-6 am. The sea was so rough that after several hours, they had made only three to four miles.
Then, out of the dark tempest, came a figure of a man walking on the sea. “It’s a ghost!” they screamed. We think that we modern people do not believe in ghosts, but many, even Christians, still do because of superstition. However, the Bible says that no dead person comes back from the dead as ghosts. Evil spirits may take possession of a person, but there are no zombies or walking dead. The only walking dead in this world are those who are unsaved because they do not believe in Christ as God the Savior. Paul describes them as “dead in sin” (Eph 2:1, 5). We are not zombies only because of God’s mercy on us, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4–5). Therefore, Scripture tells us that no one, not even one person in this world, is able to “accept Jesus into his heart.” Why? Because he is dead! His heart is dead!
But the figure of a man was not of a ghost, but of Christ, the One who saves us from our condition of living dead. Christ came to them and saved them not only from death at sea, but from eternal death in hell. As he is Almighty God in creating more than enough bread and fish to feed a multitude, so he is Almighty in walking on the sea. He can defy gravity and all laws of nature because he is the Creator of all nature and all natural laws. If he is able to do this, what, for him, is creating faith in any rebellious, unbelieving hearts? This is why we believe that it is God alone who is able to save, without any contribution from us. He gives life to our dead hearts in order that our dead hearts are able to believe.
And this was still the state of his disciples’ hearts at that time. They had some faith, but it was “little faith.” In addition to impulsiveness, Peter had this “little faith,” an immature faith. Though earlier in Chapter 8, the disciples saw Jesus’ power over the winds and the waves when their boat was about to capsize and sink, they still did not understand who their Master was. Many people also mistakenly teach that this miracle is about Peter’s little faith. But it is about Jesus, the Son of God, the compassionate and powerful Ruler of all nature, the King of all creation.
Because Jesus is Almighty God, he is able to command the winds and the waves to be still. We read in Psalm 77:16-20 that during the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites, the waters were afraid of God. God sent rain, thunder, lightning and wind. We must not think that man is able to cause “global warming” or “climate change.” This is the arrogant idea of unbelievers, because they do not believe in a Creator God, claiming that human beings are sovereign over everything. But the Bible is clear: God controls nature, heaven and earth and the whole universe of stars, galaxies and nebulae. Jesus showed this when he made the winds and the waves to cease right after he got into the boat with his disciples.
What was the reaction of his disciples? Earlier in Matthew 8, we read of fear and astonishment, “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matt 8:27) In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus went to the lake in the morning and spoke to Peter, James and John who had just finished fishing all night. He told them to let their nets down into the water to catch fish, but Peter protested that they fished all night and caught nothing. But when they did, they caught so much fish that their nets were breaking, and their boats began to sink. When Peter saw what was happening, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Why would Peter fall at his feet and fear Jesus who just helped them catch so much fish? Because he recognized that Jesus was God, calling him “O Lord.” Then, in recognizing that Jesus was divine, he feared that he would die, because he knew that no sinful human being can withstand and survive the holiness of God (Exo 33:20).
Here in our text, after Jesus rescued Peter from sinking down the sea, we read how the disciples reacted, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (14:33). Surely, the disciples who recognized him as the Son of God bowed down on their knees in worship. This is the only reaction we must also have when we meet God on the Lord’s Day. It must be with reverence and awe, which in many worship services today is much lacking. There is much joy and frivolity, but not much reverence and fear. In Psalm 95:2 and 6, the psalmist combines these contrasting postures in worship, “Let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” Again, the same attitudes in worship are in Psalm 96:9, “Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!”
Beloved friends: Our Lord Jesus Christ is both a merciful and a powerful God. As a God of mercy, he is compassionate. He saves us from our sins; he teaches us and guides us through the Holy Spirit; he provides for our physical needs; and he nourishes our souls with the Word and with his body and blood through the Lord’s Supper. He feeds you who hunger and thirst for his righteousness.
Jesus is also a powerful God who is sovereign over all nature, because he is also the Creator. He creates all things out of nothing. Most of all, he creates faith in unbelieving and rebellious hearts. When he does, we are to be eternally grateful to him in our worship with both reverence and joy. Let us therefore worship Jesus, the Son of God, Ruler of all nature, King of all creation, Savior of the world!