“This is the Way It’s Supposed to Go”

Matthew 14:1-21

Today’s Scripture in the Gospel of Matthew, puts two stories together. One story of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, being beheaded by Herod, whom the Romans had placed to rule over Israel. The second story of Jesus supplying food for hundreds of hungry people in the wilderness which interrupts Jesus’ grieving over His cousin’s death. The fact that Matthew put these two stories together, is very suggestive. Jesus was unable to grieve over the horrendous death of His cousin. Instead we read that He continued to give of Himself, even in His own time of grievous need.  These stories give an excellent view of how Jesus operated even in the midst of His own personal pain. 

Today we are halfway through Matthew’s story of Jesus. 

There has been a mounting tension between Jesus and the most influential people of His day, the Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders have outright rejected Jesus’ movement. And now we have another story of how Jesus responds to that rejection. 

The chapter begins with Herod hearing about Jesus and thinking, whoa, this must be John the Baptist, returned from the dead? 

Okay, what was the last thing we read about John the Baptist? 

John was in the beginning of the story and we read just a couple of chapters ago that he was in prison. Remember, he had sent messengers to Jesus asking Him, “Are you sure you are the Messiah?” Now, out of the blue we discover he’s dead. He was Jesus’ close cousin. 

They were colleagues, John had actually baptized Jesus. Now Matthew knows you don’t know the story, so he uses a writing technique known as a “flashback” to pause the story and go back in time.  

Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist because he didn’t like John’s opinion of his marriage to his brother’s wife. Herod had power and was going to use that power to get what he wanted. If you had an opposing opinion, Herod had no qualms in getting rid of you. Actually Herod would have liked to just kill John the Baptist, but he was afraid to because so many people liked John and considered him a prophet. 

Let’s pause for just a moment and consider what had happened for Jesus. The dark shadow of Herods in His life portrays another example of what human nature is like. 

Since the beginning of Jesus’ birth, the Herods of the world have given Him grief. When Jesus was born, the first Herod feared for His throne so he ordered all boys the age two or younger be slaughtered. Now, Herod’s son feels threatened and he manages to behead John the Baptist. Somehow when humans get together and create kingdoms it is not a friendly environment for the Kingdom of God. History continues to repeat itself, as not much has changed today. Those who are in power focus on that power, and ego, and lust, and money and thousands of people die. 

Unfortunately we read in verse 6 how John the Baptist became a causality while the kingdoms role on. Herod was having a birthday party. You can imagine the state of affairs. The top ruler of the day is throwing his own birthday party. Lots of male rulers, their female partners along with lots of wine and female dancers. 

One of the dancers happened to be the daughter of Herod’s new wife, who had been the wife of his brother. Her dancing pleased Herod and all of the guests so much that Herod promised her, on oath, whatever she wanted. 

At this point, Herod had to be completely inebriated. Anything she wanted? 

I am conjecting at this point, but if the ruler of a vast kingdom offered you whatever you wanted, stop and think. Well, this girl must have been young, because she doesn’t know what to say so she asks her mother. Who promptly tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Okay, Herod surely didn’t see that coming. Really? As soon as the girl said it you can bet Herod sobered up a bit. He couldn’t deny her the request or he would have looked foolish and lost face in front of his dinner guests. So he ordered her request be granted. 

John was beheaded in prison, his head was brought to the party on a dinner platter. Quite the party! Severed head given to the young girl who takes the platter and gives it to her mother. The kingdoms of this world continue on doing what they have always done. It is about money, about land, about power and about sex. John the Baptist experiences a grisly death because of the thoughtless drunken vow of an irresponsible king. 

What kind of a world are we living in? 

Horrible things happening to good people. 

Bad people sit in power doing them. 

This could mean even more difficulty for Jesus. Because this irresponsible king has now just heard about Jesus for the first time. John’s disciples have taken the body of John the Baptist and given it a proper burial. Then they went to find Jesus and tell Him the story. 

Matthew brings us back to where Jesus was spreading the Good News with His disciples. Jesus was presented with yet another hostile threat to His Kingdom movement. 

At this point, we should be wondering, what is Jesus going to do? He has flown under Herod’s radar up to this point. He has been in conflict with the religious leaders and they are plotting to murder Him. The Herod family is aware of Jesus now and that is not good news. 

In verse 13, Jesus heard the news about John the Baptist, His close cousin, and His response was, “I have got to get out of here.” 

What do you think was going on in Jesus’ head? 

With the careless, drunken flick of a wrist, John the Baptist’s head is gone. 

He had to have felt grieve, possibly fear for those around Him and surely what was ahead for Him? Jesus was trying to get away, by Himself, in secret and in private. They were looking for a secluded place on the Sea of Galilee. 

This is the way Matthew introduces us to the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Look at the second part of verse 13. In the meantime, the crowds heard about Jesus leaving so they followed them on foot. By the time Jesus landed He sees lots of people. 

What was Jesus trying to get away from? 


Wherever He goes, it seems impossible for Jesus to find time to be alone. Always these needy people. Notice Jesus’ response. 

He sees the crowd and He complains. NO! 

He has compassion and He heals their sick. As evening approaches, the disciples approach Jesus with the realization that it was getting late. They ask Jesus to send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and get something to eat. Jesus replies, 

“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

The disciples responded with, “That’s a bad idea, Jesus. You see, we only brought enough food to feed thirteen of us. We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”

Jesus asked for what they had. He asked the crowd to be seated. He took the five loaves and two fish and looked up to heaven. He gave thanks and then broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples and then the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and they were satisfied. 

The disciples picked up twelve baskets full of leftover pieces. Matthew then tells us that the number of people eating was 5,000. That number was only counting the men, not the women or children. 

Immediately, Jesus has the disciples get back in the boat and instructs them to go to the other side of the lake. He then dismisses the crowd. Finally, He was able to climb a mountainside and get by Himself and do what He had wanted to do in the first place and pray. 

Matthew framed this story with the intense and tragic news of the beheading of John the Baptist. Jesus withdraws and tries to get by Himself but His efforts are totally thwarted by the crowd. However, He doesn’t see the crowds as an inconvenience. 

Instead, Jesus does what He always does and loves people and moves towards them in compassion. He eventually gets to find time alone and process the heavy news that He had heard. 

In the midst of this story we read the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. For some reason, this story gets pulled out of context and preached on without providing the pre and post happenings. Quite often we pull stories out of their context and preach a message. I think it is important to note that this story takes place at a time of great emotional pain for Jesus. 

Generally we read the story of the feeding of the 5,ooo and we realize Jesus is amazing and can do powerful things. I think there are more layers to this story. Let’s think about it. 

Does anyone remember a story in the Bible where God’s people are wandering in the wilderness without adequate food? Then God miraculously provides food for the people out of nowhere. Can you think of that story?

That’s a Moses story, in the wilderness. 

Matthew uses this story to demonstrate that Jesus was representing the new Moses. 

This story also contains another layer that is beautiful. Notice what Matthew focuses on in this story of the feeding of the 5,000. He zeroes in on the conversation Jesus had with His disciples, of whom Matthew was one. 

Yes, Jesus feeds these thousands of people, but He feeds them through whom? 

Through the disciples. 

They were the ones who actually gave the bread to the people. Jesus broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to hand out. This is actually a story about the disciples. Remember, Jesus was in the midst of anguish and pain, but He continued to do the only thing He knew to do and that was to love people. He provided for them in their moment of need and brokenness through His disciples. The focal point of this story is the conversation Jesus had with His disciples. 

I would like to share a technique I have learned from Tim Mackee, a pastor in Portland, Oregon.  He suggests that when you are reading through the Bible and you come upon a story that is familiar, stop and pause. Then count up all the different characters in the story. Who are the main characters? 

Then go back and read the story through, using your imagination, as if you were each of the characters. Then allow the story to affect you from all the different angles. 

When I did this, the disciples were key to this story. I think it was a story about the disciples. Bear with me and let’s put ourselves into the shoes of the disciples. You are one the twelve and you have been hanging out with Jesus every day for the last year and a half. You are there when the disciples of John the Baptist come and they are broken. They have a conversation with Jesus about His cousin and you watch and you think, Whoa! Look at what that news does to Jesus. Imagine a grieving Jesus and He comes to you, the disciples and He says, “We’ve gotta get out of here. I have got to get away.” You think, absolutely. You’ve got a boat. You get in the boat and Jesus is saying nothing. You are talking with your fellow disciples and saying we have got to get Jesus away from the people. 

He needs a break. So one of you says, “Oh yeah, I know this spot. No one knows about it.” Use your imagination. You are trying to care for Jesus and get Him away from people so He can process this heavy news. You start to come near the shore of this secluded place and what do you see? People. Crowds. You are like, No Way! Where do these people come from? Think about it, they are hurting people who have heard that Jesus can heal them and bring them salvation. Why wouldn’t they follow Him? Back to our imagination. What are you, as a disciple, thinking at that moment? You’re bummed. This is a huge inconvenience for what you think Jesus needs. 

Then Jesus sees the crowds and He has a very different response. His response to all the people was compassion. It’s like Jesus has this bottomless well of love and compassion for people, especially losers, or those whose bodies don’t work, or the poor. 

You watch Jesus and it’s powerful. Think of the context. Even in midst of His grief and sorrow for His cousin and His understanding that Herod has Him and His movement on his radar now, but when He sees the crowd of people, He turns His sorrow and grief into compassion for other people, for their pain, and their loss. They land at the shore and Jesus is not bumped at all, He just does what He always does. He is getting people’s names, He is finding out their needs, He is healing people. 

And you are thinking, “This is why I follow this man.” 

Think about this, as a disciple, if you spend a year and a half with a person like Jesus, it will rub off on you. You are in the midst of loving the people and following Jesus’ lead, when it hits you. It is getting late in the day, we are in the middle of nowhere, there are thousands of people here, they need to eat. So you approach Jesus and explain. 

There are a lot of poor people here. It’s getting late, we don’t have enough to feed them, we had better send them out to the villages before it gets too late. 

Jesus responds with wow, good job. You are thinking about someone else other than yourselves. Great idea, but

verse 16,  

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 

This is not exactly what the disciples were hoping to hear. You and the other disciples exclaim that’s your whole point, they do need to leave. We don’t have enough food. 

This seems to be the way Jesus worked with His disciples. Jesus’ thinking would rub off on His disciples and they would begin to notice things that Jesus would notice. 

The disciples had figured out what the people were going to need and they figured Jesus would be concerned with making sure the people had food to eat. Which of course He is, but when the disciples heard Jesus’ way of solving the problem they had to have been thinking, “Are you crazy?” We barely have enough food to feed us, how is it ever going to feed the multitude of hungry people that are here? 

But look at what Jesus said, verse 18, 

 “Bring them here to me,” he said.

So you bring Jesus the five loaves and two fish and in your mind you figure Jesus will comprehend just how crazy His suggestion really is. In your mind, showing Jesus what you have for food should end the conversation of Jesus suggesting the disciples should be feeding the people. 

This was going exactly as Jesus had planned. Finally the disciples were beginning to notice things that Jesus would notice. They bring their ideas to Him. He turns it all around with a challenge for them to do something. But now this challenge is some enormous task that they are inadequate in performing so they think in their head numerous reasons for why they are not capable of feeding the people. But Jesus responds with, they have the perfect amount of food to do the job all they need to do is to bring their food to Him. 

This is the most exciting part of the story. 

When the disciples bring the next to nothing they have, what Jesus does with their next to nothing, is mysterious. Look what He does. He directs the people to sit down on the grass. He takes the five loaves and the two fish and He looks up to heaven to the Father and He gives thanks, 

or some translations read He gave a blessing. Then He broke the loaves, then He gave it to the disciples, and the disciples gave it to the people. 

Okay, this is a God thing. 

Is there any other time in the gospels where Jesus takes bread, gives a blessing, breaks it and gives it to His disciples?

Matthew 26 should immediately come to mind. The Last Supper meal. Bingo! Matthew experienced both of these events. The very Gospel of Matthew that we are reading was created over the thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection. It is a compilation of Matthew’s telling and retelling the events he experienced while following Jesus. As Matthew reflects on the stories he experienced with Jesus he looks back on the story of when they were with Jesus with only five loaves and two fish, 

Matthew retells it, using the language that was used at the Last Supper. These two events were connected in Matthew’s mind. 

How were they connected? 

Jesus was at the Last Supper and He was trying to explain to His disciples the paradox of how He would become King. He would have to experience an execution that was even more disturbing than John the Baptist’s head on a dinner platter. Jesus would be executed on a cross because of some jealous priests in Jerusalem and a corrupt Roman government. Talk about good people meeting a horrible end. Jesus is going to get crucified. But Jesus was trying to explain to His disciples that this really wasn’t a tragedy, this was the way it was supposed to go. 

Jesus was trying to explain that this was where the broken body and shed blood of Jesus becomes paradoxically the place where the love and the justice of God comes together. Where God’s justice is on all of the horrible things that humans do to each other, like John the Baptist’s head on a dinner platter. 

Think about it. 

What was actually going on at Herod’s birthday party? It was just the human condition. We all act the same way, we just don’t have the monetary means to make it manifest itself in exactly the same manner. If we did have such power and money, things would probably not look much different. Jesus actually ends up embodying God’s justice on all of human evil and sin, and at the same time embodying God’s love as the judge takes his own judgment upon Himself. 

Jesus’ death on the cross was done so that He could absorb all that is sinful and evil, so that forgiveness could come to messed up people like you and like me. Jesus likens this seemingly tragic event to his body being broken and given to others. Somehow this crazy event that happens to Jesus, gives life to others.

Matthew uses the language of the Last Supper to describe how Jesus had asked them, the disciples, to participate in the kingdom coming into the lives of the hurting, sick people right there on the shore. 

This is beautiful, Jesus somehow takes something that seems insignificant, or nothing, or negative, and then He breaks it, and He prays for it, and blesses it, and then it becomes a gift for others. 

Jesus did this with His own life and death. And Jesus did this with the bread and the fish. Jesus asked the disciples to give away everything, that was the only thing they had to eat. What a crazy thing to do! Give away all your food in the wilderness. Somehow the Kingdom of God cost everything. Like the parable of the hidden treasure of the priceless pearl. Jesus invites us to be His disciples and tells us that it was going to cost everything. 

It has to do with Jesus rubbing off on us, so that we begin to notice things and situations, things and people that Jesus would care about. So we bring this to Jesus’ attention. Hey, this is messed up. People shouldn’t be treated like this in God’s world. People should be taken care of, you begin to care about others. When you bring that to Jesus’ attention, then Jesus says, “Yeah, that’s a really good point, you go do something about it.” 

Then you have a whole bunch of reasons why your doing something is such a bad idea. I’m nobody, I don’t really have anything, etc. I just have five loaves and two fish, I just have my music abilities, I just have a little bit of time and money. Then Jesus says, “Perfect! Why don’t you just bring that here to me?” So you offer that to Jesus and it somehow enters the paradox of who Jesus is and somehow by giving up everything, 

giving up your pride, and giving up your actual life, 

or whatever you consider your life and sustenance. 

You give it up to Jesus and He does something profound with it. He breaks it. Then He prays and blesses it. And then He gives it back to you. 

You’re feeding the 5,000. The first run it’s freaky, you feed about 15 people, your basket is empty so you go back to Jesus and there is more. 

You do this again and you return with an empty basket and there’s more again. 

That’s the story, this is how Jesus works.  

This story has provided a portrait of what it is like to be a disciple of Jesus. Let’s face it, kingdoms of this world are going to do what kingdoms of this world are going to do. The world is no more unstable or unpredictable than it was 2,000 years ago. Because there are humans in it. But what does Jesus do? Jesus does what He always does. He does what the Kingdom of God is about. Loving God and loving your neighbor. It’s about moving towards people and noticing hurt, and need and then Jesus invites His disciples into this experience but they are completely inadequate, but that is what makes this so beautiful. Cause who’s idea was it in the first place? 

The disciples. 

It was their idea, but when they brought it to Jesus it turned out nothing like they expected. That’s the mystery! This is what makes being a disciple of Jesus so thrilling! 

Time to check in, if you cannot put yourself into this story, somewhere, in some part, as a disciple of Christ, you should be asking yourself, 

Am I actually following Jesus? 

Where can we experience this exciting relationship with Jesus? 

In our daily lives, the Kingdom of Heaven is here. So right now, think about people and circumstances in your daily lives that Jesus would care about and that He would notice. Then, pray the terrifying prayer, “Jesus, something should be done about this.” And I can tell you what Jesus will say, “You do something about it, because you are my disciple.” 

And then bring your objections, but know that He will have objections to your objections. And then, sit, and wait for Jesus to do something that will blow your mind. 

Let’s pray.