Obedience and Awe

A meditation on Matthew 14

What a day. It started with Jesus learning of John the Baptist's death and ended with him walking on water. In between was the feeding of the five thousand. What an emotional roller coaster. Down, then up, then down, then further down, then really up. Wow, no doubt Jesus and his disciples were all exhausted, physically and emotionally.

They were all bummed from the news of John the Baptist's death. Watching their leader hurt had to have been difficult and confusing. How do you console Jesus? Did they think the way we do today—that leaders don't cry, that instead they kick butt and take names? Did they think, Come on Jesus, we have to take on the status quo and defeat the Romans.

I don't know if it was quiet due to the news of John's death, or whether they were chatty for the very same reason. Grief does funny things. Either way, they were getting away from it all and looking for a place of solitude. When they landed and the crowds converged on them, the disciples responded just like we would today: Hey, there's been a death in the family. Go on, give the man some space.

Jesus' Different Perspective

But Jesus had a different plan that shocked his faithful crew. He not only had compassion on the crowds and healed them, but when the day wore on and everyone grew hungry, he told his disciples, "You give them something to eat." This is one of those moments I would have loved to be present at, just to see and hear the disciples' reactions. I don't know if they said it, but they must have thought, What?!? There are 20,000 people here? That's impossible! Judas, how much money do we have? Ooo, this isn't gonna be pretty.

To say the least, this was an awkward moment. We don't know what kind of side conversations there were among the disciples. They had to have been very frustrated with Jesus, and greatly concerned for him at the same time. If you've ever been around someone who has lost a child, a spouse, or another close loved one, you know that sometimes their thought processes can become confused. They think strange thoughts and do odd things. The disciples may have been thinking that Jesus was going through this type of grief over the loss of John. What a heavy load that was for Jesus, and for the disciples.

But they did what Jesus told them to do.

Jesus' Amazing Response

Let's be honest: given the situation, the tension, and the emotional uneasiness, it's a miracle that the disciples even sat the people down to feed them at all. Maybe one of the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Come on Jesus, it's been a tough morning. Let's go over here by the water, take a deep breath, and clear our heads." We don't know all the discussions, but what we do know is that, in the end, they came to terms with Jesus' request and sat the people down.

With that, the rest of Jesus' plan began to unfold. He took two fish and five loaves of bread and multiplied them. I don't know what image this conjures up in your mind, but this was a boy's lunch. Boys were considered men at age 12 in that society, so it's safe to assume this was lunch for someone younger. Unlike today's Americans, these people were not wasteful. I'm sure it was just enough for a child's lunch. In today's vernacular, let's call it two fish sticks and an order of biscuits. To be frank though, even if it were two large tuna fish and five giant loaves of bread, it still would have taken a miracle to feed all the people.

Jesus broke the pieces and then there were more. He gave them to the disciples. The more the disciples pulled out of the baskets, the more there were. They were astonished. They were in the middle of a miracle and must have loved it. Somehow, they were doing the impossible; they were pulling fish and bread out of the baskets and the baskets kept getting heavier, not lighter. Now, men will be men, and I can imagine them trying to hand out the supplies faster than the baskets could replenish themselves. Who knows? However, Scripture does tell us that everyone ate all they wanted and there were 12 baskets of food left over.

So, why all the leftover food? There has been much discussion about this through the centuries. Great biblical minds have paralleled these 12 baskets to the 12 disciples and to the 12 tribes of Israel, and these may very well be true. I take a different approach, though. Outside of Amarillo, Texas, is a restaurant that offers a free 72 ounce steak with all the fixings to the person who can eat it all in one hour. Many attempt this feat; few succeed. But one man ate it all. Then, to the amazement of the onlookers, he ordered a dessert and ate it too. He obviously didn't need any more calories; he was just saying to everyone there, "Yeah, I'm the man. I came, I saw, I conquered." And he ended his artery-clogging statement with a dessert exclamation point. Perhaps Jesus was just ending his statement in the same (although healthier) manner, with an exclamation point: "I came, I saw, I fed you all. Oh, and we had enough left over that it will boggle the minds of theologians for centuries."

Jesus' Desire for Us

Here's the point. Jesus did not multiply the food until after the disciples obeyed. He could have begun multiplying the food without the disciples being on board to show them that he could. What a shock that would have been! They would have seen what was happening and jumped in to help distribute the food. It would have been a great illustration in charity. However, Jesus was certainly a master teacher, and he forced a decision on their part. Are you going to trust and obey me or not? Once they determined to follow him obediently, only then did he bless them. That's when he showed his power. This is a much stronger lesson, isn't it? And you know, he still works this way today. God wants to show us his power, just as he wanted to bless the disciples that day. Yet he withholds that blessing until we first show our obedience to him. Whether it's sustenance, as in this Galilean picnic, finances, relationships, or whatever, God wants to bless you. Yet, first he wants to be obeyed. It's a simple formula: we obey and his blessings follow, not the other way around. Don't misunderstand this lesson. There is nothing indicating that every time we obey, we will be blessed with things. God is not a shortcut to getting rich, or fat for that matter. The lesson is about the sequence, Step A then Step B.

This is a difficult lesson. Like you, I want things on my time table, usually Right Now. God knows I believe in him. But even Satan's band of rebels believes in God. No, God wants me to obey him, sight unseen, even when it doesn't make any sense. Especially when it doesn't make any sense. That is where the lesson is really learned.

Is God telling you to do something? Has he given you directions for something that you don't understand or don't want to do? Trust him and obey him. You can be sure that his blessing will follow, even if it is simply the blessing of knowing that you were obedient to God and the privilege of seeing his power on your behalf.

Even after this lesson was taught and the blessing given, God wasn't finished yet. At this point, the disciples hadn't comprehended that Jesus was God. Sure, Jesus calmed the storm (Matt. 8) and cast demons into pigs (Luke 8), but not until that night in the boat, seeing Jesus defy gravity and walk on water after feeding the five thousand, did they understand that he really was the Son of God (Matt. 14:33).

His plans included an even bigger lesson, one that would move them from thoughts of Wow, this is amazing to Surely you are God! That's when true worship began. It's the same today.

Dennis is a 15-year youth ministry veteran. He has led groups and directed camps from 20 to 2,500.

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