[email protected]
feeding the 5000

Feeding the 5000

June 16, 2024 | by Pastor Peter

In Feeding the 5000, Jesus shows us how hospitality in God’s kingdom is different than in the kingdoms of this world. He shows us how God costly grace is given to us.

Sermon Summary

Feeding the 5000

A Tale of Two Dinners

Meals can be wonderful or they can be terrible. No doubt, you’ve experienced joyous meals with loved ones that stand out as some of your cherished memories. And maybe you’ve had awkward and uncomfortable dinners with people. You didn’t necessarily like it very much. It seems like everyone has a story about an unpleasant meal with a drunken uncle. In the chapter of the Bible that we are going to look at today, we see two different meals that demonstrate this wide range of possible experiences. The first is a distinctly human meal, the second one is truly Divine. The first shows how the kingdoms of this world work, while the second reveals the possibility of a transcendent reality. 

The first meal is a birthday party to honour the ruler of Galilee, Herod the Tetrarch. We read about it in Matthew 14:6-10: 

On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison (Matthew 14:6-10, NIV).

Herod’s birthday party is a window into how power works in this world. While birthday parties are regarded as an innocent thing in our culture, they were roundly condemned by many religious people in that culture as excessive. Given the way the economy worked, this is understandable. There was only so much land available for cultivation, and all of it was used for food production. there weren’t major innovations in farming techniques, so the quantity of food was largely fixed. In that economy, the elites, who represented less than 10% of the overall population, consumed half the food. So when someone Rich was having a birthday party, they were feeding other rich people extravagant amounts of food that were being taken away, in the form of taxes and rents, from the peasantry. So you could say that this sort of celebration is one carried out by the rich at the expense of the poor. 

Herod had likely had too much to drink, and so he made a rash promise to his stepdaughter to give her anything she wanted. At the request of her mother, she asked for the head of John, the Baptist, who had been highly critical of her Union with Herod because she had previously been married to Herod’s brother, which would make her ineligible as Herod’s wife under Jewish law. It seems Hera didn’t want to have John killed, but he also can’t back away from a promise that he made so publicly. If he does, the next time he promises to give somebody else something, they’re going to wonder if that promise is worth anything. So to preserve his rule, he is willing to have John the Baptist beheaded. So in this worldly party, the poor exploit the rich, and the powerful destroy the righteous to preserve their power. 

The second meal, happening immediately afterward, is Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. This is no coincidence. Matthew intends for us to compare and contrast these two types of meals. The account of the miracle happens in Matthew 14 13-20 

When Jesus heard what had happened [to John the Baptist], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

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

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

Jesus feeds a large crowd of people, a miraculous meal. 

The ways we might compare these two meals are extensive. Harrod’s banquet was exclusive. No doubt, the power brokers in The Galilean capital of Tiberius were all jockeying for an invitation to the party. To be included would bestow on them prestige and power. Jesus’ banquet is inclusive. There’s no waiting list, no jockeying for position. All someone needed to do to be invited to this meal was to be present with Jesus. The people who were present weren’t invited. Jesus intended to be alone with his disciples. Herod’s banquet was about luxury. The people almost certainly ate the richest foods available. Jesus’ banquet was about sustenance. The bread and fish he gave the people were the normal fare that they would have eaten. What was highly unusual was that everyone ate as much as they wanted. Harrod’s banquet was characterized by debauchery. Some biblical scholars point out that the word “pleased,” describing Herrod’s reaction to his step-daughter’s dance, has sexual overtones to it. In other words, Harrod was aroused by his stepdaughter’s dance. Ick! Harrod’s banquet also leads, quite literally, to someone’s death. Jesus’ banquet, by comparison, is life-giving. He supplies both spiritual and physical nourishment to those who come to him. Harrod’s banquet exploits the poor (remember all that food was extracted from farmers who barely grow enough to feed their families), while Jesus serves the poor. Many of us spend our lifetimes pursuing importance, wealth, and status, and here these two stories remind us that those things are often achieved in ways that compromise what is good. So we should think differently about what our life’s purpose should be.

Digging Deeper into the Miracle

Like all of the miracles that we’re going to look at in this sermon series, there is a subtextual level to understanding the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. The Jews in Jesus’s time were the remnant that had survived the great Babylonian exile of the 6th century BCE. And while the exiles had been allowed to return to their ancestral Homeland after the defeat of the Babylonians by the Persians, their experience was one of continued hardship. The Persians weren’t always just with their subjects. The Greeks who defeated the Persians and took over In the 4th century BCE were far worse. And the Romans, who took over in 63, BCE, were brutal and oppressive. The people felt a lot like their ancestors living as slaves in Egypt. Just as the Israelites in Egyptian slavery had called out for deliverance from God, so the Jews under the Romans were looking for a new deliverance from God, a new Exodus.

After God delivered the people from slavery in Egypt, he took that multitude out into the wilderness and provided miraculous bread for them. In case you didn’t notice, here, Jesus takes the multitude out into the wilderness and provides miraculous bread for them too. This story has deliberate echoes of Israel’s Exodus experience. Heavenly bread marked the end of their slavery. Heavenly bread Mark marks a time of New freedom for those who eat with Jesus.; When we look at this miracle we are supposed to think of a new Exodus. We’re also supposed to look forward. Near the end of Matthew’s gospel, we read the story of the Last Supper, which has some striking similarities to this story. In Matthew 14:19 we read:

He took (λαμβανω) the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed (εὐλογεω) the food, and breaking (κλαω) the loaves He gave (διδωμι) them to the disciples. (Matthew 14:19)

I’ve included the verbs in the original Greek because our English translations often obscure the similarity between these passages: These same verbs appear in the same order in Matthew’s account of the Last Supper:

While they were eating, Jesus took (λαμβανω) some bread, and after a blessing (εὐλογεω), He broke (κλαω) it and gave (διδωμι) it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Matthew 26:26, NIV)

When we read this account of the Last Supper, Matthew intends for us to remember the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. This latter teaching gives additional meaning to the miracle. Of course, as we continue reading the story, we get to the crucifixion of Jesus, which Jesus clearly foreshadows in the Last Supper. He then commands us to observe the Last Supper as we meet together. So we need to understand these 5 things together: The Exodus, The feeding of the 5,000, the Last Supper, Jesus’ crucifixion and our celebration of the Lord’s supper. Israel’s story is an echoing chorus of God’s gracious provision for his people. We are meant to see this as an assurance that God is the provider who graciously gives all the things we need. However, we often see grace as synonymous with mercy. Mercy is a form of grace, but is much larger than grace. Grace is any gift given by God that we haven’t earned. God’s grace comes to us in many different ways. Let’s look at some of them.


Jesus’s invitation to share a meal is remarkable. We remember that Jesus represents God and that we are those who owe God our allegiance but have gone our own way. As Isaiah the prophet says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Despite our rebellion, God graciously invites us to the table, showing us that rather than punishing us as our sins deserve, God extends fellowship to those who have rebelled against him. As I mentioned above this miracle points towards Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross. In giving himself for those who did not deserve his Mercy, Jesus shows us God’s remarkable ability to offer costly mercy to those who do not deserve it. No matter who we are or what we have done, God’s mercy is available to us. We are invited to the table. But if this is true, it’s also true that whoever our enemy is, and whatever they have done, they are still likewise invited to the table. When we receive God’s mercy, we must remember that to receive such Mercy, we must also be willing to give it to others. 


I’m not sure about you, but I often feel like I have two little skill and too few resources to be the kind of person that God has asked me to be. This is also true on a corporate level. We, as the church, are inadequate to the mission that God has given us, to Bear witness to his saving power, and to make disciples wherever we find ourselves. The disciples had food. But it might have been enough to feed one or two people, certainly not enough to feed a crowd numbering in the thousands. But God was able to take the little they had to offer and multiply it so that it was sufficient to accomplish what God required. And so it is with us. We are meant to bring what we have and use it to faithfully carry out Jesus’s commands, not refusing to do so because we recognize the inadequacy of what we can contribute. Like the crowd, we will find that when we give what we have to God he will make sure that it is enough. 

His Power Working in Us

God’s power at work in Jesus does all the multiplying, but the disciples still have a part to play. It says that Jesus gave the bread to the disciples and they gave it to the people. In the same way, while we are dependent on God to multiply the things that we bring to him, we also have a part to play in serving others. Jesus has invited us to his table, but as we mature, he invites us not just to be guests at his table, but also hosts at his table. Just as the disciples are invited into Jesus’s work of serving, so we also are invited to serve others as an extension of Jesus’s work in the world. Notice also that Jesus and his disciples are ministering to people from a position of emotional weakness. Immediately before this story happens, Jesus finds out about the death of his cousin John. The Baptist. The disciples knew. John. Several of Jesus’s disciples were John’s disciples before joining up with Jesus. I do not doubt that Jesus and the disciples are grieving deeply when they depart for a solitary location. When they arrive, where they’re going and discover a crowd, the easy thing would be for Jesus to simply send everybody away, “Hey guys, things are a little rough right now. I know you want some teaching, but could you please come back on Thursday? We’re going through some heavy stuff and don’t have the emotional bandwidth to give you what you need right now.” Despite his emotional pain, Jesus chooses to minister to the needs of the people because he has compassion for them. At times when we experience emotional difficulty, our natural temptation is to retreat into ourselves. But here Jesus shows us the opposite. Even in his place of pain, Jesus chooses to show compassion to those around him who are in need. We’re not told if Jesus and his disciples ever get that retreat. Perhaps, serving others was the medicine for what ailed them. So we too must remember that in the place we are in pain, we follow Jesus’ example by serving others in the power God graciously provides for us.


We live in an age of unprecedented personal freedom. But that autonomy comes with a dark side. We are also experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. But if the church is functioning in the way that it is designed, we should be largely immune. We are called to submit ourselves to one another in love, but this also means that we belong to one another. We are meant to become a family connected through God’s love and forgiveness made possible by Jesus’s self-sacrifice. In the feeding miracle, there is one crowd, but the people eat in cluster groups (this is more obvious in Mark’s telling of the story, where people gather in groups of 50 or 100). In the same way, we are a part of a large community of people who join Jesus at the table, the universal church. God’s grace in smaller community groups, the local church. We shouldn’t confuse our little group for the entire group, rather, we need to understand that this little group is a part of a much larger crowd. That our church is part of a larger Church movement that includes people who worship in very different ways and understand their faith in ways that seem strange to us. All those people who are eating in the other cluster groups are just as equally welcome at God’s table as we are. And so we must remember that we are not God’s favourite, but we are graciously invited to share at his table. 

If the church is a community of God’s grace, we’re not always so sure that’s a good thing. I remember as a small child not always being keen on what my mother was serving for dinner. I would complain that it wasn’t something yummy (like pizza, hamburgers, or hot dogs!) Despite my insistence on delicious junk food, my mother made sure we ate some healthier food too, knowing that it was what was good for me. This is a lot like our church experience. We might be frustrated with the church, we may have been hurt by its people, or bored by its stodgy tradition. Yet it is the thing that God has given us to nourish our souls just as the food prepared by our parents nourished our bodies. God has invited us to the table, but, as my mother used to say, “This isn’t a restaurant.” Despite our frustrations, the church is in the community of the church that we learn how much we are loved, and also learn how to love the unlovable (That’s why God asks us to stick with it even when people are hurtful towards us). This dining community, despite its flaws, is a place where together we learn to be new people. 

When Jesus invites the crowd to share a meal with him, he’s showing us his gracious hospitality. As we become new people, we become more and more aware of how dependent we are on God’s invitation and we also learn to be ministers of that grace to one another. So let’s join the Lord and one another at the table.

Related Content