Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 27, 2008

Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21

NO NEED TOO SMALL OR GREAT

Introduction

This week is the WELS National Worship Conference in St. Peter, Minnesota. Four Gloria Dei members will attend the conference, together with over 1,000 participants from across our synod. As a participant at several past conferences, all I can say about the experience is, “Wow!” The best worship leaders and musicians in our church body gather for a three-day conference in St. Peter, Minnesota to explore and experience all sorts of ways that we can put music and the arts to use in the worship of our majestic God. Imagine worship with one thousand worship- and music-minded Christians, bonded by a common faith, gathered together for half a week. The only thing I’ve regretted in the past is that I couldn’t bring our 130-member congregation to experience the National Worship Conference. Once you experience an event like the National Worship Conference, all you can say is, “Wow!”

All they could say was, “Wow!” What an amazing experience they had nearly two thousand years ago as the crowd in Matthew 14 found themselves on the receiving end of another miracle of Jesus. Imagine what it must have been like when as many as fifteen or maybe twenty thousand people gathered together to follow Jesus and then became the benefactors of a miraculous meal he provided. Perhaps the only thing those people regretted was that there were not more of their friends and family there to witness this amazing miracle.

The miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand—and remember that the five thousand statistic only included the men in the crowd, not the women and children—is certainly one of the most amazing miracles Jesus performed. But this miracle of our Savior does even more than prove his power or demonstrate his divinity. This miracle gives us a glimpse into our Savior’s heart, a glimpse that reveals the depths of Jesus’ love and concern for us even in our day-to-day routine. When Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand, the crowd that gathered to see Jesus then—as well as the crowd gathered to worship him this morning—could plainly see that with Jesus, no need is too small or too great.

1. No Need Too Small

At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Matthew mentions that “when Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” We need to back up a few verses to learn what had just happened. In the opening verses of this chapter, Matthew mentions that King Herod thought that Jesus was actually John the Baptist raised from the dead. Matthew then spends several verses backtracking in time to explain how John has been beheaded at Herod’s direction. Herod’s fear that Jesus was really the resurrected John the Baptist meant that Jesus’ life was now at stake. That’s why Jesus went to a quiet, remote location with his disciples. He needed rest from his work; he needed to go to a place where he would be free from Herod’s threats.

Jesus may not have gained much popularity with Herod, but at this point in his ministry, he was a very well-known public figure. In fact, when the people of the area heard where Jesus and his disciples sought refuge, they decided to track him down. Perhaps some of them wanted to hear this man who preached with such conviction and authority. Others hoped that Jesus would heal the diseases and sicknesses that affected their loved ones, which, in fact, Jesus did.

If you watch any of the national television networks’ evening “news magazine” shows, from time to time you’ll watch a story that tugs at your heartstrings. Maybe it was the story of a woman who did everything in her power to overcome a deadly disease or trauma, but in the end she lost the battle. Maybe it was a story of brave soldiers who lost their lives defending others, and the families those men left behind. Sometimes it’s hard to hold back the tears when you watch those stories, even though you have no personal connection to the people on the screen. When Jesus saw the crowd approaching him, he didn’t just see a mob of people. He saw their sad stories, their struggles, their sicknesses, and their helplessness. His heart went out to them.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Jesus’ disciples. Once again, as was often the case, the disciples viewed the people who followed Jesus as a pathetic nuisance rather than people in need. “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.’” Sad to say, this was often the attitude of the disciples. “We’re followers of a great miracle worker sent from God. Do you think that we – let alone our Master – can afford to waste time on such nonsense?” As far as the Twelve were concerned, the hunger of the crowd was too small and insignificant of an issue for Jesus.

Sometimes we think that our problems are too small for God. After all, do you really think that the God who spends his days and nights operating the universe has time to worry about our concerns, which seem relatively unimportant to anyone else? Does he have time to hear my worries about my financial future, my health concerns, or my family’s struggles? And our inborn sinful nature leads us to sinful despair, thinking that God has no concern for little ol’ me.

But dear Christian friend, take heart, because the same God who reached out to you in love by the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus still reaches out to you today when life’s worries overwhelm you. Remember what Paul said in today’s Second Lesson? Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ. Not even our wayward sinful lives can undo God’s greatest act of love for you, seen in the death of the Son of God who has redeemed you from your sins. And if God was so concerned about little ol’ you that he would provide his own Son as your Redeemer, how much more is he able to help us with the daily struggles we face. Even as God watches over the world, he is never too busy to hear you, never too tied up with global matters that your needs are too small for him. With Jesus, nothing is too insignificant; nothing is too small of a matter.

2. No Need Too Great

The disciples may have acted like this ordeal with the hungry crowd was too small of a matter for Jesus to handle, but it was really too large of a matter for them to handle. When they suggested that Jesus send the starving mob away, Jesus threw the issue back at them. Jesus said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” But what could the disciples do? The problem was too big for them! They concluded, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.”

The reality was that they couldn’t handle it. But Jesus overcomes reality with his miracle and his miraculous generosity. Jesus told the crowd to sit down in groups. Jesus offered a prayer of thanks to God, divided the food among the disciples, and instructed them to feed the people. Five small loaves of bread (probably the size of dinner rolls) and a couple of fish might allow a few dozen people to get one bite each. But with Jesus’ divine power at work, it became a feast that filled every belly in a crowd of many thousands.

You know that feeling you have after thanksgiving dinner? You’ve filled yourself with turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and corn and cranberry sauce and then pumpkin pie topped off with whipped cream. You’re completely satisfied. There’s not a hungry person left in the room after a meal like that. Jesus’ miracle resulted in a crowd that was completely satisfied. There wasn’t a hungry person left after a miraculous feast like the one Jesus provided. The only thing that was left was 12 large baskets filled with leftover food. Another miracle of Jesus attests to his divine power as the Son of God!

Do you think that your problems are too big for God, or that he’s too busy for you? Think that the Lord can’t offer any help with your health struggles, your family crisis, or your nagging fears? If you do, the real problem is not that our problems are too big, but that our egos are too big. The real problem is that we are guilty of the idolatry of self-pity or self-reliance when we assume that God cannot offer us his aid. In our sinful despair, we drag ourselves away from the One who can help us, and in the process, we drag ourselves into the hell that we rightly deserve.

But your earthly problems are never too big for God. Your earthly problems are not too big for God because your greater spiritual problems were not too big for God to overcome. Jesus, the Son of God, who did the impossible by becoming true man, stands by you when you face the impossible challenges of this life. Jesus, who lived a life of perfection for you, is there to wipe away all your imperfection before God. Jesus, who faced a hellish death on the cross for your sins, comforts you when your life and health seem to fail. Jesus, who declared his victory over the grave at his resurrection, now gives you victory over any problem that threatens to take away your faith in him.

But what about the times when your problems seem unanswered? What about the times when it feels like God hasn’t heard you? Was God unable to help? Dear Christian friend, remember that Jesus fed the 5,000 men plus woman and children this one meal, but he didn’t feed them their next meal. In fact, only one other time in his entire ministry did Jesus provide a miraculous meal for a large crowd as he did here. Jesus’ normal way of providing for people and responding to their needs is through natural means. But it doesn’t matter whether God uses a miracle, or whether he uses the people and situations around us to respond to our requests. What matters is that with Jesus, there is no need too great or small. Our daily problems are not too small that we shouldn’t turn to him in prayer. And our greatest problem, our sin-problem, was not too big that the Son of God was not able to solve it himself by his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Conclusion

Several years ago, we wanted to improve the lighting system in our church. I called up an electrician in the yellow pages to see what it would cost for us to put dimmer switches on the lights. The advertisement of this company claimed that no job was too big or too small. But there was a string attached. A small job, like the one we had in mind, cost an arm and a leg to complete! They really didn’t want our business, they didn’t want our “little” job, and so they priced it so high so that it wasn’t worth their services. In the end, one of our members handled it himself. But when you bring your problems and needs to God, you won’t find any false advertising. God says that no need is too small or great, and he means it. You can count on that! So cast all your cares on him, because he really does care for you, whether your need is small or great. Amen.

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