Bible Passage: Matthew 14:13-21
Pastor: Peter Schlicht
Sermon Date: August 6, 2017
I wonder what it felt like for Edward Schmidt to watch as the caskets holding his wife and four children were carried out of the church. His wife, Lindsey, their three boys, and one unborn child, all were buried this past Wednesday in Beecher, IL. What is Ed Schmidt going to do now? One pickup truck missed a stop sign and his entire world vanished. How is he supposed to handle that? Has anyone ever said the phrase to you: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It is usually said to be encouraging. A way of saying that you’re going to get through whatever difficulty you’re going through, that it’s going to be ok in the end, that the bad times won’t last. But do you know what’s also true about the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” It’s not in the Bible. God never said that. I think it has developed as a misconstrual of a passage from 1 Corinthians 10 that says God is faithful; he won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. And that when you are tempted, he will always provide a way out. But that passage deals specifically with the temptation to sin, and not with the different pressures of life. The truth is that God often asks for too much from us. Life is full of hardships; we go through things all the time that we are not able to handle. And what happened to the Schmidt family is a paramount example of that. But the good news is, you don’t need to be able to handle everything in order to keep going. You don’t need to be able to handle everything to live a joyful, contented life. And we find out why today as we look at the Feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14, where Jesus tells his disciples and us exactly what to do when God asks for too much.
He looked right at them in front of thousands of people and said, point blank, “You give them something to eat.” This was asking for too much! It had been already been a long day for the disciples. They had just gotten back from their mission trips and then, before they could really enjoy being back together, just that morning word had come that John the Baptist had been murdered, beheaded in Herod’s court. John was Jesus cousin, friend, the one who had baptized him in the Jordan river. In fact, John had spent his entire life preparing people for Jesus’ ministry. So when Jesus heard he took the news hard. He wanted to be, deserved to be, alone and to take some time in prayer. So, to get him away from people, the disciples got him into a boat and sailed to a deserted place. But the crowds followed them, and as they came to the shore Jesus, seeing their need set aside his own. Despite what he was going through, he spent the entire afternoon healing their sick and teaching them. But as the sun started to dip lower in the sky the disciples realized that it was dinner time which posed a problem. Here’s the situation, you have 12 weary disciples who need a break, Jesus who needs to pray and mourn for his cousin, and a giant crowd with no food, and everyone is hungry. We hear this crowd was comprised of 5,000 men, not including women and children. So we’re talking 10,000-15,000 people here, conservatively. People need to eat, that can’t happen if they stay where they are. So, the disciples go to Jesus and say, “This is a deserted place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” I’ve heard this preached on before and it was said that the disciples were being selfish or petty with this request. But I don’t see that.This is a perfectly reasonable request, which may truly have been motivated by care for others. It just makes good sense, really. But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “Ah, come again? I don’t think I heard you quite right there Jesus. You want the twelve of us to feed thousands of people with no food?” What went through their minds? Did knots fill up the emptiness in their stomachs? Did they suddenly feel thousands of eyes looking at them? Did they think Jesus was kidding? There wasn’t even enough food for themselves, how could they feed thousands! Jesus was just asking for too much!
God has a way of doing that sometimes doesn’t he? He asks us for things that are too big for us, too long term for us, too unrealistic for us. When’s the last time God asked too much of you? God asks you to be a good student, but the grades aren’t coming and you don’t have time to get anything done. He tells us to stay sexually pure before marriage, but does he know how weird that is in our society? He tells us to be patient and loving parents, but we haven’t gotten much sleep and our kids aren’t listening. That’s asking a lot. God calls you and me to be selfless spouses, but as hard as you try it seems that they still won’t care about how you feel. Why should you keep trying so hard when they don’t? God calls you to provide for your family, but that job you had is gone or the one you do have makes you constantly wonder how you’re going to hold it all together. God calls on you to take care of your body, but it seems like no matter what you do you aren’t getting any healthier. God tells you to glorify him with regular worship attendance and regular reading of his Word, but doesn’t he see your schedule? God asks you to give him glory in everything you do, but that feels impossible; he’s asking for too much. And especially when tragedy strikes, when loved ones die, when a child gets sick, when we continue to suffer over a long time, it sure seems like God is asking for too much! If we were dealing with people we could simply throw our hands up and say “What do you expect of me?” But it’s different when God asks us for too much. You don’t want to give up on his commands; you don’t want to throw out his promises!
I think that there are usually two stages of responses that we take when God asks for too much. The first course of action is the one which our culture praises and that is to simply work harder and believe in ourselves. Now I will not condemn that spirit because there is something very healthy about taking personal responsibility and working hard to better our lives. But there is a shadow side to this spirit of self-belief that can really be dangerous when it is elevated over a God-fearing heart. It’s that thought that we can handle everything. Firstly, it just isn’t true and discovering that will be a crushing reality. Secondly, let’s just explore the implications of this mindset. Think about what that would mean if it were true, if you really were able to handle everything in your life; if you were really able to get through everything just fine. It would mean that you wouldn’t need God. If you were able to take care of everything just fine all by yourself, then you wouldn’t need God because you would be your own god. You could live quite contentedly apart from the true God and worship yourself for how wonderful and capable you are. That is eternally dangerous.
The other stage of response, which sometimes follows the first, is simply to settle with a lower standard of life. To say to God, “you have asked me for too much and I can’t do it. I can’t be that patient, that loving, that faithful, I am just going to lower my standard and maybe then I’ll be happy. But this isn’t a good solution either. Because if we stop seeking after God and his standard, his beautiful ideal, then we fall into our own standards where things can get pretty nasty. You see, we’re good at justifying our actions and we can justify some pretty sad things when we give up on God’s commands. We can speak harshly to others and tell ourselves it’s ok because we’ve had a really bad day. We can hold onto hate and envy because they have it so easy compared to us. We can be unloving and impatient because they started it! We don’t want to live by mere human standards, believe me.
You see when God asks too much we can’t throw in the towel, but we also can’t handle what he’s asked. It seems like a despairing outcome, it seems like an impasse…that is until you hear what Jesus said to his disciples before that crowd of thousands.
After Jesus commanded them to feed the people, the disciples, bless their hearts, looked around for food and found a young boy who was willing to donate his lunch. They told Jesus, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And Jesus said to them. “Bring them here to me,” That’s all he said. “Bring them here to me.” He didn’t waste time talking about how much food they didn’t have. He didn’t tell them to find a little more before he would accept it. Rather, he took just what the disciples already had–two fish and five small loaves of bread. This is the way our God works with his people. When Moses insisted that he needed a sign to use before Pharaoh, God told Moses to use the staff that was already in his hand (Ex 4:1-3). And it was that same shepherd’s rod that was stretched out to part the Red Sea (Ex 14:16). Or when the widow of Zarephath needed food, Elisha asked her for nothing more than what she already had and God multiplied that meager amount so that her jar of oil never ran dry (2 Kings 4:1-7). The Lord said to Gideon, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judg 6:14). And so too, when the disciples said we only have two fish and five small loaves, Jesus simply said, “Bring them to me.” My friends, God doesn’t ask for you to become something more than you already are. You don’t have to become someone you’re not. You don’t have to clean up your act before you come to him. He wants you just as you are. He wants to use you, no matter how small you think you are or how meager your talents may seem to others. God loves to receive you right where you’re at. You don’t need to be able to handle everything on your own, you just need to see the God who can.
Look at what Jesus did with that small amount of food. He took the five loaves and the two fish. After looking up to heaven, he blessed them. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples. The disciples gave the food to the people. Matthew’s account is just beautiful; eloquent in it’s simplicity. I love the way that Jesus performs this miracle. He would be a terrible magician, wouldn’t he? There’s no flare, there’s no smoke and mirrors, there’s no witty introduction. He simply blesses the food and the disciples hand it out. That’s it. This is a miracle for a purpose, not a magic show. Jesus proves to the disciples and to us that he can handle anything, even the greatest problem.
You know God may ask too much of us, but he never asked us to pay for our own sins. That’s the one problem he reserved for his own Son. He asked Jesus to take on our sins. And Jesus’ could’ve thrown in the towel. Like he said in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before he was arrested, “Don’t you know I could call on my Father and he would put at my disposal 12 legions of angels? (Mt 26:53) But he didn’t. He let them arrest him, he let them beat and mock him. He let them spit on the face of God and he died for us. He died forsaken by God and after three days he rose from the dead for us. Could you handle that? God can. Christ can. The one who fed the 5,000 and the one who paid for the sins of the world also has the power to provide for you when God asks too much. Through Christ, you can do what God asks of you.
The disciples ended up doing exactly what Jesus had asked. Did you notice that? He said, “You give them something to eat.” And they did. The disciples gave the food to the people. They all ate and were filled. They picked up twelve basketfuls of what was left over from the broken pieces. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not even counting women and children. The disciples were given exactly what they needed to fulfill what Jesus had asked of them. And they picked up 12 basketfuls of extra food! Twelve baskets so that perhaps twelve disciples could reach down and tangibly know that God is able to provide more than enough for any problem.
So when God asks too much of you, bring it to Jesus. Bring him that sliver of patience you have left and watch as he multiplies it into his patience and his kindness. Bring him the shred of love that is holding your marriage together and he will begin to work the healing and love that is only possible in Christ’s forgiveness. Bring him your hurt and suffering, and he might not take it away, but he will multiply in you the strength to endure it, and maybe even give you an extra basketful of peace and contentment. Christians, when God asks for too much. Come as you are; bring whatever you have to him. And he will give what you need to do what he has asked and maybe even more.