Today we are starting a new series. We are calling this grouping of conversations “Partnership with God.” They will be about these stories: the feeding of the 5000, Joseph in Egypt, Jacob and Esau, the sick man lowered through the roof to Jesus, and the restoration of Onesimus.
While these moments are notably different from each other, there is a commonality. There is a challenge, obstacle, or brokenness, and there is a turning point where God’s action is coupled with a person’s (or people’s) efforts and makes an impact.
While we are going to spend just a month looking at this theme, it is a theme that is overwhelming in Scripture–it is everywhere. Challenges, obstacles, brokenness…. and God’s interaction with those things while including and partnering with people’s efforts.
The Biblical picture shows ongoing challenges, failure, and momentary success followed by struggle. Not that it always goes poorly in Biblical narrative, but as we walk into this, the first impulse in a conversation like this can be that it should always go perfectly, and that because it doesn't in my life, I must be a failure. Well, having it go perfectly is nice, but it is not the pattern in Biblical history–which is terrible and beautiful.
It is beautiful how, repeatedly, the story is not one of God scolding His people and saying, “You wait here and I will go take care of the mess you made.”
Remember our previous series on Leviticus, and the catalyst moment that led to the people getting out of Egypt:
Moses was living as a refugee. He was born into oppression where the kids were being killed in Egypt. He was put in the river in a basket, but rather than dying, he was rescued by one of Pharaoh’s daughters. He grew up with a dual identity, part of Pharaoh’s household and an Israelite. He struck out to protect his people and killed one of the slave drivers, and in doing so, he became an enemy of Pharaoh and he had to flee and live as a refugee.
Now Moses–as an Isrealite, but not really; as a part of Pharaoh’s household, but not really; as a part of Jethro’s family, but not really–Moses was caring for his father-in-law’s sheep in the middle of nowhere. And he sees something so strange–a bush that is burning, but doesn’t seem to be being consumed. So he checked it out. And God spoke to Moses there.
“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10)
Again, it didn’t go perfectly. My faith says that God knew–He knew it wouldn't go perfectly. Even so, God didn’t say, “You wait here and I will go take care of it.” With God’s knowing, He still sent Moses, called Moses, entrusted Moses, partnered with Moses.
As we walk into these conversations, here’s a question as a starting point: If everything going perfectly was imperative, wouldn't God just do it all Himself?
Biblical narrative shows over and over and over and over and over again that God doesn't just do it, fix it, overcome it, crush it, change it…. Biblical narrative again and again is in the theme found in Exodus 3: I see the need AND I’m sending you.
What does it tell us about God that He would invite our partnership?
There is something really beautiful in this pattern in scripture. God’s partnership Is not just with the perfect or the impressive or the wealthy or the promising. In fact, it seems to run to the other extreme. And as we walk through this, the repeated beautiful statement has to be, “Well, if God partners with them (the people in the Biblical narrative), He probably can partner with me.”
At Corner Church, we want to keep these things in focus: local, early, together.
Local: My faith says that we are well placed in our local–in our families, our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces. While we can have calling and impact globally, it can’t be at the cost of our local. God has been waiting forever for you to be where you are and He is excited to have you there. He is ready to partner with you–in your local.
Early: My faith says that while it can feel good to save the day, God’s plan is to partner with us early so that the day doesn't need to be saved. While we can and should step into desperate moments, it is best for us to step in months, years, and even decades before the desperate moment and invest. God’s partnership is in our local and early–our investment in kids, family, neighbors, friends, coworkers shouldbe early.
Together: My faith says that God’s partnership in my local is not for me in isolation. We are all well placed as the body of Christ, with different strengths and weaknesses. We are synergistically placed together, and together we are called to partnership.
God has been waiting forever for this moment, to partner with you in your local, in investing in people early, and as you partner with others.
So–what do you have?
There are some common things that people carry in their pockets: phone, keys, wallet, cash, earbuds, gum, pen, identification. Here is the scenario: you are driving a van load of toddlers across the state of Minnesota, and it is not going well. There is crying, screaming, fighting. As a table, what useful resource do you have in your pockets, purse, or fanny pack for this WE HAVE A PROBLEM moment?
What useful resources do you have in your pockets, purse or fanny pack for driving a van load of toddlers across Minnesota?
Did you feel it? It becomes obvious real quickly in a situation like that, that I don’t have enough, I don’t have the right stuff, I am not equipped, I don’t know what I can do, and what I have is insufficient.
The heart of this series–the theme in scripture–is not to lie to us, telling us we’re fine and it will be easy, no problem. No, the heart of this series–the theme in scripture–is partnership between God and us. God doesn’t just do; He entrusts and empowers us. God is not oblivious to our shortcomings. God entrusts and empowers, and helps. But that entrusting, empowering, and helping does not eliminate us from the process.
Before we jump into text today, here’s one more thing to process. I could ask a question about when you have personally faced insurmountable odds or a hopeless situation or a struggle that overwhelms or impossibility. This is a valuable conversation. But instead I’m going to ask a response question.
When you face unique circumstances, what tends to be your initial response?
Today we’re looking at a story that appears in all four of the gospel narratives. Jesus feeding the 5000 is found in Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-15.
And there are some amazing connections we can make between the way we read some of this story and who Moses was. In Matthew, part of the author's goal is to show Jesus as the New Greater-Than-Moses. This may not sound like a big declaration to us, but it was a huge statement, a big perspective shift, for the initial audience.
Moses, with God’s provision, led the people out of Egypt’s slavery, led the people to the promised land, and was the conduit to God’s commands–the directives in relationship with God.
Today we bring some of these connections, or hyperlinks, into focus as we not just see the value of a story, but see its connection to who we are, who God is, and how we are connected to God. Here are some of these connections or hyperlinks: King Herod and Pharaoh were both oppressive, unrelational kings. Jesus and His disciples went to the mountainside–a place of refuge and connection with God–like Moses and the Israelites went to Mt. Sinai. The crowd was hungry in the middle of nowhere like the Israelites were looking for food in the wilderness–a place where God’s provision is the only option. And Jesus provided food like God sent manna, a provision beyond understanding.
Let’s start with the bad king. Herod loved his brother’s wife and stole her from him. And John the Baptist told them (and lots of people) it wasn’t ok to do this. You can’t steal your brother’s wife.
For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:18)
King Herod didn’t like this so much, and arrested him. But he was conflicted. Part of him wanted to KILL John, the other part of him knew he was a holy man and wanted to listen to him. But the king’s new wife had a different opinion. She wanted John GONE. So on one opportune night, she sent her daughter, the king’s niece and stepdaughter, to dance for the king and his court officials and military commanders, and the leaders in Galilee. Awkward.
The king was so impressed (by the way, impressed is a nice way to put it), he promised to grant or do WHATEVER his stepdaughter wanted. And with mom’s nudging, she said she wanted John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Gross.
The king didn't want to lose face in front of all these people, so he sent the executioner to the prison and John the Baptist was beheaded. And the daughter brought John’s head to her mother. Gross again.
Now John had followers, like Jesus did, and they took care of John’s body, buried him, and then went and told Jesus what had happened.
John was Jesus’ cousin. He was a follower. He was a co-worker. I imagine Jesus being broken-hearted just like he was when Lazarus died.
Later, King Herod had heard about Jesus. And King Herod believed that Jesus WAS John the Baptist coming back to life. King Herod had just taken John the Baptist’s head. I can imagine that Jesus was thinking he’d be next.
Jesus was mourning. Jesus was exhausted. Jesus knew the risks. So Jesus got away. He wanted to be alone with His 12 disciples. For the disciples, this was a moment to even care for Jesus. So they all got on a boat to get away, to have some alone time, to process all that had happened and what it meant, and to grieve the loss of John the Baptist.
The people heard that Jesus had gotten into a boat. They knew the direction that they had gone. They had to have extrapolated that Jesus was going to a quiet place, as at Mount Sinai, this place was going to be a place to connect with and be with God. And they raced ahead to the anticipated landing spot.
So as Jesus and the disciples approach the quiet shore to be alone, they see that they were not alone. And Jesus–grieving, hurting, wondering about his future–had compassion on all these people. These were desperate people that went to the middle of nowhere to find Jesus, to bring their hurting friends and family. Not just people with a slight cold, or a little pain, but people with life-altering issues, people that were dying, people that couldn’t walk, people that had no hope, people that only a miracle could help.
And Jesus had compassion on them. I almost imagine that His loss just deepened his compassion for them.
All day Jesus was talking with the people. Healing people, loving people, caring for the people. The people put all their hope and trust in how Jesus could help them.
After HOURS of this happening, it was getting late. They were in the middle of nowhere. Their blood sugar was getting low. The sun was beating on them. They wouldn’t make it home without food if they stayed much longer. So the disciples, learning to be more like Jesus, saw the people’s need and told Jesus,
“This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)
And Jesus looked at them and said, “Ok. You feed them.”
How in the world are we going to feed all these people? There were something like 10,000 people–men, women, children. There were people EVERYWHERE. Jesus, you’re nuts. I mean, I don’t think they said it, they weren’t rude to Jesus. But in their minds, they thought so.
They knew they didn’t have enough money, they didn’t have enough food. It was a logistical nightmare.
Then they saw this kid, whose mom (or dad) was smart enough to pack him a lunch to go see Jesus. And they brought that boy to Jesus and said, this is literally ALL THE FOOD WE HAVE for 10,000 people. We have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Can we send the people away now?!
And Jesus, shaking His head, said bring them to Me. Everyone sat down, He gave thanks for the food He was given and broke the bread, just like He later did at the Last Supper.
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 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 his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:39-41)
He broke the bread and tore it into baskets. He’d fill a basket and give it to the disciples to give to the people. They’d hand out the bread and come back to Jesus to refill their baskets. They did this over and over again until all 10,000 people were fed. And once everyone was satisfied, they had 12 baskets leftover.
God provided manna for the people to eat in the wilderness. Mana literally means “what is it.” I can hear the people in the crowd enjoying the fish and bread and saying, not what is it, but where did this come from? Could you pass me some more bread?
People were healed and the people were fed. Then Jesus sent the people home, and they were finally able to sneak away, by themselves, and Jesus went off to pray.
Who do you identify with most in this story–Jesus or the disciples or the crowd or the boy? Why?
I see Jesus, broken and hurting and still having compassion on people.
I see people in desperate need, wondering if Jesus can bring them what they need.
I see the disciples, a group of people, called by a Rabbi to follow them, people that were fishermen and tax collectors and normal people. They were learning to be more like Jesus, learning to care for Jesus when He was hurting, and learning to love and care for the people around them in need. And still they were putting Jesus in a box as to what He could or could not do. He could heal their bodies, but His provision had to have a limit…
And I see this unexpected boy, with just what Jesus needed to care for these 10,000 people.
Over and over again we see in this story imperfect, normal, everyday people, being a part of what Jesus was doing.
Moses met God at that burning bush. God called him and he immediately started coming up with this list of reasons he couldn’t do what God wanted him to do: Who am I to do this? The Israelites don’t know me–I’ve been gone for 40 years. They won’t believe me or pay attention to me. I’m not well-spoken. Please send anyone but me.
Can you imagine a parallel pattern in this narrative? The disciples: We’re just trying to get away. We’re just trying to care for Jesus. We don’t have enough money to feed all these people. Or the boy: I’m hungry. I only have a couple fish and loaves. I’m supposed to bring home the leftovers.
Imagine being the disciples or this boy. Continue this list for a minute. What do you think was their list of reasons not to do what Jesus asked them to do?
What do you imagine the boy thinking and feeling as he contributes his small lunch?
What do you imagine the disciples thinking and feeling as Jesus asks them to distribute this small lunch to everyone there?
Like them, we all have a list of reasons. But God does the unexpected. He uses the unexpected. We are well placed. We are equipped with what we need. God will fill in the gaps.
We talked about it not needing to be perfect and how God still brings us into partnership with Him. We talked about how we respond to unique circumstances and how we connect with the story of the disciples, the boy and Jesus. And we talked about their list of reasons to NOT do what Jesus was asking them to do.
This brings us to our last question to talk about today. What do you see in someone that overcomes all the obstacles and excuses and partners with God?
We have all had various obstacles and circumstances we overcame, big or small, quickly or slowly, together or alone. Think about the times you have overcome obstacles or excuses. How did you do it? What changed in you (if anything) to help you overcome it?
This is a moment to also celebrate victories and coming out the other side. Please share at your table, celebrate at your table, encourage each other.
I love that the next moment in the narrative is the disciples crossing the sea in the boat as Jesus stayed behind… And Jesus came strolling on the water. And it wasn’t a moment to sit back and watch Jesus do it, but a moment of Peter being invited out onto the water! So, let’s process:
What do you see in someone that overcomes all the obstacles and excuses and partners with God?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Matthew 14:1-21.
- After a busy day, how do you best unwind?
- What stands out to you about Jesus’ reaction to the crowd that hunts Him down?
- How do you think the disciples felt as they saw the crowd forming?
- What insight about Jesus do you grasp more clearly from this story?
- How does that insight challenge, focus, encourage, refine for you what it is to be Christlike?
- What insight does it give you that Jesus did this miracle with the help of the boy and the disciples?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Samuel 17
- 2 Samuel 18
- 2 Samuel 19
- 2 Samuel 20
2 Samuel 21