Feeding the 5,000

On Sunday I got to preach from one of my favorite passages – Luke 9:10-17, the miraculous multiplication of bread. I’m still living in that story and I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you. This will be hodgepodge collection of nuggets rather than a formal post – hopefully you can follow along. 🙂

Jesus doesn’t despise weakness.

  • The prelude to this story is that Jesus has spent the last several months raising up a second tier of leadership while the Twelve have been away. He has been preaching and teaching, modeling and investing. He has been the sole minister while his team is away. On top of that, just as the Apostles return, Jesus gets word that his cousin, John (the Baptizer), has just been beheaded by Herod. Jesus and John were undoubtedly close – John was the only person (other than Mary) who really knew who Jesus was. What is more, a couple chapters back, in Luke 7, Jesus basically told John that he wasn’t coming to rescue him, that John would die in prison. Tired, grieving and looking forward to reconnecting with his friends, Jesus decides to slip away for some R&R.
  • The crowd, however, gets wind of Jesus’s intentions and quite literally runs around the lake to meet him. As Jesus and his disciples get to their destination, Jesus, tired and grieving, looks over the bow of the ship and sees a huge crowd pressed up against the shore – 10,000 people with their emotional vacuums pointed straight at him.
  • How does Jesus respond? His heart doesn’t sink, he doesn’t curse them in his heart or despise their neediness. Instead, the Bible says that he looked on them with compassion, like sheep without a shepherd. It says that he graciously welcomed them, taught them and healed them.
  • I love how compassionate Jesus is. I love that he can see beneath the surface, to what is really going on. These people were desperate for hope, they were aching to hear words of Life about Our Father. Jesus didn’t hold their sin, their neediness or their selfishness against them. Instead, he gave and taught and healed. He cared for them the way he wished they would have cared for him. Absolutely beautiful.

Bread from Heaven is far superior

  • I’m fascinated that, at some point in time, this entire crowd decided that it was better and more important to listen to Jesus than to go get dinner or find a room for the night. As long as Jesus was willing to speak, they were willing to listen. How good does a sermon need to be for people to be willing to override their legitimate human needs and choose something superior? I don’t know, I lose people about 10 minutes in.
  • What Jesus had to offer brought thousands upon thousands of people into the middle of nowhere. There was no shelter, there were no provisions, yet they came out in droves. Why doesn’t the world do that anymore? We have the same message, the same mission and the same Spirit… don’t we?

The Insignificant and Unworthy were the Seed of a miracle

  • In the original texts, only the men were counted. Women and children were considered insignificant, second class, less than. Yet it was a little boy, not the Apostles, who had something to offer. The Apostles, for all their spiritual power and ministry knowhow, hadn’t thought to bring anything to eat. But a young boy (more likely his mother) had. The boy was willing to give what he had, regardless of how small it was and that is what fed the multitude.
  • No matter how unworthy you feel or how insignificant you are in the eyes of the world, you are a miracle waiting to happen. What you have to give is valuable and, in the hands of Jesus, just might change the world.
  • The disciples really biffed it in Luke’s telling of the story. We know from John’s Gospel that the boy was the one with the food, but in Luke, the Apostles try to make it seem like they were the ones who had thought to bring some extra. It is an age old human tendency – we often try to make ourselves look better by taking credit for someone else’s idea. I think our challenge as followers of Jesus is to receive from “the least of these” in a way that broadly honors their contribution.

Expectancy is Key

  • When Jesus ordered the crowd to sit in groups of fifties, there had been no miracle. There was no mountain of food, no catering table. But the crowd obeyed. Even though they didn’t see the food, they acted with expectancy on a promise. The Master had said to sit and get ready for a meal. They didn’t know where the food was coming from, but they trusted it would show up.
  • I wonder how many miracles are waiting for the People of God to act on a promise? What would it look like for us to take Jesus at his word – to actually believe him?

Hoarding would have killed the miracle

  • When Jesus took the bread and blessed it, bread didn’t fall from Heaven like manna in the wilderness. It wasn’t as though thousands of loaves suddenly appeared for the Apostles to distribute. No. Instead, Jesus ripped apart a loaf and gave a chunk to Peter and said, “Go feed that group of fifty over there.” He gave another to Andrew and James and John and all the disciples, each with the same message.
  • When Peter got to his first group, I imagine his instructions to the first guy were, “Tear off some and pass it on down the line.” I think this is HUGE!!!! If they guy had looked around and said, “This is all there is, I’m keeping it” the miracle would have died. The miracle happened because each person shared what they had. They took a chunk and then passed it on.. and kept passing when it came around again. No one hoarded it. Instead, they shared freely.
  • But what if someone had hoarded it? Not only would the miracle have ceased to progress, but they would have still been hungry. The bread multiplied in the giving, not in the eating. Assuming each group of 50 got roughly half a loaf, that would not have been enough to fill one person up. Selfishness and greed would have resulted in no miracle and an unsatisfying meal for one person.
  • Think about the spiritual implication of this. Are you regularly sharing your faith, the life of Christ within you, the Bread from Heaven that made you a new creation? If not, then I’m assuming you’re not seeing miracles on a regular basis and that you are spiritually hungry. I’m guessing that hunger looks like:
  1. you’re dissatisfied with your current church because the music sucks, the preaching is lousy or the fellowship is superficial and you think some other place will “feed you”,
  2. you feel disillusioned because it seems like the Gospel isn’t quite as good as people claim it is,
  3. you feel like God doesn’t hear your prayers,
  4. you’ve compromised yourself morally because sinning seems like more fun and God loves you anyway,
  5. reading the Bible seems dull and irrelevant to your life
  • If any of those symptoms fits you, it is likely you’re fault – not your church’s fault, not your pastor’s fault and not God’s fault. You are hoarding what you’ve been commanded to share. The Dead Sea is dead because water flows into it but can’t flow out of it; therefore, it stagnates. Clear up the blockage, start sharing, start being life-giving to those around you and you’ll be surprised how quickly things turn around. The best part about things being your fault is that you have the power to change them. 🙂
  • Also, at the end of the story, once everyone has eaten their fill, the disciples collect the leftovers – twelve baskets full. They ended with more than they started with. Selah.

This story is the Gospel in miniature

  • I’m fairly certain that this story is the absolute apex of the Gospel narrative. Why? Because it is told in every Gospel and within a page or two after it is told (in Luke it is immediately after), Jesus talks to his disciples about his coming sacrifice for the very first time. It is almost as those the Apostles needed the object lesson in order to understand what Jesus was really about – he is the bread from Heaven, broken for the needs of the world. Jesus may have done “cooler” things, like walking on water, but nothing demonstrated his mission better.
  • Think about it this way: a son offers up everything he has so that it can be broken to satisfy the needs of many. That sure sounds like a Gospel presentation to me.
  • Jesus was broken so that we could be put back together. The Father rejected Jesus so that he would never have to reject us. God said “No.” to Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane so he could say “Yes!” to us at Calvary. One man, blessed and broken, is what was needed for a new creation.

I’ll end this post with some notes I didn’t get to share yesterday. These are the promises I see contained in this passage for us as individuals and as a community. I know some of them may be redundant, but I trust you’ll bear with me. Thanks for reading friends.

Promises

  • The Promise to the Giver – What you have, no matter how small it appears, is enough in the hands of God. These stories abound in the Bible. It is a recurring theme in Scripture that if you will offer what little you have in service to God it will be enough to satisfy the needs of the day. And as long as you keep doing it, God’s provision will go on indefinitely. Most of the time, however, you will never appear “full.” The widow’s jar of flour was never overflowing, but every time she reached into the jar there was always enough for one more day’s worth of bread.
  • The Promise to the Receiver – Did you notice that the crowds sat down in anticipation of a meal before Jesus had broken the bread. There was no catering table being set up, there was no physical evidence that food was coming. But the crowd had an instruction from the Master, “Sit down in groups of fifty and get ready to eat.” So they did. They may have grumbled. They may have looked around and been confused. They may have said, “Well, it sure doesn’t make sense to me, but OK.” Who knows what they were thinking at the time. And remember, this isn’t a small group of people, this would be like the city of Waverly getting together in some farmer’s field and expecting a meal. The promise to the receiver is simple – do what he says and you’ll get what he promised. We don’t have to understand. We don’t even have to agree. We just have to obey. Simple acts of obedience are profoundly freeing when we approach them with an expectant heart.
  • The Promise to the Hungry – You can’t buy enough to satisfy your hunger. No amount of food, no amount of drink, no amount of sex, no amount of entertainment, no amount of stuff, no amount of anything will ever be enough to satisfy your spiritual hunger. Nothing except Jesus. Life will always feel shallow and pointless until you submit your life to Jesus. This passage is a major turning point. Shortly after this passage appears in each of the Gospels, Jesus begins to talk to his disciples about his betrayal and crucifixion. The symbolism is clear, the bread is Jesus’s body. The bread was broken to satisfy their physical hunger, but that satisfaction was short lived. Jesus’s body was broken to satisfy the wrath of God and to open for us the way to Everlasting Life, and that is eternal. Life finds meaning and purpose in Jesus. Suffering and pain find purpose in Jesus. He is the Master at taking the broken and making it beautiful.
  • The Promise to the Broken, the Abused and the Insignificant – You are a miracle waiting to happen. It wasn’t the Apostles who were so thoughtful and wise so as to bring along some extra food. It was a child. It might have been the lunch his mother packed for him, it might have been something he thought of himself, either way, it was all he had and he gave it freely. He gave it freely even when the disciples tried to take credit for it. Without that little bit of generosity this miracle would have never happened. The promise to all of you who feel hurt, wounded, insignificant, unwanted, unloved, broken, abused or otherwise unworthy is that you have something to offer and that something is valuable. What you have to give might never become a miracle recorded in a book or blog, but it will change the world. Furthermore, God sees you. He sees you as you are and he sees you as you will one day be. If you can learn to see yourself the way God sees you, you won’t want to be anybody else. Your story isn’t over. God isn’t finished with you yet.
  • The Promise to the Community – The Gospel is for everyone. Jesus didn’t just miraculously feed himself, his disciples or a select group of followers. He saw the needs of the group. He saw that everyone needed something to eat and he commissioned his disciples to be the ones to meet those needs in a systematic and sacrificial way. Church, if we believe what the Bible says, then we have what the world needs. We have the Bread of Life, the Living Water, we have every spiritual blessing, all power and all authority. We have everything we need to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Said a little differently and specifically, we have the capacity to make Waverly an outpost of the Kingdom of God on the earth. There don’t have to be hungry people in Waverly. There don’t have to be poor people in Waverly. There don’t have to be sick people in Waverly. There certainly don’t have to be people destined for Hell in Waverly. The answers to all of those problems are locked up in the Church – in us! If that sounds extreme, hard to believe, even a little “out there” then I submit that maybe our God is a little too small and our Devil a little too big. For real guys, if what the Bible says is true, then we have the Spirit of the Living God inside of us and we are promised that every time the Kingdom of Heaven collides with the kingdom of this world our side will win. Why are we not running into everything!? The promise to our community is transformation. It is the promise that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, within our reach, if we will only stretch out our hands and lay hold of it.
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Luke 1:5-38 Sermon Notes

I’m preaching through the Gospel of Luke this year. For anyone who wants to follow along with our study, I will be posting my sermon notes and the link to each message. Thanks for joining us in our study of Luke!

Sermon Outline for Jan. 11, 2015

1. Text: Luke 1:5-38

2. Context/Theology:
Where are we in redemptive history?
* Just coming out of the 400 years of silence.
* The last words of the Old Testament were, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse,” Mal. 4:5,6
* Now God is bringing that promise to fulfillment.

What do we need to know to understand this passage?
* This is Zechariah’s once in a lifetime chance to enter the Holy Place and offer incense – symbolizing the prayers of the people. Just behind the altar, on the other side of the curtain, is the Holy of Holies – God’s Throne.
* Then the angel Gabriel shows up. According to Church history, Gabriel is one of the three arch angels along with Michael and Lucifer. Gabriel has shown up one time before, when he gave revelation to Daniel about the end of the age.
* Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have a son and is to name him John. John is to be a Nazarite (see Numbers 6) someone set apart for special service to God.
* Gabriel causes Zechariah to be mute because of his unbelief. Zechariah was a descendant of Abraham, a man remembered for his faith and belief that God could give him a son in his old age.

Are there any words or phrases that carry special significance?
* Gabriel says that John will “go before the Lord in the power and spirit of Elijah.”
* As far as we know, John performed no miracles. That fascinates me because he was supposed to operate in “the spirit and power of Elijah.” Elijah doesn’t get much air time in the Scriptures, just a few chapters really, but those few chapters are overflowing with the miraculous: withholding rain for three years, the flour and oil that never ran out, raising the widow’s son, the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, supernatural sustenance by the brook, encountering the manifest presence of God and so on. All of that points to the power of Elijah’s ministry, but one event points to his spirit – raising up a young man named Elisha to take his place and succeed him as prophet.
* The spirit of Elijah is the Fathering Spirit – the desire to see our sons and daughters surpass us. The spirit of Elijah is wanting our children to inherit a double portion, for our ceiling to become their floor. It is the desire to see our children equipped for every good work, spared from our mistakes and secure in their identities. Fascinating that just before God reveals Himself as Father to Israel, He raised up a messenger to go before Him to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the disobedient children to the wisdom of their righteous fathers.” First the physical restoration of fatherhood, then the spiritual revelation of God the Father.

3. Worship:
How does this text reveal God’s true character and destroy lies we’ve believed?
* He is the God who hears and answers our prayer, even the ones we don’t pray any more. (Luke 1:13)
– Sometimes we think God doesn’t hear us, that is untrue. God always hears us with a sympathetic ear.
– God’s timing is often different than ours. Zechariah and Elizabeth both wanted to have kids – God wanted that too. They thought their dream had died with old age, but God was waiting to fulfill their desire at the perfect moment.
– Whenever you get a “no” from God it is because a better “YES!” is coming. Your prayers are “gaining interest” and your character is being strengthened to stand up under His blessing.

* He is the God who looks with kindness on His people and moves to take away their shame and disgrace. (Luke 1:25)
– In that day and age, for a woman not to have children was shameful. The thinking of the day was that there was something wrong with the woman – hidden sin, faulty character, or something like that. Elizabeth probably felt like a third-class citizen, since women were already looked down upon.
– God sees this and vindicates her, because that is the kind of God He is. Not only does she bear a son, it is a miracle birth – everyone who previously looked down on her now wonders, “If a miracle brought his birth, what will this child become?” (Luke 1:66)
– Staying faithful, tender hearted and not defending yourself in the face of accusation or disappointment is called “meekness” in the Bible. God loves to vindicate and elevate the meek in the presence of their accusers.
– God is not up in Heaven with a wooden spoon, ready to whack us when we do something wrong. God is with us, feeling our hurts and sharing our burdens. God is the One who has come to set us free, not put us into bondage through guilt and shame.

* God is a good Father.
– Jesus primarily revealed God as “Father,” a concept that is still hard to receive for those of us whose dads were harsh, distant or unloving.
– So, in order to give people the best possible chance to receive Jesus’s ministry, God set a super holy, super anointed prophet to restore tenderness and right relationship in families.
– Love and devotion between the generations was a necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s appearing.
– God doesn’t just want us to relate to Him spiritually, He wants to heal our home life too.

How can we thank, praise and worship God from this text?
* God is the God who always hears us.
* God is the God who answers.
* God is the God who bears our burdens.
* God is the God who sets us free and raises us up at just the right time.
* God is a Good Father. He loves us, He likes us, and He delights in us.
* God is in a good mood.

4. Praxis:
How does this revelation of God’s character call us to live differently?
* We keep praying, trusting that God hears us. We may not get the answer when we want it, but God will answer.
* If God doesn’t seem to be answering, it is because a better answer is coming. This may require us to change the way we think or reexamine what it is we think we need.
* How the generations relate to one another is super important – FAMILY IS REVIVAL.

Are there any resources to help?
* The best book I know of for relational skills and communication is “Keep Your Love On,” by Danny Silk.
* If your marriage is in a difficult place right now, in addition to KYLO, we have found “Love and Respect,” by Emerson Eggerichs to be helpful.

How can I put this into practice tomorrow?
* Take an index card, put the date on it and write out your heart’s desire. Put that card somewhere you will see it every day. Pray for it as often as you see it or think about it. Don’t let off of that one thing until you get an answer.
* Get and read (or reread) “Keep Your Love On.”
* Find a mentor and/or a mentee. We need both in our lives. Ask someone you like or respect to mentor you. Pray about who you could offer to mentor. If “mentoring” in problematic language for you, who can you “do life” with? These relationships are not one-way streets by any means.

5. Ministry:
* What prayers have you given up praying? God wants to resurrect hope in your heart for those things. God always hears us. Your better YES is coming.
* Many of us carry hurts from our dads that need to be addressed in order for us to relate to God as Father in a helpful way. This doesn’t mean your dad was wicked! In fact, hurts from nice dads are sometimes the hardest to work through — they were so great in so many ways and it STILL wasn’t enough. If you haven’t already, take some time to dialogue with Holy Spirit and see if there is any history preventing you from embracing God as the Father who loves you, likes you and delights in you.

Captives, Prisoners and the Year of Jubliee

God is better than we think. He proves this time and time again. Every time we put a limit on His mercy and grace, He reveals another facet of His character that is at first offensive, then consoling, then transformative.

I had this experience made clear to me last week when I was prepping for yesterday’s sermon. I was reading through Isaiah 61, taking it slow and trying to process what it was that God was speaking to us. Then I came upon this part of verse 1,

“He sent me… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”

I’m indebted to Bill Johnson of Redding, CA for giving me the germ of this insight – that captives and prisoners are two different kinds of people.

Captives are people suffering because of someone else’s sin. Captives are people who were sinned against – attacked, overpowered, enslaved. They are people who were taken captive.

Captives wear many different faces in our culture. They are the molested and abused, the raped, forgotten and mistreated. The aborted, the neglected, the abandoned, the alien and the orphan. It only makes sense that a God of mercy, grace, goodness and justice would act to make these wrong things right, to heal their hurts and set them free.

Prisoners are a different ball game. Prisoners are those paying the price for their own sins. Humanity loves to punish, God does not. Humanity loves to see sinners beaten down, God loves to see prisoners set free.

Anyone who embraces current suffering for past mistakes is a prisoner. A woman wracked with health-destroying guilt over a past abortion is a prisoner. A man who accepts his chronic pain as a just reward for his lifetime obesity is a prisoner. Anyone, for any reason, who never asks God to heal them because they believe their suffering is deserved is a prisoner. And Jesus came to set them free.

We often want prisoners to earn their release. We want the fat man to lose weight before his hip stops hurting. We want the abuser to have his self-worth totally destroyed before we even think of releasing him. We want our prisoners to suffer… and then some.

I understand that response – it is a natural human response. But, as Christians, we are no longer allowed to think about things naturally, for we have the mind of Christ. We have to think about things from God’s perspective.

In the Law, God said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was to limit carnal man’s desire for vengeance above and beyond the hurt that was caused.

More compelling, in Isaiah 55 God says,

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.’

I love that the famous passage “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” is in the context of forgiveness and mercy. An evil man can turn and be completely forgiven – that is totally Divine, not a human response at all. And it is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Isaiah 61 goes on to say that this is the year of the Lord’s favor, another way of saying “Jubilee.” The year of Jubilee was the year of canceling debts, restoring inheritance and livelihood. It was a year that offered hope for the next generation, a Divine course correction for the entire nation.

It didn’t matter why you were in debt when Jubilee came around, all was forgiven. It didn’t matter if calamity had overtaken you or if you had been a terrible manager and spent yourself into debt you could not pay. When the shofar sounded you got a new lease on life, a chance to do things better.

Jesus is our Jubliee – our forgiveness of debt, our reclaimed inheritance, our new lease on life. Whatever you were before you came to Jesus – captive or prisoner – you have the assurance that it has all been paid for. You no longer need to punish yourself nor look to punish others. God will restore your fortunes, heal your hurts and offer you a life far more glorious than punishment or revenge.

It is time to let the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering. It is time to turn over our ashes and receive his beauty bestowed on us. It is time to let go of our mourning and enter into his joy. It is time to reject depression and despair and embrace the hope he offers to us.

Continued punishment only cheapens Jesus’s sacrifice. Please trust me, what he suffered was more than enough. It is time to trust and believe in what God has accomplished for us. It is time to forgive and receive forgiveness. It is time to submit ourselves in humble reverence to a God who is so much bigger and so much better than we could ever possibly imagine.

Christ Centered Preaching

Christ centered preaching, or Christocentric preaching for you fancy types, goes beyond Morals to the Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Christ centered preaching looks for how a passage of Scripture exaults Jesus, either through comparison or contrast, and seeks to soften the heart of the hearer by revealing the heart of the Gospel – what Jesus has done, is doing and will do on our behalf. Christ centered preaching allows us to find rest in the finished work of the Cross.

A key element of Christ centered preaching is the understanding that we are not only justified by grace through faith in Christ, we are also sanctified by grace through faith in Christ. Very often we evangelize correctly and disciple incorrectly. We tell sinners that they can only be made right with God by surrendering their lives to Jesus and accepting by faith that Jesus took the punishment that was rightfully theirs and bore it in their place. We exhort them to believe that Jesus died their death so that they can live his life. But then, once someone becomes a Believer, we tell them that now they must work really really hard to become like Jesus or else they aren’t going to make the cut. (Once saved, always saved is a bogus doctrine in my book.) It isn’t that discipleship doesn’t require strenuous effort, it does! But that effort must be motivated by love, not fear or a legalistic sense of obligation.

Christ centered preaching maintains that following Jesus and becoming more and more like him happens by faith from start to finish. Moralistic preaching may serve to restrain sinful impulses for a short time, but Christ centered preaching transforms the heart through the expulsive power of Love. When we see Jesus for who he truly is, when we behold his glory and his beauty, our hearts are softened and set afire with love for him. That Love transforms us from the inside out as all our former loves fade away. As out hearts are captured by the only thing that can every truly satisfy, our sinful behavior begins to wither and die. There is a reason why “I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me” is the first of the Ten Commandments – all the others spring from it. You simply cannot break the Seventh, Eighth or Ninth Commandment, or any of the rest, without first breaking the First.

If we try to approach discipleship/sanctification from a works based “try harder” model we will fail to produce long term life transformation and an abundant harvest of good fruit. We may get a congregation that looks nice on the outside, but it will be ruled by fear, legalism and a soul-crushing sense of obligation. The people will always worry if they are doing enough or trying hard enough to please God, or the Senior Pastor. They will never be able to rest in His Pleasure.

I realize this is all rather conceptual and that some examples or case studies would help immensely. My next post will cover the stories of Adam, Cain and Abel and discuss them from a Christ centered paradigm. As always, thanks for reading.