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2017 Thanksgiving

Date: Nov. 19, 2017

Author: Omar Brown

Matthew 14:6-21

Good morning everyone. As has been said before my name is Mr. Omar Brown, I currently live and work in Boston Massachusetts and it is a pleasure and an honor to be invited to speak at this United meeting of Bible Fellowships. Thanksgiving has a way of bringing families together and it is beautiful to see the family of God come together around the word of God. We have the great privilege and great opportunity to give thanks for the sacred meal, this spiritual food of the word of God.  So I would like to thank Dr. Ben Toh of West loop church, Pastor Bob Henkins of Illinois Institute of Technology Campus Ministry and Pastor Henry Asega of Warren Park Bible Fellowship for the distinct pleasure of sharing this sacred meal of spiritual food with your family of churches.

Would you join me in prayer as we ask God to speak through His word:

(Prayer)

Alright everybody say meat, everyone say meat!

I tried to bring you some spiritual meat to day. I’ve been soaking this word overnight in some history and theology and slow roasting this scripture for you. So I pray we approach God’s word with joy and expectation and that God gives us an appetite for His word today.

I am going to do more teaching than preaching so listen fast and listen closely Okay?

Are you with me? Now let us get into the text. 

So what is actually happening here? In order to understand the deep significance of the miracle that Jesus performs, I assert that it will be important to look at what precedes the miracle. In Matthew chapter 14 verses 1-12, we have almost a “flashback “ moment where the gospel writer describes how King Herod enacted the severe and brutal beheading of John the Baptist . So if we take a step out of the text and consider its Historical Context it will further illuminate some of the truths of John the Baptist’s death and subsequently Jesus’ miracle.

So as we read the scripture, before we look at the actual text it is important to remember that there are three audiences to takes into consideration 1) The first is the Audience of the church that Matthew is writing to 2) The second is the audience that Matthew is writing about, that is the people who witnessed the miracle themselves 3) and Thirdly, we are the third audience. God’s living word in His sovereignty has something to say to us today.

1) The first is the Audience of the church that Matthew is writing to

Let’s start with the Audience that Matthew is writing to .the gospel of Matthew is generally thought to have been written between 80 A.D. and 90 A.D. about a generation or two after Jesus’ death. Many scholars believed that the church that Matthew was writing to was a mixture of both Jewish and gentile Christians, with the majority of the audience being Jewish Christians who understand the Jewish context and culture. Matthew in his writing is trying to establish Jesus as the New and better Moses who not just embodies, but also reinterprets the Law. Jesus in the book of Matthew is the authoritative rabbinical teacher.  Yet why was it important to the Jewish-Christian Communities in Israel to hear that Jesus is a new and better Moses?

Now as you may know, the Jewish center of life and worship was the temple. The place where sacrifices were made, the place where the fullness of God dwelled, the place where Jewish people obeyed and celebrated the famous covenant promises handed down from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Moses the Prophets and the Judges. This temple was a place of insurmountable significance. This place of; history, culture and religious life was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  By 70 AD the rise of Synagogues had already taken place where many Jewish communities would gather around these houses of worship called Synagogues in order to revere and study the Torah, the word of God, but even though the rise of Synagogues was a prominent Jewish practice, the Temple regulated still regulated the ebbs and flows of Jewish life, as the moon influences the height of the tide, and the earths proximity to the sun influences the changing of the season’s, the temple was the fulcrum, the axis upon which all Israel turned. Therefore we can see that since the Gospel of Matthew was written to a Jewish Community 10-20 years after the destruction of the temple. What would happen if the center of your way of life was destroyed. That would be like today, if the White House in D.C. and Every church and Cathedral was bombed by an extreme terrorist all at the same time?  Many Christians around the world are experiencing this reality right now.

Matthew was writing to a Jewish people under severe Roman military occupation.  The Romans to the Jews would be like a modern day ISIS. Except more powerful and with more influence. Matthew is writing to a church that was probably feeling dispossessed, disoriented and disillusioned. How was one going to truly be Jewish without the Temple? How would you keep covenant with God if you could no longer make sacrifices to him, as you can see in the book of Acts, many Jewish Christians still went to Temple and Synagogue even after they became Christian, and now after the destruction of the temple, Jewish Christians are looking for hope, and a way to understand how to live out their new found faith without the temple.

2) The second is the audience that Matthew is writing about, that is the people who witnessed the miracle themselves

Now let us move to the audience that Matthew is writing about. Prior to John the Baptist it was about 400-500 years since Israel had.  So for Israel, John the Baptist was a burning lamp of hope.  At the time of John the Baptist there had already been several men who claimed to be the Messiah, and tried to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel. Yet John the Baptist was truly humble. He never called people to himself but consistently directed people towards God. John the Baptist was a man who called the nation to righteousness, to repentance and to faithfulness to the covenant promises of God. In the gospel of Matthew John the Baptist is regarded as the greatest person born of a woman in Matt 11. Jesus himself said that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of a long awaited promise given in Micah 4:5-6, which proclaimed there would be a coming prophet who would walk in the spirit and power of Elijah. In the Gospel of John, we see that John the Baptist was so highly esteemed by many people in Israel that they thought that he the Messiah and preached a baptism of repentance.

John the Baptist and Jesus both were born/ came of age at one of Israel’s gravest times in its history. Politically Israel was under what could be understood as a double military. The King Herod referenced in Matt 14 which, is known as Herod the great, who during the reign of the Greeks, acted as a king over Israel. Though he was understood as a convert Judaism, his political and religious reign and influence was an affront to the covenant promises that God would rule Israel from the line of David. Some scholars believe that the Jewish people saw him as a puppet king, who had illegitimate authority and who never truly belonged in the kingship. Herod was appointed as ruler over the Jewish nation during the Greek occupation of Israel but after the Greek empire fell to the Romans, Herod was appointed to rule over Israel by the Romans. Therefore, not only did Israel find itself with an illegitimate ruler in the form of Herod, but also an illegitimate and pagan ruler in the form of Caesar.

So think about how these people are feeling. They have two illegitimate rulers, they are being extorted by Roman taxes, their religion is ostracized and they are often being beaten and abused by soldiers. Every political upheaval they try to make to gain their freedom has been completely shut down, and after 400 years of silence God sends a prophet in John the Baptist. People are repenting and coming back to the true Jewish faith and then all of a sudden, this burning light of hope in John the Baptist is extinguished, literally cut down.

Does this make sense?

Our first audience in the church Matthew is writing to is despondent and desparate. They have come to faith in Jesus but their way of life has been destroyed and they need to find hope and identity in something greater than their familiar forms of government, other than even their familiar forms of religious practice. These Jewish people are hungry for something they can hold onto.

And in Matthew chapter 14 the gospel writer seems to be yelling at his church “ WE WERE HERE BEFORE! THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE, Matthew seems to be pointing his church to the hungry and tired children of Israel in chapter fourteen and saying, remember that we have been through this challenge before, RMEMBER THAT THE CHURCH DOES NOT RELY ON POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS, but THE FOUNDATION OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD RESTS UPON THE SHOULDERS OF JESUS.

We have a historical and textual audience who are deeply situated within a context of social, political and religious desperation. How would you feel? What would we do if the United States became militarily occupied by North Korea and Russia? How would you feel if our leaders and bible teachers like John Piper and Francis Chan were beheaded on U.S. soil? Can you imagine the worry, the fear, the desperation and tension that Israel is feeling?

Beyond Israel, can you imagine what Jesus is feeling right now? Some times we forget what Philippians 2 says of our Lord and Savior, in that he was, simply put, fully God and Fully man. Jesus though perfectly divine, was also perfectly human, and his friend, his cousin, was just beheaded. Jesus went into a place of solitude after hearing about his cousin’s cruel and untimely assassination.  Did he weep? Did he mourn? What was the disposition of Christ’s heart during this time of widespread political turmoil and deep personal tragedy? In times of uncertainty and desperation, Jesus in Matthew 14 shows us the answer

Jesus Christ’s disposition was one of generosity and thanksgiving. How do we know this? Well let us look at the bible:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 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.”

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

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

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 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.20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In terms of Generosity

Jesus, in His time of grief, in his personal time of loss, chose to place the needs of other’s above his own. I actually think it was the grace of God that Jesus didn’t have his time alone. He could have experienced a temptation too despair, but instead Jesus was presented with an opportunity to love. The crowds to us might look like a nuisance, but I think to Jesus, the crowds of peoples were a physical reminder, a re-affirmation of Jesus’ purpose. In a time where Jesus could of chosen to lock out other people, to shut his heart down, to go into seclusion, Jesus chooses a generosity of self in providing for the needs of others.

In terms of thanksgiving

In the Scriptures, we see two different approaches to feeding the hungry crowd. The first approach is that of the disciples, and can be interpreted in terms of need-based community mapping. The second, can be understand in terms of Asset-based community mapping. In need based community mapping, community development and international development agencies look at what people lack, and crate policies based on what people need. With the disciples, they looked at the hungry crowd and gave a need based community mapping. “ Jesus there are no resources, Jesus how are we going to feed so many people? Jesus these people brought tragedy on themselves, they should find away to feed themselves, send them away! You need your personal time!”

Jesus demonstrates an asset based community mapping, which, instead of looking at what you do not have and what you need, you celebrate and value what you DO have and what resources are already available. In this scene of scripture, Jesus looks at what the disciples see as not enough and says “This is more than enough” Jesus gives thanks for what he has, and recognizes that not only is there food, but there is the blessing of God the father that can take times of tragedy and transform them into something miraculous. In the feeding of the five thousand, people often forget the circumstances of tragedy in which the miracle is embedded, and conversely it is easy for us to accentuate the impossible nature of our own tragedy while neglecting the impossible miracle that God wants to do in our lives.

We serve a God who is greater than our circumstances, when we have political turmoil we serve a God whose government is unshakable. When we have financial hardship, we serve a God who supplies all our needs and who can even multiply our feeble efforts as he did the fish and the loaves. When we face social tension, we serve a God who brings people together around the banquet of His word, beckoning us all to taste and see that He is good, that His power to unify us is greater than the things that try to divide us.

So I do not know how you might be facing tragedy? Are you concerned about crime and violence in Chicago? Are you facing trouble in your marriage or extended family? Are you experiencing deep personal grief or loss? I exhort you, turn to Jesus, give him your fish, and your loaves, because as you place your small offering on the table of thanksgiving, Jesus can use it and multiply it to feed others with a living hope, an everlasting joy and an enduring faith in His goodness.

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