Each of the Gospel writers, inspired by the Spirit, tell the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in a slightly different way. Matthew 14:13–21 points you to the Savior who welcomes you. He does not make you go away.
Look to the Savior to meet your needs. Your Savior is compassionate. The setting is the questions raised by Herod about Jesus and his miracles, verses 1 and 2. Perhaps Jesus is avoiding an early confrontation as he and his disciples leave by boat, heading for a place to be alone in the wilderness. And he is grieving the death of John the Baptist, not only the cousin of Jesus, but the forerunner, the one whose death anticipates what will happen to the Savior himself. Despite Jesus’ evident desire for privacy, the crowds follow. The wilderness setting and the provision of miraculous food recall the gift of manna to Israel. “Well before the proclamation of the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, the significance of the sabbath was made evident. At the root of the people’s work was their rest in God, which resulted from Christ’s atonement. Thus they were to eat the manna not just as food to satisfy their hunger, but as God’s favor in the form of food. Thus the manna was a revelation of what Jesus Christ is for us, namely, manna from heaven, the restoration of our whole life in God’s favor.” (S. G. De Graaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 1, pages 287,288) God’s provision for your needs is a call to live trusting in the Redeemer he has sent. Jesus sees the needy crowd and has compassion. “So strongly was Christ moved by this feeling of compassion, that though, in common with his disciples, he was fatigued and almost worn out by uninterrupted toil, he did not spare himself. He had endeavored to obtain some relaxation, and that on his own account as well as for the sake of his disciples; but when urgent duty calls him to additional labor, he willingly lays aside that private consideration, and devotes himself to teaching the multitudes. Although he has now laid aside those feelings which belonged to him as a mortal man, yet there is no reason to doubt that he looks down from heaven on poor sheep that have no shepherd, provided they ask relief of their wants.” (John Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels) The compassion is evident not only in the healings, but also in satisfying their hunger.
Trust Jesus to feed you. The disciples come to Jesus with the problems of the remote setting, the late hour, and the need for the large crowd to disperse to purchase food. Jesus’ response is to instruct them to provide food for the people. After inventorying their resources, the disciples come up with only five loaves and two fish (which, John’s Gospel tells us, was a boy’s lunch). Throughout this section of Matthew’s Gospel the disciples are repeatedly shown to lack the understanding and trust that they need. As Matthew looks back at that period in his life (and that of his fellow apostles) he seems to realize just how ignorant they were about Jesus before his death and resurrection. His recollection is a call to you to grow in your knowledge of and trust in the Savior. “In the future the disciples will dispose of Jesus’ messianic gifts and distribute them on his behalf.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 350) Yet, when Jesus does work the miracle, the disciples are involved in the distribution. There is only one Mediator, but he uses many to distribute the benefits of his work.
You need not go away! The Savior meets your needs. This miracle is the only one (besides the resurrection) to be recorded in all four Gospels. The writers, and the Holy Spirit, considered it important for you. This provision of bread is more important than our culture realizes. The food for which Adam would sweat in Genesis 3:19 is literally “bread.” Trouble is “bread of adversity,” Isaiah 30:20. Famine’s end is God providing “bread,” Ruth 1:6. Bread, what you need for sustaining of life, is provided graciously by God, just as it was in the wilderness. Matthew’s account is shorter than John’s or Mark’s, and is barely longer than Luke’s. Yet one statement of Jesus is found only here. As the disciples encourage Jesus to send the people away to by food, Jesus says, “They do not need to go away.” Purchasing food for 5,000 men, plus women and children, would have been iffy business in the small villages nearby. Jesus will meet their need without the crowd dispersing. Matthew is making the point that you do not need to leave Jesus to have your needs, especially your deepest needs, met. Jesus is the complete Savior. As you prepare to come to the Lord’s Table, be sure that you realize that you have no need to go elsewhere than the Lord Jesus Christ for your needs to be met in full.
Be satisfied! After directing the people to sit down (there’s a note of authority in the instruction), Jesus took the bread and fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks for them. Then he broke them, and gave them to his disciples for distribution to the people. And the disciples kept coming back for more, until the whole crowd was satisfied. Naturalistic explanations fail to do justice to the text. Some see the crowd shamed by the boy’s willingness to share his lunch, so they pull out their concealed lunches, and share them. Others, noting the language that parallels the institution of the Lord’s Supper, see this as a sacramental meal, with token amounts of food. But Matthew, who was there, tells you that they ate and were satisfied. And he helped pick up the 12 baskets full of leftovers. Yes there are parallels with the language of the Lord’s Supper. (Note the differences, including no wine here, and no fish in the Supper.) It is not so much that this meal in the wilderness anticipates the Supper, as that both meals look beyond themselves to the same person. Both, ultimately, are about more than food to sustain you for the next few hours. Both focus on the Provider, the Savior, Jesus Christ. Keep that focus as you prepare to come to the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Supper, like the feeding of the 5,000, is not first of all about how close you feel to your Lord — though indeed you should be close to him. Rather, it is about God meeting your need. It is God inviting you to fellowship with him as his friend! As Matthew records the satisfaction of the people, he points you to the only One who can meet your deepest need. He deals not just with your hunger, but with the separation from God caused by your sin.
Whether or not you have bread for dinner today, be sure that you go nowhere else than the Lord Jesus Christ to receive the bread of life. You have no need to go away from him. You will find real food, food that gives eternal life, no where else.