Saying Grace

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 14:19a (Holman) Then He commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass.

Jesus organized the crowd to make feeding them easier and more efficient. He made sure all were fed. Even the young and weak received their fair share.
Had everyone acted on their own, and had the 12 gone back repeatedly to the front rows only, where the strong muscled their way, it would have been ugly and unfair. Pushy ones at the front would have eaten their fill and stuffed their pockets with food, while behind them thousands remained unfed and unblessed.
Those in the back would have stood and complained, protesting being left out. “Jesus, back here. We’re hungry too. It isn’t fair to feed only the front row.”
J. Oswald Smith, the great missions Pastor, saw in Christ’s orderly feeding of the 5000 a picture of how God wants us to minister His word to the world.
He wants us to minister spiritual bread to not only the front row, but also the back row, to people who don’t know or care enough to cry for themselves. We believers talk of a second blessing; millions haven’t heard of the first blessing. We argue about Christ’s second coming, most don’t know about His first coming.

Christianity is making progress worldwide, but remains most concentrated in a few favored corners of Earth. Most Christian work is done repeatedly in the front row, among a small minority of people. At least 4,000,000,000 are out there in the back rows, but we seem determined to keep ministering only to the few at the front. Our orders are clear. Jesus wants no one in “the crowds” left out.

Matt. 14:19b He took the loaves and the two fish, . . .

The lad gave up his lunch, and received in return a story he surely told the rest of his life. Did he convince his parents this truly was how he lost his lunch?
When he grew up, I assume he told his children, and when his grandchildren sat on his knee, this was probably the story they wanted to hear again and again. I am confident he mentioned it every time he passed this wilderness area.

Matt. 14:19c . . .and looking up to heaven,. . .

Jesus used the common Jewish prayer posture, looking up to Heaven. It pictured a child looking up at its parents, expecting to receive a gift from them.
While looking up in prayer, the Israelites usually lifted their hands. This reaching toward God with open arms bespoke a desire for intimacy with Him.
Eyes and hands lifted in prayer are still good symbols. Whatever happens, look up. Like a child in need, direct attention toward God. Focus Heavenward.
Christians tend to pray looking down, due to the humble spirit of the tax collector who “would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me–a sinner!’” (LK 18:13). We usually pray with eyes closed, to say we worship not idols, but a God who is invisible.

Matt. 14:19d . . .He blessed them.

We don’t know for sure what Jesus said, but the Jews, before eating, customarily offered this benediction, “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Christians, due to Jesus’ example, have long been known for saying grace at a meal. Returning thanks makes a strong statement at home about the importance of faith. In public, thanking Jesus is a good way to identify ourselves with Him.
In my growing-up years, our family at home said the same prayer each time out loud in unison, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By Thy hands we all are fed. Thank Thee, Lord, for daily bread. Amen.”
My mom’s family blessed the food after the meal. They sat at the table, cleaning their teeth with toothpicks (wooden floss–they all kept all their teeth). This post-blessing kept the family together until the “Amen” dismissed them.
My dad was one of 13 children who could at times be a rowdy bunch. Rather than wait for the “Amen” before meals, they started grabbing for the food once Grandpa said “In Jesus’ Name” near the end of his blessing. Grandpa, feeling it was irreverent for the children to lunge for the food before his prayer ended, started going straight to the “Amen” without any advance warning.
The ways of saying grace before meals are many and varied, but one truth remains constant. Christ-followers thank Jesus before meals. I heard a preacher say, “Christians pray before they eat. Hogs don’t.”
Returning thanks before eating has extra special meaning to me because it is what first attracted me to Ruth. While the rest of us BSU students were tearing into our food, like hogs, Ruth always took a moment to bow her head and silently pray. I know, because I started looking every time to make sure she did it.
We use various titles to describe this before-meal custom: blessing the food, saying grace, giving thanks, returning thanks, offering thanks, thanking Jesus.
The Bible describes Jesus as often blessing (eulogeo, speaking well of) the food (Matthew 26:26, Luke 9:16; Luke 24:30), and giving thanks for the food (MT 15:36; LK 22:19; JN 6:11). Paul practiced the custom (Acts 27:35; I Corinthians 10:30), and urged other believers to do so (I Timothy 4:3-5; Romans 14:6).
When we bless food; say grace; give, return, or offer thanks; thank Jesus, what is happening? Are calories and transfats neutralized? No, unfortunately. Does it make the food taste better? No, sad to say. Then what is taking place?
If we view the custom from the perspective of blessing the food, we are looking at the food in order to be reminded of God. If we consider it from the viewpoint of giving thanks, we look to God to be reminded of His provision.
When we bless the food, we look down. “This is My Father’s World.” When we give thanks, we look up. “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.”
Either way, when we say grace, God is seen as the Giver of all good things. We connect life to God, God to life, and live in unbroken interaction with Him.
Unending awe of God should mark us. Spurgeon, living in the sprawling city of London, said he could hardly walk through a forest without wanting to fall on his knees to worship the Father. Saying grace can do this for us. It allows us in the sprawling lives we live, three times a day to retreat into worshiping the Father.
Lest we doubt the connection between God and saying grace, let me tell a gripping story from our family. One of our uncles visited the home of a rich atheist farmer. The host’s wife, knowing our uncle was a Baptist deacon, as a courtesy asked him to pray before the meal. The atheist immediately fired back, “We’re not thanking God for this food. He had nothing to do with it. I raised it.”

Matt. 14:19e He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

The Twelve did the feeding. Jesus was teaching them He would in the future be working through them. We have to learn the same lesson. The Lord’s work has been passed to us. He uses our hands as His instruments to do His work.
He honors us by using us. We have one Savior; many have the privilege to carry salvation. One redeemed us; many are honored to tell about redemption.
The Twelve learned a lesson in spiritual arithmetic. In God’s math, addition begins after subtraction; multiplication follows division. To be used by God in multiplying and adding His blessings to others, we have to be willing to divide, not hoard, what He gives us, and to subtract from, not stockpile, our possessions. If we spare, we will have enough for us. If we share, we can bless multitudes.