MATTHEW 14:20-23a
We Can’t, Must, Shall

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 14:20a (Holman) Everyone ate and was filled.

Our Savior loved unconditionally. Jesus not only said grace, He acted it out. People were hungry. Jesus fed them, no questions asked. He didn’t require them to improve or to have good references on their resume for Him to help them.
We know, among 5,000, many would have had sin in their life, and been out of fellowship with God. Most in this crowd would later reject Jesus. He fed them anyway. Even the worst hungry person in town matters to God and should be fed.

Matt. 14:20b-21 Then they picked up 12 baskets full of leftover pieces! Now
those who ate were about 5,000 men, besides women and children.

In this feeding of the 5,000, the disciples brought to Jesus five loaves and two fish. Jesus returned to them twelve full baskets. He will never be in our debt.
As we bless others, He blesses us. The gifts He gives us that we pass on to others never deplete. He always has more to give us than we can ever give away.
For Jesus, these twelve baskets full of leftovers were the miracle’s clincher, the crowning capstone. On a later occasion the 12 worried because they forgot to bring food. Jesus asked, “Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the 5,000 and how many baskets you collected?” (Matt. 16:9).
Jesus used these full baskets to drive home a point. His feeding the 5,000 had not been a dream. Jesus gave the disciples solid evidence to see, touch, and remember. These twelve full baskets served as tangible reminders, lifelong proof in the disciples’ memory. There could never be any doubt a miracle occurred.
In this story of Jesus feeding 5,000, we learn three attitudes we should show as we contemplate trying to minister to the masses. One, we can’t. As we serve Jesus, pride is forbidden. This is not to say we are to mope around in a spirit of gloom and despair, but it does mean we must be humble in our approach to others.
Look at the lives we see lived around us. Our culture is cancer-ridden with sin. Human problems are too complex for human solutions. If we think clearly about our society, we are appalled at our utter innate helplessness. We can’t.
Two, we must. We can’t, yet must. By ourselves we feel totally inadequate to take living water to a world dying of spiritual thirst. We can’t, but must.
Jesus told us to go to the ends of the earth, beginning next door (AC 1:8). The commission Jesus gave us staggers the mind, but is a commission nonetheless. When our Master speaks, a command is a command, and we are under orders.
Three, we shall. We can’t, we must. Yet we shall? How? Jesus’ commands are promises. If He tells us to do the impossible, He is duty-bound to do it through us. What He orders He empowers. In spiritual things, we can do nothing without Jesus (John 15:5), but in Him we can do all things (Phil. 4:13).
These two verses have for years been at the top of my everyday prayer sheet. We can’t, must, shall.
The spiritual problems of today seem impossible for us to solve. We can’t. We are commanded to offer solutions to these spiritual problems. We must. We sense the need for power beyond what we have in ourselves. Due to Him we shall.

Matt. 14:22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go
ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.

John’s Gospel (6:15) tells us, after Jesus fed the 5,000, the crowd tried to force Him to become king. Even the Twelve were evidently being swept off their feet by the mob psychology. Jesus had to compel them to leave the frenzied scene.
They may have been thinking, “It’s about time the crowds woke up. Jesus long ago deserved to be king.” Their thoughts may have been clouded also by the prestige and power His coronation would bring them. They were so enthralled that Jesus had to remove them from temptation to prevent them from sinning.
Ambition is dangerous. It is not in and of itself a sin. We are not expected to be blobs or sponges. Rather, our duty is to control and moderate our ambition.
I wonder if the Twelve were so set on having their way that they argued with Jesus. Do we fuss with God when things aren’t going our way? We may not use words to argue with Him, but what about pouting, whining, unfocused anger?
Life can be hard, making us feel out of control. When this happens, and we get upset, to whom is our anger directed? To God, whether we admit it or not.
In Exodus, “The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (16:2). The people were upset at Moses and Aaron for bringing the nation into a wilderness which did not have good food to eat.
When slaves in Egypt, they would have given anything for liberty, but now they were free, and willing to sell their freedom for a full stomach. The people spoke against Moses and Aaron, not knowing they were murmuring against God.
Moses said of himself and Aaron, “Who are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord” (16:8b). The people needed to be warned they were on shaky ground. We all need teachers, preachers, husbands, wives, and other friends who will help us see our complaints for what they really are.
Be careful about bellyaching. Grumbling ultimately is directed against God’s will and plan. Discontent reveals distrust. Whining shows ingratitude.
Beware pouting. It can easily degenerate into dissatisfaction against God. Be careful what you say, and how you act, in reacting to troubles. The very person or predicament of which you grumble may be the instrument of God’s kind hand.
The 12 did not understand what Jesus was up to. “Why won’t He be king, why is He sending us away in this electric moment?” Doing what God elects for us to do often flies in the face of what we deem logical or common sense. The 12 were wrong. We often are too. It behooves us to be humble, to avoid dogmatism.
How do we combat hyper-ambition, temptation, anger at God, wrong thinking, life’s upsets? Jesus showed us what to do in handling these issues.

Matt. 14:23a After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by
Himself to pray.

When temptation and frustration are overwhelming us, what should we do? Do what Jesus did. Pray alone. Jesus did not live in a glass bubble. He experienced the raw, dirty underbelly of our existence.
His feeding of the 5,000 came at a difficult time for Jesus. John the Baptist had been beheaded. The resolve of the Twelve was weakening. The crowd’s applause was beckoning. He couldn’t convince the crowds He was a peaceful Messiah. Their support was the only thing shielding Him from the religious leaders, who despised Him. Once the masses turn against Him, all will be lost.
Jesus was in a pressure cooker. The shadow of a cross was looming larger, and the temptation to avoid it was intense. He realized He must be reminded, His Father, not the crowds, will crown Him. He will be appointed, not elected, King.
Jesus, like us, had terrible moments when He knew He had to do something to collect His thoughts, to keep order and sanity in His life, to be obedient to God.
Jesus knew He had to pray. I repeat, Jesus, God of very God, everlasting Son of the Father, had to pray. If He needed to pray, what should we be doing?