Here in Matthew 14 we have two banquets. In Herod’s palace in a dining room richly decorated the king’s guests recline on couches, enjoy the finest fare and the richest wine. In Galilee with the beauty of the hills and the setting sun to thrill the senses Jesus guests recline in nooks and the rocks to enjoy Jesus wonderful provision for them.
It is no accident that these two stories stand side by side in Matthew’s Gospel; Matthew wants us to see the contrast between the court of Herod and the court of Christ Jesus so that we might know just how unique and wonderful a King Jesus is. So this morning I would like to explore the differences between Herod’s banquet and Jesus’ banquet, then look at the different understandings of God this leads us to and finally to how we too can share in Jesus’ feast.
Last week-end in London there was a gathering of the great and the good of the land, celebrities from stage and screen all dressed in their finest to drink fine wine and enjoy haute cuisine at grand bash to celebrate the BAFTA awards for 2013. Celebrities, old money new money, politicians the aristocracy they were all there and that is the kind of gathering there would have been that night in Herod’s palace for the celebration of his birthday and a great wit of the day would no doubt have acted at MC for the evening.
Quite a different crowd gathered around Jesus. Everyone who was there that night had been healed by Him. Each one had known His touch and had been restored by Him. Some had been blind, some had been demon possessed, some had been lame; others just needed a healing word of forgiveness. But all had one thing in common they were broken, dysfunctional, unglamorous but they came to Jesus to be healed. He accepted them, healed them and they stayed and Jesus laid on a banquet for them.
The food eaten at Herod’s party would have been the finest and the wine the best money could buy. St Jesus banquet it was very plain fare just bread and fish. But that did not matter. Along with the bread and fish were Jesus words; words that fed the soul. Herod’s guests may have enjoyed many exotic flavours, the food may have been presented in the most exciting and extravagant of ways but that was all it was.js words fed the soul; Jesus parables linger in the mind and are a never ending source of joy and inspiration. Herod’s party was of the moment Jesus words would have lingered with these men and women all their lives, the memory of this banquet would have fed their souls all their, lives and led them gently into eternity.
Herod’s party ended in death as his wife shattered the air of jocularity and sophistication that surrounded the event by demanding the head of John the Baptist on a platter. What an end to the evening that must have been! Whereas Jesus banquet not only began with healing but as the people witnessed the miracle must have known they were becoming part of something so much greater. Here they were these poor folk many of them having been cripples and destitute seeing Jesus from just a few loaves and fish feed the multitude; must have begun to think ‘Wow! The last time anything like this happened our ancestors were with Moses in the desert and manna fell from heaven! Now this miracle is happening and our eyes do not believe what we are seeing and yet our hands touch the bread our mouths enjoy the food and our stomachs are filled. Surely God is with us in a remarkable way this evening!’
Herod had his palace, his wealth his estates, he was the toast of the great and the good of the land, his word was law, he had power of life and death over his subjects and yet at the close of the evening that was meant to be a celebration of his life and kingship he is shown to be an ineffectual nobody a nothing a mere cipher of a man. Two thousand years on, as we think about the feeding of the five thousand, our minds and our souls reel at the knowledge of the glory revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
You do not belong to king like Herod you belong to King Jesus and He is like no other King who has ever lived. To be one of His people is to know His healing touch, it is to be satiated, satisfied at peace through the richness of His word and to know that you are not living for the moment but are part of something very great and significant a salvation story that stretches through time and into eternity.
In Israel the king was thought of as God’s son and was to be God’s under-shepherd in the care of His people; so by looking at the king the people were to gain some idea of what God was like. In Deuteronomy guidance is given as to the duties of one who is to be the king of God’s people. He is firstly not to be one who builds palaces for himself and have stables and strings of thoroughbred horses; he is to be a shepherd devoted to caring for God’s people ensuring they are safe from attack, provided with food and water with the weak protected by justice. The king is to live in God’s word writing out the Torah by hand meditating, upon each word was he writes. This casts an amazing light on this story: for in Herod we see a corrupt king and hence we come to a corrupt view of what God is like; whereas in Jesus we see the true shepherd of Israel and so in Jesus we see what God the King is really like!
Usually when people think about God they begin with what is known as the attributes of God; they begin with thinking of Him as almighty, all wise, and just; a being whose presence is everywhere and who rules over this world with absolute power; his word is law and he can do as he pleases. Beginning in this way they think of God as an omnipotent king to whom everyone owes obedience and worship and if you do not worship him and serve him you incur his wrath and his anger. Such folk are usually very hot on the majesty of God and on how we human beings are nothing but dust, totally unworthy of Him.
When we look around us, is God is a king like that it is hard not to come to the conclusion he is a despot like Herod. He is almighty but where is his love and his justice. A favoured few prosper and do well but the many suffer. Justice seems far from us as in the west the major problems are addiction and obesity while so many starve. There are wars tearing countries apart and corruption ruins many nations that should prosper. If God is an almighty all wise king then somewhere and at some time his justice and compassion have got AWOL.
But Jesus is a radically different king; He is a king like no other, there has never been a king like Him. To understand the kingship of Jesus we must ask a question and the question is, ‘What was God doing before He created the universe?’ We find the answer to that question in John 17 when Jesus prayed ‘Father I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory the glory you gave me because you loved me before the world began.’
What was God doing before the He made the world – the Father was loving the Son delighting in the meekness and gentleness of the Son and the Son was delighting in giving glory and honour to the Father. It was from this love between the Father and the Son that the universe was made. In eternity God was not king without an empire and so decides to create that there might be a universe to display His glory. No from eternity He is a Father.
Now may I ask everyone here who has children, who would love to have children, or would have loved to have had children, ‘Why do or did you want to have children?’ To have a host of little beings who would know you and be grateful to you for the gift of life and serve you all their days. No, never. You have children because you want to share the wonder of life, you desire someone to cherish and care for. One of my most vivid memories of my teenage years is of my father holding my mother in his arms and saying to me, ‘Campbell, we do hope you will marry one day that you may know all the joy we have known together.’ That is why God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created this vast universe; made life possible for you and for me that you may share their joy.
That is what lies behind Jesus on the hillside feeding the crowds of sick, lame, blind people. He is the Father’s love come to seek a lost people, a brother come to seek His lost prodigal brothers and sisters to take them back into His Father’s care. On that hillside as a broken lame woman came hobbling to Jesus and found wholeness, as that same woman listened and found forgiveness as she shared in the bread and fish that Jesus shared with the crowd; this was not a subject finding her King; but a prince recovering his sister a princess and taking her home to her Father the king that she might find her royal home and dignity again.
Finally this morning the way in which Jesus takes the bread and fish and blesses them and then asks the disciples to feed the crowd foreshadows all that He did in the Upper Room as He gave to us the Lord’s Supper. The pattern is the same, the form of words almost identical. So the hint from Matthew is that when we gather round the Lord’s Table we gather in the presence of our brother the King Jesus.
We gather as an undistinguished bunch of broken people to know the healing touch of our King. We gather to enjoy very plain fare just bread. Yet as we gather we know we are part of something stretching back through time something greater than simply the words we hear and the bread and wine we eat and drink. There is a great sense of coming home, not as subjects to worship their king but as children come to enjoy their Father’s presence; and it is all made possible by the meekness and gentleness of our Christ Jesus. The miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand is an extraordinary event we share in every Communion Sunday as we gather round the Lord’s Table.