HOUSMAIL Number HM#013 - "SOUP KITCHENS" AND THE GOSPEL                                  23 October 1998

It was one of those times when just one thing after another piled up, draining energy and emotions.

Jesus had just received the news of the death of John the Baptist. (Matt 14:12-13) The twelve had just arrived back, excited by the results of their first "two by two" preaching mission. (Mark 6:30) Many visitors were coming and going, and they hadn't had a break ..... not even time to eat. (Mark 6:31) So Jesus simply took the disciples and left! They got into a boat, and sailed away from there to a lonely place, hoping to be by themselves.

But the crowds followed on foot. A great crowd was already there waiting, when the boat arrived! (Matt 14:13) They were milling around like sheep without a shepherd. There were many sick amongst them. When Jesus saw them, his heart went out to them, and He had compassion on them. The need of the crowd was far more important than His personal feelings of grief for John the Baptist. His fatigue and hunger, were set aside. He began instead to minister to THEIR many needs.

Mark tells us that He began to teach them many things. Luke tells us that He spoke to them of the Kingdom of God. Matthew and Luke both add that He healed the sick amongst them.

It must have been a truly amazing spectacle. (And a long sermon!) It was an astounding demonstration of the power and love of God. It was an extraordinary confirmation from God that Jesus was the Messiah.

The teaching and healing had occupied most of the day. Nightfall was closing in and the people needed to eat. (So did the twelve!) The apostles wanted Jesus to send the crowd away to the nearby villages and countryside, to buy food. But for that crowd, on that day, God wasn't yet finished. There was still one more thing to be done, to confirm God's approval of Jesus' teaching about the coming Kingdom of God. That led to the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand men. (plus women and children!)

But it seems that most of the people present, missed the important point. John puts his finger on the problem. The crowds were NOT there for the preaching! John tells us that the reason they gathered, was to see the miracles. (John 6:2) And alas, both the teaching and the miracles were easily forgotten. As we shall see from the events of the next day, it was that FREE MEAL, more than anything else, that really got the attention of the crowd.

When the day was over; when compassion, and love, and power had run their course; When there was no more that could be done; it was time to leave again. Back to the boat and across the lake once more. But, again the crowd followed and found them.

This time Jesus challenged them about their real motives for being there. They were certainly not there for the teaching. They were not there, even for the miracles. They were there, Jesus said, because they expected the next FREE MEAL! (John 6:26-27) However, all they got that day, was a sermon designed to satisfy a different kind of hunger, and GUARANTEED to eliminate the "freeloaders" from the scene!

Of course Jesus DID have the power to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes. But it is also clear that He was unwilling to use either miracles, or free meals, to attract audiences who were not in the least interested in the message of the Kingdom of God. His preaching that day, was deliberately designed to drive away all but those with hearts searching for God. To hear the WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE required a decision to stay with Him, without promise of either miracles or free food. (John 6:66-69) So it is still, today!

There is an important lesson in this for us. Of course we are NOT saying that we should ignore our need to learn and exercise compassion. Nor are we saying that it is permissible to withhold the necessities of life, when the need is genuine, and we have the resources to meet that need.

But we are saying that our primary calling is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, with its demanding call to repentance and obedience. If people will not spend time amongst us to hear THAT teaching, we are under no more compulsion than Jesus felt that day, to attempt to attract or retain an audience by offering free food, or miracles, .... or any other "bait" of a similar kind.

When an audience hears the TEACHING OF JESUS from our lips, rejects it, and leaves, we need feel no guilt that we have nothing more "appealing" to offer.

The message entrusted to us is NOT for those whose ears are closed. (Matt 13:13) It is designed by God to speak ONLY to those who search for God with ALL their heart. For those, we need no clever "gimmicks", or "advertising techniques", or human psychlogy, or entertainment as "bait" to draw the crowds. We are not to embellish it, disguise it, hide it, water it down, or change it! If we do any of those things, it will no longer appeal to ears that are open to listen to God. Instead it will attract those others whose spiritual blindness and deafness prevents them from seeing, and hearing, and understanding the REAL message of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We are to prayerfully search out this message correctly for ourselves. We are to have no fear of those who reject it, and us with it. We are not to be embarrassed by ridicule, or any accusations that the message is outdated, or lacking in "political correctness". What we have learned as it was whispered to us by Jesus in the secret place, is to be shouted from the housetops ..... for:

"How shall they hear without a preacher?"

Allon Maxwell