From the Sidelines to the Frontlines
The Church: God’s Plan for God’s People
Grace Community Church
Feb 11, 2024
From the Sidelines to the Frontlines
It’s been encouraging to hear from different people how they’ve accepted some of the challenges that I’ve been sharing these past few weeks. Several did a Daniel fast that first week, giving up something that had a lot of their heart as a way of saying God I want you more than that thing. The Thursday night community group heard the challenge for us to do at least two outreaches to our community and brainstormed ways we could reach out to our community and came up with some ideas that are worth exploring.
We saw last week in Eph. 4 that Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for works of ministry. Every believer is a minister! That’s not a title, that’s a calling. And the Holy Spirit has given each of us gifts – called grace gifts or charismata – to serve and build up the church for the common good (1 Cor. 12).
This means God’s plan for the church is for it to be a hub of ministry with everyone participating, everyone serving with their gift and by God’s grace. But if we were honest I wonder how many Christians feel like they’re more on the sidelines rather than “in the ministry”? Let’s learn some lessons from 12 men who were on the sidelines until Jesus called them off the bleachers and onto the field of ministry.
Let’s turn to Matt. 14. Just to set the context, Jesus has just heard that Herod has beheaded John the Baptist and he leaves Capernaum with his 12 disciples and heads out to a desert place.
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matt. 14:13-21
Jesus never performed miracles to increase his PR or impress the crowds. Every miracle Jesus did revealed something about who he is and what he came to do. That the feeding of the five thousand is one of the few miracle accounts that is recorded by all four gospel writers it tells us it has massive significance in Jesus’ ministry and we will speak to that in a few minutes. But the fact that the scale of this event will not be duplicated in our lives doesn’t mean we can’t learn lessons from it. Let’s jump in.
*I will be making references to details found in the other accounts so if I mention a detail you don’t see in this account you will find it in one of the other accounts.
Jesus brings the twelve to this lonely place to rest and recharge. They are grieving John’s execution and are exhausted and this is a much-needed break from ministry. But the crowds find them and Jesus looks at this gathering of people with all their needs and infirmities and spiritual confusion and it says he has compassion on them. They are sheep without a shepherd and he begins to teach them about the kingdom of God and heal their sick. Ministry goes forth…from Jesus!
The disciples sit on the sidelines watching Jesus do all the ministry until evening comes and then they suggest Jesus send the crowds away to get food. Jesus answers, you give them something to eat. Jesus is pulling them off the sidelines and into hands on ministry. You give them something to eat.
- Jesus calls us to follow him off the sidelines and into ministry
This is not a bad thing, this is a good thing. Jesus looks at the crowds and sees a world of hurt and need and loneliness and spiritual deception and brokenness and he feels compassion. Compassion is more than feeling empathy. Empathy feels what the sufferer is feeling but compassion feels it and wants to do something about it!
That’s what ministry is – it’s seeing a need and wanting to do something about it. God has given each of us grace gifts to do something about the needs both in the church and outside of the church. Ministry isn’t a title; it’s doing our part by God’s grace to minister to people’s needs. The Bible says every believer is called to the ministry. None of us can do everything but the Bible doesn’t envision any of us doing everything. It envisions all of us doing something. God has graced you and me in a specific way to do something. To reach someone. To care for someone.
When Jesus said you give them something to eat, he was calling them off the sidelines and into the ministry. But the disciples looked at the little they had: five loaves and two fish and realized it’s not enough to make a dent. Not enough to make a difference. How many opportunities are missed because we look at the little we have and figure it won’t make a difference so why bother?
- Don’t look at how little you have, look at how much God has
We learn from John’s account that some young boy came forward with the loaves and fish. It was just enough to feed his family and friends. It came be tempting to hoard what little we have because we think we just have enough for our little circle. I only have enough time, I only have enough money, I only have enough energy…patience…compassion…ability and I can’t spare any!
Think of the opportunity this boy – and his family and the disciples – would have missed if he had kept what little he had to himself! He would have missed out on being used by God to do an incredible miracle! He would have missed out on seeing thousands of people fed and being amazed at what God did. He would have missed seeing Christ glorified through him. But he brought it, Jesus blessed it and broke it and God did a miracle!
Don’t look at how little you have, look at how much God has! The question shouldn’t be, am I able? Do I have the resources? The question should be, is the Lord leading me to do this? Is He leading me to give this? Is
He leading me to be His instrument of compassion in this situation?
We can’t do everything. We would be crazy to think we have to say yes to every need that comes our way. Even Jesus only did what the Father showed him to do. But we should be careful not to say “no” to an opportunity to make a difference simply because we don’t think what we have is enough to make a difference. Bring it to the Lord, let him bless it and break it and watch him multiply it beyond what you could ever do.
- Ministry is holding out Christ to people
In the OT God fed His people Israel with manna – bread from heaven- as they fled Egypt.
In John 6 Jesus cried out: I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.(Jn 6:35, 51)
The Israelites ate of the manna and it kept them alive, but Jesus is the true bread that comes down from heaven that all who eat of it shall live forever. Just as Jesus broke the bread before giving it to the disciples to pass out, Jesus’ body would be broken for us on the cross so that all who come to him might live forever and never hunger.
That is the spiritual significance of this miracle – we see that the massive miracle God did for the Israelites in the desert pointed to Jesus all along. God provided for their physical hunger through Moses and manna, God provides for our spiritual hunger through Jesus.
Ministry is holding out Christ to people. But how are we to do that? I think this account helps us answer that. In one way this is a massive miracle, but in another way – and I say this with all reverence – it’s a small miracle. What do I mean by that? If you look at it, there is no urgent need. No one was in danger of starving – they had only been there one day. All that was at stake was a missed dinner.
That’s good news for us because it means ministry doesn’t have to be big and impressive to be impactful or to be noticed by God. Jesus himself said that the small act of giving water in his name will have eternal reward. We have a dear sister in the Lord who isn’t able to be with us Sundays but she watches the service online and she loves Jolly Ranchers. There are precious few pleasures in her life so I went and got a bag of Jolly Ranchers and I was like, Jesus I’m giving these Jolly Ranchers in the name of the Lord.
Do whatever the Lord has gifted you to do in the name of Jesus. If God has gifted you as an encourager, encourage in the name of Jesus. If God has blessed you with carpentry skills or as an engineer or a writer, serve people with that gift in the name of the Lord. Think about the grace gifts. Paul said great miracle gifts are worthless to God when there’s no love in them. But when he lists the gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28 right between the gift of miracles and tongues he lists helps and administration. Administration? Can you imagine being at a meet and greet in the Corinthian church where people are asking each other what gift they have: I can perform miracles. I can prophesy 30 seconds into the future. You’re like, I can file paperwork. Really fast.
If you’re a secretary in an office and you’re gifted at administrating – do it in the name of Jesus. Let people know you’re a Christian, be a good witness, and serve well. Help administrate a church office or event because an organized church will do ministry better. If you’re a “behind the scenes” guy or gal who loves to serve, do it in the name of Jesus.
Maybe the Lord has made you an encourager – don’t look at the size of your gift, look at the size of what God can do with that gift when you use it in Jesus’ name. You could be a Barnabas that God uses to completely change someone’s life like Barnabas did John Mark!
Maybe the Lord has given you a prophetic gift, or faith to pray for the sick and see healing. Or gift of music, or leading, or mercy. Jesus calls us off the sidelines and to the field of action. Exercising that gift by serving people inside and outside the church can do more than you may ever know this side of eternity.
The Butterfly Effect states that a small change can have a big impact down the chain of events. A butterfly flapping its wings in India could cause a tornado in Iowa. Or prevent one. In the economy of grace, we know God can use small things in big ways. Sometimes people don’t come to Christ until four or five people along the way share Christ with them. What if the first, second, third, kept silent? Let’s do the work of ministry by serving people in Jesus’ name.
- Ministry is increased when the church gets a vision for doing it together
Jesus said, you give them something to eat. That “you” included all twelve disciples. It called them all off the sidelines and into the ministry. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but Jesus blessed and broke the five loaves and two fish and the twelve began to distribute the small amount to five thousand. And as they gave out what they had, there was more to give. And more. And more. And when they were done, it says they took up twelve baskets of left over pieces.
One basket for each one of them to carry. None of them sat this one out. None of them were unnecessary. Each of them had a job – a basket to take up. What they thought was too little turned out to be too much. If there had only been three disciples there would have been three baskets left over. Ministry is increased when a church gets a vision for doing it together.
There is a joy in serving the Lord arm in arm with other believers. Some of the best fellowship is found in rolling up sleeves and serving Jesus together. Every member a minister. That’s God’s plan for God’s people the Church. There’s a special joy in being a small part of something big. None of us have a massive part to play in the church. Separately our splash in history will be a small one. But what joy to link arms and serve the Lord together and see Him do great things and touch lives through us.
other sermons in this series