The Question for Two Miraculous Feedings: How Many Baskets Did You Gather?

In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus fed five thousand people with a small collection of fish and bread. Then in 15:32-39, he fed four thousand people with another small collection of fish and bread. Matthew 16 references these two stories and draws important lessons about the two feedings. My suggestion is that in Matthew 16, Jesus asks questions in a way that shows the significance of the numbers of baskets leftover in Matthew 14 and 15. I think those real numbers have a symbolic meaning.

In Matthew 16, the disciples are in a boat with Jesus and they’ve forgotten to bring the leftover bread (Matt. 16:5). Jesus warned them of the leaven (or teaching) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:6, 12), but the disciples were too distracted by the lack of actual bread in the boat (16:7-8).

Jesus helps them focus by asking some questions in Matthew 16:9-10. In 16:9 he asks, “Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” And in 16:10, “Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?”

Notice the information Jesus supplied. He refers to both feedings (which are reported in Matt. 14:13-21 and 15:32-39), the number of loaves in each case (“five” in the first feeding, “seven” in the second), and the number of people who were present for each miracle (“five thousand” and “four thousand,” respectively). However, there is also a number Jesus omits in each question: “how many baskets you gathered” (16:9 and 16:10). The reader has already learned that 12 baskets of leftovers were gathered after the first feeding, and 7 baskets after the second (see 14:20 and 15:37). When Jesus was on the boat with the disciples in Matthew 16, he surely knew the number of baskets that were leftover in each episode, so he didn’t ask for those figures for his own information. The phrasing of the questions in 16:9 and 16:10 highlights the number of leftovers because it was the only number Jesus didn’t explicitly give in each question. Jesus wanted the disciples to recall the number of the baskets when he fed the 5,000 and the number of the baskets when he fed the 4,000.

Notice that the numbers of baskets are not random numbers like 9 or 17 or 22. The numbers are 12 and 7, which are significant numbers in Scripture. Some interpreters may be reluctant to ascribe symbolic significance to the number of baskets in Matthew 14 and 15, but I think the phrasing of Jesus’ questions in 16:9 and 16:10 invites the reader to consider a meaning to the numbers. If the numbers didn’t matter, why omit those details in the questions? Jesus clearly wants the specific numbers to be remembered. Because of the geographical areas where the feedings in Matthew 14 and 15 took place, the former was probably a “Jewish” feeding, reinforced by the “12” baskets of leftover bread (for Israel had 12 tribes in the Old Testament), and the latter was probably a “Gentile” feeding, reinforced by the “7” baskets of leftover bread (for Deut. 7:1 names seven nations in Canaan; and note too that Jesus had just healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter in Matt. 15:21-28 before the second miraculous feeding).

In the miraculous feedings of Matthew 14 and 15, Jesus was forecasting the great messianic feast, where Jewish and Gentile believers would fellowship with their God forever. He himself was the Bread of Life (see John 6:22-41), the true and better Moses. The two feedings showed that Jesus was reconstituting the people of God around himself. He was the one who would provide what they needed, no matter if they were Jews or Gentiles. He not only gave them bread, he would be bread for them. In the fields, he gave them loaves. On the cross, he gave himself.

Six Reflections on John 3:16

John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Clear, concise, powerful. Gospel. News worth shouting and celebrating! Here are six reflections that I hope will help us love it more.

(1) John 3:16 explains a previous statement. The verse doesn’t begin with “God” but with “for.” John 3:16 doesn’t stand alone but explains 3:14-15, where Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” If someone asks why looking with faith to Jesus will bring life, John 3:16 gives the answer: for God loved the world by giving his Son so that sinners might believe and live. John 3:16 is part of a chapter, part of an unfolding scene where Jesus had spoken to Nicodemus about being born again and entering the kingdom of God. So when we read John 3:16, it is helpful to keep in mind what comes before it.

(2) God is God the Father. The verse talks about “God” at the beginning and “the Son” later on. This separation doesn’t deny the deity of the Son. Rather, in the New Testament, whenever Jesus is distinguished from God in a verse, God should be understood as God the Father. This understanding of “God” in John 3:16 is confirmed by the later use of “Son,” for a son has a father. Most accurately, then, God the Father loved the world and gave his Son. This truth prevents any absurd notion of a sympathetic Savior who rescues sinners from an unloving Father. The Father loved the world.

(3) The “so” is about manner not degree. When I gush over something I love, I might say, “I love it soooooo much!” And when readers see that “God so loved the world,” they might imagine God’s gushing love. But “so” doesn’t mean that here. It means something like “thus” or “in this manner.” People use “so” this way too, like when they’re instructing someone to do a craft: “Take these strings and tie them like so.” The glorious news of John 3:16 is telling us how God loved the world. He loved the world like so, or in this manner, or thus: he gave his only Son. Paul wrote about the same idea: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

(4) The Son must have preexisted the incarnation. The Father can’t give what he doesn’t have. If the Father sent the Son into the world (see John 3:17), then the Son already was. The Son, like the Father and Spirit, is eternal. The incarnation was not the beginning of the Son but was when the eternal Word became flesh. God the Father loved the world and gave his Son, the Son who existed before there ever was a world.

(5) The phrase “his only Son” may recall Genesis 22. In John 3:16, the Father “gave his only Son,” which may allude to Genesis 22:2, where God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Yet Isaac was spared from being sacrificed (22:11-13). His near-death experience and deliverance foreshadowed the one who would truly be sacrificed and resurrected. Jesus is the true and greater Isaac. He’s the Father’s Son who would not be spared.

(6) John 3:16 answers who, what, how, and why. One way to think about this famous verse is in four parts that each ask a question. Who? God. What? Loved the world. How? He gave his only Son. Why? That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In his new book Gospel Formed, Jeff Medders wrote this about John 3:16: “However many times you’ve read, heard, or said that verse, it’s safe for you to hear it again and again. Familiarity shouldn’t breed apathy: this verse sparks fire! Let your heart hang on each word; there is enough to chew on for fours, years, a lifetime–even eternity” (p. 66).

Praise be to God for the merciful gift of his Son, his only Son, that sinners might live forever.

Psalm 24, Part 6/10: “The Justified Generation of Seekers”

In this Davidic psalm, God’s ownership over all creation is established in the opening verses (24:1-2), and then the question of who can ascend to meet with God is asked (24:3).  Those who worship and fellowship with God are those who trust him with their hearts and obey him with their lives (24:4).  Such faith is counted as righteousness, which is the blessing of justification (24:5).

David then describes those who receive salvation from God:

“Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob”

David had previously written that God looked down from heaven to see if there were any who sought him (Psalm 14:2), but, tragically, everyone had turned aside to his own way (14:3).  Paul quotes this same psalm in Romans 3:11 to argue that no one seeks God on their own.  In our fallenness, apart from God’s Spirit, we go the way of destruction.

But now David describes seekers, people “who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”  These people have trusted in God rather than idols (Psalm 24:4), so God has saved them by counting their faith as righteousness.  These people (the saved) now become the seekers.  They are the justified generation.

The unsaved don’t seek the face of God.  The unsaved spit in his face, mock his name, exchange his glory for idolatry, and embrace lies rather than truth.

Those with the status of righteousness have been freed from their blindness.  Those in the right now seek what is right, namely, God.

Psalm 24, Part 5/10: “The Blessing of Righteousness”

After declaring that God is the owner and maker of creation (Psalm 24:1-2), David addressed the question of who can meet with God for worship (Psalm 24:3).  Only the person who entrusts himself to God can be assured of fellowship with him.

Of the person who trusts Yahweh, David says:

“He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation”

The parallelism identifies the “blessing” as “righteousness.”  David is describing justification!  In Psalm 24:4, the sinner believes in God instead of idols, so God counts his faith as righteousness.

God is called the God “of his salvation,” and he alone rightly fits such a phrase.  As the God who saves, he gives what only he can give–righteousness.  In fact, to receive righteousness from the God of salvation is to receive salvation.

Because our sin separates us from the holy Creator God whom we should worship, righteousness is what we need.  And since sinful man could never earn such righteousness through futile moral striving, the declaration of righteousness is a gift we receive.  Grace!

Those who trust in God don’t wait until the last day to be declared right with him.   “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  Now.

Being Saved by the Gospel

Tenses matter.  Paul told the Corinthians they had received the gospel (1 Cor 15:1) which saved them–past tense.  But then he said the gospel is also the message “by which you are being saved” (1 Cor 15:2)–present tense.

Put another way, sinners never exhaust their need for the gospel.  We need it to become Christians, and we need it to live as Christians!  The gospel is the message for both justification and sanctification.

Christians must hold to the gospel which saved them, for its work in their lives continues by the power of God.  The Christian life should be gospel-centered because it is driven by God’s grace from beginning to end.

Paul told the Corinthians they would hold to the gospel “unless you  believed in vain.”  This means growing in the gospel is evidence of salvation.  On the other hand, not holding to the gospel is evidence of unbelief.  Are you holding to the gospel today?

The gospel is for Christians–which sounds like a good book.  :)