JOHN, Part 16

John 6:1—14

Chapter 6 marks a changing point in Jesus’ career.  The chapter opens magnificently; we see huge crowds following Jesus around, hanging on His every word, impressed with His every action.   In fact, up to this point in His ministry, Jesus was generally very popular among the average folk, in spite of facing mounting opposition from religious leaders.   However, by the end of chapter 6, there is a great “falling away” of many of His followers—

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  (verse 66)

So many of these “disciples” were enamored with our Lord’s sweet and encouraging words, not to mention the astounding miracles, but when His teaching turned deadly serious, He lost them.

This chapter more than any other chapter in any of the four Gospels reveals the kind of Messiah the people really wanted:  a man who could meet their every physical need and make them feel good. When it appeared as though Jesus fit the bill, the crowd was more than anxious to get Him to Jerusalem in order to crown Him as king.  But when it became evident to everybody that He wasn’t that kind of Messiah; that He was a spiritual Messiah who came to save people from the guilt of their sins, they just walked away, probably disappointed.

But before that happened, we read about an amazing picnic on the hillside.

1.  The setting, verses 1—4

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.  The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

This must be an important incident since it is the only miracle recorded in all the Gospels.  John does not indicate why Jesus and His disciples crossed over the sea, but Mark and Matthew do.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”   So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place(Mark 6:30-31)

It seems that after some intense evangelistic activity, the apostles were in need of some rest, and crossing the Sea of Galilee was intended by Jesus to lead to a time of rest and rejuvenation for His friends.   Matthew indicates that around this time Jesus learned about the death of John the Baptist and no doubt all of them, Jesus and His apostles, felt the need to withdraw and figure out what to do next.

But it seems there was another, far more ominous reason for getting away from the crowds with His friends.  The time had finally come for the apostles to learn the truth about Jesus’ mission.  His was a mission that would end in His death and with the enemies of Christ increasing in number, the apostles needed to know what was to come.

John makes mention that this miracle took place close to the time of the Jewish Passover.   Since Passover served as a memorial of the miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage, it’s no wonder the crowd that followed Jesus up the mountainside wanted to make Jesus king by force; they perceived He would be a deliverer in the mold of Moses.

2.  A test question, verses 5—7

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “It would take almost a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Of all the apostles, Philip was known as the “quiet one.”  Perhaps that’s why Jesus turned him to ask a question.  Of course, Jesus was not asking for advice, our Lord knew exactly what to do; His purpose was to draw the “quiet one” out; to make him think.   Philip came from Bethsaida and was apparently acquainted with this region and he would have known where to get food.

John’s account concentrates almost exclusively on the relationship this incident had on the disciples; John seems unconcerned with the uninvited guests that had horned in on their mini vacation.  Both Matthew and Mark mention that Jesus had compassion on the crowd.

And what a crowd it must have been.  Some scholars have estimated there to have been at least 15,000 men, women and children.  Judging by Philip’s response, another miracle was apparently the last thing in his mind!

In fact, we learn something about Philip from his answer to Jesus:  he was very practical man.  Like many believers,  his practicality got in the way of his faith and his imagination.  In many ways, faith is born of imagination.  We can limit God by our limited imaginations, and this seemed to be a problem Jesus recognized in Philip.

The other disciples had their own solutions to the dilemma of feeding thousands of people—

Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.  (Mark 6:36)

Philip, unimaginative though he was, was accurate; there was no way they could have enough money in their treasury to feed all these people!  It would take at least a year to save up enough money.  The disciples, also being practical, told Jesus “just send them away.”  That was another practical response to a crisis; these people were not invited, anyway!  Jesus and the disciples were not obligated to feed them, they could feed themselves.  Luke’s account sheds some light on the Jesus’ inner circle—

Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”  He replied, “You give them something to eat.”   They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”  (Luke 9:12, 13)

In this exchange, the disciples sound like elders in some churches:  full of practicality, but little faith.  If ever there was an example of 2 Corinthians 5:7, the story of how Jesus fed these thousands of people is it!

We live by faith, not by sight.

The disciples, like so many Christians, lived by sight and they let what they see determine how much faith they have.

3.  A glimmer of faith, verses 8, 9

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,  “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

While Philip was overly pessimistic, Andrew was positively delirious with optimism!  Many sermons have been preached about this boy, but he is not the interesting person in these verses; it is Andrew that interests us.  How did Andrew know about this boy?  Out of 15,000 persons sitting on the hillside, how did Andrew know about this boy and his lunch?  The answer is simple:  he obviously got out and circulated among the crowd.  He faced the problem head-on, literally. He could have withdrawn, as the other disciples had and clung to Jesus, but this man went out into the very crowd that was causing the problems for Jesus.

We see in Andrew some faith, imperfect, but faith nonetheless.  Andrew saw a possible solution but wasn’t quite sure if it would work or how it would work.

Though not indicated, Jesus must have smiled when Andrew approached Him with this boy.  The quantity of the food was small and the quality not the best.  Barley loaves were known as the bread of the poor, and the two small fish were small, sardine-like pickled or dried fish.

But this is all Jesus needs:  imperfect faith and an impossible situation.

4.  Making something out of almost nothing, verses 10—13

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

Jesus took full command of the situation; His disciples were clearly at a loss as to how to best deal with the crowd.  Jesus was the Man with the faith and the vision.  His “committee” was next to useless—“impossible” was the word that best described their chances of feeding all these people.  Sometimes it takes a man or woman of faith to step up and take charge.  Here we see the “mathematics of a miracle”:  5 loaves + 2 fish + Jesus = a  miracle.  This is an equation that always works; it never fails.  Jesus added to any lack or insufficiency in your life will result in a miracle.

The real point of this miracle is not just that Jesus performed a truly remarkable thing, but that God’s provision is abundant; it is never “just enough!”  This is a recurring theme in John’s Gospel—God’s grace is abundant, His gift of the Spirit is abundant, etc.  The people ate as much as they wanted and there was apparently a lot left over.  But not a crumb was to be wasted; the surplus was collected and put in baskets, a basket for each disciple.

This wondrous miracle took place with absolutely no fanfare.  Jesus just kept breaking the bread and the people just kept on eating.

5.  Grabbing a king, verses 14, 15

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

The response of the people who were involved in this miracle was pretty typical—they were excited—and it motivated them to “force” Jesus to be their king.  This shows us that this miracle was not at all appreciated for its true meaning, and it certainly was not understood.   We have to give these people a measure of credit, however; they did equate Jesus was the prophet alluded to by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which shows they at least had a knowledge of their Scriptures—

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

There was a definite undercurrent of expectation among the people that God was going to do something, they just didn’t know what. We might even say that the people had faith!  However, it was faith based on what they had in their minds, not in God.  They made the Scriptures fit their notions of what the Messiah should be like, and the Messiah they wanted was one who would make sure their physical needs were always met.    The people were filled with enthusiasm, yet it was misplaced, and Jesus wisely would have nothing to do with it.

Christians, like Jews, can get very enthusiastic about Christ and their faith, but if it is emotion-based enthusiasm motivated by what you think Jesus can do for you, it’s misplaced.   Our enthusiasm should always be based on the truth of the Word of God; based on who Jesus is and we can do for Him, in terms of our worship and ministry.

These people wanted to make Jesus their king, but His Kingdom is not of this world!   It is wonderful to know that Jesus can and does meet our needs, but our needs are nothing compared to His incomparable greatness, which we so often miss, preferring to measure His greatness against our need.  That makes Jesus a very small Messiah indeed.

The fact that the crowd wanted to make Jesus their king is full of significance and meaning.  He was popular, but popularity is not what Jesus is seeking!  Jesus desires devotion, not a decision based on a feeling or an emotional moment.  Jesus wants to be our King, but the King of our hearts.  His Kingdom in within us.

This stunning miracle, which should have pointed all these people to God and touch all their hearts, had the opposite effect:  it brought out the worst in these people and revealed what was in their hearts.  They were not evil or wicked people, they were just lost, like so many people are today.  They were looking for the Messiah, but they were looking for a Messiah created in their image.  And Jesus would have nothing to do with that.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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