John 6:1 – 15
Who do you think Jesus is?
Well it’s only 31 days until Christmas!
That is to say, it’s less than 740 hours until many of us will be opening presents, or sitting down to an enormous meal, after a spectacular Christmas morning service over at St Andrew’s Church!
740 hours! It sounds much closer when you say it like that, doesn’t it?!
That might excite you, or send a chill down your spine! I guess that depends on your approach to Christmas shopping, and possibly also whether there are any small children in your household!
But as we invite people along to our Christmas events, and as we go door-knocking,
As we have conversations with people about why Christmas is such great news,
I’m quite sure that some of those conversations will highlight that different people have different ideas about who Jesus is.
When we were door-knocking back in October, I met a Muslim man who said that Jesus was a prophet, but he was adamant that Jesus is not God,
I spoke with a lady recently, who told me, “Jesus is the wisest man, who never lived.”
I think she means, “everything written about him in the Bible is great”, she just doesn’t think it’s true!
I read on the website of a church in London this week, that Jesus didn’t come to bring us to God, or to show us God, but to make us see that we’re “capable of doing the ‘God-things’ we want, right now.”
Again, I don’t even understand what that means, but it certainly sounds like they’re only interested in a Jesus who gives me what I want, who makes my life now better.
And so people often reduce Jesus to some kind of cross between a valet, who gets me a car park when I need it,
A personal assistant who takes care of the stuff I don’t want to worry about,
And a rich grandfather, who gives me all the things I like but can’t afford.
But in no other relationship is it appropriate simply for us to imagine the person, as we like them to be!
If my wife Kathy decided, “I like to imagine Clayton as a 6 foot 6 Scandinavian body builder, who likes kittens, washing the dishes, and long walks on the beach!”
Since none of that is the reality, well, almost none of it! you can’t have a relationship like that, can you?
1. Some people are interested only in what Jesus can offer now (v 1 – 4)
And so we ought to be concerned, when we encounter people who are only interested in some aspect of Jesus, like, a Jesus who only offers something in the here and now.
If Jesus offers this much (THIS), all I want is this bit here, that scratches where I’m itching right now.
The issues that I see right in front of me, those are the ones I want Jesus to solve, and actually, I’m not really interested in hearing from Jesus about what he thinks I really need.
We meet some people who have just this approach to Jesus as John chapter 6 opens.
When we meet a crowd in John, he’s usually picturing them as people who failed to see who Jesus really is;, they just want something from him.
Look at it with me, Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him, because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.
Now, let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting Jesus to heal us, or those we love. We can pray for that, the Bible encourages us to pray for that.
But we know that we won’t see healing in every situation until Jesus returns.
Of course, the miracles Jesus has performed are wonderful.
It’s just to think of Jesus simply as someone who does miracles, is akin to Kathy imagining me as the Swedish body builder, it’s to miss the reality entirely!
And therefore, to miss the opportunity for relationship.
To try and get “Jesus Lite”, is in fact to miss out on Jesus entirely.
Jesus’ physical miracles were a sign of even greater spiritual miracles,
The wonderful blessings people received from him, were a taste, a promise, of much greater things.
But Jesus knows that his ministry is not one about healing every disease.
As we saw last week, the world is rightly under God’s judgment, and we won’t be freed from all the consequences and frustrations of sin until the day Jesus returns and makes all things new.
And so Jesus, in order that people have a right understanding of who he is, and what he offers them,
crosses over the sea, leaving the land of Jews, and goes into the wilderness, the countryside, outside the land of Israel.
Verse 3, he went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
Now, we know the story. And you might think that if the people have been distracted by Jesus’ miracles, then
performing another massive miracle is probably not the, well, not the way I’d go about reshaping public perceptions.
And yet he does.
And part of the reason is that Jesus has compassion people. He sees their need.
People need bread.
- A problem – People need bread (v 5 – 9)
See verse 5, 5 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?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
I think it’s interesting, and somewhat typical of Jesus, that before the disciples have even thought that people are going to need some food, Jesus has already identified the need, and planned a solution.
And notice that Jesus’ question is “Where shall we buy bread”
He’s already got in mind what he’s going to do, but he’s inviting his disciples to part of his solution.
Now, we generally don’t like any kind of test. If I ask my kids in the morning what’s on at school that day, if there’s a test of some kind, that tends to put the whole day under a grey cloud. But Jesus asking Philip about bread only to test him as verse 6 says, is not as negative as it sounds to us.
See the test is not “Philip, how good is your local knowledge? What shops are open at this time of day?”
It’s “Philip, do you understand what’s going on here?
Do you understand what these people need, and how I can meet that need?”
And Philip sees, one aspect of the problem, doesn’t he?
People need bread!
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
18 thousand pounds, based on the average full-time UK wage. How on earth are we going to get that much bread?
But then Andrew speaks up. Like Philip, he’s a local boy, from the nearby town of Bethsaida. And he’s got an idea;, verse 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Besides the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, this is the only miracle of Jesus, or “sign” to use John’s preferred term, that is recorded in all four of gospel accounts.
And each of the 4 gospel authors makes the same point;, that there was about 5000 men, not including women and children. So we’re talking a total crowd somewhere in the order of 20,000.
Some of you I’m sure are already thinking about Christmas dinner at your house, and how many people you’re going to have to feed.
Imagine 20,000 people turning up for Christmas lunch!
Even Mary Berry would struggle with that wouldn’t she?!
You do wonder if Andrew felt even a little bit silly making the suggestion about the boy with the five small barley loaves and two small fish. It’s hardly going to make a dent in the appetites of a crowd this size.
Humanly speaking, there is no option is there?
And these responses from Andrew and Philip show that they only see the immediate, physical need.
Jesus’ challenge, the test, “Do you understand the need here? And do you understand how it can be met?”, is effectively met with silence.
Bread is a picture of basic need - on two levels
So what is the need that Jesus sees here?
Or put it another way, “what is bread?”
It sounds like a bit of a trick question, but it’s actually quite important in this part of John’s gospel to understand why there’s so much discussion about bread.
You can see this is a long chapter, and there’s much more discussion about bread in the following verses.
As we go on in the coming weeks, we’ll hear Jesus speak about 2 planes of life, 2 different kinds of life.
There is the here and now,
The earthly life,
Life as we know it,
And there is eternal life,
The life of the age to come.
And for both kinds of life, there are basic needs, essentials, things we must have, or we don’t have that life.
And bread is a symbol for those basic, essential needs.
Now, we know this when it comes to life in the here and now, don’t we?
Bread is just a summary for what’s essential, basic food.
And food is not just something for the super-keen! It’s not that people who really want to get the most out of life need food, but the rest of don’t need it.
We all need it.
And if you’re gluten-free or whatever, that’s OK, Jesus is just talking about what’s essential.
Now because we can walk to the bakery and chose whatever bread we prefer from a dozen different types, it’s easy to forget that when Jesus talks about bread he means just what’s necessary, and essential.
Most of the staff were away on Co-Mission Staff Focus this week, and we heard Richard teach from the Lord’s prayer, with that line we know well, give us today our daily bread.
The point is not that we shouldn’t ask God for vegetables, but bread is the summary statement for what is basic and essential.
And notice the detail that we saw in verse 9, this bread is five small barley loaves
In 1755 Samuel Johnson produced a dictionary of the English language, called . rather unimaginatively, A Dictionary of the English Language!
It’s infamous today, for Johnson’s definition of oats. “A grain, which in England is fed to horses, and in Scotland is fed to people.”
To which some Scotsman replied, “England is known for the quality of its horses, and Scotland for the quality of its people."
Now I’m not trying to start any kind of fight, but Johnson’s disdain for oats, and, Scottish people, that was how barley was viewed in the ancient world.
It’s the bread that you ate if you didn’t have the money to buy other bread.
It’s the most basic of the basic necessity.
Every time we see bread in this chapter, we’re supposed to think, “An essential need being met.
You have it, or don’t have life.”
But here is where we need to keep our eye on the other kind of life that Jesus offers, which we’ve heard him speak about to Nicodemus and others.
We know that Jesus isn’t just on about filling stomachs. If he wanted to do that, he’d have just sent all these people home before dinner time!
And so because we’ve got our eyes on these 2 planes of life, we can see that bread in this life, is a sign for something in the life to come.
What we really need for this life, is a symbol of what we really need for the life of eternity.
And if you’re someone who wonders, what can Jesus do for me?
What does he offer me?
And if he isn’t just about making my life easier now, what use is he at all because, it’s the problems here and now that are my biggest issues,
And, perhaps all of us feel like that sometimes, don’t we?
But already this episode, which we’re only halfway through, seeing Jesus in this moment gives us great confidence to say that whatever our need, and particularly when it comes to our greatest, most basic spiritual needs, what we need in order to have eternal life, Jesus has already identified our problem, and found a solution.
We might not yet have worked out what our greatest needs are, or like the disciples and the crowds, we think our biggest issue is whatever we see in front of us at any given moment,
All the while, our greatest need, Jesus has already identified, and is working to the solution.
Isn’t that the picture of Jesus you want to have?
Isn’t that the Jesus you want to follow?
See, just as Jesus’ disciples were completely out of their depth in addressing this physical need, they haven’t got the first clue about how to feed people,
So any of us, are completely out of our depth in addressing our spiritual needs, our need for the bread of life, for what’s essential for eternal life.
But Jesus has already put his plan in place.
So, as we see how Jesus meets this physical need, let’s keep our eye on both of those planes, life here and the life of eternity, to see what Jesus meeting this need, tells us about how he meets our greater needs.
3. A solution - Jesus provides bread
And so, point 3, Jesus’ solution to the immediate problem, is to provide bread.
But let’s make sure we’re clear. What Jesus does is miraculously create bread.
Now, who can create something out of nothing?
Just give it a little go now. Just conjure up a croissant,
Or start small, create a crouton?!
Of course not! Only God can create something out of nothing.
Implication, Jesus is God!
We can’t escape it!
You might have heard people try and explain this miracle away. So instead of what John tells us happened,
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.
No, we’re told that what actually happened is that when the crowd saw the little boy’s willingness to offer up his lunch that his mum had packed for him that morning, they all remembered that they too had packed lunches that morning, and so they all took out their lunches which they had forgotten about, and began to eat.
Now I know that when a kid goes off to school, sometimes they do forget a sandwich in bottom of their school bag, and by the time Friday comes around, suddenly it gets remembered, by which time it’s spread over everything else in the school bag.
But 20,000 people all forgetting that they’ve got lunch packed, and then all remembering their lunch at exactly the same time? I’m sorry but that’s just a little too hard to believe.
Actually it’s not just a little too hard to believe, it’s utterly preposterous, but it shows you that if you’ve already committed yourself to disbelieving the eye-witness testimony about Jesus, then you have to believe utter foolishness.
Jesus miraculously provides for the most basic need in life. In this life.
Was there a human solution?
No. Half a year’s salary wouldn’t have bought one fish finger for each person there.
But through a miracle of creation, Jesus provides for a basic human need.
That’s the event. Jesus fed a stack of people.
Jesus provides bread, just as God has in the past.
But the significance of the event is much greater than this.
Partly because, in providing bread, providing bread miraculously, Jesus is simply doing what he’s done in the past.
Or to make that a little more pointed, Jesus is doing what God has done in the past.
And one little detail that John slipped in near the beginning is an enormous signpost to what he wants us to understand.
You probably noted that comment in verse 4, The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
It’s an eye-witness detail that helps us have confidence that this is true and reliable.
But even beyond that, we know that John, more so than the other gospel authors, highlights for us, how Jesus’ ministry sheds light on the various Jewish festivals, and how, in his life and death and resurrection, Jesus fulfills everything that those festivals pointed forward to.
The Passover was the great celebration of God’s dramatic salvation in the time of Moses.
He rescued his people from slavery in Egypt,
Judged the sin of the Egyptians in the Exodus, and led his people miraculously through the waters of the Red Sea.
And then when they were out in the countryside, the wilderness, away from the land that would become their home,
God provided them with bread.
Bread from heaven, called “manna”.
God fed a vast number of his people, miraculously, when there no human solution to the problem of what to eat.
And so when we read John’s historical note there in verse 4, 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near,
We’re supposed to think, “Ah, the Passover;,
Food in the wilderness,
The crossing of the sea,
The great prophet Moses leading a disgruntled and complaining nation who are away from their home.
To understand what happened here in the Galilean countryside, we need to understand what’s already happened, what God’s already done.
Imagine in spring 2021, when we open our new building, if the opening ceremony begins with Richard, our Senior Pastor, marching up to the door of the building, clutching some papers, and a hammer, and a nail, and nailing a document to the door.
Any of us who are familiar with the events of the Protestant Reformation will know that it really began with Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.
If we witness an event deliberately set in that same context, we’d think “hang on”, this current event is being cast in the same term as that earlier event, so what happened back then, must be the key to understanding what’s going on now.
See, God providing manna in the countryside in the days of Moses, is not just because God wanted his people to eat.
Of course God did want his people to eat! He’s kind and gracious, and compassionate, and he meets his people’s need, just like Jesus does here.
But in providing manna in the wilderness, God is demonstrating to his people, “I will provide for you,
I will give you, what you need the most,
What is essential for life, you can come to me for, and no one else, because no one else can do it!
And in doing that, remember the second plane. In doing that, God teaches about spiritual and eternal needs.
God provides what’s essential for physical life, as a way of demonstrating, “I’m the one who makes spiritual life possible too.”
See, if all God was interested in was physical food, then all he’d have needed to do for the Israelites with Moses was make it rain a bit, they could grow some crops, or he could send them a Tesco delivery, and they’d be sorted!
But no, Moses actually says in Deuteronomy 8, God humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
See, the feeding with manna is not about food. It’s about faith in God and trusting in him for relationship.
The same God who provides what they need now, has a plan to provide what they need for eternity.
God provided miraculously for his people, day after day, to say, “Remember me?!
If you want life, come to me.”
“And when you see how I provide for physical life like no one else can, you can be sure that I’m able to provide what you need for spiritual life, also.
The essential need for spiritual life is not loaves of bread,
It’s forgiveness for sin, our rebellion against God.
It’ a relationship with the God we’ve ignored,
It’s access to a holy and perfect God who we’ve pushed to the edge of life, and beyond.
That’s the bread of the life to come,
And those things are only found in Jesus.
And so these events in the Old Testament are there to point us to him, so we recognise him when he turns up.
The Passover was a great deliverance, but its purpose was to point forward to an even greater deliverance that Jesus would accomplish;, the deliverance from sin.
And God’s provision for life in the desert back then, points forward to Jesus, and his provision for the life to come.
God is still leading his people, just as he always has,
God’s still providing for his people, just as he always has.
In the past he did it one step removed, at a distance, the people couldn’t be near God, so Moses was the mediator.
But Jesus isn’t just a newer version of Moses, he’s the greater Moses.
He’s the one who feeds the people.
He’s the one who does what God does.
He is the one God was pointing to through those miraculous works in the Old Testament.
Who is Jesus?
He’s the Son of God who acts in the world as only God can.
See, the wilderness in Exodus wasn’t the only time that God had miraculously fed his people.
In 2 Kings chapter 4, in the time of Elisha the prophet, Elisha is given 20 loaves of, guess what kind of bread;, barley bread, and he says, “feed it to the people.” His servant asks in the same way Andrew does here, 43 “How can I set this before a hundred men?”
And that episode concludes, they ate, and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.
See there’s history of God doing this!
So when Jesus does it himself, but far and away more gloriously, it shouts to us ever so loudly that Jesus is God, The God who acts for his people.
God provides bread as a sign of blessing
But there’s even more than that going on in this miraculous feeding!
Many of the pictures of food and feasting in the Bible are lost on us, because not many of us have ever known what it’s like not to have enough food.
In the ancient world where food supplies were unreliable, and there wasn’t always enough to go round, the idea of having plenty of food to eat was considered a great sign of God’s blessing.
What happens here? Verse 12, When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
12 baskets left of abundant surplus.
Not only an echo of the 12 tribes of Israel, once again reminding us of the feeding in the desert that points us to Jesus, but super-abundance.
When I read the Old Testament, I’m always surprised at the number of promises of blessing that are pictured in terms of eating!
It’s like Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver were script consultants to the Bible!
So, in Psalm 22, the great Messianic Psalm about God’s king coming to his people, David writes, The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the Lord will praise him
And God calls to his people through Isaiah the prophet,
“come, buy and eat!
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Or again in Isaiah, 800 years before Jesus, looking forward to the day when God himself would turn up among his people, we find this promise.
6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
In the words of King David, and Isaiah, and in what Jesus did on this day, on this mountain, meeting of temporal needs shows us how God meets eternal needs.
Let me paraphrase this theme in the Old Testament;, “When God starts handing out free food, it’s a sign that much much more significant blessings are at hand.”
Do you see that?
And just as Jesus’ physical provision came at a point where humans were, well and truly out of their depth, so does his spiritual provision.
In fact, the feeding of the 5000 or the 20,000, is not a bad picture of the way that God meets our most basic and essential spiritual need.
The bread we need;, the things we need more than anything else for eternal life;, forgiveness, reconciliation with God, they’re handed to us on a plate.
We have to understand that, or we’ve misunderstood what Jesus is doing here.
The miracle of the feeding is more than just a lot of people getting a free lunch.
Do you remember hearing back in 2015 that a criminal in Wales left a business card with his name on it at the scene of the crime?
The police really didn’t have to work very hard! There was doubt who was responsible!
But apart from the stupidity, that’s what’s happening here.
If you look at the scene, there can be no doubt who’s responsible.
See, that’s why Jesus’ question to Philip was a test.
Jesus isn’t just asking, “how are we going to feed these people?”
He’s asking, “Do you recognise the need? The real need?
And do you recognise the one who is the solution?”
4. We must accept Jesus on his own terms
No wonder though, that After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
That is, the prophet whom Moses had promised, “God will raise up a prophet like me from among you”
Moses had said, “Someone like me is going to come. All this is going to happen again, but better!”
And if the first Moses had led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, then surely the next one like Moses, would lead them out from under the fist of the Roman Empire.
So they thought,
But that kind of political freedom, social reform, or physical blessing, was not why Jesus had come.
We cannot come to Jesus with our agenda. We must accept him on his own terms. That’s point 4.
Jesus refuses to be forced into someone else’s mould, or be distracted from his mission to suit someone else’s agenda, so, verse 15, 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
They like Jesus, don’t they?
They’d say, “yep, we’re following him.”
But this removes any doubt that we can’t ever think that Jesus’ job is to make our life better now,
That’s what the crowd wants;
Make Israel Great Again,
And Jesus goes running!
If we focus only on the physical, the many ways in which Jesus offers a better life here and now, we’ll miss out on the greater and more significant things he offers;,
Peace with God,
A new heart,
Purpose and significance.
See, if your picture of Jesus is only about how he might meet the physical need that you’re most conscious of,
A situation in your work or relationships that you want resolved,
If that’s the whole of your picture of Jesus, “he’s just good for that stuff”, then what Jesus offers you is going to be fully realised in your earthly life, isn’t it?
If Jesus is only about making my life comfortable and meeting my immediate needs, well, when the lid goes on my coffin, those benefits are all gone!
If we think of Jesus as just our “guide”, our “example”, simply a “best friend”, and nothing more,
When we get to the end of our life, and we give account of our lives to God, our lives have fallen so far short of his standard of perfection that we’ll need much more than a good friend, or a moral example.
Imagine being so at odds with Jesus, that he needs to physically escape from you?!
The crowds think that Jesus is on their side.
They’re so excited by one part of what he offers, that not only are they blind to the full wonderful picture of who Jesus is, and what he will do for them, they’ve actually put themselves on the opposing side.
Like I said, this is not really a story about lunch.
It’s about life, and that Jesus, God himself, is the only one who can give us the better life we need.