We like answers more than questions. We like quick fixes to our problems and try with all of our might to avoid the quandaries of life. The difficulties and dilemmas we face drive us insane and keep us up at night, while the solutions and resolution to our problems give us a sense of peace and well-being. We like to formulate a plan for our lives, for our families, for our kids, and our future. When life doesn’t go according to our plan then we fret, fear, fuss and fume over life’s unfairness. We like logic, as we define and understand what we believe to be logical. We want life to be cogent and consistent and we are paralyzed by the experiences of life which are not. We want the seas of life to be smooth and calm and we become rattled and anxious when they are not. We want life to be like a Disney movie or a Norman Rockwell painting and when it’s not we are disappointed and can easily become despondent, depressed, and despairing.
Today we are going to take another look at John 6:1-15, where Jesus fed the 5,000 on a hillside on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and we’ll see what we can learn.
1 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. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 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. 7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” 10 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). 11 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. 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. 14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:1-15 NIV)
When we were together last week we focused on the test that Jesus put to Philip. If you will remember, Jesus asked Philip, who was from the area, where they could get enough bread to feed all of those hungry people. John told us that Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but He was testing Philip. Philip failed the test and we would have as well.
This week I want to shift our focus to the crowd. I mentioned to you that this is the only miracle of Jesus found in all four of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell us there were about 5,000 men present, not including women and children. When you add in the women and children the crowd would have had to have been 10-15,000 or more. Those who were in the crowd that day were not people along the lines of the Scribes and Pharisees, those who believed they had the corner on spiritual truth. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
We don’t know the names of any of those who were in the crowd that day, but this past week I spent some time thinking about those nameless, faceless folks who followed Jesus on foot and gathered on the hillside to hear Him teach. They were like sheep without a shepherd. I’m certain some of Jesus’ antagonists were in the crowd that day because they were always following Him, trying to find something He did or said that they could use to try and bring Him down. I’m sure there were a number of gawkers, those who were intrigued by Jesus’ growing celebrity status, who followed the crowd with no desire to ever follow Jesus. There are always those with an agenda in every crowd, but the vast sea of humanity who came from villages and towns were like sheep without a shepherd.
Who were those in the crowd that day and what was it about them that led Jesus to conclude that they were like sheep without a shepherd? Well, we can start with the facts. Matthew and Luke both tell us that there were those who came to Jesus that day that were sick, or had a loved one who was sick, and Jesus healed them. (Matthew 14:14; Luke 9:11) Sickness and poor health can easily lead us to lose our way can’t they? How many of us have had a loved one, a spouse, sibling, parent, or child who have suffered from health issues with seemingly no solution to the problem? When we’ve explored every option and we still don’t have any answers or we fail to find someone who can give us some hope we can become like sheep without a shepherd.
All throughout Scripture we find stories of those who were suffering from some kind of ailment, or had loved ones who were in desperate situations. I see a common thread that runs throughout many of their stories. They are like sheep without a shepherd. In Luke 9:37-43 we read,
37 The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38 A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” (Luke 9:37-40 NIV)
Did you notice the frantic tone of voice the father used when he cried out to Jesus? He said, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.” The Greek word translated “beg” is “??????” (deomai) and it means, “to long for, to desire, to want, or beg.” When he cried out to Jesus, it wasn’t the first time the father had begged someone to help his son. The reason he was begging Jesus was because he had already begged the disciples to drive the demon out of his son, but they couldn’t.
The father was frantic. Having a child who is suffering for any reason will do that to you won’t it?! What do we do? We pray and pray and pray and we call on others to pray along with us. As I was working on this lesson Thursday morning I got a text from a friend of mine whose daughter just had a baby. The text said, “She seems very healthy but has a heart murmur and is going to see a Cardiologist today. Please pray for her.” What do we do? We cry out to God and sometimes we just cry. We dig deep into God’s Word and try to find every verse imaginable that will give us hope. As time passes we tend to grow desperate, we tend to grow weary, we tend to lose hope.
The father with the demon possessed son, if he was with us this morning, would agree with me. You may ask, “How do you even begin to know that?” Well, Mark tells the same story that Luke does, but with some additional information. We read in Mark 9:21-24,
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21-24 NIV)
If you’ve ever had a child, or anyone you love for that matter, who has suffered for an extended period of time with no relief in sight, then you can identify with the father’s honest answer, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” We believe God can bring relief, don’t we? We believe that God is Sovereign, that He can do absolutely anything He chooses to do, don’t we? We believe that God can heal our loved one, don’t we? Of course we do…we just don’t know if He will. And when He doesn’t our lack of resources can drive us mad, our inability to do anything to help can make us mad, frustrated with our predicament. We can become like sheep without a shepherd.
I’m certain there were those on the hillside that day that brought loved ones who had been suffering and needed the Lord’s healing touch. I’m just as certain there were others in the crowd that day that had their own needs and needed the Lord’s healing touch. Maybe they were like that poor leper who met Jesus just after daybreak in Mark’s Gospel. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel we find Jesus heading out before daybreak to spend some quiet time with the Father. The disciples found him and said, “Everyone is looking for you.” (Mark 1:37) Jesus said, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” (Mark 1:39) The next individual Jesus encountered was a man with leprosy. Now, I have to take just a minute to fill you in on the disease of leprosy so that you can understand just how desperate this man was when he came to Jesus.
“Leprosy” describes any number of skin diseases in biblical times. In our day, leprosy is also known as Hansen’s Disease, and it is still active in our modern world. It’s a chronic infection caused by a bacteria. Leprosy causes changes in the body which alters a person’s appearance. The person suffering from leprosy develops skin lesions which oftentimes damages the person’s nerves and makes the skin numb in the affected areas. The longer a person suffers from leprosy the more damage is done and the sense of pain disappears leading to all kinds of injury to the hands and feet. Lepers can’t hide their disease and in biblical times people suffering from leprosy had to announce their disease. When a healthy person approached the leper he had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” while covering his mouth. Lepers were also forced to live outside of the community so they couldn’t infect anyone else. In Leviticus 13:45-46 we read,
45 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46 NIV)
The leper who came to Jesus lived with this reality each and every day. Can you imagine? If it wasn’t enough to have to deal with the physical consequences of living with leprosy, the man also had to deal with the societal stigma of having leprosy. Still, he came to Jesus. Turn to Mark 1:40-42 and let’s read together.
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:40-42 NIV)
The man didn’t just walk up to Jesus, he fell on his knees and begged him. I have to tell you that I don’t have any problem understanding the man’s desperate plea to the Lord. He was like a sheep without a shepherd.
There were many who were sick there on the hillside that day when Jesus fed over 5,000, but that doesn’t describe all that were in the crowd that day. It’s not just physical ailments that lead us into being like sheep without a shepherd. There’s a story in Genesis 21 that breaks my heart every time I read it. You may have heard of Hagar’s predicament. She was Sarah’s servant, minding her own business, when Sarah and Abraham concocted a plan to bring about the son God promised them. Only problem is, that wasn’t God’s plan. Once Isaac was born Sarah’s attitude soured toward Hagar and Ishmael—another relationship gone south! She wanted them gone. So, in Genesis 21, we find Abraham gathering up some food and water and sending Hagar and Ishmael on their way, out into the desert. Read along with me.
14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. 17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. (Genesis 21:14-19 NIV)
If Hagar was anything like the great mothers I’ve known throughout my life she didn’t drink a drop, but gave it all to her son. Eventually the water ran out and Hagar could see the handwriting on the wall—she and her son were going to die of thirst. Hagar sat Ishmael down under a bush and moved away from him because, as God’s Word tells us, “I cannot watch the boy die.” Hagar sobbed while she thought about Ishmael’s impending death. The little boy began to cry. The cries of a heartbroken mother and a thirsty little boy were heard by God.
Like the nameless father with the demon-possessed son, the leper who lived in isolation, and Hagar anticipating the death of her son, the predicaments of life can lead us to become like sheep without a shepherd.
Those in the crowd that day were most likely like those in the crowd of any church on any given Sunday morning. There were many who were struggling with life in about every situation imaginable. Isn’t that descriptive of some of our stories as well this morning? Many of us are struggling with life this very morning. Maybe you have health issues that concern you and keep you up at night. Could it be that you’ve lost your marriage, lost your job, lost your son or daughter, or lost your hope? Could it be that you are struggling with addiction issues, trust issues, or as my friends in Celebrate Recovery say, “Hurts, Habits, and Hang ups.” Our struggles are so varied and they can consume us and lead us to be like sheep without a shepherd.
There are others of us here this morning that just can’t relate to what we’ve been talking about this morning. Your life is going really well. You love your job, you are excited about your marriage, your kids are healthy, they love and adore you, you’ve got friends that encourage you, and you just can’t really put your finger on anything right now that is stressing you out or overwhelming you. First of all, I want you to know that I’m excited for you, thrilled that the Lord has blessed you with so many blessings in this season of your life. At the same time, I want to encourage you to hold on to this lesson because you are going to need it at some point in the future. This life is a journey and often the journey gets rough and we don’t know which way to turn or what to do.
If you come around here very often then you know that God’s Word teaches that God allows these situations in our lives, even brings some of these situations into our lives, so that we can learn that what we need more than anything is Him—a living, vibrant, trusting, dependent relationship with Him. This is nothing new folks. This has been God’s plan for His people forever.
Did you know there is another story in the Bible about God feeding folks? It’s in Exodus 16, when God took care of those Hebrew slaves who had been set free from the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt. They had been on the journey for about one month when their supplies ran out. You know what happens when a bunch folks get hungry don’t you? They fussed. Turn to Exodus 16:3-5 with me.
3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:3-5 NIV)
If Philip thought finding bread for 5, 10, or 15,000 people was tough, try finding food in the middle of a desert for 2 million people! God provided for them. He provided a day’s worth of manna each and every day for 40 years while they circled the desert. That’s not exactly correct. God provided two days worth of manna the day before the Sabbath so that His people wouldn’t have to do any work on the Sabbath. God is good isn’t He! Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminded the people what God had done and He told them why He had done it. Look at Deuteronomy 8:2-3 with me.
2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NIV)
As God fed those ungrateful folks who yearned for Egypt, He was teaching them…and He is still teaching today. Our bodies may desire bread, but our hearts and souls yearn for every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. His Word is like manna from heaven and water to our parched souls.
Jesus had to have been thinking about this story when He fed the crowd on that hillside. Let’s jump ahead in the story a little bit so I can show you what I’m talking about. Some folks followed Jesus after the crowd had dispersed. Truth is they came for another meal. Take a look at John 6:33-35 with me.
33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:33-35 NIV)
Jesus is our manna from heaven. He is our provision. He is more than enough for you and me. We don’t have any control over the circumstances and situations that we will face in life, but they should not catch us off guard. Jesus promised us that in this world we will have trouble, but we should not fear because He has overcome the world. He is more than enough. He is more than enough for any need that we will ever have. I want to close our time this morning by sharing with you the lyrics of an old song that has ministered to me throughout the years. It is called, “He Is All You Need.”
When you’re alone, your heart is torn, He is all you need.
When you’re confused, your soul is bruised, He is all you need.
He’s the rock of your soul, He’s the anchor that holds
Through your desperate time.
When your way is unsure His love will endure, a peace you will find
Through all your years, the joy, the tears, He is all you need
When you give in to that familiar sin, He is all you need
Guilt as you’re paralyzed, it slowly it eats you alive, He is all you need
He’ll be faithful to you though your heart is untrue
And your love’s grown cold
His forgiveness is real, it’ll comfort and heal your sin-weary soul
Well, God loves you so, He’ll never let you go
He is all you need.
He’ll be faithful to you though your heart is untrue
And your love’s grown cold
His forgiveness is real, to comfort and heal your sin-weary soul
Through all your years, the joy, the tears, He is all you need.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 6, 2014