Today we will begin our study of John 6 by taking a look at the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. This is the fourth miracle of Jesus that John has reported. The feeding of the 5,000 is different than all of the other miracles from the standpoint that it is the only miracle, apart from the resurrection of Jesus, that is reported in all four of the Gospels. You can read about it in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:34-44, and Luke 9:10-17.
Each of the Gospel accounts gives us slightly different details. That doesn’t mean that they conflict with one another as much as they complement one another. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Matthew tells us that Jesus saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them, and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14) Mark tells us that Jesus saw the large crowd; He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He began to teach them “many things.” (Mark 6:34) Luke tells us that Jesus welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. (Luke 9:11) In John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 we are given details that are not reported in the other Gospels, but which are so important and applicable for you and me in our day, and in our daily walk with the Lord. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn. Turn with me to John 6:1-15.
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)
John begins by telling us, “Some time after this…” The natural question that comes to mind is, “Some time after what?” The answer is, “Some time after the events of John 5.” We don’t know exactly how much time passed between the events of Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, but it had to be somewhere between 6 months and one year because of information that we find in John 5 and John 6. John 6:4 tells us that the feeding of the 5,000 happened shortly before Passover. In John 5:1 we read, “Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.” If the unnamed festival was the Feast of Tabernacles then about 6 months would have passed between the events of John 5 and John 6, but if John was referring to the Jewish Passover then it would have been about one year. This is not really that important for you to know except to help you understand why the huge crowd showed up on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ fame was spreading. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us about Jesus’ ministry in the region of the Galilee. The word about Jesus was spreading like wildfire! Jesus was ministering to the people, confronting the antagonists, teaching about the Kingdom of God, and healing the sick. With all that the people had seen and heard, they wanted to see and hear more, so they followed Him everywhere He went.
John also tells us that “Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee.” For those of you who went with me to Israel several years ago, you will remember that we stayed a few nights in Tiberias. While we were staying in Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, we could see over to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee. We even took a trip one day to the Golan Heights, the region in which Jesus fed the 5,000.
When you read all of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 you can easily see that He didn’t go there to minister to the people. Jesus had gone there to get away for a time of rest. The period leading up to the feeding of the 5,000 had been exhausting, emotionally draining. We read that Jesus and His disciples had been heavily involved in ministering to the people. Along with the day-to-day demands of ministering to the crowds, Matthew tells us that John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod after Herod shot off his mouth at a drunken party and promised Herodias’ daughter anything she wanted. She conspired with her mother and asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. The news of John the Baptist’s death was a heavy blow to Jesus. Matthew tells us,
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. (Matthew 14:13 NIV)
Jesus withdrew for some down time, but when He saw the crowds He had compassion on them and postponed His down time so that He might minister to them. There’s a great lesson in this for you and me. It’s a lesson that is applicable whether we are talking about people involved in full-time ministry, those who leave their home every day to go to a job, stay-at-home moms who tend to the needs of their kids and families, or anyone else who is engaged in any endeavor. You and I need rest. We need times to withdraw to a “solitary place,” as Matthew describes it. We can’t run wide open all day every day and expect anything other than a meltdown at some point.
There’s a great passage in Luke’s Gospel about Jesus that clearly illustrates what I’m talking about. The demands on Jesus’ time were growing as the news was spreading. Turn with me to Luke 5:15-16 and let’s read it together.
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16 NIV)
We often lose sight of the fact that Jesus, though He was fully God, was also fully human. Jesus experienced fatigue just like you and me. He experienced the emotions of sorrow, anger, and frustration just like you and me. He was hungry and thirsty just like you and me. Don’t you remember? As He hung on the Cross He said, “I’m thirsty.” Being fully human, Jesus had to deal with the limitations of our humanity as the demands on Him increased. How did He deal with the limitations of being human while maintaining His focus on living out God’s will for His life? That’s a great question and it’s relevant for you and me also. How did He do it? The key is found in Luke 5:16, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” He was drained by the demands of His call, His responsibilities, but He was recharged, reinvigorated, and renewed as He withdrew and spent down time with the Father in prayer. My friend, you and I must do the same or we will meltdown, breakdown, and eventually step down from the responsibilities, the demands upon our own lives.
At the same time that this is an important truth for you and me, there are also the interruptions that God brings our way. Jesus arrived for some down time with His disciples, but when He saw the crowds He had compassion on them and ministered to them. Jesus put His retreat on hold in order to help those who were like sheep without a shepherd. Folks, there are times when God will interrupt our plans with something more important than what we’ve planned.
God’s interruptions may not come as you are planning a quiet Saturday or as you are packing for a vacation or weekend getaway, but they might. God’s interruptions might also come in the middle of a work day when you are snowed under with the urgency of the immediate. We need God’s help to discern when it’s time to stop what we are doing so that we might be attentive to what God has brought our way. I will promise you this: If you will recognize the interruption as an opportunity God has brought your way, it will be an experience you will never forget.
Just think with me for a minute about the interruptions of God that we read about in Scripture. Gideon was minding his own business. He was in hiding, threshing wheat in a winepress, when the Lord came to him. Next thing you know Gideon is leading an army to defeat the very people he was hiding from, the Midianites. Now, Gideon had his questions for God. He didn’t think he was up for the task, but he eventually stopped threshing wheat, climbed out of the winepress, embraced God’s interruption, and we are still talking about him today. Or, how about Saul of Tarsus? He was focused, fixated on taking care of business. His goal was to snuff out any threat to Judaism and the followers of Jesus were Public Enemy #1. He was in the middle of a mission when God’s interruption came. Next thing you know, Saul had taken on a new identity, he was given a new name, and even more importantly, a brand new mission for the rest of his life. God’s interruption changed Saul’s life. There were actually two lives changed in this one story found in Acts 9. While Saul was being led into Damascus, blind as a bat, there was a follower of Jesus named Ananias who lived in Damascus. We’re not told what he was up to on that particular day, but it didn’t matter, Jesus had a new assignment for Ananias. In Acts 9:11-12 we read,
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (Acts 9:11-12 NIV)
Ananias didn’t say, “Lord, I’m really busy right now. Can this wait until tomorrow?” He said, “Lord, I’ve heard of this guy. He has come here to arrest everyone who calls on your name. Lord, I’m one of those folks he wants to arrest. Lord, I’m afraid. I can’t do it. You’ve got to find someone who is better qualified.” Some of our hesitancy when God brings interruptions our way are our feelings of fear, or inadequacy, our sense of inability to do what God has brought our way. We are not alone. Gideon knew all about that and so did Ananias. Yet, God, after hearing what Ananias had to say, said, “Go!”
God’s not done with interrupting the lives of His people. He is still bringing about interruptions, opportunities for us to be used by Him. I hesitate to use the phrase “Interrupting our lives” because for most people it carries with it a negative connotation and God’s interruptions are the furthest thing from negative. God’s interruptions are great opportunities for our growth, for growing in our faith, learning to trust in His ability to do what we are incapable of, and opportunities for us to get our eyes and minds off of our agenda and onto His. The interruptions test us to see if we will recognize God’s activity or if we will simply stick to our plan.
In our Scripture for today we see God interrupt the comfort zone of Philip and the rest of His disciples. Take a look at John 6:5-6 with me.
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. (John 6:5-6 NIV)
Now remember, the writers of the Gospels tell us that there were 5,000 men present in the crowd that day. The 5,000 men doesn’t account for the women and children who were present. The number could have easily doubled or tripled when you add them in. Jesus leaned over to Philip and asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” I mentioned to you that John gives us information that the other Gospel writers don’t and this is an example of what I was talking about. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that it was late in the day and the disciples told the Lord to send the people away so they could go and get something to eat. Jesus responded to them by saying, “You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13) John gives us more detail. He says that Jesus asked Philip where they should buy bread? This makes perfect sense. Philip wasn’t one of the inner-circle of Jesus’ disciples, but he was from the area. Philip was from Bethsaida, the region near where this miracle took place. If anyone knew where there would be food in the area it would be Philip.
The disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away so they could get back to their retreat, but Jesus wanted them to feed the hungry people. When Jesus asked Philip the question, Philip went to work. He began counting the crowd, trying to determine how much bread each person would need, and how much it would cost to feed them. The numbers were overwhelming. The lack of food was discouraging. Philip broke the news to Jesus.
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!” (John 6:7 NIV)
“It just won’t work Lord! Even if we had half a year’s wages it wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have more than a bite!” As Philip was finishing sharing the results of his highly advanced math calculations, 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?” (John 6:9 NIV)
The food that Andrew found, the five small barley loaves and two small fish of the young boy, was hardly a decent meal for any one person, much less 10-15,000. Barley bread was the bread of the poor. The Jewish Mishnah said that barley bread was the kind of bread to be offered as a meal offering for the sin of adultery because adultery is the sin of a beast and barley is the food of beasts. The two small fish were pickled fish of no significance other than to help the dry, crusty bread go down more smoothly.
Jesus interrupted the plans of His disciples. He asked Philip to help be part of the solution and he failed the test. Andrew is the only disciple who offered a solution, but it only came after Jesus had told the disciples to go and see how much food they could come up with to feed the people.
What the disciples didn’t know was that Jesus already knew what He was going to do. John tells us that when Jesus asked Philip where they could get enough bread to feed all of the people that He was really testing Philip. John 6:6 says,
6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (John 6:6 NIV)
Philip failed the test. I have to admit that I would have also. If it would have been me instead of Philip, I would have been so flattered that Jesus asked me to help solve the problem instead of Peter, James, or John. I don’t think I would have just thrown in the towel and said, “Lord, there’s no way!” I’m a hustler, a scrambler, and I was taught a long time ago, “It will work if we’ll work it.” I would like to think that I would have begun scrambling, hustling, trying to come up with some kind of acceptable solution to the problem. I would have brainstormed every possible solution. Is there a McDonald’s nearby? Can we call a caterer? How about the UN? I would like to think that I would have worn myself slick trying to come up with a solution. I might have, but then again I might not have. Either way, the massive size of the crowd and few resources would have won out and I would have given up, just like Philip. Truth is, there was absolutely no human solution possible.
Jesus wasn’t testing Philip to see if he could be creative and come up with a solution. He wasn’t testing Philip to see how tenacious he would be when given such a huge problem to solve. Jesus was testing Philip to see if He would turn his problem back to Jesus. Truth is, it doesn’t matter if you are a hustler and scrambler or someone who is quick to throw in the towel, when a God-sized problem comes your way, if you don’t give it to Him then you need to know that your solutions just won’t work.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. If you think feeding 5,000 folks is tough, turn to Ezekiel 37 and I’ll show you a real God-sized problem. In Ezekiel 37 we read about a time when the Spirit of God took Ezekiel out into the middle of a valley that was full of dry bones. The Spirit led Ezekiel back and forth and back and forth among the dry bones. Ezekiel took it all in. He said the bones were “very dry.” I’ll let Ezekiel speak for himself. Let’s read together from Ezekiel 37:1-3.
1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:1-3 NIV)
I love this story! God didn’t just give Ezekiel a glance at the valley; He immersed him in the reality of what he saw. Ezekiel took it all in and then God asked, “Son of man, can these bones live?” The answer to that question, if we simply utilize the best thinking that we can come up, if we appeal to the latest advances of medical science, is, “Absolutely not! No way! No how!” And that answer, if we were limited to the best human resources we could harness, would be absolutely correct. Ezekiel wasn’t asked about a human solution, he was asked, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Ezekiel appealed to God, he turned to God, and He trusted in God’s counsel and will. Ezekiel knew that there was no human way possible for the bones to live, but, if it was God’s will for them to live, then God was more than able. You see, like Philip, God was testing Ezekiel.
I’ve got a feeling that there are many of us being tested this very morning. You’ve got bills to pay and are wondering how you are going to be able to pay your bills and feed your family? Don’t stop working, but in addition to that start trusting God to make a way where there seems to be no way. There are other financial tests that aren’t spoken of very often. The Lord has blessed some of you with an abundance of financial blessings, but you need to know that they may very well be a test to see how you are going to use them. Will you continuously lavish more and more on you and yours or will you use God’s rich blessings to help others and bring Him glory? Some of us are being tested in the area of relationships. There are some dry bones, broken relationships in your life that you wish would come to life. You’ve done everything in your power to breathe new life into them, to try and reconcile them, but nothing has worked. Will you hand them over to Him and trust Him? For each and every one of us, we’ve got issues. I don’t know what yours are, but I know we’ve all got them. In our day we have a label for every issue known to humanity, but have you ever thought that our issues might be designed to drive us into the arms of God. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get medical attention or psychiatric help; these are God’s provision as well, but they are not a substitute for seeking God, for trusting and relying upon God. There are so many things the Lord uses in our lives to see if we will trust Him or if we will try to take charge and figure some way out.
Young people, the Lord greatly desires for you to follow Him regardless of what others around you are doing. He desires for you to seek Him at every turn, to trust Him with every trial, and rely upon Him for every decision of your life. God will test you through events in your life, relationships in your life, and interruptions that come your way. Some of you know that tests have already come your way and you failed the test. You knew what the Lord desired for you to do, but you did what you wanted to do and it didn’t turn out good at all did it? Don’t waste a failed test, grow from it, learn from it, and seek His will more than what you want.
Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, black, white or brown, educated or uneducated—we will all come up against God-sized problems for which we have absolutely no solution, but remember who does…He does and you can trust Him. Won’t you take the first step in trusting Him by receiving Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior of your life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 30, 2014