Every follower of Jesus took advantage of the Lord, and the Lord is pleased we did. Paul said again in Philippians 2:8, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the Cross." Jesus chose service. He chose to be a bond slave. He chose it to the point of death to our advantage.
So...this week, you serve instead of love. And if somebody takes advantage of your serve, then great. Because now you understand what it means to take up the cross and follow Jesus daily, to follow Him to Golgotha if necessary, to serve. Until you can do that, my friends, you're not a complete follower of Jesus. Until you can say, "I serve my children. I serve my parents. I serve my enemies. I serve those that I am supposed to love, but I'm going to exchange the word love with serve. I'm going to serve my neighbor. I'm going to serve that stranger. I'm going to become one who bears his cross and follows Christ. That is going to show me what being a follower of Jesus is really all about."
Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Now, some people take the last half of that. We want to take up the cross. That is our burden. That is our misfortune in life. But we leave off the first part where we deny ourselves. A servant denies himself by definition. Otherwise, he is an employee. We are not called to be employees; we are called to be servants. That means we deny ourselves.
When you learn to embrace serving, to have an outward-focused life in a serve-me world, when you learn to embrace serving, to show love by serving...you're on the road, my friends, to true greatness. Jesus said in Matthew 23:11, "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant." The greatest thing a Christian can do, the greatest level of Christian can attain, is to lower themselves to be a servant...to be a servant.
To show your parents you love them...serve them this week. Without fanfare, but with love...serve them. Serve your best friend, whom you love, this week. Not for pay back later, but with love. Determine to serve your husband or to serve your wife. Instead of saying the word love this week, not because of guilt...well, maybe because of guilt, but with love. Choose to serve this week.
I remind you...this can only happen joyfully if you have learned the freedom of who you are. I said to you earlier...until you gain the freedom that you have of knowing where you came from and where you're going and why you're here then service is going to be something that at some point you're going to have to grit your teeth, but when you discover the freedom of who you are, you can take the lowliest job, and it won't matter to you.
That is why Paul tells us to have an outward-focused worldview in Galatians 5:13. He said, "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty [to freedom] only do not use liberty as [an opportunity for a serve-me world] an opportunity for the flesh but [look...use your freedom this way...] through love, serve one another." That is how we express God's purpose for us.
Now with that in mind, and in just a few short minutes, I'm going to take you through our text today. I spent this time because I wanted more than anything to shift your focus, to see this familiar story with a fresh set of eyes. Turn with me to John, chapter 6, and the feeding of the 5,000, and to see it through the perspective of service.
Jesus has crossed in the boat with the disciples. This one encounter, by the way, is recorded in all four Gospels. We are able to fill in the picture by looking at all the encounters. They leave the western shore of the Sea of Galilee where the settlement of Tiberius is located, and thus the Sea of Galilee is also called the Sea of Tiberius. They travel over to the mountainous side, to the eastern side, to the area we call today the Golan Heights.
There, they disembark the boat in the northeastern corner of that huge lake and go up into the mountainside. But the crowd that had been on the western side came across. They crossed over...left Tiberius and crossed over past Capernaum, and then they come back around the other side of this lake and Jesus sees them coming.
When He sees them coming, He had been teaching His disciples. The Bible tells us that He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, and He sat down and taught them. Though they had gone away for a retreat, because of His compassion...and listen, when you are servant, there is no vacation...and though He had gone to rest, there was somebody to serve, so He chose to serve them.
It was not a small group. There were 5,000 men, commentators tell us, with the women and children, there were well over 10,000 people had come there. They come to Jesus, and He begins to teach them there on the hillside. Then, darkness starts to approach, and it becomes obvious after a while that if they don't hurry up and go, they're going to be caught out there in the Golan Heights without light, and certainly, without food. So there is a need for them to go, and the disciples are suggesting to Jesus, "We need to shoo these people away."
We come to our text in chapter 6. It begins by saying, "After these things, Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee which is the Sea of Tiberius." Now, "after these things" is probably some six months since our text we looked at yesterday. "Then a great multitude followed Him because they saw His signs which He performed and on those who were diseased. And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples."
"Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near." This, by the way, is the third Passover. This event here sort of inaugurates the last year of Jesus' ministry. Verse 5, "Then Jesus lifted up His eyes and seeing the great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?' But this He said to test him for He Himself knew what He would do."
He turns to Philip. Why? Because Philip is from the nearest village in the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee, the area known as Bethsaida, a small village at this time...maybe 50 people. Now, here are 10,000 people on the hillside, and Jesus turns to Philip because Philip knows all the good restaurants, all the good grocery stores back in Bethsaida and says, "Where will we go to get enough bread to feed these people?"
Now He knew there was no place to go. It was late in the day. What bread had been made had been bought or had been secured. Nobody is baking more bread, and there isn't enough to feed all these people. Notice in verse 7, Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little." Now, that is eight months' wages for someone.
He says, "With eight months' wages, we couldn't buy enough bread." And by this time, two years into the ministry of Christ, the disciples (the Bible tells us) are living off the support of the people who are believing in Jesus. They are not wealthy men. They are not still in their fishing business. All of that has been abandoned. They just have whatever pocket change they have.
Do remember when Jesus sent them out two by two, He says, "Don't take a lot of money. Just depend on the support of the people," and that is how they have been living. So they don't have eight months' wages between them. Even if they did, he said that would only get a morsel for everybody. But remember...Jesus knew what He was going to do. He was just testing him to see if he was willing to serve.
My friends, He tests us today. He challenges us not with sin but with challenges. He wants to see if we will view what is in front of us with an outward-focused life. If we will see the challenges in our community, the need to serve, those who are around us, and whether or not we will obey Christ and take up that cross or whether we will be pragmatic and say, "This is beyond my ability."
Sometimes, when we are met with great challenges, we just say, "Ooh, this is just too much for us. We're not that big. We're not that capable. I'm not nearly that wealthy. I couldn't possibly do all this." But Jesus is testing us to see if we will obey. Of course there's not enough bread...in Bethsaida or Capernaum or any of the surrounding regions, but Jesus has a plan. And when He tells you to go and share Christ at your school, to go and to be a Christian in your family, it may be a daunting task for you. It may be too much for you, but will you obey? Will you be a servant even to the point of death? Will you serve even if someone is going to take advantage of you, take your last loaf of bread?
Jesus told the disciples, at this time, "You feed these people." He said, "You must feed them," in the Greek language. It was an imperative. "You, yourselves, must feed them," is what it actually says. So the disciples, besides Philip, who Jesus is talking to, go out and try to figure out what they're going to do. Andrew comes across a young boy who has literally a small lunch for himself. He had five barley loaves and two small fish.
Commentators tell us that these barley loaves were small round cakes, not big hoagie buns like we think of, but just small cakes that a boy could take to eat. The fish were pickled fish that he could carry with him, that they would do in that day. So he has a couple of sardines and five Ritz crackers...okay? No, that won't even get me on a deer stand for five minutes, okay? I have to have more than that, much less feed 5,000 people.
Andrew comes back and he says, "Man, we looked around, but most of the people just came running. This one boy had his food with him, but what is this among so many?" Andrew said. Jesus responded and said, "Have them sit down in groups of fifties and hundreds." He wanted them counted. He wanted there to be no doubt what was going to happen. So they sit there on that grassy hillside.
There is so much symbolism, folks, in what is going on here. The fact that He makes them to lie down in green pastures should not go unnoticed to you. The fact that Jesus is on a mountainside as once the great prophet Moses was on the mountainside when the people came to him and complained because they didn't have any food and provided manna from heaven should not skip your notice for further study, and will explain the comment that is going to be made by the people near the end of the story.
But what is imperative for you to understand is that this was humanly impossible and would cause a pragmatic person to say, "I can't serve. It is beyond me." And there are many people with things that are a lot more doable, don't serve today, because of its inconvenience or it puts upon them, and yet Jesus is teaching us a lesson.
We get down to verse 11. "And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted." He had the disciples do it. He had the disciples serve. And the glorious thing is that the disciples did. It is not glorious that they were incredulous at the first, but it is glorious whenever you obey your Master. Because the miracle and the power of God comes when you obey. It doesn't come when you refuse to move; it comes when you obey...even when obeying seems foolish, even when you don't know what is going to happen, even when there seems to be no benefit to you in serving.
Jesus had told us about that, didn't He? He gave the story one time. He said, "What would you think of the servant who plows in the field all day, and he comes in at the end of the day...is he going to sit down, and is his master going to serve him dinner? Well, no, he's going to have to cook and serve the master because that's what a servant does." He says, "Don't you think that I'm supposed to pat you on the back when you have done what you are commanded to do."
So when we do serve, we don't serve with selfish motives. We don't say, "Okay, I'm going to serve here because I'm going to need some more money in the bank." "I'm going to serve here because I need my health to be better." We don't serve because we're expecting God to do something; we know God is going to take care of us. We know God liberally loves us, and so the payback goes out of our minds. We simply serve.
That is exactly what happened. Everyone ate. Jesus had them get baskets and gather up the fragments. There were 12 baskets full of fragments. The miracle had taken place on that hillside. Verse 13, "Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten." Verse 14, "Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'"
In Deuteronomy 18:12, Moses said there on the hillside of Moab in the second giving of the law, "After me, God will send a Prophet who will lead you." And they are interpreting this because of the mosaic setting of it, that maybe this is a Prophet. They don't have a right yet, but Jesus still served them, didn't He? He didn't serve them because he knew all 10,000 of them were going to be saved and baptized. He served them because that's what He did. That is what He modeled. That is what He wanted Philip to understand. He wanted Andrew to understand. That with God there is nothing that is impossible. What God is looking for is...Will you serve?
We have a church full of servants. We have people do things that on one level, we wonder what they are ever going to get out of it, and I don't want to point people out. You know, a number of years ago, we had a sermon where we talked about the need to reach out into our world for children. There were some who took that to heart, and there was just a growing movement in our church of families who are taking in foster children.
And let me tell you, the need is far greater than has been met so far. But to have Christian homes bring in children who are often coming from very un-Christian backgrounds and children who bring with them very un-Christian problems and difficulties and to love those children, knowing that at any moment they might be moved to another setting is a very selfless act. You are being taken advantage of and you're viewing your world with an outward-focused life. You are serving to serve because you know you are a child of God, and you have that opportunity to give.
Oh, there are so many other examples where people in our fellowship sacrificially serve...not just other church members but the community, the lost...reaching out beyond the borders of the church to serve people. And there are so many opportunities that are available.
The Monday nights when the group goes to sing at the nursing home at the health center is an opportunity to serve people that can never pay you back, but it is what you do as a servant. There are opportunities to do so many things that are still out there. Maybe, to take your family or your Sunday school and start a carnation ministry to a senior center...just go take them a carnation, each of them, one Saturday.
Have a love attack. Take your family to a needy home, someone in your neighborhood or somebody you know of...you may not know them personally, in fact, it would be better if you don't...but in the name of Christ, you go to their home and you offer to work for them for two hours: paint, clean, mow...whatever they need...cook a meal. And as a family, for two hours, you go and you serve in that home.
There are so many examples that I can give that Sunday school classes, that small groups, that families can embrace. I tell you...if there is another trend in the church today. We have had trends in music. We have had trends in design. If there is a coming trend, I think it is the trend of service. I think it's time for churches to be, once again, known as a place of selfless service where we reach out and we give and serve people with nothing expected in return. Not a marketing blitz in hopes of getting people in, but an opportunity to serve selflessly and letting the Holy Spirit take that testimony of your service and use it to show people what faith is like.
I think that is exactly what James meant when he said, "I will show you my faith by my works." That he is going to serve other people. He is going to obediently follow God, and I challenge you...this week, let's view with an outward-focused life the people who are around us. Let's think of shut-ins who need a ministry of going and buying groceries for them. Let's think of getting serious about bagging groceries and taking them to people who are up in hard times...all in the name of Jesus, all in the name of love. Not, as James says, a pat on your back and be warmed and the filled, but an actual act of service.
Transcribed by Digital Sermon Transcription