Food For Thought
January 5, 1997
Scripture: John 6 and Parallel Accounts
We have several students in our congregation who will be heading back to school shortly from semester break if they have not done so already. In school they take tests and they learn from a teacher. Some of those tests are multiple choice. On those type of questions, the student is to choose the right answer, or in some cases, the answer that is most nearly right. Often times, the teacher must explain or demonstrate the right answer in order for the students to learn. All of us are learners and all of us have teachers from whom we can learn if we will just listen. Sometimes the lesson comes hard and it takes awhile for it to sink into our understanding.
Things haven’t changed much in regard to this over the centuries. So it was in Jesus’ day. He was the master teacher and he had some disciples whom he desired to teach. The name of the course was Eternal Truth 101 in the Department of Culinary Theology. They had already had several cooking lessons. Their teacher was a master chef who could miraculously produce the finest wine from plain old water at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.
And with the Samaritan woman, it wasn’t even plain old water anymore but living water that she could draw from him rather than from the well. And when his disciples finally found him they were concerned about his strength and urged him to eat, forgetting of course that he could go at least 40 days as in the wilderness. But he replied that he had food they didn’t know about. That was a test question to which he immediately supplied the answer. The answer was that his food was to do the will and the work of God. But now Jesus was about to bring his disciples into a deeper instruction that they might know more about this food that he had. This time the situation was not a wedding party or a group of Samaritans but a great crowd of about 5,000 men, not including women and children. They were like sheep without a shepherd upon whom Jesus had compassion. They had come to see and hear Jesus and be healed. He was about to meet all their needs, including food.
I. The First Test Question
The crowd was advancing. We see in the parallel account in the Gospel of Matthew 14 that it was late in the day. They had all ministered all day to the people to feed the hunger of the soul and now the disciples were tired. They asked Jesus to send the people away back to the villages so they could buy food to feed the hunger of their bodies. Jesus sees a teaching moment and holds a pop quiz. He gives them all a clue before he asks the question. In Matthew 14:16 he says, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” I imagine that they were a little dumbfounded. Could they, in fact, do the impossible? Then in John 6:5 he initiates the question to Philip in the hearing of the others, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He already knows the answer. His purpose is to test and to teach.
II. The First Response
Philip blurts out multiple choice response number one. Calculating quickly in his head what it would cost to feed all these people, he replies that there isn’t enough money to feed them. In fact, “Eight months wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Mark 16:37 adds, “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” His answer was, “It can’t be done. We don’t have it. We can’t do it.” This answer was not acceptable to Jesus since he now asks the second question.
III. The Second Test Question
We must turn again back to Mark 6:38 to see the second question. Jesus asks, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Jesus knows where he is going with this. In a sense, Jesus re-phrases his first question since they didn’t get the answer correct. He wants them to see what they have that can be used to meet the human need that they brought to him.
IV. The Second Response
Andrew latches on to multiple choice response number two. Jesus is leading them in the discovery of truth. In John 6:8-9, Andrew responds helpfully, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” The disciples are getting warmer, getting closer to understanding. Andrew discovers what they have but he doubts how useful it is. The first response was, “We have nothing.” The second response is, “Here is something.” Now Jesus has something to work with in them. He has brought his instruction to the point of revealing the answer. Hopefully, it will be an answer that will serve them for the entire length of their ministry on earth in his name.
V. The Right Answer Revealed
Jesus tells the disciples to have the people sit down in groups of 50 in the grass. Some were in groups of 100. The word for ‘groups’ means ‘garden plots’ and gives a picture of garden plots of people on the hillside. Jesus then takes what has been given, looks up to heaven, thanks God for it, blesses it, breaks the bread and fish into pieces, and distributes it to the disciples who give it to the people. The power of God divinely divides it.
Everyone has enough to eat. They are filled. They are satisfied. There is plenty left over. In fact, twelve basketfuls are left over to prove that the people had their need met in abundance through Jesus. And that is the right answer. Jesus Christ is the answer to all our needs. Whatever your need is, he is able to meet it, even fulfill it. All we need do is take what we have, give it to him and let him multiply it. He asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” The answer is that we buy it from him. But it gets better than that. It doesn’t cost us anything. All we need to do is to listen to what Jesus says and have faith in it. What it amounts to is having faith in him. Isaiah 55:1-3 says:
1 ¶ "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.
Now that is Food For Thought. And we can carry this on to be reminded that through faith in Jesus, we can have the abundance of eternal life which is the freedom of the forgiveness of sins. Now that won’t cost us anything either because Jesus paid it all. He paid the cost of our sins when he took them upon himself upon the cross. All we have to do is believe it by believing him. He is, as it says in 1John 2:2
2 (He is) the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Illustration: “World Upon Christ” picture.
Eternal life is a free gift - Romans 6:23.
All we need do is believe in him. And that is the purpose of his miracle here today as we see it given to the disciples and to the 5,000 and now to us. You see, not only can Jesus multiply food to feed many, but his blood is sufficient for many. His sacrifice for sin upon the cross also becomes divinely divided to be enough for whoever comes to him. They will not be cast out. He meets the need of our sin-sick souls. But there is a follow-up to this story.
VI. Follow-up Instruction
What do you suppose it was like to be a party to such a miracle? What would the disciples have been thinking as they passed out around 12,000 fish sandwiches? Do you suppose they felt a little sheepish? After all, Jesus didn’t take their advice to send the people home, he put them on the spot, showed up their lack of faith, pulled off a miracle they never would have expected, and rubbed it in by having them pass out the proceeds, let alone pick up the left-overs. They were left thinking, “How did he do this? Why did he do this? Why us?”
So now comes the follow-up lesson. Jesus sends the disciples out on the lake in a boat to go to the other side while he stays behind to dismiss the crowds. He then goes up on the mountain to pray. It is dark and late at night and the disciples have been put on another seemingly impossible task. They have been rowing against the wind for several miles, the water is rough and headway is painfully slow. And now picture this: it is now early morning and Jesus comes walking along, skipping across the tops of the waves, seemingly without a care in the world, and even seems to be passing them by. What is so difficult for them is so easy for him. At first they are frightened but then they call out to him. We must call out to him if we expect him to help us. They needed him and even though he made it seem as if he was intending to go on past, he got in the boat and calmed their fears and met their need.
This is the same incident when Peter got out of the boat to meet Jesus on the water. You recall the story: when Peter’s faith faltered he started to sink and Jesus reached out his hand and lifted him up and rebuked his lack of faith. He should have kept his eyes on Jesus.
The different Gospel accounts record these happenings when Jesus got into the boat: the wind ceased, they worshipped Jesus as the Son of God, and the boat immediately reached the shore where they wanted to go. It is the same idea as the loaves and fishes, except this time there is no food involved. They reached out to Jesus and the need was met. Only this time it was for themselves more than others. Mark 6:52 records why this follow-up lesson was necessary. The disciples had not understood about the loaves and their hearts were hardened. The disciples even needed a later retake of the same miracle as feeding the 5,000. Not long after this in Mt. 15 and Mk. 8, they are faced with the same dilemma. They have a crowd of 4,000 and Jesus brings their need for food to the attention of the disciples. They seem to have no idea where they could get food to feed them. Jesus asks them how many loaves they have. In this case they had seven plus a few small fish. Jesus gives thanks for them and breaks them and once again all are satisfied with seven basketfuls left over.
If we will just trust him with our need, and give him what we have, we be be left with more than we started even after he has met the need.
How many times have we had God’s power expose our lack of faith. Our hearts were hardened, our faith was stiff, and God came along and melted our resistance. Our lack of faith actually limits our experience of God’s power except for what grace he shows us anyway in our weakness. Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus! If we would just seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all these things would be given to us as well. Php. 4:19 says: “and my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” He is our sufficiency. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
So many times if we would just offer what we have to God and let him use it, he would multiply it miraculously and meet the need. But many times we don’t respond to a need or seek God for our own because we just can’t see it would do any good. Are our hearts to hard to believe? Will we seek God to meet our needs and the needs of others in faith this coming year? Are you willing to let him use you and what you have? The truth is that ‘me and Jesus can meet the need’.
Illustration: Our Daily Bread - Jan. 3, 1997: “Why We’re Here”
Even what little we have is mighty in the hands of God, even if it is our very lives.
Illustration: “Wycliffe Associates Letter”
But one more thing. Why does God test us, even as Jesus tested Philip by asking him, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” We are faced with multiple choices. What will our answer be? Will we say it can’t be done? Or will we learn to trust Jesus? We are tested so we can and will learn. Be assured that all of us, the whole class is tested. If each of us learns to look to Jesus for the answers, it will give us a tremendous unity as the body of Christ, the church. We will all then be getting our instructions from the same source. That is unity, and that too will meet our need. Let us look to Jesus to meet our needs and the needs of our church in this coming year. The fare is sumptuous. Even if it is fish sandwiches made by the Fisher of Men.
Communion: John 6:30-35; 48-59