On Friday night, as high winds were causing power outages throughout our area, our president announced air strikes in Syria. Russia responded with threats of retaliation. Last week, the president of Estonia, along with the presidents of Latvia and Lithuania, were in Washington to meet with President Trump, seeking more military assistance, as the many believe that the Russian invasion of these tiny Baltic nations is one of Russia’s most likely responses.
Current polls show that Americans are afraid of everything from terrorism to the government to the seemingly ever-increasing potential for war to self-driving cars.
In first century Israel, people were afraid, too. They were afraid of the Roman government. The movie The Apostle Paul did a good job of portraying the persecution of Christians in the first century, but persecution wasn’t just a Christian problem. It was a problem for anyone who caused problems for the Roman government. Just look to the almost daily crucifixions that occurred in Jerusalem as evidence.
First century Jews were afraid, too. Scripture shows us that Jesus’ disciples ran from Jesus when He was arrested—ran and hid, afraid that they might be next.
The world has been a fearful place since the day that Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden. But 2000 years ago, God sent His only beloved Son into this fearful world that we might be set free from the power of fear even as we were set free from the power of sin.
And yet all too often, both for us and for those people living in first century Israel, our view of Jesus is far too small. We see this in our actions—we’re afraid to be bold, afraid to dream big. We see it in our prayers. We’re often afraid to even pray big.
What have you been praying for lately? Are your prayers most often “me” prayers—this is what I think I need, Lord? Or this is what I want, Lord?
“Lord, help me to get that job that I really want. Help us to win our game. Make the snow stop falling. Make it warmer. Keep my kids safe. Help me to get a raise. Fix my health problems. Help me lose weight. Help me find a spouse. Help me to get along better with the spouse I have.”
Or are your prayers like the prayer that the apostle Paul prayed–prayers “that according to the riches of his glory, our Father may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you … may know the love of God that surpassed knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
When we think about Jesus, when we pray, are we most often seeking the miracle or are we seeking the One who performs the miracle?
This is what the apostle John wants us to be considering as we read and study the 6th chapter of his gospel—this might well be the most important thing in all of John’s New Testament writings. Perhaps this is why John always refers to himself in Scripture as “the one Jesus loves.” Never as “the one that Jesus gives good things to.”
This is something that John had to learn—because you probably remember that there was a time when John and his brother James asked Jesus to allow them to sit on either side of Him when He came into His kingdom.
The older and much wiser John who wrote this gospel has learned that what’s important about Jesus isn’t what He can give us in this world. He knows that it’s the One who gives that matters. Perhaps that’s why John doesn’t talk about miracles—he talks about signs. Signs that heaven has come down to earth. Signs that Jesus Himself, is that heaven. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
So in chapter 6 of John’s gospel, we turn to the fifth sign—the feeding of the 5000.
Joh 6:1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.
“After this” is after Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda, the man who’d been an invalid for 38 years, which resulted in a lengthy discussion with the Jews, who questioned Jesus’ authority. And Jesus, who rarely, at least in John’s gospel, says anything directly, told them plainly that He was the Son of God and that it was only through Him that they—or anyone—could receive eternal life. Never through their zeal for the law.
He told them—and then He left.
Joh 6:2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.
Joh 6:3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.
Joh 6:4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.
Many people—a large crowd—was following Jesus, but not because they were seeking eternal life. They wanted what He could give them right now—they wanted Him to solve their earthly problems. They were following Him because they thought He could make their lives more comfortable.
They were a lot like us.
But Jesus needs them to understand that He’s come for something much bigger—He’s come not just to triumph over the Romans (or the Russians or the Syrians or the Democrats or the Republicans or whoever you think your enemy is)—He’s come to triumph over our sins. He’s come to triumph over death.
John reinforces this whole idea by mentioning that the Passover is at hand, a subtle reminder that Jesus is not only the Son of God but also the Lamb of God—that it is only through His sacrificial death on the cross that we will be able to receive this gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
And none of them are getting that. So He puts the disciples to the test.
Joh 6:5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Joh 6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
Joh 6:7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”
Joh 6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,
Joh 6:9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
“Where are we to buy bread?” Philip is from this area, so maybe it’s understandable that he seems to interpret the question as, “Where are there places that sell bread?” But of course the question is part of the test. And Philip, who along with the rest of the disciples, had seen Jesus turn water into wine, had seen Him heal the invalid, says that to feed all these people is impossible. There are, after all, 5000 men and presumably many more women and children. He says that 200 denarii wouldn’t be enough to buy food for this many people. Since one denarii was the average pay for a day’s work, it would take about eight months to earn 200 denarii.
They don’t have that kind of money.
Then Andrew says that there’s a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish—but he couldn’t see how they’d be any good.
Jesus doesn’t even bother to answer them.
Joh 6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.
I love this verse. “There was much grass”—Jesus thinks of everything.
Joh 6:11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
Joh 6:12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”
Joh 6:13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
This was an all-you-can-eat event—not just a have-a-little-bit-to-tide-you-over until you can get home kind of meal. Each one received “as much as they wanted.”
Jesus distributes to each one “as much as they wanted.”
How much do you want from Jesus? Do you want just a little bit, just enough to help you get by? Or do you want all that He has to offer? Do you want all of Him?
Jesus is doing much more than feeding people with bread, but the people are in no spiritual condition to recognize what He is doing.
The Son of God has come into the world not to give you bread, but to be your bread. Jesus didn’t come just to deliver us from the sufferings of the present age, but to deliver us from “the wrath to come” (I Thess 1:10), from final judgment. He came not to give us an easy life now, but an eternal life later.
But all those people could see on that day was that they had received a free lunch.
Joh 6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
Joh 6:15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Jesus withdrew because the Jesus that they wanted to be their king wasn’t the real Jesus. They were blind to who He was—this continues to be a huge problem in our world today. Many people have great enthusiasm for Jesus, but the Jesus they’re excited about isn’t the real biblical Jesus. They love the Jesus that is their own creation–the good and moral Jesus or the socialist Jesus or a capitalist Jesus, or an anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim Jesus, or a revolutionary-liberationist Jesus, or a counter cultural Jesus.
The message that we call the prosperity gospel teaches that Jesus came into the world to give us what we want right now, to satisfy existing appetites. We’re told that if we want money, Jesus can help us get it. This weak and useless message leaves people untransformed in what they crave, and simply adds the power of Jesus as a way to get it. This is what Jesus walked away from.
The crowd doesn’t love the whole Jesus who came to give His life as a ransom for sinners. And when the Jesus you love isn’t the real Jesus, He’ll leave you and go to the mountain.
Joh 6:16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
Joh 6:17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
Joh 6:18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
Joh 6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.
Joh 6:20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
Joh 6:21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
I don’t know about you, but this brief passage seems out of place. Right in the middle of this long chapter on Jesus as the bread of life, we find these few verses about a strong wind blowing while the disciples are trying to cross the lake in a boat. What does this have to do with bread?
Not only that, but John gives no indication at all that the people who received the free lunch, many of whom are the same people we will come to the other side of the sea to find Jesus the next day, ever hear about Him walking on the water during the night. Even when they ask how He got there, Jesus doesn’t talk about it. The disciples don’t talk about it.
So why is this miracle here? Who is it for?
Clearly it’s for the disciples. After all the people had eaten as much as they wanted, Jesus “told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.” (John 6:12-13).
Surely it’s no coincidence that there are twelve baskets of leftovers. Later, in v 67, we find the disciples, for the first time, referred to as “the Twelve.”
And while it is Jesus who distributes the bread and fish in John’s gospel, it is the disciples that He tells to gather the leftovers. And through this whole miracle of feeding a multitude of people with five loaves and two fish, Jesus is saying to His disciples that, “When you serve me and you give and give and give until you think you can give no more, I will take care of you. I will always be enough for you—more than enough. If you pour out your life to give bread to the world, I will be there. I’ll be there “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” The more you give the bread of life to others, the more I will be there to “fill you will all the fullness of God.”
This is why we have this story about the disciples getting into a boat and starting across the sea. “It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” It’s always dark when Jesus has not come. They’re alone in the boat and “a strong wind was blowing.” It doesn’t even say it was raining. It just says a strong wind was blowing.
A strong wind is blowing—and Jesus isn’t there. Right after He made the point that He is the bread of life and if you feed on Him, you will live forever.
But Jesus isn’t there—and they think they’re going to die. Not from hunger, but from wind. And then, “when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus shows up. Not with baskets of miracle bread—just Himself. Just the miracle of His presence when they thought there was no way He could be there.
Jesus is there—and “they were glad to take him into the boat.”
Jesus is there—and that’s enough. Notice that John doesn’t say anything about the wind dying down or the storm ending. Jesus comes to them, “and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”
The story of the wind on the water is over—immediately.
Jesus is the gift. He didn’t come to give bread—He came to be bread. He didn’t come to be useful—He came to be precious. We love the useful Jesus—but He didn’t come to help you fulfill all the desires you already had before you were born again. He came to change our desires so that He would be what we desire most.
Jesus was testing the disciples just as He continues to test us today. Tests us because He’s more concerned for our growth than for our comfort. Tests us with situations that challenge us to think and act in keeping with our recognition of God as the ultimate reality in every situation, even situations of great fear or grief, even situations where God seems absent or even cruel. This testing isn’t comfortable, but it is part of God’s graciousness, because it is through these times of testing that we come to know God more, trust in Him more.
But all too often we, like Philip, respond by looking at our own resources and deciding that we don’t have enough to do anything. When, if we’d just place ourselves in Jesus’ hands, He will “give thanks” and we can watch what happens. If we would just trust Him with our whole selves, He will take us, break us as needed, and offer us to the Father.
In this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus is saying, “I gave each one of you a basket of bread to show you that I will be your personal bread. If you have an overwhelming ministry in front of you—feeding 5000 people—and you feel totally inadequate, not only will I give you the resources you need to feed them, but I will be there for you when it’s all over. I won’t just give you bread—I’ll be your bread.”
But there’s more: “I have shown you that in the dark, in the storm, nothing will separate me from you. I will walk on water to be with you. And when you take me into your boat gladly, we’ll arrive at our safe harbor.”
“I don’t just give bread; I am bread. I don’t just make the wind stop; I get into the boat.”
Jesus is the “pearl of great value” that we hear Him speak of in Matthew 13:45. And in this morning’s passage, He doesn’t just tell us how much He loves us, how far He’ll go to provide for each one of us all we will ever need. He shows us.
As you pour yourself out in ministry at home, in the work place, and at church, there will be a basket left over for you. Twelve apostles, twelve baskets—full baskets. You give, He supplies. And as you are overtaken by storms in His service, He comes to you and gets in the boat with you, and sees to it that you get to your appointed safe place.
Because of these promises—to give us what we need, especially Himself—we can be very generous and we can risk many storms. Generous and risk-taking as a church. And generous and risk-taking as givers to the church.
The disciples still don’t understand—and Jesus is making it clear that that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we love Him and trust Him and worship Him.
What’s important is that we recognize His great beauty, truth and power while He lived among us. What’s important is that we remember that He went to execution as a common criminal among common criminals on our behalf. Went even for those who hate Him.
That’s who Jesus is—He’s God looking at me from the cross with compassion and providing for me with never failing readiness to take my hand to walk on through life from wherever I may find myself at the time. Comes walking on the waves to bring us safely to our eternal destination.
No matter if we face personal hardship or stormy weather or world war, Jesus is there—always. For “those who are glad to take him”—and because He is, we need not be afraid.