Reading: John 6:1-15
A little boy was asked what his favourite Bible story was. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I guess it’s the one about the crowd that loafs and fishes.”
What’s your favourite when it comes to bread and fish these days?
Compared to Africa, there seem to be too many kinds of bread to choose from in our shops. In South Africa it was always easier to buy bread. The government standardised bread was white and brown – it was the cheapest. And there were a couple of well-known fish options too.
Our fish man in Browns Bay has been away for a couple of months – which is a tragedy each Friday!
John’s story of the feeding of the 5000 (and by the way this is the only sign or miracle that appears in all four gospels) has its own interesting account.
Jesus is like a teacher here – setting a question for his followers like we had in Arithmetic at school. So many lollies at 5c each, and you have 1 pound to spend and you need to keep so much money for bread and milk for the next three days and so forth.
Listen again to the problem to be solved here.
Joh 6:5 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?”
Joh 6:6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Joh 6:7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
John as the narrator tells us that this was a kind of test. Philip obviously did some calculations in his head. Conclusion – it’s not possible.
The other disciples were in ear shot. Andrew is the one who tells Jesus about the boy’s lunch.
Listen again: Joh 6:8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, Joh 6:9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” It’s the bread and fish calculation.
Jesus is testing the disciples here. In fact the whole of John chapter 6 deals with the theme of bread. But we don’t want to jump the gun here. Jesus is the focus here. He sees the need. He tests his disciples. It’s only in John’s gospel that there is any talk of how much grass there was:
Joh 6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Plenty of grass? Bells ring for us – the Good Shepherd.
Later in this chapter in Joh 6:35 we read: Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. This is repeated in John 6:48 – I am the bread of life.
Psalm 23 comes to mind – green pastures. And Jesus, according to John, feeds them himself. And of course John 10:10 is waiting for us in this gospel account:
Joh 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Joh 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
What can we say about this?
- Even though it sounds a bit like an introduction to communion, it’s probably not – there is no precedent in Scripture for breaking loaves and fish at communion. Fish do feature later in John’s Gospel where Jesus restores Peter – the fish breakfast barbeque on the beach: Joh 21:9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. And in Luke 24:42, where Jesus is hungry – They gave him a piece of broiled fish. Both of these are after the resurrection.
- It really is about Jesus. This is something that points to Jesus – it’s not about the feeding, it’s about something bigger – what does it mean to call Jesus “bread of life”? “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry… In what way are our desires met – the emptiness filled when Jesus is master of our ship of life?
- It’s only in John’s account that the boy is identified – the barley loaves and fish were not produced by adults – but by a boy. There is something inclusive there. Something special really. And barley loaves were really the food of the poor. There’s a humility here too. Like the widow’s mite, Jesus would have seen the sacrifice of this poor youngster.
- Providing bread for so many, and having so much more (twelve baskets of bread) was a risky thing to do. It’s about power. Joh 6:15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
One can only imagine how the gift of multiplying food could be used for fame and political gain. And of course in the temptations the devil had already challenged him to turn rocks into bread as a quick road to fame.
When we share communion shortly, there will probably be some interesting links in the experience. The taste of bread and grape juice or wine is something that brings back memories of the breaking of bread over the years – especially if we are privileged to have followed Jesus for many years.
The real connection is with Jesus – the bread of life.
From the beginning of Jesus’ signs in John’s gospel – the signs were meant to point to Jesus. There is no institutionalised water into wine liturgy. No order of service for multiplying a boy’s lunch.
The key is in our response to really trust the Lord completely – for daily bread (whatever we need physically each day, which includes employment) and for our spiritual nurture.
There comes from that trust a real belief, a certainty, that following Jesus really does bring abundant life.
- Life sustained by Jesus
- God who meets us in Jesus and in Christian community is God who is known in abundance.
- John’s gospel helps us to get to know this Jesus who provides sustenance and provision, superabundance and grace – living water, bread of life, and a real relationship and fellowship.
May you be encouraged as you follow this Jesus who gave His life for us.
Reading Matthew 14: 13 ― 21
Sermon by Bill Davey ― Elder at B.B.P
Overview of the message today:
- highlight a key principle from the teaching of Jesus;
- review the background to this creative miracle ― where and when it occurred;
- seek to learn from this miracle [Feeding the 5,000];
- recognise the links between this miracle and the Jewish history [Exodus];
- identify some links with other New Testament themes.
A Principle from the teaching of Jesus:
In Matt. 5: 17 ― Jesus taught: “I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them.” (NIV)
This week The Narrative Lectionary highlights one of the best known miracles of Jesus ― our Messiah ― when He feeds 5,000 people near Lake Galilee.
When Pastor Robin invited me to present this material he tasked me to give real thought to the writings and work of retired Bishop N. T. Wright, renowned New Testament theologian, something which I have done:
Tom Wright recommended that when we read the Gospels we always consider: “….. the activities of Jesus should always be viewed as the climax of the story of God and His dealings with His People Israel [the Jewish people].”(N. T. Wright)
The story so far ….. (Background)
John the Baptist, the cousin of our Lord was executed by king Herod in the fortress prison of Machareus on East side of the river Jordan, after the king was tricked into making a promise to his step-daughter, Salome.
Jesus was grieving and needed time to be alone for prayer.
Timing and the setting to this miracle.
In the early weeks of April, A.D. 29, the twelve disciples returned to Capernaum; where Jesus was waiting for them. They were in need of a holiday break, after a month of strenuous ministry.
They would take Peter’s boat, and cross to the Eastern shore of the lake, as they had done before.
However the enthusiastic crowd would not let them escape as easily as that. As their boat was headed towards the north-east; the crowd could keep it in sight, and walk along the shore. It was only two miles to the Jordan, from the north end of the lake; another three miles across the plain of Bataiha.
The people gathered in the foot-hills on the Eastern shore. By boat it would be about four miles, direct from Capernaum. Once again, the twelve missed their holiday break.
This is probably the largest crowd ever addressed by our Lord.
Pilgrim groups from northern Galilee, from the Decapolis, and from regions to the north of Palestine usually camped by the lake for a few days before the last lap of their journey down the Jordan valley and up to Jerusalem for the paschal feast.
Our Lord began his teaching, probably before midday, from a hillock a few hundred yards from the lake. About seven hours later, when the sun was sinking behind the Galilean hills, some of the apostles raised the question of feeding the people, with Jesus. The few provisions some had brought had been eaten long since. (Adapted from writings of R. Cox)
Jesus gave priority to the needs of the people.
He taught and ministered to them for many hours. He healed all who were sick or unwell, and He liberated others who were deeply troubled in spirit.
As evening approached one, or two of the disciples, made a helpful suggestion ― “Wouldn’t it be good to send the people away to buy food”. But Jesus responds, “If you care for them ― why don’t you give them something to eat?”
Think of the likely excuses that would have been offered in response to His challenge.
I / we couldn’t feed them ― there are too many people;
I / we don’t have enough energy / know-how / money /
skills / time, etc.
Jesus then rescues the situation by taking what they do have available to them:
[5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish ― a little boy’s lunch.]
We are probably familiar with how the story unfolds:
Jesus gives instructions for the people to sit in orderly groups;
Jesus takes what they do have (the bread and the fish); and looking up to heaven, gave thanks, for what they have; and broke the bread (and divides the fish); and gave the food to His disciples to distribute. Everyone has more than enough to eat, and 12 baskets, filled with left-over pieces are collected.
A lesson to be learned from this example:
When we are doing what Jesus requires of us, we can be sure that Jesus will always accept what little we have, and then, giving thanks, He will cause our contribution to be made more than adequate for His purposes.
Our offerings, in this day and age might relate to:
- our energy and time;
- our art and craft skills;
- our other natural skills and talents;
- any spiritual gift we have received.
Now returning briefly to our Gospel account:
Jesus had been mindful of the needs of His disciples for a time of rest, and so directed them to go to the other side of the lake.
He then sent the crowds home, and finally, went to a quiet place, for the personal prayer He so desperately needed.
Jesus still needed prayer-time to deal with His own grief ― regarding the death of His cousin ― John the Baptist.
What happened after that ― Well that’s another story for another day!