66th the Study of the Book of John
Below is the summary of the sermon.
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near.
There is only one miracle performed by the Lord Jesus Christ that is recorded by each of the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is the miracle in which he used only five small barley loaves and two fish to feed over five thousand people in Galilee just before the annual Jewish feast of Passover.
In John, the interest revolves around the historical significance of the event and around the fact that Jesus is himself the bread that satisfies men spiritually. Only in John do we learn that the miracle took place at the time of the Passover, that the loaves of the young lad were barley loaves the poorest kind, the reason for gathering up the fragments that remained, and the effect of the miracle on the masses.
John tells us that sometime after the events recorded in the fifth chapter, Jesus, who was now in the north, crossed over to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee where he was followed by a great multitude of people. It was the time of the Passover. What we do know is that they were following Jesus because they had seen the miracles he did. The evening had come on as they had been listening to his teaching, and they were hungry.
Jesus anticipated the situation. He turned to Philip and asked a question that, together with the answer, is recorded by John to bring out the first important point in the story. Jesus asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answered to the effect that there was no place to buy it, that even if there was a place the disciples did not have enough money to pay for it, and furthermore that even if they had two hundred denarii the normal wages of a laborer for six months, even this would not buy enough bread so that each one could have a little. In Philip’s reply, we have a confession of the failure of human resources in the situation. By extension, we also have an illustration of the failure of human resources in many circumstances of our own.
There must always be a recognition of need before there can be a real turning to Jesus for help. But more than this, the point is evident from John’s passing reference to the Passover.
No alert Jewish mind would come to a word like this without thinking somewhat of the significance of the Passover. And it would be hard to miss the fact that the Passover marked the beginning of that period when Israel left the seeming security of Egypt and entered the wildness where they were entirely dependent upon God. Things had been bad in Egypt, certainly. The people were slaves. They had been treated cruelly. In the desert it was different. In the desert, there were vast extremes of temperature. There were no towns and therefore no shops in which to buy food. Above all, there was no water, and without water, a man cannot survive. This is a picture that John is setting before us in the opening verses of this chapter and that he is reinforcing specifically by reference to the desert wandering later. It is a picture of the failure of human resources not only in the physical sense but also in the attempts of a person to please God.
You have failed to please God. You have failed to find the life of God through your own efforts. Do you not find that all you are able to do for yourself personally fail to bring happiness? I hope you have found this to be true because it is true. Besides, it is only when you or I begin to acknowledge these things to be true that we begin to see and accept the solution.
The second point of this story, which is also the second reason why John tells it, is that Jesus Christ is all-sufficient. This is important, particularly where human resources fail.
The matter of eating assumed far greater importance in an ancient culture than it does for most of us who are living today. When we want something we merely go to the store for it, and it is rare when we cannot buy all we want. In ancient times it was different. Harvests were uncertain. There was not always enough to eat. As a result, to have enough food was considered a great blessing, and the food itself became a symbol of prosperity. This is seen all through the Old Testament. For instance, at the beginning of Isaiah we read, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land” (1:19). Isaiah later said, “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. 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” (55:1-2). David wrote, “The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise him” (Ps. 22:26). We can see that this was also an important idea in Christ’s time, for later on in this same chapter the Lord declared to his hearers, “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” (John 6:35).
Men and women find their real spiritual prosperity in God. We cannot find it on the human level. We cannot find the abundant life by indulging ourselves in all that life has to offer. We cannot find happiness by pursuing it. We cannot create satisfaction. These great blessings come from God. So we must feed on God as he is presented to us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you feed upon him? Do you come to him expecting to be fed?
Arthur W. Pink writes, “This is what Jesus does to all His people. He comes to the poor bankrupt believer, and, placing in his hand a draft on the resources of heaven, says to him, ‘Write on it what thou wilt.’ Such is our precious Lord still. If we are straightened, it is not that we cannot help ourselves-it is because we do not….We have so little faith in things unseen and eternal. We draw so little on the resources of Christ. We come not to Him with our spiritual wants-our empty vessels-and draw from the ocean of His grace.”
This story contains a lesson for anyone who feels that God has forgotten him or her. Do you feel that way? If you do, notice that long before the disciples had expressed any interest in the welfare of the people, Jesus had initiated the matter of feeding them. He had spoken of it to Philip, knowing in advance what he was going to do. The disciples were interested. They probably were hungry, too, so their concern would have been spurred on by self-interest. Still, whatever interest they may have had, the interest of the Lord Jesus Christ in the people gathered.
That is an encouragement for us, both if we fail to show concern for others or if we are one of the multitudes and so feel forgotten. Let us take our attitude toward others first. We often fail to see the human need. We miss the cry of loneliness, despair, or frustration expressed by some poor soul. Jesus hears it. Our hearts may be cold, but the heart of Jesus is warm with compassion. Or suppose you are one of the lonely ones. Even when there are other people who are interested in you, that interest still is always imperfect and partial. There are people in your home, office, or church who care for you, particularly if they are Christian people. But they are beset by all the sin and failure that is common to men and women. Only One will not fail you. There is only One whose interest does not waver. Jesus is eternal. He existed before the world began. He created you. He planned the circumstances of your life. He knows your situation. It is this One who desires to supply all your needs according to his abundant resources.
Do you say that you cannot see it? There is no reason why you should. Just trust him. The patriarch Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, was in his old age and was complaining about the harsh blows that life had dealt him. Years before, his son Joseph had been killed by wild animals, so he thought. Then famine had come, and he had sent ten of his remaining sons to Egypt to buy food. He had kept Benjamin, the youngest, at home. The sons came back, but without Simeon, who had been left as a hostage. When the famine continued it became necessary to send the sons back to Egypt for more food, but they refused to go, saying they could not return without Benjamin. The man in charge in Egypt had told them that if they did not return with Benjamin he would consider them liars about their family and would treat them as spies. Jacob was greatly distressed. He fought the inevitable. All things seemed against him. God knew the end from the beginning, and he cared about Jacob. He had actually sent the man in charge. It was only when Jacob gave in to the situation that God brought to completion the blessing of the full reunion of all the brothers and their father in their new land.
Maybe you are going through a situation like that in your own life. Do not wring your hands and say, “God has forgotten.” Trust him. He knows your need and where he is leading you.