Below is the summary of the sermon.
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. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
In the sixth chapter of John, we are told that after Jesus had used the five barley loaves and the two fish provided by the lad to feed 5000 people, the people who had witnessed the miracle determined to make him their king. In other words, they wanted to make him a political Messiah who would drive out the Romans.
Of course, this was wrong but the people for all their selfishness were not entirely unperceptive about what Jesus had done. For one thing, they were Jews and so possessed a religious heritage in which the idea of the Messiah was prominent. For another, they knew that in the law God had promised Moses that one day he would raise up a leader like himself. God had said, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deut. 18:18). Knowledge of this promise explains the reaction of the people in saying, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). It also explains two other references in John in which the people wonder if some prominent figure might not be that “prophet” (1:21; 7:40).
Moreover, the people who had witnessed the miracle also knew of other verses that promised a certain measure of material prosperity to be provided by the Messiah during the days of his earthly rule. In fact, in Psalm 132:15 there is a promise that the Messiah would provide bread for the hungry. It says, “I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor will I satisfy with food.”
The people looked at these promises, filtering them through their own desires and prejudices, and then concluded, “Jesus is the Messiah. He is the One whom we should make the king.” The only difficulty was that they did not know the Scriptures as well as they should have known them and so made a big mistake. They knew that the Messiah was to be a great prophet. They knew that he was to be a great king. But they had failed to see that in between being a great prophet and a great king Jesus also had to be a great priest. In this role, he was to offer up himself for the sins of the people. Jesus was a prophet, of course. He was speaking for God the Father. He would one day be king. But before Jesus could be king he had to die. It was necessary for him to give his life “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Jesus knew these truths. He knew the Scriptures. Therefore, he did not allow the enthusiasm of the people based on the physical miracle to deter him from the proper path. We can apply this by saying that you and I must know Scripture well also if we are not to allow spiritual success to succeed in turning us away from God to our own plans and devices.
We need to say, too, that the reaction of the people to Christ’s miracle was not altogether noble, even though it was partially scriptural.
For one thing, the crowd was willing to support Jesus only so long as he gave them what they wanted. This means that their support was for selfish reasons. We see proof of this in their concern for more bread expressed later. We also see proof of it in the fact that within a short while another group of people just like this were crying out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” there is such a thing as bought loyalty, and these people were expressing it. They were grateful for the meal. But their gratitude was “a lively sense of favors still to come.”
But are we so very different? William Barclay writes at this point in his commentary, “When we want comfort in sorrow when we want strength in difficulty when we want peace in turmoil when we want help when life has got us down, there is no one so wonderful as Jesus. Then we talk to him and walk with Him and open our hearts to Him. But when He comes to us with some stern demand for sacrifice, with some challenge to the effort, with the offer of some cross, then we will have nothing to do with Him. When we examine our hearts, it may be that we will find that we too love Jesus for what we can get out of Him, and when He comes to us with His great challenges and demands we too grow lukewarm, and even resentful and hostile to this disturbing and demanding Christ.”
This is one reason why the Bible speaks so plainly of the need to deny self and selfish desires as a Christian. Many verses speak along these lines, often using the ideas of death, crucifixion with Christ, and denial.
What does it mean that we are to die to self? What does it mean that we are to be crucified with Jesus? Simply put, it means that we are to say no to anything that lies outside the will of God for our lives.
Here is an important question. How do we know when we have really said no? How do we know when we have really said no to that which is contrary to the will God in our lives? The answer is: When we have stopped complaining.
God tells us to do something, and the first thing we do is attempt to stare him down. We want to see if he really means it. After we find that he really does mean it we murmur. And the reason we murmur is that we really do not want to do what he wants us to do. If you do that, then you are in the company of the great crowd who only supported Jesus when he gave then what they wanted. Grow up! Come to the point where you no longer murmur but say instead, “Yes, Lord, you know best.” When you do that you will go away happy and fulfilled because he does know best.
There is also a second reason why the people were wrong in the particular kind of support they gave to Jesus: they wanted to use him. They wanted to use him instead of allowing him to use them and mold them into the kind of people he wanted them to be.
The people had a great problem in their day. It was the occupation of their county by Roman forces. Jews chaffed under this Roman yoke, and that which they most desired to have happened in their lifetime was to have the Roman yoke thrown off. Suddenly there was this unusual man Jesus. He had miraculous power. So they must have said something like this to themselves, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get him on our side and get him to help us drive out the Romans?”
It is clear that the desire of this crowd was to make use of Jesus, far more than to be used by him. But again, are we really very different, many of us?
If you are pursuing these things rather than pursuing God, spiritual growth, and advance in his plan for your life, if you are quoting the Bible as support of your inverted value system, then you are merely doing what the people who were fed by Jesus did. You are using him rather than allowing him to use you and mold you into the kind of person he would have you be.
What does Jesus want you to be? One answer to that question is from the eighth chapter of Romans in which God’s purpose in calling an individual to himself is spelled out. It says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (8:29). What is the purpose? It is that each one who has been called by God to faith in Jesus Christ might become like Christ.