of the difficulties in studying John’s Gospel alone is that he leaves out a
great deal of the action – on the assumption that you would already have read
Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew, for example, tells us that these events
happened immediately after the beheading of John the Baptist. (This may
explain why the crowd wanted to proclaim him “the Prophet”). The passage is
also significant in what it does not say. Many miracles are omitted, so that we
might understand things of true worth.
are two things shown here just before the miracle of the feeding of the five
thousand which are often skipped.
will note that Jesus does not go up to Jerusalem for the Passover. This
is contrary to the law, for he is well able to do so. But as we have
seen, his mere presence (it seems) overrides the law. The bridegroom is
with us; the party is on.
that Jesus sets an example for us by going up into the mountains – for
“solitude is meet for the study of wisdom,” as old Chrysostom said. We
need to heed this example.
much of Christ’s teaching is exemplary, in the old sense of that word. It
means that it is an example to us. Prior to feeding the five thousand, he has
had the disciples apart, to teach them. Now he goes from lecture to lab,
showing them what is good. We need to be ready to draw example from this. For
if Jesus had compassion on the poor and fed them, what should we be willing to
Feeding the Five Thousand – Lecture Section
begin with the Scripture:
1Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the
Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the
miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. 3Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his
disciples. 4The Jewish Passover Feast was near.
5When 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?” 6He asked this only to test him, for he
already had in mind what he was going to do.
7Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages£ would not buy enough bread for each one
to have a bite!”
8Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,
spoke up, 9“Here is a boy with five small barley
loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat
down, about five thousand of them. 11Jesus 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.
12When they had all had enough to eat, he
said to his disciples, “Gather
the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13So they gathered them and filled twelve
baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had
14After 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.” 15Jesus, knowing that they intended to come
and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
16When evening came, his disciples went down
to the lake,
is fruitful to consider Jesus’ method of teaching here:
will first have the disciples acknowledge the obvious difficulty: The
caterer is lost. We have a lot of hungry people on our hands.
he will next allow them to dig around in their own minds to try to find a
solution. Perhaps this is to convince them that there is no way they
could find a solution.
will then show them the solution: the power of God.
he will extract from this example all the available lessons.
Philip: the realist
Scripture says that Jesus asks him a question to test him. Parallel accounts
indicate that the disciples were already worried about this, but Jesus selects
the realist of the group to outline the problem for them. This is not because
Jesus does not know what Philip will say; he does. But like God testing Abraham
with the sacrifice of Isaac, he is going to demonstrate the point clearly
(physics teachers will remember the concept of “demonstration experiment.”) He
already knows the steps in the lesson. He’s just making it perfectly clear to
then, why did he pick Philip?
has a firm grasp on practical reality. His attitude is from Missouri:
“come and see.” A man for the facts, if you will.
also has a firm grasp on the market price of bread. His quick
multiplication makes it clear to the disciples that the task is beyond
are Philip’s failures, not his successes – as we shall see. How often we
are proud of the fact that we can clearly see that the church cannot do
Andrew – the maybe thinker
on the other hand, is somewhat more optimistic. He approaches the problem from
what might be considered a more enlightened point of view.
Philip focused on what the disciples didn’t have, Andrew looks at what
they do have. He remembers the stories of the Old Testament, and is
willing to nudge his faith just a tiny bit.
he also sees that, while their resources are not zero, they aren’t exactly
this, he forgets the power of the creating God.
Feeding the Five Thousand – Lab Section
that Jesus knows what he’s going to do before this all begins – but he waits
until Philip and Andrew have both admitted that it can’t be done. Let’s look
at what Christ does here:
He has the disciples seat the people
there is the matter of obedience. They do not know what their Master is
going to do – but they need to learn to obey him in such a circumstance.
he is showing us that one major purpose of teaching the Scriptures is
exactly that: to yield obedience.
also obliges the disciples to make a commitment. By having the disciples
make the crowd be seated, he obliges them to make a decision. Can Jesus
really do anything for this hungry bunch? If yes, have them be seated.
If no, argue some more. Jesus is not interested in our lip service, but
prays over the food.
says grace, as we would put it. He didn’t do that for most of his other
miracles; why this one?
I think, to set an example for us – that we should receive all things from
our Father with thanksgiving.
more to the immediate point, he wants it clear to the crowd that what he
is doing is in his Father’s will.
“Let nothing be wasted”
this little sentence we see two things, I think:
we see that God’s provision is exact. He produces that which is
sufficient for the crowd – and exactly twelve baskets left over. God’s
providence for God’s tasks; he does not do slop work.
also brings home to us the sin of gluttony. How often we forget that most
of the world hasn’t enough to eat, while we live in a land where fat is a
problem, not a solution.
King by Force
it interesting? All the miracles of healing never generated such a response –
but when you feed the crowd, they’re ready to proclaim you king. Bread and
circuses, the method by which tyrants keep the crowd with them. But Christ
does not accept the testimony of men; only that of his Father (before the
atonement). His work is God’s work, therefore he will seek only the Father’s
praise. There’s a great lesson in that.
then, can we turn ourselves in such a point that we seek only the Father’s
praise? As Jesus did – by going to the mountain alone. The time spent alone
with God in prayer, meditation and study will help wean you from the praise of
man and form the habit of listening only to God.
Walking on the Water
this very public example, Jesus now gives one to the disciples alone.
16When evening came, his disciples went down
to the lake, 17where they got into a boat and set off
across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined
them. 18A strong wind was blowing and the waters
grew rough. 19When they had rowed three or three and a
half miles,£ they saw Jesus approaching the boat,
walking on the water; and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21Then they were willing to take him into
the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
22The next day the crowd that had stayed on
the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and
that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away
often look at these stories in isolation; in this instance we need to look to
some of the preparation these men have had.
according to Matthew, the calming of the storm came before this
miracle. These men have seen the power of Christ over the natural world.
parallel accounts make it clear that Jesus sent them on ahead. The
disciples do not understand, but they are obedient – the first step in
is not sufficient. Mark tells us that “their hearts were hardened” so that
they did not understand. But do you not see that Jesus was dealing with that?
By his preparation he has made them able to grow into the next phase of
maturity with him. Often what confuses us today becomes the stepping stone to
Miracle of the new creation
calming of the storm, the feeding of the five thousand, these are miracles of
the old creation. Storms become calm in our world; bread multiplies (think of
your sourdough starter). But the really important miracles are the miracles
of the new creation – things like the Transfiguration, the Resurrection and the
appearances afterwards. These have no parallel in our daily experience. But
they show us, in a small way, how much greater the new creation will be.
is I, don’t be afraid.”
two phrases are linked. The parallel accounts (which include Peter’s walking
on the water) berate the disciples for their puny faith. Why is it that their
little faith made them greatly fearful? Because they did not love Jesus
enough; for perfect love, we know, casts out fear. And just who is Perfect
attitude should be that of the three Hebrew children:
16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to
the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in
this matter. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace,
the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your
hand, O king. 18But even if he does not, we want you to
know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you
have set up.”
19Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He
ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual (Daniel 3:16-19)
our obedience equal to theirs? Is our love for Christ strong enough to cast
out our fears of rejection and harm?
meaning, to set an example. Here we see the examples of Christ for us:
in God’s power
God’s blessing in all things
good stewards of what he has provided
firmly, because of our love and obedience.
fair set of tests for any one day.