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Old Creation, New Creation

John 6:1-21


One 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.

There are two things shown here just before the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand which are often skipped.

  • You 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.
  • Note 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.

Indeed, 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 do?

Feeding the Five Thousand – Lecture Section

Let’s 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 eaten.

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,

Teaching paradigm

It is fruitful to consider Jesus’ method of teaching here:

  • He will first have the disciples acknowledge the obvious difficulty: The caterer is lost. We have a lot of hungry people on our hands.
  • Interestingly, 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.
  • He will then show them the solution: the power of God.
  • Finally, he will extract from this example all the available lessons.
Philip: the realist

The 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 the disciples.

So then, why did he pick Philip?

  • Philip has a firm grasp on practical reality. His attitude is from Missouri: “come and see.” A man for the facts, if you will.
  • He 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 them.
  • These 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 something!
Andrew – the maybe thinker

Andrew, on the other hand, is somewhat more optimistic. He approaches the problem from what might be considered a more enlightened point of view.

  • Where 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.
  • But he also sees that, while their resources are not zero, they aren’t exactly huge, either.
  • In this, he forgets the power of the creating God.

Feeding the Five Thousand – Lab Section

Note 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

Why is this?

  • First, 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.
  • Indeed, he is showing us that one major purpose of teaching the Scriptures is exactly that: to yield obedience.
  • He 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 our actions.

He prays over the food.

He says grace, as we would put it. He didn’t do that for most of his other miracles; why this one?

  • First, I think, to set an example for us – that we should receive all things from our Father with thanksgiving.
  • Perhaps 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”

In this little sentence we see two things, I think:

  • First, 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.
  • It 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

Isn’t 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.

How, 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

After 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 alone.


We often look at these stories in isolation; in this instance we need to look to some of the preparation these men have had.

  • First, according to Matthew, the calming of the storm came before this miracle. These men have seen the power of Christ over the natural world.
  • The parallel accounts make it clear that Jesus sent them on ahead. The disciples do not understand, but they are obedient – the first step in maturing faith.

It 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 clarity tomorrow.

Miracle of the new creation

The 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.

“It is I, don’t be afraid.”

The 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 Love?

Our 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)

Is our obedience equal to theirs? Is our love for Christ strong enough to cast out our fears of rejection and harm?

Exemplary: meaning, to set an example. Here we see the examples of Christ for us:

  • Feeding the poor
  • Trusting in God’s power
  • Seeking God’s blessing in all things
  • Being good stewards of what he has provided
  • Standing firmly, because of our love and obedience.

A fair set of tests for any one day.

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