Text: John 6:1-15
As you know, we have in the Bible four Gospels, four accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah. The first three take a broadly similar approach, and we call them the Synoptic Gospels. The Fourth Gospel, John’s Gospel, however, is rather different. It was written after many years of prayerful reflection by the disciple who had been closest to Jesus’ heart. We believe that it was the last of the Gospels to be penned, and that John took for granted, and avoided repeating, what the others had recorded. It is interesting to note that apart from the resurrection itself, there is only one miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels, and this is it. I wonder if John saw something extra, some additional significance, in this story, that led him to re-tell it.
Jesus, along with the twelve disciples, has crossed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee in order to find rest and solitude. However, he is greeted by a swirling crowd of thousands of people, excited by all the miraculous healings they have seen Jesus perfom. Mark 6:34 informs us that when Jesus saw them ‘he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd,’ and that ‘he began teaching them many things.’ So many things, in fact, that evening came, and the crowd still had not eaten. Jesus says to his resource investigators, “What do you think we should do about that?” Philip makes a few quick calculations on the back of an envelope, and announces, “Master, it’s mission impossible, no way have we got the funds to feed this lot.” Meanwhile, Andrew has discovered in the crowd a small boy with five small loaves and two small fish. Andrew reports, “This is all I can find. What are these amongst so many? It still looks like mission impossible.” But Jesus says, “I like impossible. Prepare for a banquet.” And a banquet is what they get. They all had as much as they wanted. And there was more food left over at end than they had at the beginning.
It’s a fantastic miracle. It’s a striking reminder that we, like Philip and Andrew, are prone to be far too earth-bound in our thoughts and expectations of what Jesus can do. For with God, all things are possible, and nothing is impossible. God in Christ is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. In the church God has appointed workers of miracles. We may well be incapable of understanding fully the circumstances under which God may choose to grant, or withold, a miracle. But we need never doubt that God can do it. And we need never hesitate to ask for miracles. “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11)
This far we could have reached from any of the Synoptic accounts of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. But is there something more going on in this passage than the message, ‘Jesus can do wonderful miracles’? A big clue is the fact that John this miracle a ‘sign’. Now a sign points away from itself to something greater. Like a window, this miracle is intended not merely to be looked at, but especially to be looked through.
What then does this sign points to? What do we see when we look through the window?
The extra dimension that John gives us comes not so much in the story as after it. John is at pains to record how, shortly afterwards, Jesus gave a detailed explanation and application of the miracle to the re-assembled crowd (vv25-66). It’s summarised in v35: “I am the bread of life.” When we look through the window of this miracle, we see Jesus. We see that Jesus offers much more than a free lunch: he offers himself.
“I am the bread of life” – The bread of life is not a thing, but a person.
“I am the bread of life” – This is the first of the 7 “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. A divine title.
“I am the bread of life” – Not the cake; nor the caviar; nor the chocolate, but the bread – the staff – of life.
“I am the bread of life” – That is, the bread that gives life. Ordinary bread can support physical life for a while. Jesus gives ‘food that endures to eternal life.’
To that vast crowd, it was totally unpalatable; they could not stomach it at all. “Be a miracle-working prophet and provide us with free meals! Be a king and help us to overthrow the Romans! But not this!!” So we read, v66, ‘From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.’
And then Jesus turned to the Twelve, and asked them, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
And Jesus now turns to us, and says, “Are you willing to accept me on my terms, not yours? Are you willing to be my disciples for myself, and not just for what I can do for you? Or do you want out?”
And we too reply, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
And so, once again, we come to his table, and to the emblems of his sacrifice, his broken body and his shed blood. We draw near with faith, we feed on him in our hearts, and are thankful that in him we have more than enough.