An Extraordinary Meal

John 6:1-15 

A preacher friend of mine down in Texas had one of those awkward and embarrassing experiences recently. It was a normal Sunday morning, and during the Lord’s Supper the server hands him the plate with the cracker in it. He picked it up by the corner to break a little bit off – you know the correct pressure to break of just the right amount. But somehow he hadn’t correctly calculated the spring factor, and as he broke off the little corner the rest of the cracker went sailing on to the floor in front of him. He looks with horror on the empty plate in his hand and the cracker sitting on the floor at his feet. As a guy, he knew he was well within the five-second rule so he reached down, picked up the cracker and put it back in the plate and handed it to his wife. As their eyes met, he knew he had made the wrong choice.

I’m not sure there’s a spiritual application in that story relating to the bread of life, but I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Our story this morning from John 6 is the only story told in all four Gospels (other than the cross and resurrection). Now that ought to tell you something right there about just how important this story is. It was crucial to Jesus’ ministry. In fact, in John’s Gospel, this is the watershed chapter. In the chapters leading up to this, the crowds have been growing and Jesus’ popularity has been rising. At the end of this chapter, the crowds will abandon him and he’ll ask his own disciples whether they want to leave also.

Let’s begin by reading this amazing story: John 6:1-15

Sometime 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. When 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?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” 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.

I had an elder years ago who was one of the most positive and encouraging people I’ve ever known. He had a saying, “there is no such thing as problems, only opportunities.” Well, Jesus is about to present his disciples with a huge opportunity. Wherever Jesus went the crowds were enormous – they came from everywhere to hear him.

Jesus and his disciples have travelled across the Sea of Galilee to get away from the crowds to rest from the constant drain of ministry. But the crowds have followed them because they just can’t get enough of him.

Jesus and his disciples see them coming, calling out for Jesus. And Luke says, “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” (9:11) Mark adds, “…he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mk 6:34) I’ve said it before – people didn’t get in the way of Jesus’ ministry – they were Jesus’ ministry. People mattered most. And as tired and exhausted as he was, he steps out of the boat and begins taking care of people. After a long day he and his disciples head for the mountainside, but still the crowds follow them. And so Jesus asks Philip a question: “Where shall we buy bread for these people?” John quickly notes that Jesus already knew what he was going to do, but he wanted to test them to see if they were learning anything.

Philip, the logical one does the math. “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” (“Jesus did you see us pulling a supply boat behind us? We don’t have enough food to feed this many people.”)

John tells us it was Andrew who spoke up and said, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” A little boy’s sack lunch. Well that won’t go very far, but even if they went to all the surrounding towns they couldn’t come up with enough food to feed this crowd. So it wouldn’t matter how much they could come up with, it wouldn’t be enough. John tells us there were about 5000 men. (If you include the women and children who were undoubtedly there, conservative estimates number the crowd at 15,000.)

So Jesus takes control of the situation. He tells the disciples, “Have the people sit down” Luke tells us it was in groups of fifty. I hope you can picture this in your mind – what an awesome sight that must have been – 15,000 people sitting in groups of 50 (that’s about 300 groups). That would cover at least two football fields if they sat close.

And then Jesus takes this little boy’s sack lunch and prays over it, giving thanks to God, and then he starts tearing the loaves apart and breaking the fish into pieces and handing them to the disciples to begin passing out to the groups.

Ever stand in line at a church potluck and they start to run out of food before you get to the front of the line? This worked backward – the more groups they fed, the more food appeared. By the time they fed the last person, everybody was full and they picked up twelve basketfuls of leftovers from the original five loaves and two fish.

And some people try to minimize the miracle by suggesting that the miracle was that everybody secretly had their own food stashed under their robes and were too selfish to share, but when this little boy gave up his, Jesus miraculously got all these selfish people to suddenly become generous and share what they had with each other. Well, granted, I’ve known some people that it would take a miracle to pry their hands off of what they have. But that’s not the miracle here. And others suggest that the miracle was that somehow these loaves and fish became so miraculously filling that just a pinch (like we take off the cracker at communion) was enough to make them full (“Wow, I can’t eat another bite!”). Well, that’s certainly fanciful, too. Even with little pinches, five little loaves and two fish wouldn’t go far enough to feed 15,000 people.

Is it so hard to imagine that if Jesus could stop a storm in its tracks with a word, and heal the sick, and raise the dead, that he could multiply the bread and fish to feed 15,000 people? I might not know how he did it (I would love to have seen it!), but I have no doubt in my mind that every time they passed the basket, more appeared.

Let’s spend less time explaining away the miracles, and more time in awe and wonder at Jesus who made them happen.

Then, just to drive home the miraculousness of what Jesus just did, John says, 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. (Jn 6:12-13)

It wasn’t that Jesus provided just enough for everybody to have a little bite, but the abundance of the miracle was so great that everybody had their fill with twelve baskets of bread left over.

As we have been reading through John’s Gospel, we’ve already been noticing the different reactions to Jesus. John’s purpose in writing is to bring people to faith in Jesus, and that has certainly happened. Many people were coming to believe in Jesus. Already though, many – especially the Jewish leaders – were rejecting him and even plotting a way to get rid of him. But here in verses 14-15, there is the reaction that is not faith, but a self-serving greediness of spirit: 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.

Their desire isn’t for the kingdom of God, but for a leader who will do what they want, who will feed their stomachs and secure their borders and throw the Romans out. Jesus has amazed them with his miracles and fed them with bread in the wilderness. “Let’s make him our king!”

Five thousand men would constitute a ready-made army for anyone seeking to be a leader. It is in fact this very danger that seems to threaten Jesus’ ministry. What were they seeking when they came to Jesus? A general for an army? Jesus said they were like sheep without a shepherd.

If only they realized that he is already King! The irony is that he, who is already King, has come to open his kingdom to all people. But in their blindness they try to force him to be the kind of king they want. Thus they fail, not only to get the king they want, but the kingdom that he offers.

In several of his letters, as well as in the book of Acts, a great deal is made of Paul’s Roman citizenship. It had many privileges as well as responsibilities. He said he had been born a citizen of the Roman empire, but now he is a citizen of the kingdom of God. And with that citizenship comes many privileges and responsibilities.

To be a citizen of God’s kingdom is not to relocate yourself to a geographical location, but to allow God to rule sovereignly over your heart and your life. Paul writes in Col. 1:13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

While the people could not force Jesus to be their king, he readily agrees to be your king, if you will allow him.

But citizenship in God’s kingdom is not on your terms but his. Luke records this conversation: As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

We sing a song, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and the final refrain of each verse is “And crown Him Lord of all.” I wonder how many of us really mean that? Because most of us let him rent a small room in our already busy lives. But Lord of all? That means we surrender everything to his control – we let him be the Lord of our time, our talents, our money, our Sunday mornings, our Saturday nights, our Mondays and every other day of the week. Do you do that?

Or are you like the crowd who want to make Jesus king on their terms, demanding that he do what they want him to do? Letting him rule on the throne, but not over their lives.

Here’s the wonderful thing about being a citizen of God’s kingdom: You are welcomed in, not as a probationary member or an indentured servant, but as a son or daughter.

Do you remember the 1993 movie Annie? Daddy Warbucks brings Annie from the orphanage to his mansion and she walks in full of awe and wonder. He can see that she is excited about being there and he asks her where she would like to start. She looks around and says, “I’ll start with the windows and then do the floors…” She didn’t grasp that she was coming, not as a maid, but as a daughter.

 I wonder how many of us miss out on the glory of the kingdom because we haven’t grasped that God has invited us into his presence, not as servants, but because we are sons and daughters of the king.