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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Believe in Jesus' power to lavish you with more than enough
Text:John 6:1-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 29

Psalm 19:5-6 (after the law)

Psalm 78:1,2,11

Psalm 65:1-3

Psalm 65:4-6

Scripture reading:  Exodus 16

Text: John 6:1-15

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.”  Everywhere you look it seems there are signs.  On the way to church this morning, you probably passed dozens of signs.  Some are traffic signs, some are advertising.  Every sign is there for a reason.  It’s there to tell you something.  We put up signs to point to things.  Signs are important in every day life.

Signs are also crucially important in the Gospel According to John.  In the first half of this book, we find seven things Jesus did that are described as signs.  In chapter 2, he changed the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  That pointed to his power to restore joy for those living in a broken world.  His second sign was at the end of chapter 4.  He healed the official’s son.  That pointed to his power to reverse all the effects of the fall into sin.  Then in chapter 5, he healed the disabled man at the pool of Bethesda.  That spoke of his power to help the helpless.

Now we’re in chapter 6 and we encounter the fourth of Christ’s signs in John’s gospel.  Here too, God is telling us something about Jesus through this sign.  The signs aren’t there just so people stand in amazement.   All the signs are there to communicate something, to point to something greater.  It’s the same thing here in our text for this morning.  Here we’re being reminded that our Saviour Jesus has come into this world to reveal overflowing grace.  If he is our Saviour, we are showered with mercies beyond counting.  No one else has the ability to bless us like Jesus does.  Therefore, there is no else in whom we should trust.  I preach to you God’s Word:  Believe in Jesus’ power to lavish you with more than enough

We’ll consider:

  1. The problem with the crowds
  2. The miraculous solution
  3. The aftermath

Chapter 6 begins with the words “after this.”  “After this” is referring back to what happened in chapter 5 with the healing of the disabled man and then Jesus’ using that opportunity to reveal more about himself and his mission.  We don’t know how long a time there was between chapter 5 and chapter 6.  It might have been days or it might have been months. 

But eventually Jesus left Jerusalem and made his way north.  He appears on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, that lake in northern Israel.  According to Luke’s gospel, Jesus was near the town of Bethsaida.  That would have put him on the north-eastern corner of the Sea of Galilee.

Verse 2 sets the stage further.  Christ has large crowds of people constantly following him.  He’s gotten their attention, not because of his teaching, but because of his healing miracles.  Notice how the Holy Spirit says these miracles were signs:  “they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.”  They saw the signs, but did they understand what the signs were meant to communicate?  Did they understand that these signs were meant to point to Christ’s power to save people from the eternal consequences of their sin?  From what follows, we would have to say they didn’t.  They saw the signs, but they didn’t understand the thing signified.  Their eyes were blind to the full significance of who Jesus is and what he’s come to do. 

At a certain moment, Jesus goes up into the hills with his disciples.  It says that “he went up on the mountain,” but that expression is often just used to refer to hill country.  Christ goes up there to spend some time with his inner circle of twelve followers.

And verse 4 tells us the exact time of this:  it was near Passover.  This is important for a few reasons.  One is that it tells us the exact time of year.  It’s indicating that this was a real historical event.  This took place in April, what was spring time in that part of world.  This isn’t recorded as some metaphorical story or parable, but as a miracle that happened in the real world as part of history.  Second, John’s gospel tells us of the three Passovers during Jesus’ three-year ministry.  This is the second.  That means we are about two-thirds of the way through Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Most important of all, what happens here in this passage is connected to the Exodus where the Passover originated.  The Exodus is where God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.  Christ has come to deliver his people from slavery to sin.  Remember John 5:46, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.”  The Exodus is meant to point us to Christ.  The Passover points to Christ.  The manna in the wilderness points us to Christ.  All of this is connected here.

Jesus and his disciples are on a high place somewhere in the hills northeast of the Sea of Galilee.  He looks out and he sees that the crowds have again found him.  They’re flocking towards him in this isolated spot.  Then Jesus turns to Philip and asks, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  There are a few things to take from this question.  First, and most obviously, verse 6 tells us that Jesus knew the answer.  He knew what he was going to do.  He was simply seeing what kind of an answer Philip would give.  Would he give an answer of faith?  Second, why did he ask Philip and not some other disciple?  We don’t know for sure, because the Bible doesn’t give us a definite answer here or anywhere else.  But it could be because Philip was from Bethsaida.  This is his home turf.  It wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask him where to find food in this area.  And finally, why is Jesus concerned about food for the crowds?  Matthew and Mark tell us that it was because of his compassion.  He had compassion for the people.  His heart went out to them and felt for them.  Our Saviour cares about hungry people. 

This is the problem with the crowds:  they’re a huge number of people in an isolated spot in the hills and there’s no obvious way to feed them.  Philip sees the problem, but he doesn’t see a solution.  In verse 7, he says that even if there were a baker nearby, where would the money come from to buy enough bread to give everyone even a little?  You’d need a heap of money – two hundred denarii wouldn’t even be enough, he says.  A denarius was about what a labourer would earn in a day.  If you were to only work with Australia’s minimum wage, that would work out to about $27,000 in today’s terms.  That tells you something about the size of this crowd.  In verse 10 it says that they numbered 5000, but that’s only referring to the men.  From the other gospels, we know that there were also women and children.  Some scholars say the size of the crowd could have been 20,000 people or more.  It’s a huge crowd and they’re hungry. 

The problem here points to the massive problem of humanity:  hunger.  Not physical hunger, but spiritual hunger, spiritual starvation.  Apart from Christ, we are dying and no amount of money can buy the food we really need.  There is just no way to get food for us and for everyone else.  This world can’t supply the spiritual food we really need.  That’s reality.  Nothing the world can give will reconcile you to God.  Nothing the world can give will ultimately satisfy.  The world can only give you the spiritual equivalent of junk food:  good times, alcohol-induced stupors, sexual pleasure, money in the bank, the latest toys, and the list goes on.  Loved ones, you need to see that it’s all really junk food.  The world will lie to you and tell you it has food to offer that’s both enjoyable and nutritious.  It has things to offer that might appear appealing and satisfying.  But it’s all going to prove to be empty calories.  You’re going to starve on the world’s diet.  You’re going to die of starvation, alienated from the source of life – cut off from God himself.  Look, as a child of God, you can be thankful you have a compassionate Saviour who comes with a solution to this serious problem.  He comes with the food you really need to be satisfied.

In verses 8 and 9, the solution begins to reveal itself when Andrew draws attention to a boy or young man.  He’s brought along some food, perhaps for his lunch or dinner.  He has five barley loaves.  Barley loaves were considered to be food for the poor.  The more well-to-do people would eat wheat bread.  Regardless, barley loaves had nutritional value.  It’s food.  There were also a couple of fish, probably pickled or maybe dried.  The fish would be eaten with the bread as a side-dish.  So that’s what Andrew has found with this young lad. 

Now I should say something about this young lad and his food.  In the past, there have been preachers who made a big deal about the boy.  They’ve preached on this passage or the parallels from Matthew, Mark and Luke and focussed on the boy and his food.  They said, “Look at this boy.  See how he’s so unselfish.  He shares his lunch with the crowd.”  Then the sermon becomes about the boy and how we should be like the boy.  We shouldn’t be selfish.  We too ought to share our food with others.  Listen carefully.  That’s not what this is about.  The focus here is not on the boy.  This is not about a boy and his lunch.  This passage is about Jesus Christ.  This passage is about who he is and what he does.  Our focus has to be on Jesus.  Brothers and sisters, anytime you’re studying the Bible, whether on your own or with a group, that’s got to be the driving question:  what is this passage telling us about Jesus Christ?

Going back to verse 9, like Philip, Andrew sees the problem.  There’s a huge hungry crowd.  But there’s only the tiny bit of food.  He can’t see a way forward.  That’s why he asks, “But what are they for so many?”  Human reasoning says nothing can be done.  Even though these men are Christ’s disciples, even though they’ve been with him for about two years, even though they’ve seen his power to change water into wine, even though they’ve seen him heal the sick, they still don’t see that he is able to do something to address the problem.  They still don’t get essential things about who Jesus is and what he can do.  These disciples are blind.

But Christ knows what he’s going to do and how it has to be done.  So in verse 10 he orders the disciples to get the people seated.  It’s dinner time.  John notes something interesting after that command, “Now there was much grass in that place.”  That area was sort of like around here.  In the summer months the sun burns almost everything brown.  But in the spring, there’s plenty of fresh green grass.  This is another indication from the Holy Spirit that this was a real happening in a real place at a real moment.  It was really spring, and there really was this green grass that the people really sat on.  Everybody sat down, 5000 men, plus all the women and children that we know about from the other gospels. 

Jesus then does something with those barley loaves and fish.  The first thing he does is give thanks.  I want you to notice that.  Jesus gives thanks for his food.  To whom does he give thanks?  To God, of course.  God is the one who has provided these five loaves and two fish.  God caused the rain to fall on the earth that made the barley grow.  God put the nutrients in the earth for the barley to sprout and bring grain forth.  God made the sun to shine on those barley stalks.  God created the fish.  God put the fish in the lake.  God gave the fish the food they needed to grow in the lake.  God made it possible for the fisherman to catch the fish.  God deserves the thanks for this food and Jesus gives the thanks God deserves.  Don’t let that fact pass you by. 

You ought not to ignore that, because it’s good news for us.  When Jesus did this, he was obedient to God’s law in our place.  He is acting like a holy child of God.  The First Commandment tells us that God is to be our God.  As part of that, we’re required to show him the proper worship, to give the proper thanks his name deserves.  Who does that perfectly?  Not me.  Not you either.  No one is properly thankful to God all the time for all his many blessings.  But here we see Jesus who always has the attitude of gratitude.  He not only has the attitude, but he expresses it too.  This is part of his obedience to the First Commandment and it’s done in our place.  Loved ones, your Saviour is being thankful, because many times you’re not.  His thankful holiness here is credited to your account.  Believe that and rejoice in it.  His thankful holiness is yours.    

But his holiness is not only your righteousness, it’s also meant to set the pattern for your life.  As we look to Christ, we’re assured that God regards us as we are in him.  But as we look to Christ, we also see what God wants us to become.  He wants us to live in union with Jesus and to look like him as we live here on this earth.  Here we can think about our daily bread, the food God provides every day.  Just look at the animals and what they do with their food each day.  Have you ever seen a dog stopping to give thanks before he gets into his dog dish?  No, he just attacks that dish without stopping to give thanks to God.  That’s what dogs do, but people were created to be different.  Sadly, so many people act like animals when it comes to their food.  That’s not the way of Jesus.  He gives thanks.  Being united to him, we’re to give thanks.  He’s our Master and we’re his disciples.  That means we’re trying to be like him in these kinds of things too.  Loved ones, before you eat, remember to pause and give thanks to your Father.  Do that as families, do that on your own as individuals, but do it.  Give thanks always. 

And when we talk about the giving of thanks here, we ought also to remember that this miracle was a sign pointing to something else.  It’s pointing us to Christ as the food that nourishes to eternal life.  That’s food for which we ought always to be thankful as well.  Let me ask:  how often do you give thanks for the gospel?  How often do you express your gratitude for the perfect life of Christ offered in your place?  How often do you thank God for the cross?  Brothers and sisters, everything in the gospel ought to move our hearts to profound thankfulness.  We ought to be thankful with our lives, but also with our lips.  God deserves it.              

After he gave thanks, then Christ had the food distributed to everyone seated, both the loaves and the fish.  Somewhere in there the miracle took place.  Somehow those five loaves and two fish multiplied to be enough to feed this enormous crowd.  When did it exactly happen?  We’re not told.  How did it exactly happen?  I don’t know.  It’s a miracle.  It was something that Christ was able to do by his almighty power as God.  Like God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with the miraculous manna, so also Christ fed the Israelites on that isolated hill with the miraculous loaves and fish.

The scale of the miracle is seen in the next two verses, verses 12 and 13.  At the beginning of verse 12, the Holy Spirit tells us that the people ate their fill.  They were satisfied.  No one walked away from this meal with any lingering hunger.  Everyone was full.  That tells us that there was plenty of food for everyone – from five loaves and two fish.  Christ was able to give them what they needed. 

But that’s not all.  He then tells his disciples to go and pick up the leftovers.  He doesn’t want anything to be wasted.  The leftovers will be used by him and his disciples.  So the disciples go out among the crowds and pick up those leftovers.  They fill up twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves.  Now to grasp the significance of this, there are a couple of things to note.  First of all, those barley loaves in those days were not all that big to begin with.  They were actually more like small barley cakes.  They were round, not long like the loaves we have today.  These baskets were large.  The fact that there were twelve baskets of leftovers tells us that there was more at the end than at the beginning.  Jesus had only five loaves at the start, but now there are twelve baskets of leftovers.  There was more than enough!  But then also notice the number of baskets.  There are 12.  Yes, it’s one of these biblical numbers of fullness.  It also means that there was a basket full of leftovers for each disciple.  There’s not just enough food for them as well, but more than enough.  Jesus was not only going to provide for the crowds, but for his disciples as well.

It was just like what had happened with the manna in the wilderness.  There too, God in his grace had provided not just enough, but more than enough.  God was lavish with his people.  And here Christ shows that he is the Son of God, he is God himself in the flesh.  He has the power to lavish his people with everything they need and even more.  Brothers and sisters, that’s the whole point of this sign.  It’s to tell us that Jesus has an incredibly generous heart.  He gives you and is going to give you far more than what you need, and especially what you need for eternal life.  As chapter 6 goes on, it becomes clear that Christ himself is the bread of life.  As he dies on the cross, he makes a sacrifice for us which has infinite value.  Infinite value – think about that!  His blood shed for us is more than enough to cover all our sins.  You might look at something you’ve done and whether there can be forgiveness even for that horrible sin.  With this miracle, Christ says to you, “I have more than enough for you.  I have more than enough to cover you.  I have more than enough power in my shed blood to cover all your sins.”  That’s what this sign is pointing to.  When you see that, then you ought to believe it.  Believe in Jesus’ power to lavish you with more than enough of the grace you need.

In verse 14, we read about the aftermath of this miracle.  We read about how the people responded.  Notice that they saw the sign.  But they didn’t perceive what was being signified, what the sign was saying.  They conclude that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18.  Moses said in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you…”  In fact, Jesus was the fulfillment of those words.  Absolutely.  We know that from Acts 3:22.  The problem was that the people misunderstood what Deuteronomy 18 was putting forward.  They were expecting a prophet like Moses who would act like a King and then deliver them from the rule of the Romans.  They thought that here was someone who was more powerful than Rome.  If he could do this amazing miracle, he could kick out the Roman armies and establish a new Jewish kingdom.  That was what was in their mind when they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

Jesus knew what they were thinking.  In verse 15, it says that he perceived that they had plans for him.  They were going to kidnap him and take him away to make him a king.  They had 5000 adult men to do it.  It would be the start of a glorious revolt against Rome.  But Jesus knew that this was not the path he was to travel.  He was on his way to a throne, for sure.  But his path had to travel via the cross.  He was going to have to suffer and die before he could be enthroned in glory.  There couldn’t be a premature coronation ceremony, and certainly no political revolt.  That’s why he withdraws.  He goes further into the mountains and disappears out of sight.

Notice again:  they saw the sign, but they didn’t get the message of the sign.  They saw Jesus as a means to an end, and the end they saw was the one they wanted.  That tells us that there’s more than one way to misunderstand this episode.  We saw earlier that we could misunderstand it by forgetting about Jesus and focussing on the boy with his lunch.  Then we leave out Jesus out completely.  But another way of misunderstanding this episode would be to focus on Jesus, yes, but misunderstand what he’s about and what the gospel is about.  The gospel is not about giving us more than enough physical food for our stomachs.  It’s not about giving us more than enough of any material good.  It’s not about Jesus being useful to us on our terms. 

Unfortunately, there is this thing called the prosperity “gospel.”  It’s called “gospel” but it’s a false gospel.  Sadly, it’s found all over the world.  The message is that Jesus is there to bless you richly on your terms, with things like health and wealth.  Jesus can be very useful.  Jesus just wants you to be happy in this world and if you let him, then he will do it.  This prosperity gospel is focussed on life in this world and how Jesus can make it awesome for you.  With such a mentality, this episode could be misunderstood.  Jesus is there to lavish you with more of whatever it is you think you need or want.  But taking that approach sees the sign without properly seeing what the sign is saying. 

The sign isn’t about the physical or material stuff, stuff like loaves and fish or political empires.  It’s about Jesus himself, the bread of life.  When we have him, we have more than enough of the obedience we owe to God.  When we have Christ, we have more than enough for the forgiveness of our sins.  When we have Jesus, we have more than enough righteousness to fit us out for eternal life.  That’s what this is all about.  Friends, let’s not ever lose sight of that.

Brothers and sisters, we have to keep coming back to the purpose of this gospel.  In John 20:30, the Holy Spirit says that Jesus did many other signs which have not been recorded.  Yet the Spirit saw to it that a certain number were written down and included in this part of Scripture.  He tells us why in John 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his Name.”  This sign of feeding the thousands is here to encourage you to trust in Christ, or to continue trusting in him.  So do that.  Believe that your compassionate Saviour has super-abundant grace also for you.  AMEN. 


Our merciful Lord and Saviour,

Thank you for your compassion.  We praise you for your good and kind heart towards broken and needy sinners like us.  Thank you for your obedience offered in our place.  We thank you that you were thankful where we have often been unthankful.  Thank you for your lavish and super-abounding grace.  In your blood there is more than enough forgiveness for all our sins.  In your sufferings there is more than enough payment for all our debts.  In your death there is more than enough to grant us eternal life.  Saviour, we worship you for being the bread of life.  We adore you for being our food and drink to life eternal.  Help us with your Holy Spirit always to see you rightly.  Help us with your Spirit to place our trust fully in you and what you’ve done for us in the gospel.    

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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