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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Jesus Generously Feeds His Hungry People
Text:John 6:5-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Miracles
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-03-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 81:1,9,14                                                                                   

Ps 78:2,3                                                                                                        

Reading – John 6:22-59

Ps 107:1,3,4   

Sermon – John 6:5-14

Ps 23:1,2,3

Hy 66:1,2,3

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


Beloved in Christ, if you’ve recently prayed the Lord’s Prayer, then you made the request to your Father in heaven that He would give you this day “your daily bread.” I wonder if that’s a petition we make with a lot of sincerity. Are we really concerned about getting what we need to maintain our bodies? Is there any doubt at all that there will be food on our tables tomorrow? It’s hard to pray this when the shelves in our pantry hardly have room for more, when we have a freezer (or maybe two freezers) full of meat, and the supermarket is just down the road.

But even if we’ve never prayed this petition with a growling stomach and an anxious heart, it is a prayer to offer—to pray every day. For it is built on the foundation of God’s sure promise that He’ll provide us with all we need, for as long as He gives life. Through teaching us to pray, our gracious Father seeks to instill in us a daily reliance on his goodness.

And that lesson applies far more widely than simply to the Cornflakes in our bowl or the hamburger on our plate. These good gifts came from God’s hand, and He will open his hand in countless other ways too. As Jesus says in Matthew 6, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on” (v 25). No need to worry, because “your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (v 32).

So maybe you’re not worried about having enough for the kids’ lunches this week, or needing a new coat for when winter comes. But perhaps you are worried about the lump you felt in your neck recently, or about having enough to buy a house, or how you’re ever going to retire. Our hearts can be full of anxieties. In one way or another, we worry about our life—but Jesus says to put worry to rest because of who He is, and how He cares for his people. And this is what Jesus shows in the miracle in John 6:5-14,

            Jesus generously feeds his hungry people:

                        1) preparing for the meal

                        2) serving the meal

                        3) cleaning up

 

1) preparing for the meal: Chapter 6 begins with Jesus on the move: “Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee” (v 1). He is crossing from the western side to the eastern, into a region that is fairly deserted. But in this secluded area, He’s not alone: “a great multitude followed Him” (v 2). It’s a crowd of 5000 men—and probably three or four times as many women and children.

How has Jesus collected so many followers? Lately He has been doing spectacular signs, most recently, healing the crippled man of Bethesda. The people are impressed and want to see more. That’s often the case with our special experiences—even with our intense moments of faith—after the high has faded, we soon want it again.

Verse 4 gives another clue about why there might be so many people in the region: “Now the Passover…was near.” From all over the land of Israel, folks were headed toward Jerusalem for the annual feast. And along the way, there’s an interesting diversion, because they come across the miracle-worker Jesus: “Let’s hang around and see if He does something.”

“The Passover was near.” For John the Gospel writer, this is more than telling us what time it is. It’s actually a massive hint about the meaning of the event that is about to unfold, the feeding of the multitude.

With the Passover near, the priests at the temple were already preparing to kill the young lambs whose blood would be sprinkled and whose meat would be eaten. At this very time, God’s people were gathering to commemorate how the LORD had saved his people from slavery in Egypt. Passover was a celebration of how Moses led them out, and then how Israel was fed with the bread of heaven throughout their wilderness journey.

And now, on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, the crowds are about to meet a new Moses, a greater Moses. Here, in this wilderness, Jesus will feed them miraculously and generously. Then, as the crowds will press him to do it again the next day, Jesus will say, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:32-33). With his own body and his blood, Jesus, the Lamb of God—the true Passover sacrifice—is going to redeem sinners.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… John 6 begins with a simple story of physical need and faithful supply. All the theology comes a bit later in the chapter.

When Jesus looks back and sees that big crowd following him, He puts the question to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (v 5). Some of them have probably been walking for a few days already, slowly running out of the provisions they had packed, getting hungry, and now they’ve come into a region without many towns. It might be that Jesus asks Philip about where to get food, because Philip was from that area and he would know where food can be obtained.

But of course, Jesus isn’t hoping to find one of those small-town grocery stores. Verse 6: “This [Jesus] said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” One of Jesus’s aims throughout his ministry was to train and teach his disciples, the men who’d later bring the gospel to all the world. And the disciples had much to learn about trusting Jesus, not resting in human resources. This food shortage in the wilderness was an occasion to shape their faith, to prepare for larger tests to come.

And Philip shows that he’s definitely thinking about an earthly solution to this problem. He answers Jesus, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (v 7).

A denarius was a day’s wage for a labourer, about enough to feed a small family for a few days. So 200 denarii was a big sum for your average Galilean, but hardly sufficient to feed this crowd—it’ll get them each next to nothing. Philip sounds like he’s overwhelmed, can’t even calculate what this is going to take to meet the needs of these people.

Andrew, another disciple, has a different idea. Maybe Jesus can do something with the little that’s available. A quick inventory of some nearby people reveals that the pantry is almost bare, but not quite. There’s “five barley loaves and two small fish” (v 9), probably the lunch of this young boy and his family. Back then, barley was commonly fed to animals, but poor people would use it to make cheap bread. Together with this meagre bread were two fish, probably dried or pickled—something to gnaw on, rather than to savour.

And of course this won’t be enough. Stomachs are rumbling and anxiety is growing—it’s too late to head back to Capernaum, because they need food if they’re going to keep walking. This scene reminds us of Israel in the wilderness: food running out, water scarce, miles from any relief. This is when people start to get desperate—when troubles crowd in on us.

Sometimes troubles are manageable. There might be just one main area of concern we have, like a sore back, or a difficult test coming up, or a big car repair to pay for. We can handle that. But when troubles are compounded, when it’s not just the one thing, it’s three things—or five—we start to get desperate. We just don’t have enough time, or enough money, or strength, and we don’t see how we’re going to make it. Like these people in the wilderness, our resources are low, and our need is high.

Then it is time for a reminder about who’s in charge, time to take another look at the Saviour. First, Jesus takes control of the crowd, “Make the people sit down” (v 10). He knows that if they start handing out food at just one spot, there will be a feeding frenzy, and some will get trampled and hurt.

The people sit down—and the Greek word that’s used here is interesting. They literally “recline,” the same kind of word used for when people are about to sit back and enjoy a big feast. That’s not what you’d expect if you have such minimal ingredients: five loaves and two fish. But the people prepare to enjoy what Christ will serve them.

 

2) serving the meal: If you’ve ever forgotten to pray before a meal, then remembered half-way through, you probably had something like a guilty feeling. It’s a good practice to pray for our food, even to ask for our “daily bread” with the prayer Jesus taught. And we know it’s a good practice because this is what Jesus himself did.

Verse 11: “And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them.” Gathered there with several thousand who are about to enjoy his generosity, Jesus asks for a blessing on the meal. Already in his time, this was a good tradition that God’s people  upheld. A common Jewish prayer offered at the beginning of meals went like this, “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the world, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.”

Jesus is glorious in strength, capable of great things, but even He—the faithful Son—knows that He needs God’s help. So at the beginning of this meal, Jesus looks to God, who opens his hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing. This food looked like very little, but it too, had come from God.

Following his prayer, Jesus begins to pass around the food. Let’s notice how Jesus is the one doing the work of handing out, first to the disciples, then to the crowd: He is both cook and waiter, chef and busboy. What does that tell you about Christ? He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

He’ll do it again in John 13, when He bends down to wash the feet of his disciples. This is an example for us, Christ says in John 13, “that you should do as I have done to you” (v 15). Meditate on this example, that Christ, the King of glory, is always willing to putting others ahead of himself. Beloved, how can you serve other people today? In the coming week, what are some ways that you can imitate the willing service of Jesus?

John describes it so simply, as Jesus hands out the loaves and fish to the crowd. There’s no drum roll, no flash of light, no details about how multiplying the loaves and fish takes place. It just happens… As Jesus continually breaks bread for the crowd, the food doesn’t run out. It just keeps coming, and somehow there is more than enough!

Once again, Jesus is lifting the veil on his glory. He has been doing this from the beginning of his ministry, doing things like turning water into wine and healing the handicapped. Soon He will even walk on stormy waters and calm his disciples with a simple word.

And He hasn’t been doing these things for show. He hasn’t done it to hear the applause of 20,000 people, happy with their free dinner. Christ does this out of a deep compassion for those around him. He knows about their hunger, He knows about their longing, and He’s not about to send them away faint and empty-handed.

Christ will provide, just as God provided bread for Israel for every day of forty years, wandering the desert. He will provide, like when God multiplied the widow’s oil and flour, or when God fed Elisha and a hundred other men from a single knapsack of food. This is the same kind of thing which God has done so many times, the same thing He still does for us today. He gives us today our daily bread.

It’s a simple truth, we said. But are we good at noticing it, and remembering it? Do we remember to express a true gratitude to our Father for his simple gifts? Every day we ought to pray the petition Christ taught us, and every day we should notice how God answered that petition. Today was another day that we had our food. Maybe it wasn’t our favourite meal, but it still came from God our Father as a gift of his love through Christ. So give thanks to him!

In all this, we know that there is sometimes a pressing need that God doesn’t solve. Sometimes God’s children lose everything. Sometimes God’s children run stuck, and they get cancer, and they face the harsh reality of death. God hasn’t guaranteed to protect us from all trouble. On the contrary, we know that trouble is coming.

But God does say that He knows what we need even before we ask him. God is a Father who loves us. That means we can be sure that whatever He gives will be good. He’s a Father who dearly loves us in Christ, so we can rest content with whatever He provides. 

This is the spirit in which Christ wants us to live: trusting him, even when we come into the wilderness and there is no earthly solution to be seen. Don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about next year, but hold onto God’s promise for today—his promise in Christ Jesus that He is with you and will never forsake you.

 

3) cleaning up: It has been an impromptu feast out there beside the water. Imagine the festive atmosphere, as several thousand people reclined together, and ate their fill, and then marveled at what Jesus had done.

And in the aftermath, the crowd understands that something remarkable has happened. They know they’ve had a glimpse of someone special. “When they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’” (v 14).

So who was the Prophet? Centuries before, in Deuteronomy 18, God told the Israelites that He was going to raise up another prophet for them. This coming prophet would even be one like the great Moses, who delivered Israel and mediated with God. Of this coming prophet, God said, “[I] will put my words in his mouth, and He shall speak all that I command him” (v 18).

The people have been waiting eagerly for this prophet, because He was expected to do great things—even to bring salvation. Back in chapter 1 the Jewish leaders had asked John the Baptist: “Are you the prophet?” John had said no.

But now, seeing Jesus in action, the crowd picks up on it, and they are sure: “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” And if you look ahead, you’ll see that they decide to “take [Jesus] by force to make him king” (v 15). And they would have—except Jesus slips away. This is not why He came.

Alongside all this excitement, it seems strange that John tells us about the clean-up following the meal. That’s always the worst part of eating a good meal: having to do the dishes and clean up afterwards. So is this an important detail? In verse 12, Jesus says to his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 

When they’ve walked around and cleaned up, they have twelve baskets full of pieces of bread and fish (v 13). Jesus hasn’t just given enough food to tide them over, handed them a snack for the road; no, everyone had “as much as they wanted” (v 11).

Clearly, Christ doesn’t do things in half-measures, but He gives fully and generously. It reminds us about the time at Cana when Jesus instantaneously produced six bathtubs full of good wine. It was more than anyone could drink, more than anyone needed—and it was a pointer to the rich plenty of the coming kingdom.

Underline that the disciples collected twelve baskets. That’s not a coincidence, of course, like it’s not a coincidence that this miracle takes place near Passover. When the disciples have cleaned up, they find that there is one basket for each of them. And this too, is probably part of how Jesus is training his men. Jesus wants them to look ahead to that time when they will go out as apostles. They will go and meet the deepest need of people, not by bringing food and drink, but by bringing the Word of Christ, telling them about the Bread of Life.

By themselves, the disciples can’t do much of anything. All they can see are problems and impossibilities. “We don’t have enough. It can’t be done. It’s hopeless.” But Christ tells us that his grace is sufficient for our every need. And so, the sign of feeding the crowd points us to a vital message. It’s about Jesus providing for us physically—and that’s a precious truth—but also about how Jesus provides in every other way too.

There’s a hint of that in verse 11 and 12. There it says that everyone in the crowd had “as much as they wanted,” and that “they were filled.” But were they really filled? They got what they wanted, but did they get what they needed?

A couple chapters earlier, Jesus spoke about how earthly things will not fill us. Talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, He said, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again” (4:13). Our temporary satisfaction is soon fading.

And then the next day, when the crowds are looking for another meal, Jesus gives a similar warning: “Do not labour for the food which perishes” (6:27). There has to be more to life than filling our stomachs and getting our pleasures. As sinners, we have a deep and unrelenting need, an emptiness that won’t go away. You can chase a sense of satisfaction for your whole life, and you won’t ever be filled. But God has compassion on us. He tells us that when we hunger for him, when we thirst for him, we’ll most certainly be filled!

Later in this chapter, Jesus draws a direct line from this miracle to the true food that He gives. For Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (v 35). And already now, the message is clear: Only he who comes to Christ and who believes in him will be filled, never to hunger or thirst again!

At an upcoming Passover in John, Jesus the Lamb of God will give his body, and pour out his blood. He’ll do so in order to nourish the people of God, to sustain us truly. Jesus says, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (6:55-56). He alone is the food for our souls!

So God calls us to delight ourselves in him—to be filled by him. Sometimes the signs of his grace don’t look like much. Sometimes it’s just cheap bread and dried fish. Sometimes God’s blessings in our life seem small. But for those who ask, God’s grace never runs out. It keeps on giving, and it keeps on filling.

Those who go to God through Christ will never walk away hungry. Those who draw near to God with their whole heart will never walk away, disappointed. Because for us, our faithful Saviour will always provide enough—more than enough.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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