After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Our heavenly Father,
There is none like you. You are ultimate and superlative in your greatness, majesty, and goodness. We come before you again to praise your great name. Lord you are sovereign over history and everything that has happened this year is part of your divine plan. In the times when we’re tempted to feel frustrated or to question, let us go to you as the final answer. In uncertain times, Lord, we praise you that we can be certain that you are good.
Lord, we continue to pray for communities across this nation which have been rocked by division and violence in recent weeks. Lord, there is only one true source of hope and peace for our world. The gospel. And we continue to pray for churches across this nation to do the work of evangelists and share this message.
And we pray that we too would have a role in that as one church among thousands that is preaching your gospel and teaching your world. Lord, may we reach people in this community. May we have a burden for our neighbors. May the field be ripe for harvest.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Today, we look at another one of the signs that Jesus does during his ministry when he feeds multitudes. He has a small amount of bread and fish and performs a miracle when he takes those elements and feeds thousands of people.
Fun fact. It is the only miracle Jesus does which is found in all four gospels. So it’s pretty important. As we begin this morning, I want to briefly discuss perhaps the most important event which happened to the God’s people in the Old Testament: the Exodus.
I should say at the beginning that Richard Phillips has a commentary on John that I find very helpful on this passage. Very briefly, in the Exodus, God had chosen a man, Moses, to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt into the land which God had promised. The Egyptians had refused to free the Israelites and so God brings a series of plagues on Egypt which devastate their social life and economy. In spite of that, Pharoah continues to not allow the Israelites to leave.
In a final plague, God strikes down the firstborn throughout Egypt. For the Israaelites, they’re instructed to sacrifice lambs and sprinkle the blood on the doors of their homes as an act of faith in the Lord’s protection and also as an act of obedience to God’s command. When God brought judgment, the Israelite’s homes were passed over. And that was the origin of the holiday Passover, which became the first holy day in the Jewish calendar and which is still celebrated every spring by observant Jews.
Future passovers were celebrated. In remembrance, lambs were still sacrificed. And another important part of the Passover celebration for observant Jews was a commemorative meal which included lamb, unleavened bread and other symbolic elements that pointed people to what God had done.
I bring all of that up because it has resonance in our passage this morning. We’re entering a section of John where we see several themes which point to the exodus event.
Throughout John, we’ve continued to see this theme of newness throughout the ministry of Jesus. From the opening section, we see that Jesus brings a new creation into the world. When Jesus turns water into wine, the new wine is a symbol of a new covenant which Jesus came to bring. When Jesus talks to Nicodemus and he talks of being born again, Jesus teaches of the new life that God gives to believers. And so it should be no surprise that John’s Gospel points to the ministry of Jesus as a new exodus. A final thought before we begin in our passage. Remember where last week’s passage left off.
Chapter 5 ends with Jesus pointing the Pharisees to Moses and his writings which pointed to him. Jesus says in 5:45-47:
45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
That wraps up Jesus’ speech to the pharisees but it also serves as an appropriate lead into the next section as Jesus shows himself to be the greater Moses who leads the greater Exodus.
And that new exodus in John begins with the feeding of multitudes. And with that, we’ll jump into our section. And we’ll look at our story in three scenes. A setting, a conflict, and a resolution.
First scene – a setting
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.
John begins by showing the passage of time between the end of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6.
After this. We don’t know specifically how much time has passed. John also moves the story geographically from chapter 5, which had been in Jerusalem, to Galilee and Jesus is near the Sea of Galilee. Another fun fact: the Sea of Galilee is called a sea, even though it’s actually a lake. We’ll talk more about that next week when Jesus walks on water.
Given the geographical markers in this story between the four gospels, they’re probably on the northeast side of the lake. If you follow the news, you might have heard stories before which mention the Golan Heights. It’s a disputed region between Israel and Syria today. This is the region where Jesus is preaching.
Verse 2 mentions that a large crowd was following Jesus having seen the signs he was doing. And as we’ll later learn in this passage. It was a very large crowd. Thousands of people are following Jesus. But they’re not all necessarily following Jesus because they want to be his disciples or want to believe in him as Messiah. As verse 2 tells us, the crowd was following him because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.
Verses 3-4: Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.
I talked about the Exodus theme in this story. It’s interesting that John says Jesus is on the mountain. It’s impossible to know what mountain he’s referring to. It’s hill country. And so when John talks about Jesus going up to the mountain, it seems that it’s less about tying Jesus to a specific mountain and more about making an allusion between the Old and New Testament.
As Moses went up on Mount Sinai and was given the Ten Commandments, Jesus is on a mountain here bringing a new Passover and a new Exodus to his people. Verse 4, John mentions that it’s Passover. John mentions three different Passovers in his gospel. This is the second one. So we have ties to a place and time. The fact that it was around the time of Passover might explain why he had such a large crowd as Jews from all over the Roman Empire would have been traveling to Jerusalem.
In first century Galilee, Passover was a politically charged time of the year. It was common to look to the exodus, when God freed the Isrelites from Egyptian slavery and to have a similar longing of being freed from Roman government or influence. That’ll be relevant later in the story.
So that’s the setting of this event.
Second scene – The conflict
Beginning in verse 5: Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Jesus sees the crowd. They’ve come to hear him and to see his signs, but Jesus is aware that they’re also going to need food. Keep in mind that it’s the first century. It’s not like they just had a McDonald’s nearby.
So Jesus asks the Apostle Philip: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”He’s testing Philip. The crowd has seen the signs that Jesus is doing. And so have the disciples. They’ve traveled and interacted with Jesus. Will Phillip look at this situation and believe that there’s something which Jesus can do about it?
Jesus knows what he’s going to do. Verse 6 tells us that: He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do
Jesus is not being deceptive or deceitful. He asks Philip to see what he’ll say. Philip sees the large crowd. Thousands of people and he’s overwhelmed by the size of the audience. It doesn’t occur to him that Jesus can do something.
Application – what we have to offer
The disciples didn’t have much to offer. They didn’t have much to bring to the table. But it’s not about what we have to offer that ultimately matters. It’s what God can do. We don’t have enough on our own. But God blesses, he provides.
Maybe you think about your marriage, and trying to love your spouse, or your kids and trying to raise them up to know the Lord, or coworkers, maybe really trying to live as a witness to your faith. But you have times where you feel inadequate, where you question what you’re doing. We are to be faithful in serving the Lord.
But we can’t control the results or the fruit. All we can do is bring what we have before God. Our talents, our abilities. It is God who uses that. That’s not to say we shouldn’t care. We should. But when you feel like you don’t quite measure up, like you don’t always have enough.
Let us take joy that there is grace. Let us trust in him to accomplish his purposes through us, imperfect as we are. Let us serve the Lord and bring what we have before him, to use to bring him glory and to serve him.
In verse 7, Philip resorts to a purely naturalistic explanation for their situation. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”
A denarius was a Roman coin. It was about the amount of money the average person could earn for a day of work. And so Philip is saying that 200 denari, 200 days of work, or about seven months wages, a substantial amount of money to the average person: that that wouldn’t be enough to give this huge crowd even a little bit of food to eat.
Verses 8-9: 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
The Apostle Andrew finds a kid who has some food. Five barley loaves. Barley bread was an inexpensive bread back then, eaten by poor people. It’s ultimately still a very small amount of food relative to the size of the crowd. He asks what are they for so many?
Application – God’s past faithfulness
Andrew has the same issue as Philip. He’s just looking at what they have and perceiving that it’s not enough. For Philip, he talks about the financial issue. That they don’t have enough money to feed that many people. Andrew looks at the issue of quantity. That they don’t have enough food to feed that many people.
We have times where we see God at work. We see him at work in our lives and the lives of others. We hear wonderful testimonies of the things God has done. For the apostles and the crowd. They’ve seen the signs that Jesus is doing. They’ve seen the power that he’s displayed. He’s healed from a distance. He turned water into wine. But it’s still so often so easy to forget all that God has done and to forget what he can do. We can so easily fall into the trap of just assuming that God will be inactive in a situation.
Take a look at your own life, your own story. And really think about the graces that God has shown. The times that he saved you or spared you. The times where you could have gone down the wrong path. The times where you didn’t see anyway out but where here you are. God is good. He continues to work in our lives and our circumstances. Let us be people who remember the goodness God has shown and who live in faith and confidence. As always, that’s not to say God is our genie or does whatever we want him to do. He is the sovereign Lord. So we see the issue. Now we come to our third scene. The resolution.
Third scene – the resolution
Verse 10: Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number
Interesting that Jesus says have the people sit down.
And then the end of the verse says there were about 5,000 men. Most scholars believe that there were also wives and children in the crowd. So if it’s 5,000 men, it could have been 10,000, 20,000 people. Or more.
Jesus has them split into groups. The other gospel accounts say that they were divided into groups of 50s and hundreds. Dividing the people into groups is probably an allusion to Moses dividing the Israelites into tribes when they left Egypt.
Verse 11: Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
Giving thanks for the food would have been standard practice. He distributes the food.
During the Exodus, the Israelites were fed manna from heaven which the Lord provided. God gave the people what they needed. They were told just to collect enough for the day’s nourishment. In our passage, verse 11 says that people had as much fish as they wanted. He provides abundantly.
In the Old Testament, Moses prayed to God on behalf of the Isralites. In this passage, Jesus himself takes the bread and provides enough for the multitude. Moses had to intercede, but Jesus himself provides. The verse says that the people had as much fish as they wanted.
Jesus has provided abundantly for this multitude of people. So much so that there were leftovers.
Verses 12-13: 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
Jesus has abundantly provided but he also will have nothing go to waste and so he has the disciples gather the uneaten food. Five loaves and two fish has been made into so much food that it’s even more than what was needed to feed the thousands of people.
They collect twelve baskets full of the leftovers. They have more leftovers than what they had when they began! All four gospels mention the 12 baskets. It’s thought that the 12 baskets are symbolic of Jesus giving provision to the 12 tribes of Israel. Final two verses of the passage. We see the response to the miracle which Jesus has done.
Verse 14: When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
Verse 14 is very significant. Remember what I quoted earlier this morning. Where we left off last week in John 5.
Jesus said in John 5:46: if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.
And then that leads into this miracle. He tells the pharisees that Moses wrote of him. People see this miracle and say This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!
They’re not simply suggesting that Jesus is a prophet here. They’re saying that he is THE prophet. In Deuteronomy 18, Moses points to a future prophet who will be greater than he. Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—
The miraculous sign which the Lord Jesus has done in the wilderness in providing the bread clearly makes the people think to Moses. Some see him in fulfillment of this great Old Testament prophecy. Jesus feeding the multitudes here is that meaningful.
In Luke’s account, after Peter sees this miracle, Jesus interacts with Peter. Luke 9:20: who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
This event was meaningful.
And so they see what Jesus has done and they think that Jesus is the prophet. In the first century, there were some who believed the prophet would be the Messiah. But they only had it partially correct. As we will see at the end of the passage.
Verse 15: Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Again, there were sentiments of insurrection in the community. Jesus has a small army who are now following him. Kari and I have been watching a show called Poldark and it’s set in the late 1700s. And in one of the episodes, several people who are loyal to Poldark plan to burn down the estate of one of his rivals. But Poldark doesn’t want them to do this, and certainly not on his behalf. And so he has to intervene and stop the riot.
For these people who have their hearts set on Jesus becoming their king, they too could have been apt to lead an uprising against their local authorities. That’s not the kind of kingdom Jesus came to usher in. Indeed, Jesus is a king. But Jesus did not come to bring a kingdom of military or political conquest. He came to bring in his kingdom through dying and rising from the dead.
The crowd was right. Jesus is the ultimate prophet of whom Moses wrote. But he’s more than a prophet. He is a king, but more than a king. He is the king of kings. In the first exodus, the Israelites were freed from oppression under Egyptian authority and a new life in the Promised Land. In the new exodus, Jesus came to bring freedom from the penalty of sin and eternal life with him in heaven.
So since Jesus will not build his kingdom on humanity’s terms, he goes alone further up the mountain. The signs that Jesus does point to deeper realities beyond themselves. It’s not primarily a story about bread. It’s primarily a story about the gospel. We’ve seen throughout the passage that it alludes to the Passover and the Exodus.
We’ve seen that in the time of year when this miracle happened. The original Passover meal was eaten by the Israelites who had to leave Egypt in haste. They were pilgrims going into the desert in pursuit of God’s Promised Land. Here Jesus is presiding over new assembly of Israelites who are again in a rural area: a new wilderness, hearing the Christ authoritatively proclaiming the Word of God.
We see it in Jesus providing food for the people. While the Israelites were in the wilderness, God provided manna from heaven. As with the manna, God provided what the people needed. As I said, it’s not primarily a story about bread. It’s a miraculous sign that displays the power of Christ to hungry people and is meant to point beyond that to the gospel of Christ to those who are spiritually hungry and need the sustenance which only Jesus provides.
Jesus came to fulfill the hunger of the human soul for a savior and deliverer and all who come to hi he will nourish with the gospel of salvation. On this Passover, Jesus provides the greater manna because he would become the greater Passover lamb who was without blemish and led to slaughter, the lamb whose blood was shed for the redemption of God’s people. And because he’s the greater lamb, he’s also the greater redeemer of Israel, the greater Moses who leads the people into the Promised Land.