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Our passage this morning, John 6:1-15, is the beginning of a much larger story. We have before us the feeding of over 5000 people. Scripture says 5000 men, which would imply that you’ve got many, many more people than that actually there. But it just begins with that, because we move on to Jesus walking on water and then the bulk of chapter 6 is about this discourse on the bread of life. 72 verses make up this whole story. And we’ve got to have an idea of what is happening to understand the first 15. There’s a recurring theme in John’s gospel that when Jesus gives a sign or some significant statements, it is more than what meets the eye. So in chapter 2, he said to the Jewish leaders, “I will rebuild the temple in three days”. And their response–three days? It took 46 years to build this temple! In chapter 3 to Nicodemus Jesus says “to have eternal life, you must be born again.” Nicodemus responds–born again? Am I to go back into my mother’s womb? Or chapter four, the woman at the well. Jesus says, “I can give you living water.” Her response–you don’t even have a bucket!
And today we read about Jesus miraculously giving the crowds bread, and their response reveals their expectation–you are the one who can keep our stomachs full. But as is typical with Jesus here in John’s Gospel this story of bread is more than meets the eye. Just as rebuilding the temple wasn’t about bricks and mortar, just as being born again is not about re-entering your mother’s womb, just like living water is not drawn from a well, the multiplying of fish and bread is not about satisfying stomachs.
And this Jesus is not who the crowd is asking for. He is not who the crowd is expecting. There’s more than meets the eye here, and if we’re honest with ourselves, this Jesus that we meet in John’s Gospel is not who we have asked for or expected either. Let’s take a look this morning at John 6:1-15, and perhaps we will encounter the Jesus that we did not ask for and the Jesus that we never expected.
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.
What is the setting. Well, Jesus has just had a pretty heated exchange with the Jewish leaders. He, God forbid, healed somebody on the Sabbath day. That sort of work was not acceptable to the Pharisees and so they had this heated exchange, and then we see verse 1: “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” He left, he went around to the other side and a large crowd was following him. Why? Because they saw the signs that he was doing to the sick.
Now, let there be no doubt Jesus was healing the sick. He was performing these signs precisely for this reason, that the whole world and that these crowds would expect and know that he is something different. That he is potentially the Messiah, the king. He wants them to know that and to think that; and yet these crowds do not fully understand what it means. So when we read that they’re following Jesus because of the signs, its kind of like a a warning signal. They don’t quite get it. They don’t quite understand. They’re not following Jesus around because of who he is; they’re following him around because of what he can do for them. You see the difference? It’s not who he is. It’s what he can do for them.
To be sure, almost all of them, over 5000 people, will have deserted Jesus by the end of the chapter. Verse 66: “After this”– after this hard sayings about Jesus, after Jesus says I am the bread of life. You must eat my flesh to have part of me–“many of the crowd turned back and no longer walked with Him.” So Jesus said to the 12, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Philip Is Tested
Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 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?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
The crowd is whittled down from 5000 to 12, but for right now we’ve got more than 5000. What happens? Well, first of all, there’s a bit of a test. It could be an innocent enough question. Philip is a local boy. He’s from around these parts. Philip, you’re the expert. Where are we going to buy food for these people to eat?
At the same time it’s a pretty surprising. I’m thinking if I’m Philip, I would say, first of all, why is that our responsibility? And secondly, over 5000 people?
Take a moment to remember Philip. He met Jesus in chapter 1 of John’s Gospel. Jesus walked by Philip and he he looked at him and said “Philip, follow me.” and Philip said okay, and he got up and followed Jesus. Then Philip went to Nathaniel and said, “Nathaniel, we have found the one written about in the law of Moses and written about in the prophets. We have found the one. Come and see.”
So this is indeed a test to see if Philip believed that Jesus is who Philip confessed him to be. Does Philip believe that he is the one written about by Moses in the law and the prophets? “Philip, where will we get the food?”
Philip has no answer. It’s not happening. Jesus, it can’t happen.
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”
At this point a little boy comes forward–only in the innocence of childhood, would he be able to come forward– and he says, “Look, I’ve got these loaves and fish” thinking that perhaps, maybe, they can make a dent in the hunger of the crowd. So Jesus asked the crowd to sit down and he takes the bread and he takes the fish and he starts passing it out and when all is said and done, when the crowd is full, there’s still enough to put leftovers in the fridge. 12 baskets full of leftovers. A miracle of the first order. Another sign of Jesus’s glory. And guess what? The crowd recognizes that immediately; but recognizing a miracle and understanding who Jesus is are two very different things.
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 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.
If you’ve got an ESV Bible you’ll notice that the P is capitalized in “Prophet.” This is the capital P prophet who is to come into the world. The crowd sees two things about Jesus:
- They perceived that he is the great prophet, long foretold by Moses.
- They perceived that he is the long awaited King.
Both of those statements are right, but they don’t know what it means.
Jesus is a prophet
Back in Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses is preaching to the Israelites on the plains of Moab. They’re about to cross the Jordan River and enter the promised land and Moses is not going with them and so he’s reminding them about God’s law and about God’s salvation from the Egyptians. He’s reminding them of all the God has done and called them to be, and he says in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord will raise up for you a prophet like me. He will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from among your brothers–it is to him you shall listen.” Moses is saying I can’t come with you, but God will raise someone up.
And God does. He gives them Joshua, the bold and faithful leader who leads them into the Promised Land, and they conquer and inhabit the the land that God had promised to them so long ago through the patriarch Abraham.
At the end of Deuteronomy they’re reflecting on this time, and the Scriptures conclude there has not arisen a prophet since Israel like Moses. Joshua was great. Samuel was great. Elijah and Elisha, they were great. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Daniel, they were great prophets–but they weren’t like Moses.
Here we have this great expectation that God is sending a prophet like Moses, and here’s Jesus on the banks of the Sea of Galilee giving them bread just like Moses in the wilderness. He’s the capital P prophet like Moses, or at least they thought he was. They were partially right.
You see, Jesus is the prophet like Moses, but he’s so much more. He’s a truer and greater prophet than even Moses was. If you skipped ahead to verses 32 and 33 of chapter 6 you would read this: “Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven.” Moses didn’t make that manna. Moses didn’t hand it out. It was God. Yahweh. He gave you the bread. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. And then Jesus just got them thinking. I gave you bread, I turned those five loaves of bread into enough to fill your bellies with leftovers. That was me. It will go on to say not only did I give you bread; I am the bread. I’m the bread of life, and unless you partake in me, unless you eat my bread, unless you eat my flesh, you will have no life in you. Yes, he’s a prophet like Moses and so much more.
Jesus is a king
The other perception they had about Jesus was that he is the King. Jesus figured out they were about to take him by force and make him into a king, so he retreated to the mountain. It had long been expected in Jesus’s day that God’s king would return to Israel and he would restore his people. He would overthrow the Romans, he would give the nation of Israel, the people of God, the land that was promised to them, and they would be sovereign over their own territory.
Now, to be sure: Jesus is the King. He says as much to Pontius Pilot in chapter 18. When he’s arrested, Pilot says are you the King, right? And Jesus says, you don’t really even know. My kingdom is not of this world. I’m the king over you and over everything else.
But Jesus did not want them to make him king, and if we read ahead again, we’ll see precisely why. Look at verse 26: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.'” You’re seeking me; you want me to be your king–that’s true, and that’s good. But why do you want me to be your king? It’s not because of who I am. It’s not because I’m your Savior, Your Messiah, it’s not because I’m the precious son of God. No, you want a full belly, and you know I can give it.
They sought him because of the bread; because he could fill their stomachs, he could heal their sick, he could overthrow their oppressors. They wanted a king who could provide for their most coveted desires. They did not expect, they did not want, they did not even think they needed anything else.
To whom shall we go
What are we to make of this passage? What are we to make of the testing of Philip, of these crowds not recognizing Jesus for who he truly was? Might I suggest to you this morning that we find ourselves in very much the same place as Philip and the crowds. Many of us have professed faith in Christ, and still that faith is tested, day in and day out. The question for us is the question for Philip: is Jesus really who we claim him to be?
It’s easy to say, Oh, Jesus, you are my Lord and my Savior. Do you really believe that? Is he really the Lord that can feed over 5000 with five loaves and two fish? Is he really the Messiah who turned water into wine, the Messiah who commanded to Lazarus, come out? Is he really the Savior who died on a cross? Is he really the king who was raised from the dead?
This is a challenging test for us. In the midst of trials, persecution, oppression. I know you and I know what you’re struggling with. I know what you’re going through, and I know you would like nothing more than for Jesus to step in and take that away from you. But is it enough that he is the bread of life? Court cases, sickness, financial loss, family mourning–can we believe in the midst of all of this that Jesus is who He says He is, that Jesus is who we claim him to be?
Others of us, perhaps the same ones like me who are being tested, are also tempted to seek Jesus out because of what he does and not because of who he is. Like the crowds, we want full bellies, satisfied lives, blessing, abundance, prosperity, healing. And instead Jesus offers us himself, the bread of life.
Abundance, blessing, healing–these are all good things and things we should pray for, but sometimes they don’t come and we don’t get them. Are we going to leave Jesus because what he offers isn’t what we think we need? Will His grace be sufficient for us?
In either case, whether our faith is being tested, whether we’re seeking Jesus because we think he can do something for us, we’ve got to remember he does not come to give us bread. He is the bread.
This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
That’s the promise of the gospel, there in verse 50. It is my flesh nailed to a bloody cross so that your sins might be taken away and so that you might be forgiven. Jesus Christ was crucified that we might be crucified with Him. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, that we might know life in the kingdom of God. Jesus is the bread. Jesus gave his life for the world, not for our prosperity, not for our desires, but for our souls, and for our lives.
In the midst of life’s challenges that is a hard saying, and it was hard for the crowd. All of them except for 12 deserted Jesus. It’s hard for us today; and yet it is true, unless we eat of the living bread of Christ, we have no life in us.
So the saying is hard. The test is challenging. Jesus is unexpected. And still he looks at us, and he asked us even today: Do you want to go away as well? Have you had enough? Is this Jesus not for you?
It’s my prayer that we would respond like Simon Peter. “To whom shall we go?” It is Christ who has the words of eternal life.