Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5 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?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 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.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
In his commentary on John, New Testament scholar NT Wright compares the Gospel of John to a good detective novel. When you read a detective novel, you soon realize that details given throughout the text that seem unimportant as you first encounter them were included by the wise author as a clue. It is when you are able to read the entire story and step back to reflect on it that you realize that the red hat or the tune whistled revealed an important detail that could easily have been overlooked.
John is written in much the same way. As you read John you may notice that he gives a lot of little details that seem insignificant. What kind of loaves? Barley loves. How much was left over? 12 baskets.
John was a Jewish man writing for a Jewish audience. So both John and his original readers would have picked up on these clues. For the original hearers, this was not some secret message. It was pretty obvious. But for us 21st-century readers, we need to slow down and ask just what John was trying to communicate.
Let’s start by looking at verse 4, which says, “The Jewish Passover Festival was near.” That seems like a totally random thing to say because it doesn’t really hold any significance for the rest of the passage. Why note that the Passover was near?
The first reason that this is important is because Jesus is always doing something important on or around the Passover in John’s gospel. Jesus gets a bit ornery at Passover. Everyone knows that Jesus was 33-years-old when he died, but can you tell me where the Bible says so? We are told that Jesus began his ministry (around) the age of 30. John records three different Passovers during Jesus’s public ministry, which is one reason why we say that Jesus’s ministry lasted about three years. The first time John mentions the Passover is in chapter two. Jesus comes into Jerusalem, as was the custom for all Jewish men during the Passover, goes to the temple, and finds a number of deceitful things going on. Jesus doesn’t like it, so he flips over a few tables and drives out those who are making a killing by exchanging money and selling animals for sacrifice. He also makes some very strong statements, like calling the temple, “my Father’s house,” and saying that you can tear down this temple and he will rebuild it in three days. And everyone says, If you are that fast, I’ve got a few home improvement projects at my house for you to have a look at!
The third time that John mentions the Passover is when Jesus enters Jerusalem for what will be the last time, on Palm Sunday. Remember that Jesus and the disciples gather in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover meal together. It is in this room the Jesus give the instructions for a method of remembering him and celebrating the new covenant, which we call the Lord’s Supper. So when we read in verse four that the Passover was near, we need to be aware that Jesus is about to do something significant.
This reference to the Passover is more than just a sign of Jesus’s impending orneriness. It also draws our attention back to an event that will help us understand today’s passage. The Passover meal was a celebration of God delivering the people out of slavery in Egypt. The story goes that the people cross the Red Sea, escape Pharaoh’s army, celebrate for a bit, and then realize that they are out in the dessert. There is no water. There is no food. The people start to say, Maybe we didn’t think this one through.
The leader of the Israelites, Moses, cries out to God, and God makes provisions for them to eat and drink. The people are given meat, quail, in the evening. And they are given bread, called ‘manna,’ in the mornings. One of the interesting things about the manna is that they are only to collect as much as they will eat in one day. If you try to keep some until the next day it will be filled with maggots.
Moses was the provider. He provided the Israelites with the nourishment that they needed to survive.
Later in the New Testament there is a story of Jesus asking his disciples what the people are saying about him. “Who do they say that I am?” asks Jesus. Peter tells Jesus that some say that he is John the Baptist, returned from the dead. Others say Elijah. Still others say that he is the Prophet. What is that a reference to? Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”
Let’s keep all of this in mind as we consider the passage from John chapter 6.
In John 6 we find Jesus ministering to a large group of people, 5,000 men, not counting women and children, we are told in other accounts. Jesus tests Philip, asking him where they can buy enough bread to feed all these hungry people. Philip is like, Dude, I haven’t had a real job in over a year. To feed all of these people would cost ½ year’s wages.
The disciple Andrew finds some food. One boy has brought a lunch from home consisting of five barley loaves and two fish. These loaves were probably flat, like pita bread, or maybe a biscuit. Definitely not a big loaf like we might buy at a bakery today. And the fish were probably similar to what we call sardines. Fresh fish were a luxury, and with no refrigeration, pickling was a common preservation practice. The reason that it is significant that the boy had barley loaves is because barley was a grain used exclusively by the poor. Barley is dense and filled with fiber. It will keep you regular, if you can swallow it.
This poor boy who didn’t know where his next meal might come from gave all that he had to Jesus.
But Jesus fed all 5,000 plus people out of this one boy’s meal. And we are told that at the end Jesus had the leftovers collected, which came out to be 12 baskets full. Remember, the details matter. The number 12 is intended to call John’s readers back to the 12 tribes of Israel, the people God freed from slavery in Israel.
My friends, this is indeed a story about a miracle in the feeding of the 5,000. But what John has done here is to tell the story to show that Jesus is greater than Moses. In verse 14, John tells us, “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” Surely this is the prophet like Moses that Moses said to expect! But Moses never gave bread and meat at the same time. The food that Moses provided was only good for 24. Jesus collected the leftovers for later. Yes, Moses saved the people from Egypt, and he saved them from starving in the wilderness. But Jesus would save them from starvation in this wilderness and he would go on to save them from their own sins.
John shows Jesus is not only a prophet like Moses; Jesus is greater than Moses. And in the next few verses we will find six “I am” statements from Jesus. “I am the bread of life.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And in the Hebrew, “I am” is the name that God uses when Moses asks God what his name is. “Tell them ‘I am’ has sent you.”
John six is not just a story about a miracle. It is a story about the Lordship of Jesus.
It is vastly important to know Jesus as Savior, but we must also know him as Lord. To know Jesus as Savior is to want something from him. I’m using the word “savior” in the broad sense here. Later in verse 26 Jesus will criticize his disciples, saying, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” Those disciples were looking for someone to save them from their hunger, but not looking for someone to serve, someone to worship, someone to call Lord.
I said a few weeks ago that I am getting really tired of all of these mass shootings. Unfortunately, we have now seen an additional two mass shootings since the church shooting in Charleston, SC. A little more than a week ago a shooter killed five men at a military recruitment center and a naval base in Chattanooga, TN. Then this past week a man opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, LA. I heard on the news that we are now experiencing a mass-shooting event every two weeks on average.
These events tend to divide people along idealistic lines. Many of us think that we know what should be done, but in all honest, we are all lost and scared. When we go to a movie, to school, to church, we expect to be safe. When that safety is taken from us, we don’t always act as we should. Our primary motivator become fear.
On Tuesday I loaded my children in the car to run some errands along Richmond Road. As I was driving home we saw a man walking along the sidewalk carrying a short-barreled rifle in his hands in front of the military recruiting center in Staunton. I had heard that this was happening around the country, but I guess I didn’t really assume that it would happen here. The idea is that citizens are guarding these recruiting centers after the shooting in Tennessee because the military personnel are not permitted to have firearms in the buildings. And thanks to the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, it is legal to carry a loaded handgun or rifle in public.
The recruiting center in Staunton is small, and if you don’t know where it is, it is pretty easy to miss it. I think that the chances of this office being hit by local terrorists is about as good as me winning the lottery while being struck by lightning. And these armed citizens know that. But that’s not the point. The point is that they want to show respect for the recruits and recruiters. They want them to feel safe. And they don’t want to have any recruits scared off by the potential of an attack.
I get why they are doing it, and as you can probably assume, I think that this approach is outside of what Jesus calls us to do. I think a more Christ-like response would be to lay down your weapon and stand guard unarmed. A more Christ-like response would be to be willing to take the bullet for the recruits.
So I have some theological concerns with the whole idea of civilians guarding the recruiting centers. But even worse in my mind is the method being used by this gentleman in Staunton. If a person wants to sit outside a recruiting center with a pistol in a holster while they watch the building, that’s one thing. But the gentleman in Staunton was holding his loaded rifle as he paced back and forth. When he turned, the barrel of the gun pointed either toward the recruiting center or toward the road.
I understand that he has training and that this isn’t the first time he has handled a gun. But accidents happen. A holstered gun would shoot down into the ground if accidentally discharged. When you hold a loaded rifle, even with the safety on, turning back and forth, I believe you present more of a threat to the motorists passing by than the recruiting center was ever under.
And just to make me angrier still, in the local newspaper article about this volunteer guard, he is quoted as saying that this “isn’t rocket science.” He is looking for men of middle-eastern descent and young men driving late-model cars. Because any 20-year-olds driving a 2015 Hyundai should be considered a threat to military recruits?
I thought to myself, “Sir, you may know Jesus as Savior, but you don’t know him as Lord.” You want Jesus for what he can give you, loaves and fish, forgiveness of sins, but aren’t interested in actually following him.
Then I decided to read the comments that were piling up on the web edition of the newspaper article on our city’s volunteer guard.
The gentleman guarding the recruiting center was getting a lot of affirmation. People were saying “Thanks” and calling him a true patriot. I was getting even more frustrated as I read so many people offering their appreciation. I wanted to say, “Stop it! You’re just encouraging him! He is putting people in danger.”
I then read what seemed to me at the time to be some people bragging about how good they were. One woman boasted, “My family brought him dinner!” Several people noted that they stopped and gave him a bottle of water.
When I read that comment, a light switch went on in my head. This man wasn’t the only one who knew Jesus as Savior but failed to follow him as Lord. I realized that my response was not Christ-like, either.
When someone boasted that they had taken him a bottle of water, my mind went to the scripture that says “If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink.” I don’t think of this man as my enemy, but we clearly have some differing opinions.
A Christ-like response from me to the man carrying a loaded rifle with 40 rounds of ammunition is not to criticize him in my head, to my wife, or on Facebook. A Christ-like response would be to go up to him and say, “I maybe don’t agree with you, but I love you as a brother. Would you like a bottle of water? Can I get you something to eat?” A Christ-like response would be to offer to stand there, without a gun, and say, “I’ll take this shift if you want to run home for a break, or even just go to the restroom.”
In our scripture for today, who saw Jesus as both Savior and Lord? Who recognized that not only could Jesus give them something, but that Jesus was also the one to whom we are to give our ultimate allegiance? It was the little boy. It was the dirt-poor little boy with a couple of pieces of flat bread and some pickled sardines who offered to give all that he had to Jesus, not knowing that Jesus would return more than he could ever imagine.
Jesus is Savior AND Lord. It is really easy to count on the first part and neglect the second. We all want, we all need something from Jesus. And he gives in abundance. Let us not forget that Jesus is Lord as well.