I assume that even the most extrovert among us have had occasions when we’ve sought out time on our own? Occasions when we’ve sought out time to rest and recuperate. Times we’ve wanted space to simply think or pray?
Perhaps at home you’ve tried to carve out time to read a good book, watch a favourite film or catch up on lost sleep? Or on holiday, you’ve sought out a secluded beach, a quiet cafe or a peaceful park – a place in which to relax, top up your tan or recharge your batteries.
Jesus and his disciples had similar hopes at the start of today’s passage in John. Jesus and his disciples had been preaching and performing miracles across Palestine. Their ministry had attracted huge crowds, and had also drawn them into confrontation with the Jewish religious authorities.
So it’s no surprise that Jesus and his closest friends wanted some space. Some safe, quiet time alone. Time in which to rest, reflect and pray. And so in verse 1 today we’re told they headed to the “far shore of the Sea of Galilee”.
But as often happens in life, things don’t always work out as planned!
- At work, the phone may ring, a colleague may come to speak to us, or an urgent email may pop onto our computer screen.
- At home, our time alone may be disturbed by a knock on the front door or the ring of our telephone
- And on holiday, a noisy coach party or a group of children may arrive at our secluded restaurant or descend on our previously peaceful park!
For Jesus and his disciples, their hopes for a quiet time together were dashed by the arrival of a “great crowd” of people wanting to meet with Christ. In verse 10 John tells us that there were 5,000 men in the crowd, not to mention women and children. They had seen the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick, and doubtless wanted to see more. His healing power had made him a first-century celebrity.
But unlike us when we get interrupted, Jesus didn’t get irritated, angry or upset when his peace and quiet was distrubed.
Instead, Christ took the crowd’s arrival as an opportunity to perform one of his most famous and significant miracles. A miracle which appears in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). A miraculous sign that points us to who Jesus is and why he came. In short, today’s miracle points us to Jesus as the bread of Heaven. It highlight’s Christ’s capacity to satisfy our deepest needs - to nourish our souls not just our bodies.
Today is harvest Sunday, our annual opportunity to give thanks to God for his good gifts to us. Surely his greatest gift to us is the gift of life. A gift that enables us to experience the world he has made, and to enjoy a relationship with him and with one another.
But of course God’s gift of life wouldn’t last long without his gift of food. As we all know well, food and nourishment is essential to life. The human body can last three minutes without air, three days without water, and only three weeks without food. So we give thanks today for the daily food and drink that sustains our life and keeps hunger at bay.
But in our passage today, the large crowd was struggling to keep hunger at bay. Having followed Jesus up onto a mountainside, there was nothing nearby for them to eat. It was springtime, with plenty of grass we’re told – great for sheep, but not so good for scores of hungry people!
Jesus’ initial reaction to the shortage of food was to test his disciples. Because in verse 5 he asks his friend Philip: “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
The disciples should, of course, have immediately asked for Jesus’ help, trusting in his divine power to assist them. But like so many of us, Philip and the other disciple thought they had to go it alone. They thought they had to rely on their own resources to overcome the problem they faced. They ignored what Jesus might have to offer.
Don’t we often do the same? As Christians, don’t we often think we have to cope on our own, and forget that God wants to help us and guide us in every situation? God is always ready to help us, if only we would ask him in prayer and consult his words in Scripture.
In our passage today, the disciples could only find five loaves and two fish by their own initiative. On their own, the disciples lacked enough resources to feed such an enormous crowd. In verse 7 we are told that they would have needed about eight month’s wages to buy enough food for everyone. They had no chance of getting enough money together in such short time. And even if they did find the money, there was nowhere to buy food - they were half-way up a mountainside, miles from the nearest first century newsagent or supermarket!
Only a miracle could prevent the crowd going home hungry that night. The situation was beyond humans’ capacity to solve. Divine intervention was desperately needed to feed the crowd - and Christ’s compassion meant he was more than willing to do so. And so in verses 10 to 11 we read that Jesus instructed the crowd to sit, gave thanks to his Father for the loaves and fishes, before telling his disciples to distribute them among the crowd.
What happened next was unprecedented in the life of Jesus. This was the first miracle in which he created something entirely new out of nothing. For once, Jesus didn’t simply repair, renew or transform something or someone that was already there. This time Jesus made something new out of thin air, something out of nothing. There was bread straight from heaven, bypassing any baker! Quite simply amazing!
Creating ‘something out of nothing’ may have been new in the earthly ministry of Jesus, but it was not something new for God. In the book of Exodus we read that the Lord provided bread from heaven, called “manna”, for the Israelites as they walked through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. And earlier still, Genesis tells us that God created the whole cosmos out of nothing.
So by creating food for the hungry, Jesus was declaring himself to be more than just a prophet, priest or a king. He was showing himself to be the same God who had once fed Israel in the desert - and had once called the cosmos into being. No wonder the opening chapter of John’s Gospel calls Jesus the one “through whom all things were made.”
In verse 35 of John chapter 6 we are given Jesus’ own interpretation of today’s miracle. He says that he had fed the five thousand to show us that he is the “Bread of Life” sent from his Father in Heaven. Sent not merely to fill the stomachs of a large crowd two thousand years ago, but to nourish us spiritually today as well.
In a world of bereavement, death and despair, Jesus brings hope, healing and new life. Christ can completely satisfy our deepest needs - our needs for security, pleasure, significance and love. For example
- Christ’s resurrection means he can offer us security forever in the face of death;
- Jesus can give us the joy of becoming beloved children of God;
- And Christ can give our lives eternal significance and purpose if we choose to trust and follow him today.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly taught that he is able to provide food that removes every kind of hunger, and can offer us living water that eradicates all types of thirst. Today’s feeding miracle was a visual demonstration, public evidence, of the truth of these claims. Proof that Christ can deliver what he promises us.
At the end of today’s passage, in verse 12 we are told that all the crowd was fed, and everyone had enough. Jesus’ generosity was so great, in fact, that his disciples were able to collect twelve baskets of left over, uneaten food. Jesus had transformed the equivalent of a child’s picnic into enough food to feed a football stadium full of hungry people! Christ had shown his capacity to satisfy every human need. He had shown himself to be the Son of God who sends us our daily bread and can save us spritually forever.
So whatever troubles or trials you may be facing today, remember Jesus cares for you and has the capacity to help you. The challenge for us is to continue being fed by Christ as we read his Word in Scripture, nourished as we speak with him in prayer and satisfied as we share in his Supper together. Let’s all feed on him by faith!