Today as we continue on in our trek through John’s gospel, we come to John 6, one of the longest chapters in the Bible. Particularly our passage today is John 6:1-15, where we find the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Without a doubt this is quite a wonder. In fact it’s the only miracle of Jesus, besides the resurrection, that’s mentioned in all four gospels. Therefore, it demands our eager and attentive consideration. So people of God, follow along as I read the Word of God. John 6:1-15…
Father, what we know not, teach us, what we have not, give us, what we are not, make us, for Your Son’s sake, amen.
This passage is made up of five scenes, let’s take them one at a time.
Scene 1: The Setting (v1-4)
As chapter 5 ends and chapter 6 begins the apostle John tells us the setting has changed from Jerusalem back to Galilee, specifically as v1 says, Jesus is now by the Sea of Galilee. We also see in v1 that this sea was known by another name. Very early on in the 1st century the ruler Herod Antipas dedicated a city on the banks of this large lake to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar. So for the older members of John’s audience reading his gospel, John uses the seas older name, the Sea of Tiberias. Now, though we’ve only seen a handful of Jesus’ miracles so far in John’s gospel, we read in v2 that due to the multitude of miraculous signs and wonders He kept performing for the sick, a large crowd followed Him. Remember the end of John’s gospel, 20:30-31, tells us there are many miracles of Jesus John did not record in his account, but those he did record are for the express purpose of helping us see that Jesus truly was and remains to be the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name. So there is something of the glory of Christ to see here in this miracle. v3-4 conclude the details for the setting by letting us know that during the Passover celebration Jesus went up on a mountain overlooking the Sea with His disciples, most likely to teach them. John calls it ‘the mountain’ in v3 either because Jesus and His disciples often met there or because it was a well known mountain in the region. Either way it had to be a great view. High up on the hill, beholding the slope below leading all the way to the vast lake. That they were meeting there was probably meant to be something of a retreat. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of busy Jerusalem during Passover. Into this restful retreat comes an event, a sign, a wonder that puts God’s full and inexhaustible sufficiency and our shallow and frail insufficiency on display. This is what all these five scenes in this passage are getting at and seeking to show us. With the end of v4 the setting has been laid out for us, and with the beginning of v5 we see the grand event about to begin.
Scene 2: Christ’s Test (v5-6)
v5 tells us that as Jesus and His disciples are on the mountain retreating comes a large crowd eager to see this One who does wonders. v10 tells us this was not a small crowd, it was 5,000 men strong. Adding women and children into the mix you have to imagine near 20,000 people were headed out to see Jesus. No doubt some of them have indeed witnessed His miracles for themselves and wanted to see more, others of them have only heard of them and wanted to see them firsthand, some may have wanted their own sicknesses healed, still others probably followed the mass of people headed in that direction simply out of curiosity as to why so many were headed up the mountain. So here comes a crowd of roundabout 20,000 people and Jesus turns to Philip and asks “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Philip would have been the natural choice to ask because John 1:44 says he’s from this area, so if anyone’s to know where to buy large amounts of food, he would be the one to know. But in v6 we learn of Jesus’ true intentions in asking Philip this question. Jesus didn’t want to know the logistical details of how He and His disciples were going to feed this multitude. This was not His reason for asking Philip the question. Also, do not think He asked Philip out of ignorance either, He knew exactly what He would do. And even further, do not think He only was testing Philip, for all the disciples were present. By testing the one Jesus was in a real sense testing them all.
Put yourself in Philip’s shoes. There had to some level of pressure to be put on the spot by Jesus at that moment. 20,000 people coming out of the city to see Him and He asks Philip how they’re going to be fed? Does this surprise you that Jesus would do this? That He would intentionally put Philip on the spot and move him into a stressful moment? Is this how God loves His people? Purposely bringing stressful situations to them? Recall how God tested Abraham and Israel and many others throughout Scripture. Were these easy and simple seasons of life for them? Of course not. Abraham was called to leave everything he knew and go off into a land he’d never seen. Israel cried out to God in the midst of their suffering in Egypt under Pharaoh and their sufferings increased. God did not test them with these seasons to find out things about them that He did not know, but to reveal to them things they did not know about themselves. So we can and should pause here and ask – why does God put us into various tests and trials? Again, not to learn something, He’s omniscient, all knowing, He never learns or grows in His knowledge. So why test? He places us in these moments so that we would learn…about ourselves and about Him. That we lack what we need most, and that He has and gives what we need most. That Jesus intended to teach these things to Philip (and intends to teach us these things in our tests) shows us the testing of Christ is a gift of grace to for our good and ultimately for God’s glory.
Scene 3: Man’s Unbelief (v7-9)
This third scene in v7-9 shows us not only Philip’s answer to the one question in v6 but Andrew’s answer as well. And as we’ll see, both answers are lacking and reveal unbelief. In v7 Philip answers Jesus by saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” This term denarii was a days wage in their day so two hundred denarii would have be wages from two hundred days or about six to seven months normal salary for a common worker. In effect Philip is saying, ‘Half a year’s salary wouldn’t be enough to feed just a crumb to this many people!’ Notice, rather than answering Jesus’ question Philip responds with only bare visible facts. He just blurts out the obvious. Other places in Scripture reveal similar things of Philip. Most notably in John 14 when Jesus is teaching the disciples some enormous realities about the relationship between the Father and Himself, that we can know the Father by knowing Him, Philip replies in John 14:8 saying, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Philip clearly was a man who wanted solid visible evidence. Even though he had been present at Jesus’ other miracles, Christ’s test here in v5 reveals his unbelief here in v7. If his eyes cannot see it, he will not believe it. Every family has someone in it like this, every workplace has someone in it like this, and so does every church. I think at various times in life we all resemble Philip here in our need for visible evidence. Living only by what we can see rather than living by what we know God is able to do. Not that we shouldn’t think practically or prudently, but when we do not have faith beyond what’s visible to us, we do not honor God who see’s further and knows more than us. Do you think Abraham felt God’s call on his life made logistical sense? Do you think Israel understood why their sorrows multiplied when they cried out to God in their slavery? Absolutely not. Philip shows his weakness here, and in his weakness we see much of our own.
And next, though unasked by Jesus, Andrew chimes in with his own answer to the question in v9 saying, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish…” At first we may think Andrew’s answer is much better than Philip’s. We may think that Andrew remembered how Jesus turned the water into fine wine, remembered how Jesus healed the nobleman’s son, and remembered how Jesus had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and then looked around and saw the large crowd nearing and knew these loaves in the Lord’s hands could make a meal for them all. But his whole reply shows he wasn’t thinking of these things. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” One commentator describes Andrew’s response like this, “Andrew was very much like Philip…Andrew simply looked at the resources and decided there was no way to solve the problem…Anyone with common sense could see that. But…there is a time in life when common sense is very close to stupidity.” None of the other disciples offered any other solution to Christ’s question, so it would appear that they all believed nothing could be done for this crowd. Do you see yourself here in Philip and Andrew? Do the problems you see in front of you seem larger than God? Here in Philip and Andrew we see who we are. The unbelief of man that lingers in all men reveals the depth of the weakness of men. Unbelief is truly the root of all sin. Do we trust in who God is and in what He has said to us? Or do we trust only in what we can see? This unbelief is deep but something else is deeper. To see it, we move onto the next scene.
Scene 4: Christ’s Solution (v10-13)
In v10 Jesus immediately replies, “Have the people sit down.” So they sat down, all of them. In v11 Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, and distributed them to the entirety of the crowd, such that they ate “…as much as they wanted.” In v12-13 the disciples gather up what remained and all the leftovers filled 12 baskets. Some think that 12 baskets remained is an allusion to the moment when the 12 tribes of Israel were fed by God with manna or ‘bread from heaven’ in the wilderness. It is hard to know if John is making such a connection, but we do indeed see here that the God who provided for His people in the Old Covenant is the same God here who provides this meal for the massive crowd on this mountain. In this sense, we’re introduced to the one large theme throughout the rest of John 6. Jesus feeds the five thousand here, He will soon reveal Himself to be the bread of life, and more so He will son reveal Himself to be bread of heaven that we must eat. So all of John 6 has one massive point – God miraculously shows Himself to be sufficient in the face of man’s insufficiency, meeting every need of His people through the our Lord Jesus.
So that’s what we’ll be seeing the weeks ahead of us throughout John 6. But for us now in v10-13, let’s narrow in to see a grand reality. These loaves in the Lord’s hands could indeed make a meal for them all. I deeply want you to be encouraged here Church. Barley loaves with a few small fish was a common meal for the poor in this culture. Barley bread was so course that the fish served not so much as a side dish but as an aid to soften the bread to make it edible. That Jesus takes a little poor boy’s lunch and turns it into a meal for 20,000 people teaches us that nothing is too hard for the Lord and that what is common in man’s hands becomes marvelous in the Lord’s hands.
Of this Charles Spurgeon says, “Is it not a wonderful thing that Christ, the living God, should associate Himself with our feebleness, with our lack of talent, with our ignorance, with our little faith? And yet He does so! If we are not associated with Him, we can do nothing; but when we come into living touch with Him, we can do all things.” Perhaps you think your minds can’t comprehend the deep things of God, be reminded that with God the mind can be renewed and expanded. Perhaps you think your heart is too cold and messed up by sin to change, be reminded that with God the heart can be warmed and transformed. Perhaps you think you’ve said things that can’t be unsaid or erased, be reminded that with God the tongue can be tamed and trained.
Perhaps you think you’re too small, too weak, too sinful, too ignorant, too unknown, too old, or too young to do anything for God’s great glory. The good news for you and the good news for me today is that we are too small, too weak, too sinful, to ignorant. We are all of these things and more! All of us are worse than we think we are. Do not think highly of yourself Church, in a very real sense your cakes are barley and only five and your fish are small only two. But in Christ God has accepted and loved us with an everlasting, never giving up, always and forever love. This common lunch was not only given to Jesus, it was accepted by Jesus, blessed by Jesus, improved by Jesus, and distributed by Jesus such that the lunch meant for a small poor boy was fit, not only for the large crowd, but for the King of kings too. Similarly, that common sinners like us are so loved by God in Christ is indeed marvelous. So do you feel like you have nothing to give God? Than give Him that, even if like Andrew you think “What good is it at all?” It’s good to know we have nothing to give. God intends to teach us that when we come to Him we come empty handed. We don’t need to understand what He’ll do with us or through us, it’s His gracious work that takes our nothingness and turns it into something and spreads it around for the good of His Church and the glory of His name. Here we must learn and remind ourselves of a simple equation, “Jesus + nothing = everything.”
Scene 5: Christ’s Concern (v14-15)
In v14 we read, “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” We read it in v2 and we see it in v14 as well. The reason this crowd followed Him was because of the signs and wonders He did. From beholding this miracle of feeding them all with a little boys lunch, the crowd shouted out that this was the Prophet that had come into the world. In order to understand why they said this remember the seemingly minor detail John gave us in v4. “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” The Passover was, for the Jews, a time of national pride and celebration. When they remembered when God rescued them from Egyptian enslavement. But for these first century Jews, the Passover had a loaded meaning because they found themselves underneath the thumb of not Egyptian but Roman power. So just as God delivered them once before through the prophet Moses, so too, the people see Jesus doing miracles and caring for the oppressed and believe that God will do it again. Taking into account that Jesus performed this miracle during the Passover celebration, to the crowd Jesus appeared to be the perfect political, national, and militaristic leader who was clearly able to care for the needs of the God’s people.
But Jesus knew their hearts so we see in v15, “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.” Jesus knew the type of king they desired was nothing like the type of Kingdom Jesus had come to inaugurate. He left the scene of this miracle because He refused (then, and refuses still today) to be used for man’s agenda. His mission, His Kingdom, His Work, and His teaching is for much more than just full bellies. In this sense see the irony here, that “Jesus who is already King came to open His Kingdom to men, but in their blindness men tried (then, and still do today) to force Him to be the kind of King they want Him to be. Thus they failed to get the king they wanted and also lost the Kingdom Christ offered.” Do not follow suit. Don’t miss who Jesus is because of trying to fit Him into your preconceived idea of what you can use Him for. Jesus refuses to be used for your agenda. In fact, part of growing into Christian maturity is being aware of God reorienting your heart away from your agenda and aligning it with His.
So Church, Jesus did not work this miracle to provide a Passover meal but to show that He is the Passover meal Himself. He is the Lamb of God, He is the long awaited Prophet, and He is the Messiah. The One who has come as the Bread of Heaven Himself to fill our hearts with new life, to fill our minds with new truth, and to fill our mouths with new praise. On Him we feed and are nourished.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 338.
 R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 100.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 343.
 Johnnas Oecolampadius, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 197.
 Wolfgang Musculus, Ibid., page 197.
 R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 191-192.
 Ibid., page 192.
 R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 102-103.
 Former pastor/author Tullian Tchividjian has a book out with this title, also see R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 196.
 R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 105-106 is wonderful on this point.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 346-347.
 Gospel Transformation Study Bible, page 1418.