1 After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. 2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. 4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. 5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. (John 6:1-14)
It is perhaps more than coincidence that the pantries of many homes today are bare of bread as well as the local markets. Where shall we buy bread, and of what quality. My wife and I spent worship service today in a room bare of bread-seekers, but filled with the Bread of Life. We did not insist that our people – mostly young – come to church today against the stated wishes of their parents; although the parents kindly agreed to send them if I insisted. I did not.
Before delving into the substance of today’s Gospel text, I would like to venture into the Gospel of St. Matthew concerning children: “1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matt 18:1-6 (KJV) You may rightly ask, “What has this to do with the feeding of the 5,000 plus in today’s text?” I believe there is a beautiful truth hidden there that relates to this passage from Matthew.
It is unlikely, in my opinion, that 5,000 men, plus wives and children, came to this mountain scene without having made any provision at all for eating. But when the disciples asked if anyone had brought food, no one spoke out – except a young lad of probable meager means. His heart was not worn to sin and he had retained the flower of innocence in his youth. He did not have much considering the great need, but what he had, he was generous in sharing. Unless we become like that little child in innocence and charity, we cannot fathom the deeper things of God.
Our Gospel lesson also, in my opinion, has a great relationship to the Lord’s Supper, only offered to the multitudes that would later be left in the care and oversight of the Apostles. The miraculous feeding of the five thousand men (and, additionally, women and children) was a precursor to the Lord’s Supper which Jesus would institute on the night of His betrayal.
It should not go without mention that the Jew’s Passover is made reference to here; but in its original reference, it was called the Lord’s Passover. “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD.” Lev 23:5-6 (KJV) As with all spiritual laws and customs, the Jews added their own fads and fashions which made the day less a Holy observance and more a social one.
Unleavened Bread being a particular aspect of the Lord’s Passover, I believe our Gospel today points to that Holy Observance. In verse 4 of our text, John is careful to point out that the Passover was nigh.
I believe that we will all agree that bread itself is an important staple to nourish and sustain the body. In a broad sense, and in the way that it figures in today’s text, bread was the paramount nourishment for the disciples on that mountaintop by the Galilean Sea. Even a morsel of bread, which comes from God, was important to the Syros-Phoenician woman who pleaded only for the bread crumbs that fell from the Master’s Table. Bread, and its thousands of crushed grains (Archbishop Cranmer), represents the body of Christ on earth today. We consider always that Christ is present when we partake of the Bread from His Table, It brings us near to Him as we contemplate His promises: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt 18:20) I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. (Matt 28:20) The Bread which Christ broke at the Supper in the Upper Room represents His complete Body – even the multitudes that are drawn to Him on this mountain. It is not simply for those who are appointed as clergy and apostles. His Real Presence is not in the grains of wheat, but in the hearts of His people that make up His earthly Body – the Temple of God. That true Bread of Heaven opens our eyes to the mystery of Communion with Christ just as the eyes of the two men on the Road to Emmaus were opened at the moment Christ broke, and offered, Bread.
It may be true today that the crowds may follow Christian ministers for the wrong reasons, just as the Galilean crowds had done, yet, if they receive the true Bread of Heaven, they shall be healed in more than body and mind. We are told that the multitudes followed Christ because of the healing miracles He had wrought on them. It may be true that the work of God must proceed from the labors of witnesses in feeding the hungry, healing the sick and despondent, and living among the people by facing all of the heartaches and hardships that they face in order to make them know the love of God is in our hearts. It is then that their hearts will be moved to learn of the great Savior who has instilled in us a love that surpasses their common understanding. It is to be hoped that the multitudes went away with more than a full stomach after the miraculous feeding – a heart that has been changed by the Love of God! 1 After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. 2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.
John the Baptist, the baptizer of Christ, has just been beheaded. This news must have hurt the tender heart of our Lord. He was tired. He was weary of travel. He must have been sad. So he sought a place of quiet and solace, yet, the multitude followed on. His Heart of such loving compassion could not disregard the needs of those who followed after Him even if their motives were amiss. Does our AOC church not face the same circumstances daily? Many abroad, hurting for bread and sustenance, follow us on the web and then appeal for funds even if they do not know the Savior we serve.
The next verse seems parenthetical, but I do not believe that it is: 4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.John felt it necessary to add this particular detail. He says no more, but there is obviously meaning attached to the fact of the Passover. It was the same event that the Lord celebrated in the Upper Room. In fact, Jesus Himself became our PASSOVER! So, on the eve of the Passover, Jesus here again will offer Bread to the people.
I would imagine that Jesus had a slight gleam in His eye when He asked the next question: 5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Here Jesus and His disciples are gathered on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee. There are not nearby bakeries of places that sell foodstuffs. So Jesus presents a testing challenge to His disciples. It was a great company, in fact far more than five thousand, that approached. It appeared to the disciples as a gathering army. How could they possible find food for so many; and, even if they found a source, where would they find the enormous amount of money required for the purchase?
We find in the response to Jesus query, three distinct responses: the first is in the response of Philip who was counting on the meagerness of available provision. He was counting on the LEAST of provisions. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. The people of God often count the lack of provision rather than the abundance in Christ. Even the crumbs are enough, why believe that crumbs cannot be made a feast in the hands of the Lord! We must despise no blessing because of its size. The second response is that of the disciples: 35 And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: 36 Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat (Mark 6:35-36) When the obligation seems to great to reach the lost, the church often simply desires to wash their hands of these troubling poor by sending them away.
The third response is that of Andrew who is always seeking others for Christ. You will recall that it was Andrew who, being called by Jesus, went first to find his brother Peter to come and see Christ. 40 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. 42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. (John 1:39-42) We named our little church in Enterprise, Alabama, St Andrews because we are to be seekers for Christ. As rector, I brought none to the church – the youth went out and invited their friends who came and stayed to hear about Jesus. I loved them. So, Andrew, true to form, goes on a search the moment he realizes the need for bread. He is not the kind of fellow to be discouraged at the meager proportions for he knows that even crumbs, with the Lo9rd, will be made a sufficient supply. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
Now there is a fourth type of person in the crowd that is not described above. It is this one response that melts my heart – the little lad who had only five barley loaves and two fishes, but was willing to share that small provision with such an immense number. He must have had a heart touched by the loving hand of God from his mother’s womb. This innocent young knew his bread and fishes would only be a drop in the bucket to feed so many. He also knew that there would be scarcely a crumb left for his own hunger; yet, he had seen and heard Jesus. He placed his innocent confidence in this warm and compassionate Teacher. So he offered ALL that he had to satisfy the immense crowd who surrounded Christ. This is the kind of son every parent should long to have.
Without further thought, upon hearing of the small provision available, Christ took action: 10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.Jesus does not make us anxious in feeding us. He prefers that we be comforted always by His Bread. He has the men sit down as guests do in any home. He also expects that those about to receive the Bread of Life should do so in good order, thus we observe a liturgical form of worship. There was a mixture of men, boys, women and children present, yet there were five thousand men in all plus those other persons. The Word of God is able to feed all who will come to be served without limit.
Do you remember that our Lord was baptized in like manner that we should be? In all, we should follow Him. He also gave thanks for the provision given by the Hand of His Father in Heaven. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. Herein lies an important lesson. That which God has given you, you must also share with others. Jesus gives us the privilege and high honor to be His servants to the people. Not masters, but SERVANTS. All clergy are servants to God’s people. When they cease to be servants, they cease to be ministers. Note also that from the small provision, every one of the thousands seated about took as much as they wanted. God’s Word is always sufficient for thee. “….My grace is sufficient for thee ….” (2 Cor 12:9)
Quite often, that which comes at no cost to us is easily wasted, but the Bread of Life comes at an immense cost to God the Father – it cost Him the life of His only Begotten Son! None of the Lord’s provision should be wasted. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Every soul is precious to God. He will have us lose nothing that He places in our hand. This is the security we have in Christ. If our hearts belong to Him, He will never lose them. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Have you ever gone out and befriended some hungered stranger? Have you noticed that you may have approached the fellow with a reluctant love? But do you remember the heart, brimming with love, with which you departed from him after answering the needs of his soul. That is the LOVE of God. The more you serve, the greater the reservoir remaining. This defies the law of physics, doesn’t it; but this is not a natural, but a spiritual, law.
What result do the labors of Christ and His servants have upon the hearts of men? 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. That is the result! Faith! When people see what Jesus is able to do through your own life, they will know Him to be “that prophet that should come!”
Though we may take good counsel from the examples given of the disciple Philip, those other disciples about Jesus, and of Andrew who sought when the need was revealed, the greater lesson – in my view – is from the little boy who gave all in spite of hunger, to Jesus for the feeding of others. He surrendered fully His all. And he did not go away hungry for, when you give your all to Christ, you cannot lose. Have you done?