Sermon Notes, 4th Sunday in Lent, 15 March 2015 Anno Domini (Ides of March)
The Feeding of the 5000
“After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. 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? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 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. 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. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 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. 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. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.”(John 6:1-15)
Over the past several years, I have often preached this text, and usually on this 4th Sunday in Lent. The text itself is pregnant with spiritual meaning that is clearly overt and plain to the understanding; however, I want to look at this same passage through a slightly different prism on this special Sunday before Passiontide on next Sunday.
Bearing in mind that there is no word in Scripture that is expressed without great purpose, let us observe the introduction the text itself makes to the mountain-top event which is related in the feeding of 5,000 men and at least a similar number of women and children.
“After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.”
First of all, note that a great multitude followed Christ, but HOW did they follow Him? Christ being, at this time, ascended into Heaven, a great multitude still follows Him. But we do not follow across the ethereal expanse of empty space just as the multitudes did not follow Jesus ACROSS the Sea of Galilee. Their fervent determination to follow caused them to follow in whatever route was open to them to follow – AROUND the Sea! Whatever path leads us to Christ is a GOOD path!
Secondly, note the REASON that the people followed Him. They followed Jesus for spiritual reasons based upon the miracles that He had performed in their sight. His Miracles are not the great reason we should follow Christ, unless we are referring to the Miracle of Love He has demonstrated in His Redemption of lost sinners. But bear in mind, the reason for their following was spiritual and not carnal.
Thirdly, observe that Christ does not always make it easy to follow Him. It sometimes includes bearing a cross – in fact, it ALWAYS includes bearing a cross. So we should not hesitate to follow Him (not only around the Sea), but also up the Mountain of Bread! Jesus loved to pray and to commune from the Mountain tops because the higher one climbs; the less of the world is there which surrounds us. The world falls sharply away so that when we reach the mountain peak, there is only the sky that surrounds us.
Fourthly, mark the OCCASION of the event. “And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.” In that day, the Passover was, at the time, a Jewish feast that pointed directly to that Lamb of God sacrificed before the foundation of the world, but illustrated in the unblemished lamb sacrificed in long-ago Goshen under whose blood the Children of Israel were Passed Over by the Angel of death that terrible night in old Egypt. “18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” (1 Peter 1:18-20)” It is the point made of the PASSOVER that I wish to emphasize today. That symbolic lamb of the old Passover is now fully realized in the true Lamb of God who was about to miraculously and spiritually feed far more than five thousand people (when women and children are accounted for). The Passover is no longer a mere Jewish feast, but is now consummated in the Lord Jesus Christ who is our Eternal Passover!
This Feeding of the Five Thousand has strong Communion implication for the Christian Church. The mystery of it is in the Bread itself – not the numbers alone!
There are national holidays that are observed in every nation. The most important of national holidays usually center upon the date of founding of the nation (4th of July in America, for example). The 4th of July is not commonly celebrated in Britain, or Germany, or China – but only in America. There is, however, a holiday (Holy Day) that is celebrated more often that annually, and in almost precisely the same manner, in every country in the world in which Christians live and worship. That Holy Day is Holy Communion. Truly, it is the Passover of the Lord to the Church. The crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of our Lord are the church’s nation foundation day, and we observe that day in a continual spirit of spiritual Presence of the Lord and of remembrance.
“And the Passover……was nigh.” Were this not important for us to know, it would not have been included in our text for today. The extraordinary symbolism of bread to the very spiritual nature of Christ is emphasized throughout Scripture – sometimes overtly, and sometimes in shadows. The Manna that came down from Heaven to the children in the Wilderness was not simply a spilling over of the bread pans of Israel – it came miraculously and with spiritual meaning. It satisfied their famished spirits and souls. The Bread of Presence in the Tabernacle on the shew Bread Table just before the Most Holy Place symbolized the spiritual Presence of Christ in Tabernacles of flesh to us today. The Bread Crumbs from the Master’s Table for which the Syro-Phoenician woman pleaded with humble and persistent heart symbolized the same. Even bread crumbs are still bread, and just a small measure of that Bread from Heaven was enough for her – and enough as well to feed 5,000 in our text. It is this very point that I believe our Lord is making here.
The Passover of the Jews had been celebrated for centuries with a boring sense of ceremonial obligation. They had forgotten the great depth of meaning it had for them in Egypt, and would now have for all peoples. We, too, often receive the Holy Communion with dull sense of its meaning and importance to us in sharing in the real Spiritual Presence of our Lord at the Table. What great spiritual power opened the eyes of the Two Men on the Road to Emmaus to the identity of their beloved Lord? He had related to them on the way all of the Old Testament Scriptures that spoke of Him, yet they did not recognize Him. When He took the bread in hand at their table, they still knew Him not; but when He BROKE the BREAD and gave to them, their eyes were opened to His Presence. It should also be true of our eye-scales dropping away at the reception of the elements of Bread and Wine of the Last Supper.
Your attention is invited to consider the manner of the miracle of Bread as Jesus performed it.
“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?” Jesus spoke this question rhetorically to fathom the waters of Philip’s faith. He had no intention of ‘buying’ bread, for the Bread of Heaven is not for sale. He knew precisely that He would miraculously feed the people from just a small morsel of fishes and loaves. “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” (Prov 23:23) There seems to be a lot more selling of the truth (of man) than buying the truth of God in today’s churches.
Philip, just as you and I often have done, failed the test of faith. “Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.” Even if there was a king’s ransomed of gold, no amount of money could have purchased an adequate supply of bread near a seaside mountain. Even all of the bread in the bread shops of Capernaum would not have been sufficient to feed so many.
There is only a tiny grain of faith expressed by the good man, Andrew: “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?” Had Andrew not believed that the Lord could somehow make the five barley loaves and two fishes of the boy expand to feed thousands, he doubtless would not have raised the issue. Sometimes, it is only a small grain of faith, as small as a grain of mustard seed that is needed to open the abundant granaries of Heaven. Another point to note in this narrative is that Jesus will use whatever resources of faith and materiel we have available to accomplish mighty works. It does not take much – He could have fed them from thin air had He desired. He also allows even little children to be used in furthering His work.
“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.” There is no hungrily standing in line when the Lord feeds us. “He makes us to lie down in green pastures.” When we are sitting down, we are not taking credit for any of our own works, for it is Christ who works in us and not we ourselves.
Does Jesus not do ALL things well? “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.” He gave out no blessings from Heaven without first giving thanks. Can we not, at least, follow His example in this before meals? He allowed the disciples a hand in His work. He allows you and me to be involved as well in His work of the Church. Someone must serve the meals, someone must PREPARE the meals. Someone must preach. Someone must prepare the Lord’s Table. Someone must light the candles. Someone must welcome guests. Someone must go out in the community and seek out the needy, etc. What a privilege that each of us is a perfectly shaped stone to fill a particular void in the Temple of God.
“When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” “Waste not, want not!” my dear mother used to say to me. The gifts of god are too important to be wasted. Many men live miserable lives because God has called them to exercise a gift of Preaching, and they have refused the call. By the way, like crumbs, the fragments are still Bread. Those who were privileged to serve the bread (much like clergy) were also the ones who were called upon to take up the remnants and to clean the tables. “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.” At times, we may regard the small churches as simply fragments of God’s church, but they may amount to a far greater treasure of Bread than that with which we began to serve. After all were fed from five loaves and two fishes, observe that twelve basketfuls remained of that pitiful beginning.
It is possible to believe in Christ, but to believe the WRONG WAY! “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.” This is a commendable beginning of faith; however, such faith that is based on signs and wonders alone may get derailed into a great abyss of error. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” The people who were fed viewed the miracle as a sign of great power (which it was). But they desired to employ that power to further a carnal, and not a spiritual, agenda.
That Bread of the Mountain was not a common bread, but spiritually created bread. It was a preview of that Bread of Life that was the Incarnate Lord and Bread of Heaven. Just a taste of Jesus can amount to a complete change of life. Like the elements of the Communion, a little goes a long way!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN