Then Jesus took the loaves and, after giving thanks, he distributed pieces to those who were seated. He also did the same with the fish—as much as they wanted.
12When the people were full, he told his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over so that nothing is wasted.” 13So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with pieces from the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14When the people saw the miraculous sign Jesus did, they said, “This really is the Prophet who is coming into the world.”
15When Jesus realized that they intended to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
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We are all familiar with the account of Jesus feeding the 5000, not counting women and children. It’s recorded for us in all four of the gospels.
John uses this incident from Jesus’ life to introduce Jesus’ claim that he is the Bread of Life. John spends the whole chapter on this important teaching of Jesus, and it will be the focus of our sermon series for the month of August.
Last week we heard about the fact that God tests us to help us learn important truths and to build our trust in him. We see him doing that for his disciples in connection with the feeding of the 5,000.
Jesus had wanted to take his disciples away from the crowds for some rest and relaxation. But the crowds found out where they were going, and some even beat them to the spot. When Jesus saw a huge crowd coming toward him, he asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed them. Remember they were on the sparsely inhabited side of the lake where they weren’t many places to purchase food. But even if there had been enough places nearby to purchase food, Philip pointed to another problem. They didn’t have enough money to purchase food for everyone.
Did Philip forget who was asking the question? It seems he had forgotten, otherwise he would have answered, “I don’t know Lord, but you know.”
Andrew fared a little better than Philip. He pointed out that there was a boy with them who had five barley loaves and two fish. But he quickly points out that if that’s all they have it’s barely enough for a few people, certainly not 5000.
Jesus was testing them. What did he want them to learn? The same thing he wanted Israel to learn when they were in the wilderness, the same thing he wants us to learn. He wants his people, his disciples of all times, to learn to trust him to provide, even if there seems to be no way, humanly speaking, for you to obtain what you need.
God provides for us one day at a time, usually in natural ways. He provides the things he created with the ability to continue to produce. He provides sunshine and rain. He provides us with the ability to work. And, if all of those things fail, he can provide for us in miraculous ways just as he did for Israel, and for these people on the east side of the sea of Galilee.
Can’t you see Philip and Andrew doing a palm plant on their heads after they start distributing the food that Jesus is providing? Certainly they were thinking, “Duh! Why didn’t I think of saying, “Lord, we can’t provide for them, but I know you can?”
Like the disciples, we too often get so distracted by what’s right in front of us, only thinking of what is in our power to do that we forget that the Lord who loves us, who lived and died in our place, can do anything and everything necessary to provide for us. Because he did live and die for us, our lack of trust, our failures to think about him and what he can do, have been paid for in full. As Paul taught the Corinthians, God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will overflow in every good work. Don’t wring your hands and look to yourself when you are in need; look to the Lord who not only has promised to provide, but is able to do everything he promises. Trust him to provide as you do your work faithfully.
After Jesus made the disciples think about how to provide for so many people, he told them to have the people sit down. Then Jesus took the loaves and, after giving thanks, he distributed pieces to those who were seated. He also did the same with the fish—as much as they wanted.
Jesus gave thanks. As a human living on earth just like us, he reminds us that we ought to give thanks at every meal for everything we have. Regardless of where our food came from, whether we have earned it or it has been given to us, the ultimate source is our gracious God. Don’t be so in a hurry to eat that you forget to acknowledge where your food comes from.
Luther teaches us to remember that God provides for us “richly and daily.” Most often he does more than he has promised. As was the case here, he gives us not just the bare minimum, not just what we need, but even more than we really need to stay alive each day. He kept multiplying the loaves and fish until everyone had as much as they wanted, and there was some left over.
Jesus told a number of parables about being good stewards. Here he demonstrates a form of good stewardship. He tells his disciples, gather the pieces that are left over so that nothing is wasted. And they gathered twelve basketfuls of leftovers, food they could have for themselves, or that they could share with others.
Think about the temptation the disciples and others faced. No one had worked to produce this food. No one had to spend any of their money to purchase it. It was simply, miraculously provided for them. Easy come, easy go. It would have been very tempting to just let any leftovers spoil, after all it wouldn’t cost them anything.
The Psalmist reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Everything belongs to him. We simply get to take care of it while we are here. When we view material things from that perspective; when we think about God calling us to account for the way that we take care of his things; we begin to be a lot more careful. We work hard to make sure that we are using things wisely, not abusing them or taking them for granted. Whether it’s the environment, or our homes, or our cars, or our machinery, or our clothing, or our food; it all belongs to the Lord. He doesn’t want us to waste the things he has entrusted to us. Jesus’ perfect obedience in our place extends even to what many might consider a little thing. He has even paid for our sin of wastefulness by his life and death in our place.
Jesus was teaching his disciples, and the people, that they could trust him to richly and daily provide for their material needs. He was teaching them by example to be good stewards and not to waste the things that God had given them. But like all his miracles, his greater purpose in all these things was spiritual. As he intended, his miracle made the people think of the promises of God regarding the Messiah. Moses had foretold that God would raise up a prophet like him. Well, God had provided manna in the wilderness through Moses. Here was Jesus providing miraculous food for them. When the people saw the miraculous sign Jesus did, they said, “This really is the Prophet who is coming into the world.”
The people came to the right conclusion. Jesus is the Prophet, the promised Messiah. But they made the wrong application. Instead of coming to Jesus and saying something like, “we believe you are the Prophet, the promised Messiah. What would you like us to do?” They looked to themselves. They let the distraction of material things lead them astray. They talked among themselves and decided that they needed to forcibly make Jesus their earthly king. Many were on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. What better time to have Jesus come with them to Jerusalem? Imagine the crowds they would gather along the way. Could a 100,000 be out of the question? If Jesus really was the Prophet who was foretold wouldn’t he want a large following? Wouldn’t he want to take over the palace and the temple in Jerusalem? And who better to have as your king than someone who could multiply food when you needed it?
Because they were focused on the material instead of the spiritual, Jesus withdrew. He would not allow himself to be made a bread king.
We aren’t immune from this temptation. We too see that Jesus is the Prophet, the promised Messiah. We were just reminded that he can and will provide for our material needs, by a miracle if necessary. It’s easy to start thinking about Jesus more like a Gennie in a bottle; to think that he is there simply to grant our material wishes for us. But when we do, when we go to Jesus primarily for material things, we are in danger of thinking of him as a bread king instead of our savior. Remember, when Jesus gave the Lord’s prayer, he only included one petition about material things, “give us today our daily bread.” The other six petitions focus on spiritual things, on God’s name, his kingdom, his will, forgiveness, and our eternal life with him.
As we are reminded by this miracle to trust God to provide our daily bread, to be good stewards of all he has given us and avoid wasting things, we want to be careful that we don’t become so focused on the material things of life that we forget the most important truth we learn from this miracle. Jesus is the Prophet who was to come. He is the Messiah. If we try to make him a bread king, if we look to him only for material things, he will withdraw from us. While we trust him and give thanks to him for our material blessings, we must never loose sight of his greatest blessing. He came to earth to live the perfect life we don’t live. He came to earth to suffer the punishment we deserve for our lack of trust, for our poor stewardship, for our focus on material things. He is the prophet who proclaims the good news that whoever believes in him has something better than a free meal. Whoever believes in him has eternal life.