Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
5 June 2016 / Ordinary Time
May the grace and truth of Christ be with you!
A long time ago, in a village far, far away, my wife and I were invited to spend pascua with a friend in her village on the outskirts of Mexico City. The village had a tradition of re-enacting the story of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Crowds of people came to see the spectacle. And vendors took advantage of the event to turn streets into markets. Since it was Good Friday, dried fish was in high demand. It seemed that everyone was selling, buying, and eating dried fish — mostly carp — on tortillas. The smell of fish and swarms of flies filled the air. My gag reflexes were on high alert. We made our way from the plaza down to our friend’s house where we had been invited to eat. Her grandmother sat us down at the table and served us lunch. A salad of cactus and stewed tomatoes, served alongside dried fish, with a stack of tortillas, and bowls of salsa. A lump formed in my throat and a cold sweat formed on my face. All I could think about was all the flies crawling on the fish baking in the sun at the market. It took all we had to eat firsts and seconds of fish and tortillas with the family at the time of the Passover, Easter weekend 1991. Here’s a pro-tip for you in case you ever find yourself in a situation like that: sprinkle salt in every tortilla you eat, and eat as many tortillas as you can, smile as much as possible, and thank God for the experience.
The story we are going to look at today reminded of that experience because it mentions Passover, fish, and bread.
This week we will look at the story of the sign of Jesus multiplying the bread and fish to feed a crowd. Then, over the next two weeks we will look at the meaning of the sign. That means that today you will hear more about what you should believe than about what you should do.
Our sermon text for today is John 6:1-15. It is printed in your worship order if you would like to follow along.
If you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and pay close attention to God’s Holy Word.
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 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. (John 6:1-15 ESV)
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.
The story begins with the words “After this” meaning after the showdown between Jesus and the religious leaders this happened. A large crowd was following Jesus because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick — not just healing the lame man in the House of Mercy, but healing others as well. Jesus did many signs which are not written in this book, but the ones that are written are written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and have eternal life in his name.
The story seems to be straightforward enough, so what could we possibly say that isn’t already stated in the text? Well, I’m glad you asked. As with most stories, there is usually more going on than meets the eye.
For example, in this story John is comparing and contrasting Moses and Jesus. Why? Because Moses was the superhero of the Jewish people. And as great as he was, someone greater is now here. From the beginning of his Gospel til now, John has been telling us that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus.
Now, if you listen closely you can hear echoes of the Passover and Exodus from Egypt reverberating in the background of this story.
In this story, Jesus is the true and better Moses who is leading a crowd of people to a new Passover meal and on a new exodus out of Egypt, into the wilderness and down to a sea. Except that in this story Egypt looks like Jerusalem and Pharaoh looks like the Pharisees.
Just as Moses went up on a mountain with the elders of Israel, so Jesus goes up on a mountain with the twelve apostles who represent the tribes of Israel.
Jesus goes up on a mountain and he sits down in front of the apostles and above the crowds. Why? He sits as a shepherd to watch-over his flock; he sits as a king to rule over his subjects; and he sits as a prophet to teach his people. From his seat up on the mountain, he lifts up his eyes and sees the crowd.
There are echoes of several two OT stories in this text.
In Numbers 11, when Moses was confronted with a hungry crowd, he was displeased with the people and he lost his cool with the Lord.
But when Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw the crowds, he did not grumble or complain, but counted it as favor in God’s sight that his Father had laid the burden of all this people on him. Though he did not conceive them or give them birth, Jesus carried them in his bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child, through the land God swore to give their fathers.
Unlike Moses, who was not able to carry the burden of all the people alone, Jesus was able to carry the burden of all these people in the love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he was sent on mission to do this very thing.
However, the mission of carrying the burden of all the people was so heavy for Jesus that it would eventually take his life. (Based on Numbers 11:10-15)
Unlike Moses, Jesus does not grumble and complain about all this people. As Ridderbos says, “Jesus sees the people come to him with all their needs and hopes” (210).
Please do not overlook the grace and truth of this simple statement.
Jesus sees you and your weakness, your brokenness, your loneliness. And when Jesus sees you coming, he does not roll his eyes or shake his head or pass judgment in his heart, rather, he rejoices that you are coming to him, and he looks for ways to help you.
In other words, he is not like other men or other ministers you might know.
When Jesus lifts up his eyes and he sees you coming to himself, he knows what you bring and what you need long before you ever get there.
I hope that encourages you to keep on coming and drawing near to Jesus no matter what, baggage and all.
I hope and pray you will lift up your eyes and see where your help comes; it comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber…he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121)
Moses was not able to do that, but Jesus is able to do that.
Now, unlike Moses who tested the Lord with these words, “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? ” Jesus tested his disciples, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Jesus knew what he was about to do. But his disciples had no idea that what he was about to was even possible.
One disciple crunched the numbers and quickly answered him, “Eight months wages worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”
In other words, we ain’t got no. There ain’t enough bread to buy enough bread. He knew by the terms of human experience, by natural cause and effect, by basic economics, that there was too much month at the end of the money.
(One comforting take away from this story is that Jesus and his disciples operated on a shoe string budget. Sounds like a congregation we know.)
To drive home the point, one of the disciples says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Answer: For mere men, they are as nothing. But for the God-man, they are as everything.
Now, there are echoes of 2 Kings 4 in this story. When Elisha the prophet was faced with feeding a hundred hungry seminary students, a man showed up with a few loaves of barley bread. Elisha told the man to give the barley-loaves to the men and they ate all they wanted. (2 Kings 4:42-44)
The same thing is about to happen here.
Jesus sent word to have the people sit down on the green grass beside the sea. Then Jesus comes down from the mountain, and like a shepherd he feeds his flock.
At this point a psalm of David should be playing in your ears.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters…You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. (Psalm 23:1,2,5)
One truth we learn in this story is never under-estimate the grace and power of the Lord. He takes a few barley loaves and dried fishes and causes them to multiply so that every man, woman, and child in the crowd (thousands upon thousands) had more than enough food to eat — with plenty of leftovers.
(Side-note: Fish echoes Numbers 11, where the people longed for the fish they ate in Egypt. Barley echoes 2 Kings 4 and other texts where barley was the food of the poor and exiles.)
Another truth we learn in this story is that God’s creative work is not always ex nihilo out of nothing –- sometimes it is out of something. Here, the God-man takes a little bit of something that already exists and he duplicates it and causes it multiply and turns it into a whole lotta something. Nothing is impossible with the Lord. Personal human experience, natural cause and effect, basic economics, do not set limits on what the Lord can do. They are not the standard, the Word made flesh for the life of the world — he is the standard of what can and cannot be done.
Another truth we learn in this story is the necessity of gratitude no matter how much or little we might have. This reminds of a time when I attended a leadership meeting with some poor Christians. My friend and I brought cookies and coke for refreshments. We served them to all the men while the meeting was taking place. I sat down, grabbed a cookie, and started to pop it my mouth, when I realized that all the men had stopped talking. One said, “Aren’t we going to give thanks for the alimentos? Jesus took the bread and gave thanks and then gave the bread to the people. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word for gave thanks. Jesus shows us by example how to be truly thankful.
Finally, another truth we learn in this story is that anyone can serve the Lord, no matter how young or how old you are; the Lord can use whatever gifts you entrust to him, no matter how much or how little. With the Lord’s help, even you little boys and little girls can do big things for the people of God. Sometimes you can even do more than big boys and big girls. Why? Sometimes the bigger a person is, the smaller his faith; and the smaller a person the bigger his faith.
Jesus gave fish and bread to the crowd. As we will see next week, that sign pointed to a deeper and larger reality. Jesus was giving himself to men, women, and children.
So far so good, right?
Jesus is the fish and he is the bread — he is the ICHTHUS and the manna from heaven.
He gave bread and fish to the crowd to fill an immediate need. But he gave himself to the world to fill an ultimate need.
Everyone who feasts on him will always be filled and never be empty. You can have as much of Jesus as you want and there will always be enough for more.
So let us urge you on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ,
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, God has made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.” (Isaiah 55:1-4)
Now, when the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
The crowds who followed Jesus tended to be ordinary, blue-collar, folks. You might say that “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul” (1 Sam 22:2), and everyone who was disgusted with the religious leaders and political rulers, gathered to Jesus outside the camp.
They wanted Jesus to be commander over them — they wanted to make him their king. They wanted Jesus to lead them in a revolt against Herod and Caesar. If it is true that an army marches on its belly, just imagine what an army could do with Jesus commanding it. He could feed them with only a few provisions. He could heal the sick and wounded. He could strike fear in their enemies. Such an army would be invincible!
Now, they were right to see Jesus as the prophet that Moses predicted. In Deuteronomy 18, Moses said,
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen. The LORD said to me, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (18:15-19 ESV)
But they were wrong to make Jesus king by force. Jesus did not come to do their will, or to reign as king over their tiny kingdom. He simply refused to be the mascot of their political party. Sadly, instead of repenting their sins and trusting in Jesus, the crowd drew the wrong conclusion about the sign and made the mistake of trying to politicize Jesus for their own goals and ends. But they’re not the only ones who do such things.
As Scott Sauls points out in his book Jesus Outside the Lines,
Some believe that putting Christians in office and other places of power is the key to transforming the world. “If only there were more people in power who followed Jesus,” the reasoning goes, “that would be the game changer that would finally make the world what God intends it to be.” While it is indeed a very good thing for Christians to serve in public office, neither the Bible nor history supports the idea that holding positions of power is the key to bringing God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. On this point, Jesus’ own resistance to earthly power is telling. At the peak of his popularity, the people wanted him to be king. But he had a different agenda: “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.”[ 16] Why would Jesus resist earthly power? … Because Christianity always flourishes most as a life-giving minority, not as a powerful majority. It is through subversive, countercultural acts of love, justice, and service for the common good that Christianity has always gained the most ground.
[ Sauls, Scott (2015-03-01). Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (p. 15). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition. ]
Jesus was not a Zealot, and he is not a Republican, nor a Democrat, nor a Libertarian, nor an Anarchist. Even at their best moments, those parties are still cheap knock-offs of the Real Thing.
Still, each one tries to recruit Jesus to their team. Socialists want Jesus to feelthebern, so they point out that he re-distributed fish and bread to equalize the haves and the have nots. Communists point out that Jesus shared the boy’s lunch with everyone because it really belonged to the community not just the individual. Capitalists want Jesus to make America great again so they point out that Jesus manipulated the market and exploited the law of supply and demand. Anarchists point out that Jesus refused to rule as king over others.
All of these views are distortions of the truth.
You get the point. But Jesus refused to take sides in their politics and he refuses to take sides in ours.
When we ask him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” He answers, “No — but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come…Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” (Joshua 5:1-15)
In other words, he flips the script and asks us, “Are you for me or my adversaries?”
The point is that Jesus did not need a crowd to make him king by force; he wanted the crowd to acknowledge that he already was (and is!) the King by faith.
Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew and went back up to his throne on Mount Zion.
I know that many of you are deeply concerned about the state of the union, and all this makes you feel uncomfortable, and I don’t want to make light of that at all. But, as your pastor I must urge you with all your heart to consider the end of this story and the story of our nation and our cultural situation in light of Psalm 2:
The nations rage and the peoples plot in vain.
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (= Let us cast off the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ!)
But He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
As for you, “serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry,
and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
With all this in mind and heart, let us pray.