GROWING LIKE JESUS—CRAVING THE MASTER NOT THE MIRACLE
Can you think of a category of food that best describes your spiritual life right now? Fast food? Like Taco Bell. I really like their bean burritos. Junk food? Like Doritos. High fiber? A friend gave me a box of apples before Christmas. I’m still not done eating them. Dessert? Anything in pie is always good. Especially strawberries. Left overs? I eat them. I know some folks who won’t eat any left overs no matter what. Won’t ask you to raise your hand. Food snobbery can remain anonymous. But I usually don’t mind left overs. If you call them “Left Oveaurs” it even sounds fancy. And besides, there are some things that taste better the next day anyway. Like chili.
But can you think of a category of food that best describes your spiritual diet right now? Are there are changes you think you need to make in your spiritual diet? Areas in which you need to grow? That’s what we’re going to be talking about today. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve got some of those. Just like those in the crowd following Jesus in the Bible passage we’re looking at today. So if you brought your Bibles, I’d encourage you to open them. If you don’t have one with you, you can use the one in front of you. And turn with me to John 6. Today, we’re going to be looking at verses 1-15. So let’s get started. Now remember in our new series we’re asking: How do we grow up like Jesus? To mature as a Christ follower? Are there area of our spiritual diet that could better reflect Christ? What is He revealing to us today?
For a variety of reasons, including the last one that the Passover was near, most folks think the events of chapter 6 take place a year after those in chapter 5. “1Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. 3Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4The Jewish Passover Feast was near.” So though we just read in John 5 how Jesus went out of his way to heal the ceremonially unclean man far from God on the Sabbath sitting helpless by the pool of Bethesda, there were many other miracles that occurred after that but before the one we’re going to highlight today. This is even implied in the Greek. Where it means that the people literally “were seeing” Jesus do miracles. Such as the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the paralytic lowered through the roof, and the healing of Jairus’ daughter [SDABC 197-198]. That’s why verse 2 here says that a “great crowd of people” followed him. Why? Because they were seeing miraculous signs.
Which leads us to point number one this week. Craving the master begins by craving the miraculous. And that’s okay. It’s fine with Jesus. If you don’t know Him, you’ve got to start somewhere. And wherever you are, that’s the right place to start. Point number one is: Craving the Master begins by craving the miraculous.
Moving on verse 5 says, “5When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" 6He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.”
According to John 1:44, Philip was from Bethsaida. So it makes sense that Jesus would ask him how they were going to get enough food for the crowd. But the more we read the quicker it becomes obvious that Jesus wasn’t asking for directions to Kroger. He was testing Philip’s faith. Hoping it would grow. And mature. Just like He wants ours to grow. And mature. That’s why verse 6 says Jesus already knew what he was going to do.
But here’s some things I didn’t know before. And maybe you didn’t either. When all the other Gospel writers describe this miracle, they all portray the disciples as bringing the problem to Jesus late in the day. As if it just dawned on them that the people are going to be hungry. Duh!!! But the Gospel of John in verse 5 suggests that Jesus asked his question of Philip literally while a great crowd “was coming” in the Greek. Which means Jesus raised the question before they sat down at the beginning of the day or at least several hours before the boy with loaves and fishes showed up. Isn’t that interesting?
That means that all this time while Jesus was teaching, Philip was freaking out trying to find a way to feed that many people. Who knows. Maybe it took him that long to do the math. Like a big hairy word problem You got a bunch of people on a train coming from Bethsaida and another pile of people coming from Cana, at what point will the groups meet and how many sandwiches will it take to feed them assuming the number of them only describes the men present not including women and children? No wonder Philip went to Andrew! Just like he did in John 12 when a bunch of ceremonially unclean far from God Gentiles showed up and wanted to talk to Jesus. Yikes! What do I do with them? Help! Andrew, what do YOU think we should do?
So it’s probable in this situation that Philip also asked Andrew what to do about this food shortage. And perhaps together they eventually figured out in verse 7 that “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” So then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, speaks up in verse 9, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’”
Which leads us to point number two. Maturity often grows from the end of our rope. It’s got more to do with desperation than inspiration. I was often taught growing up that this little boy in our story today was just that. A little boy. Which always made me wonder why his parents would let him wander away for the day to hear Jesus tell stories? Today we’d call that child endangerment or abandonment. I mean seriously, who does that? And while the word John uses to describe him in the Bible can be translated “little child”, the word is not restricted to that sense. It can in fact denote a teenager who is nearly fully grown. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same word for this little boy used in John 6:9 is used in Genesis 37:30 to describe Joseph when Joseph was at least 17 years old!
So what’s the point? The point is maturity often grows from the end of our rope. This little boy or this teenager or however old he really was, in his willingness to share his food, more mature than the disciples following Jesus! Maybe that’s why Jesus allows a significant portion of time to pass, perhaps the entire day, so Philip could come to the end of his rope and be desperate enough to wrestle with these questions of provision. I never realized that before did you? Do you think Jesus does that with us too? In other areas of our lives? Yes or no? Yes, after we have exhausted all our resources, brain power, and solutions, Jesus provides. Not because he wants to see us squirm. But because wants us to grow. So we’ll begin to see the significance of the presence and promises of God not just the provisions of God. Especially when the provisions of God seem insignificant.
And barley loaves were very insignificant. Philo declared that they were fit for “irrational animals and men in unhappy circumstances [SDABC 961]. Another ancient Jewish commentary says “Lentils are human food and barley fodder for animals.” And while we’re at it, the fish were more like tartar sauce than fillets. How do we know? Because the word used for fish in John 6 means relish. It wasn’t like the pictures in Uncle Arthur’s bedtime story books! The fish weren’t even sardines. They were tiny bits and pieces sprinkled on top of the barley loaves to provide a little flavor. A little tartar sauce.
This understanding has been verified in the history books too. On an Egyptian papyrus fragment dated the end of the 1 st century AD, apparently ordering provisions for a simple birthday party, the grocery list when translated included these words: “For Gemella’s birthday feast send some relish/delicacies [which is the same word for fish in John 6:9] and a large measure of wheaten bread.” It’s what they ate. Even on birthdays! A loaf of bread with tartar sauce.
How many of you for your birthday feast would love to go McDonalds? Actually, my kids would probably love that. Especially the ones with the huge indoor play places. But to the rest of us, who have matured beyond the happy meal, that doesn’t’ sound so good does it? But this is where we need to grow up. Not only by reading the Bible instead of bedtime stories. But in our understanding of the mansion over the hilltop. Unlike the prosperity preachers running rampant on Sunday morning television, God does not promise you a mansion on this earth. The abundant life doesn’t mean abundant things. It means abundant love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. It means a deep satisfaction and assurance not in the provisions of God but in the presence and promises of God. In His time. Which is point number three. Point number one: Craving the master begins by craving the miraculous. Point number two: Maturity often grows when we’re at the end of our rope. And point number three: It does so in His time.
Verses 10-15 say, “‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. 11Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. 12When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. 14After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
The barley loaves were insignificant. Apparently, many people didn’t like the taste of them either. And many people think Jesus is insignificant. Just a man. A good guy. A prophet perhaps. But not the Son of God. Not someone whom knowing is life eternal. Even Christians, I find, approach Jesus in a very casual manner. As if He’s just some bracelet to wear or bumper sticker to display. But friends, Jesus is not insignificant. He was the Messiah! The one they were longing for. He had already demonstrated his ability to heal the hurting. Like that paralytic. Which would really come in handy during war. None of their soldiers fighting Rome, even if they were hurt, would ever die. He had already proven that He could lead men. The Bible says a great crowd of people was following him everywhere He went and he had a special SWAT team of disciples with him than went on secret preaching missions. So as a general he would be unsurpassed. And now, he just provided manna to the multitudes in the wilderness just like Moses did in Numbers 11:13. Jesus has to be the Messiah. The one to over throw Rome. The King they’d been waiting for. So they eat their fill of the bread of life even collecting 12 baskets full of left ooveurs asking for more and more of Jesus as they began to realize how powerful a king Jesus could be. But this was all too soon.
Because a mature faith matures in His time. Why? Because faith is the essence of things unseen according to Hebrews 11:1. The substance of things hoped for. And everybody in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 were commended for that. Verse 39 says, “39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” At least not in their time. Not before they died. But that’s what made them mature Christ followers! They filled up on Jesus. Asking for more and more of Him. And his presence. And promise. Not his provisions. Which ironically, God provided anyway.
Yes, a mature faith matures in His time. But not theirs. And not even the disciples. Because verse 15 says, Jesus fled to the mountain by himself to avoid their coronation attempt. Since he fled there alone, it’s probably safe to assume that the disciples were in on this coronation attempt too. They needed to grow up too. They didn’t get it yet.
Perhaps they knew point number one: That craving the master begins by craving the miraculous. And that’s okay. You gotta start somewhere. Perhaps they knew or were beginning to learn point number two: That maturity often begins at the end of our rope. In desperation. Which could be why some of you are going through what you’re going through right now. God is bringing you to the end of your rope. Don’t cry about it. Thank Him for it. Jesus wanted Philip and he wants you to be desperate enough to ask and keep asking Jesus to do what you cannot. But sometimes in America, like the land of Canaan flowing with milk and honey full of people who never eat left overs, it takes us longer to get desperate enough to ask and keep asking God for such things. Such requests, especially when shared with your church family, require a great deal of humility. Which is something the disciples trying to coronate Jesus obviously lacked.
I think it becomes painfully clear to the reader of John that the disciples don’t get point number three: That a mature faith matures in His time. And perhaps this is the area where Jesus is growing us up too. So you don’t have a mansion over the hilltop yet? So what? Neither did everyone in Hebrews 11! So you have work three jobs to make ends meet. So what? At least you have a job! So you don’t have all the provisions you want or think you deserve. God never promised you would! Besides, a mature faith doesn’t depend on provisions. Even if they’re good. Like baskets full of leftovers. A mature faith clings to the very real presence and promises of Jesus. Even when the basket is empty. Are you doing that?
If you aren’t, but would like to try, you have a chance to do so today. Because today we’re going to be participating in communion followed by foot washing. Communion is a word the apostle Paul uses into describe the Last Supper that Jesus modeled for us the Thursday night before He was crucified. Which is actually what John 6 points to from beginning to end. And where the Catholic church got the word eucharist from. Because when Jesus takes the barley loaves in John 6:11, and by faith, blesses them in advance, significantly before they multiplied, proving that His faith was maturely based on the Father and His promises to provide, the specific word John uses to describe that prayer of blessing in Greek is “eucharis staysas” from which we get the English word Eucharist. This entire chapter and as we highlighted weeks ago in chapter 2 during the wedding of Cana, this entire book of John has clues hidden throughout pointing the reader to the Upper Room and to the cross. Where Jesus actually shed his blood. And allowed His body to be broken.
If you don’t believe me, remember what we read in John 6:4! How this story takes place right before Passover. And Passover was the Jewish feast celebrating the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. The angel of the Lord passed over the homes of those who placed blood from a spotless Lamb on the inside of the doorpost. Sparing their firstborn son. Which with no context sounds weird I know. So go read that story in Exodus 12 this afternoon and what the firstborn son had to do with the Egyptian Pharoah holding them captive.
But it’s there in Exodus 12:8 where we get the idea that the bread we’re gonna eat shortly is to be unleavened bread. And where in verse 5 it says the lamb was to be without defect. Both the unleavened bread and the lamb without defect were chosen by God to symbolize the perfect and sinless body of Jesus.
And while John is the only Gospel to include a description of foot washing, which this time we’ll do at the end of our service today as our way of showing mature servant hood, he hides all kinds of clues about the Lord’s Supper inside the details of his book. And in both John 2 and in our story of John 6, the same point is made. Jesus is more than enough. His shed blood and broken body is more than enough. He lived a perfect life because He knew you wouldn’t. And on the cross, He gave you that perfect life. Hebrews 10:14 [NIV] says, “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” It’s already yours. If you want it. By faith. Abraham’s was credited to him, according to Genesis 15:6, long before the cross. Ours, should you wish to claim it, is credited to us long after the cross. But it’s the same faith. That grows. And matures. In His time.
At this time I’m going to invite the Deaconesses to come forward to prepare the communion table and I’m going to ask our Head Elder Allan Wolfson to join me behind the table. You can remain seated while he prays a blessing on both the bread and cup symbolizing the very real presence and promises of Jesus. After that, we’ll have deacons bring you the bread and the cup while my friend Julie, who’s here with her newlywed husband Israel, will play some reflective music
It was Jesus himself who said in John 8:48 that I am the bread of life. On the night He was betrayed, He took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it and said “This is my body which is for you do this in remembrance of Me.”
And in Matthew 26:28-29 [NIV], “28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom.” That’s a promise. And both are as good as His presence. Do this in remembrance of Me.
After this, Matthew 26 says that sang a song and left rejoicing. We’ll do that too. But before we do, I wanted to remind you that there is a potluck today I the fellowship hall. And before that there will be foot washing available as well. John 13 describes how Jesus modeled this for the disciples and added a blessing to those who try it. So if you’ve never done that before, I’d encourage you to try. Couples and men will turn right when leaving the sanctuary and women will turn left to head to the conference room when leaving the sanctuary.
Stand to sing #350 Blest Be The Tie That Binds.
Benediction. And now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you. And be gracious unto you. And give you peace. Now and until we meet again, amen.