In today’s scripture, Jesus wants to feed approximately 15,000 people (5,000 men plus women and children). So he asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He’s asking him, John says, in order to “test him.” What was the test? To see whether his disciples believed that in Christ, they had enough. Do we present-day disciples believe that?
I preached this sermon on the Sunday in which our church, Hampton United Methodist, packaged over 10,000 meals for hungry people around the world.
Sermon Text: John 6:1-15
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Last month, a team of explorers from New Zealand was on an expedition in Antarctica. They were excavating 150 artifacts left behind by a team of British explorers back in 1911—106 years ago. One of the artifacts they found was a perfectly preserved fruitcake, still packaged in its original tin, made by a British biscuit company. The tin was badly rusted, but the fruitcake itself, according to scientists, was remarkably well-preserved. It is, they said, “almost edible.”
Would any of you be tempted to take a bite? And many of you are like, “I wouldn’t eat a fruitcake if it were brand new. I’m not going to eat one that’s 106 years old!” But the discovery does prove that there are at least two fruitcakes in the world… You’ve heard the joke: There’s just one fruitcake, and since no one likes it, it just gets re-gifted to one person after another.
Now consider, by contrast, a steaming-hot loaf of fresh-baked bread. It’s irresistible. Everyone forgets about their diet when there’s fresh warm bread around. Is there anything better—assuming you don’t have celiac disease! In today’s scripture, Jesus creates bread out of nothing—or almost nothing—five loaves and two small fish—in order to say to us, “As satisfying as warm, fresh baked bread is to hungry people, I am more satisfying to you than that.”
In a sermon on this same text, pastor John Piper said the following:
One of the reasons God created bread—or created the grain and the water and yeast and fire and human intelligence to make it…— is so that when Jesus Christ came into the world, he would be able to use the enjoyment of bread and the nourishment of bread as an illustration of what it means to believe on him and be satisfied with him. I believe that with all my heart. Bread exists to help us know what it is like to be satisfied in Jesus.
He may be on to something. You won’t learn this in a high school physics class or biology class, but nothing, the Bible says, nothing exists for itself. Nothing in this universe is here accidentally. It’s all designed by God for a reason. Listen to Colossians 1:16: “For by him”—Jesus Christ—“all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through him and for him.” For him.
So in the gospel of John, in chapter 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he has come to give her “living water.” Is there anything better on a hot summer day when you’re sweaty and thirsty than cool water? I saw in the hardware store recently garden hoses with this sign attached to them: “Safe to drink water from this hose.” And I was thinking, “Are there hoses that aren’t safe for drinking water out of them?” If so, I think I would have been poisoned by now, because everyone knows that water out of a hose on a hot summer day is one of life’s greatest pleasures!
Jesus says that he came to satisfy us like cool water on a hot day, but to satisfy us even more than that.
Many of us right now are prepared to lose power in the wake of Hurricane Irma. And you know that feeling when you’ve gone for a long time without power—the house is dark, cold, and uncomfortable—and suddenly—what happens?—the lights comes on. You just feel like dancing! You know what I mean. “The power is on!” It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling. Well, think about Jesus’ words in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus is saying, “I came to satisfy you like lights coming on after a storm—after you’ve been in the dark for a while and you’re cold and depressed—I came to satisfy you like that, but even more than that!”
Or think about the wedding at Cana in Galilee in John chapter 2. Wine, when drunk responsibly by those who are able, is a great symbol of celebration and joy. For many people, it’s very satisfying—which is why wine connoisseurs are willing to spend dozens or hundreds of dollars on a perfect bottle of wine. When Jesus turned water into wine at that wedding, he was saying, “I came to satisfy you like fine and abundant wine at a wedding reception, but the satisfaction I offer you is far greater than that!”
Notice verse 2 of today’s scripture: “And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.” The “signs.” Why does John call miracles of healing “signs”? Because Jesus did not heal for the sake of healing. Think about it: none of these miracles of healing in and of themselves was permanent. These people would get sick again, and die. Even when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead in John chapter 11, Lazarus lived only to die again at some later date. But this great healing, though temporary, was a sign that pointed to the reality that through faith in Christ and his atoning work on the cross we have eternal healing—from our sins. And some day, when we ourselves are resurrected, we’ll have new bodies that will be incapable of suffering from sickness or disease or death.
I got my flu shot last week at Publix when I was picking up a prescription. I’ve had the flu once in my life. The flu—when it’s really the flu and not just a bad cold—makes you feel like you are dying. And then your fever breaks and your appetite returns and your strength comes back. And it’s such a relief! It’s so satisfying! Jesus was saying through his healing ministry, “I came to satisfy you like the satisfaction that comes from recovering from a terrible illness—but the satisfaction I offer is so much more than that.”
Do you see the pattern? Every good and God-honoring pleasure, which at best can only be fleeting and temporary in this world, is intended by God to give us a small taste of heaven and to “make us hungry for Christ.” Every satisfaction we experience in this world is partial and temporary—we get hungry again; we get thirsty again; we get cold again; were lonely again; we’re in the dark again—but every partial satisfaction is intended by God to point to the lasting, permanent, eternal satisfaction that we find in Jesus Christ.
Bishop Mike Lowry is bishop of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. In a blog post last week about the response to flooding in Texas, he asked:
What if Christians sought the spiritually lost the way volunteers have been seeking people in Southeast Texas? And why don’t we? Maybe we don’t really believe people are threatened by a spiritual death that is as real as water rising all around you… I am overwhelmed with the conviction that I should offer the saving grace of Jesus Christ to all I meet… so people can experience God’s salvation.
That’s a person who gets it! All of our good and God-ordained relief efforts through UMCOR, which we help support through the apportionment dollars that we send to the United Methodist Church, will help to save victims from these disastrous hurricanes. The relief we provide is temporary. Yet these relief efforts ought to bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ, who saves us from the ultimate disaster of an eternity spent apart from God because of our sin! Our relief efforts are a sign pointing to Christ.
Similarly, what we’re going to be doing in a little while—packaging over 10,000 meals for hungry people around the world—this effort is going to be a sign to those people that Jesus is the only bread, or in this case, the only rice, that will truly and eternally satisfy us.
Like us, Jesus and his disciples have an opportunity to feed hungry people in today’s scripture. We’re providing about 10 thousand meals; they’re going to provide about 15 thousand meals once you count the women and children. So Jesus says to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” John tells us that Jesus said this to “test” Philip. To test him. Did Philip pass the test? No. Because Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” A denarius is a day’s wage, so 200 denarii is a lot of money—which they don’t have. But even if they did have it, it would hardly be enough to give each person just a small morsel. They don’t have enough money.
But here’s the bigger problem: At this point in Jesus’ ministry, Philip had seen Jesus possess supernatural knowledge about other people in John chapter 1. He had seen Jesus miraculously transform jugs of water into enough wine to satisfy dozens or hundreds of wedding guests for days in John chapter 2. He had seen Jesus perform one healing miracle after another. He ought to have seen enough by now to know that Jesus had the power to provide food for this large crowd of people—it wasn’t a question of money.
But instead Philip says, “We don’t have enough.”
Andrew is a little better: Instead of focusing on what they don’t have, he focuses on what they do have: Thanks to the generosity of this boy in the crowd, he tells Jesus that they have a grand total of five small loaves of bread and two fish. These fish, by the way, were likely the size of sardines. They were tiny. The loaves were likely the size of my fist. But Andrew’s faith is far from perfect, because even he adds, “But what are they for so many.”
What are they for so many? Are you kidding, Andrew? In Jesus’ hands, they are just enough!
Are we more like Philip or Andrew? Do we focus on what we lack—what we don’t have—what we wish we had—what we resent others for having—or do we focus on what we do have? One of the lessons that Jesus is constantly teaching to his disciples throughout the gospels is that it isn’t about what we have and what we can do; it’s about who Jesus is and what he can do! It doesn’t even take a lot of faith on our part for Jesus to do miraculous things: “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,” Jesus says, “you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Don’t say we don’t have enough, because Jesus takes the little bit that we have and makes it enough!
Jesus is testing his disciples in today’s scripture to see whether or not they believe they have enough, and guess what? He gives his present-day disciples that same test all the time! Have you not noticed this? He constantly tests us to see whether we believe that we have enough!
Think about your own life: When you find yourself feeling resentment, or getting angry, or being depressed, or being filled with worry and anxiety, why are you feeling this way? These feelings often result from a sense that you don’t have enough—“I don’t have enough money! My job stinks, and I don’t make enough. I don’t get enough appreciation from others! My husband takes me for granted. My wife takes me for granted. I don’t have enough love in my life! I don’t have that special someone who loves me! I don’t have enough friends! I’m not good looking enough! I don’t have a high enough score on my SAT or ACT! I’m not healthy enough! I didn’t have all the opportunities that my friends have—their parents handed them the good life on a silver platter—and here I am, working my tail off, and what do I have to show for it?”
How often do we think to ourselves, “I don’t have enough of something that I think I need to be happy in my life? Or to be successful in my life! I don’t have enough!”
But brothers and sisters, you have something. Jesus has given you something. And he wants you to know this morning that that something is just enough for him to take it, and transform it, and do amazing and miraculous things through it! Do you believe it? Do you really believe it?
These disciples had next to nothing… Five small loaves and two tiny sardines… To feed 15 thousand people. Yeah, right! Yet it was enough! In fact, earlier I said that five loaves and two fish were “just” enough. But that’s not right: In the hands of Jesus, this tiny amount of food was more than enough—because notice they had twelve baskets of bread left over!
Brothers and sisters, here’s a recipe for an unhappy life: Focus on what you don’t have in your life, instead of what you do have. If the devil has created a more effective way to keep us miserable, I don’t know what it is!
But thank God there’s a better way to live! Today’s scripture shows us.
Because let’s notice something: When does the miracle of “multiplication” actually take place. Look at verse 11: “Jesus then took the loaves and when he had given thanks,” John says, “Jesus distributed them to those who were seated.” So there were five loaves. Then Jesus gave thanks. Then he distributed the bread. According to one commentator I read, the miracle happened in between. In case you think I’m reading too much into it, look ahead to John 6:23, which describes what happens the next day: “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” Why emphasize that detail? Why not say “after Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves”? Because that detail—giving thanks, being grateful—is closely related to the miracle itself.
If we want to know deep happiness in life, we will learn to be grateful for whatever God has given us. And not only that: what has God given us that’s worth more than anything else?
He’s given us Jesus! Jesus is enough! Oftentimes when we’re miserable in life, it’s because we resent that God hasn’t given us bread, or at least given us enough bread—whatever that bread represents to us. I gave you examples of different kinds of “bread” a few moments ago.
But here’s what our Lord is telling us this morning: Jesus did not come mostly to give us bread. He came to be our bread. In other words, he wants us to find our ultimate satisfaction in him alone. He wants us to find our life’s treasure in him alone.
And make no mistake: Our God is a “jealous” God, the Bible tells us. Our Lord Jesus loves us more than we can possibly know, but he won’t compete with other people or other things for the affection and love that we owe to him alone. He wants all of it. He demands all of it. He deserves all of it. And if he has to take away all of these “lesser forms of bread” in which we trust and on which we depend—even by making us miserable in the process—until at last we learn that these things and these people are not our true bread—he will gladly do so. He’ll take them away! And it will be for our good! Because he loves us. Because what we lose will be more than compensated by what we find in him.
He alone is out bread. Amen.
1. John Piper, “The All-Providing King Who Would Not Be King,” desiringgod.com. Accessed 9 September 2017.
3. Mike Lowry, “Reclaiming the Heart of the Wesleyan Way #11,” bishopmikelowry.com. Accessed 9 September 2017.
4. Matthew 17:20 ESV