Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 7, 2012

Sermon on John 6:1-15

READ THE SIGN CAREFULLY!

  1. Jesus is able to provide for all of our needs
  2. Jesus provides for us on his own divine terms

Text: John 6:1-15

Introduction

If you join one of our Sunday morning usher crews, one of the duties you’ll have to take care of each week is to put out the signs that say “Visitors Welcome” along the sidewalk.  It goes without saying what the purpose of those signs is.  A sign is there to point you to something else.  If someone saw the sign and said, “Oh, look, a ‘Visitors Welcome’ sign—isn’t that nice?” they would be missing the point.  The ushers haul those signs outside each week not to block the sidewalk but to point to the church and to invite people to come into the church.

The Gospel for today is Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand.  You may not have noticed it right away when you heard it read a few minutes ago, but John didn’t use the word “miracle” to refer to this event.  It was a miracle, no doubt!  But John referred to this miraculous meal as a “sign.”  And this sign was also there to point people to something else.  Jesus didn’t feed the five thousand so that people would respond, “Wow!  That was a great lunch!”  Jesus’ miraculous sign was meant to teach an important truth—a truth that we will discover in the Gospel for today.  For us to appreciate the point of this miracle, Saint John encourages us to understand it correctly.  In other words: Read the sign carefully!  Understand correctly what the miraculous feeding of the five thousand tells us about Jesus: Jesus is able to provide for all of our needs, but Jesus provides for us on his own divine terms.

I.

Today’s sermon begins a five-part sermon series from John chapter six that we will hear over the next five Sundays.  If you recall the Gospel account from Mark chapter six that we heard last week, we are basically picking up in the same place where last Sunday’s Gospel left off.  Jesus needed a quiet moment away from the crowds to eat and to rest.  But Jesus had performed so many other miraculous signs to this point that he had virtually achieved “rock star status.”  (He wouldn’t have that status anymore by the end of John chapter six, and we will discover what happened over the next five Sundays, but at this point he is extremely popular).  The crowds followed Jesus even as he tried to get a short respite.  Since he knew just how spiritually misguided and lost so many of these people were, his heart went out to them and he spent the day teaching them many things.

The feeding of the five thousand is recorded in all four of the Gospels.  When we put John’s record of the miracle alongside the other three Gospels, it helps us realize that Jesus asked the question about feeding the crowd much earlier in the day, long before the miracle was about to take place.  When 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?’  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’”

Jesus’ question was really meant to test the disciples.  He knew long before the crowds came to him what he was going to do in this situation.  And if the disciples had thought things through a little more, they might have realized that Jesus would have had an answer.  After all, why were the crowds coming to him?  A great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.”  These disciples were with Jesus two years earlier when he miraculously changed water into wine at a wedding celebration that almost made the Jerusalem Daily Press because it was about to run out of wine before Jesus came to the rescue.  

If Jesus could do those things, surely he had the divine power to provide for the crowd’s needs in this case.  But that’s not quite where the disciples’ minds were at this point.  Philip can only calculate the cost for giving everyone the equivalent of a couple bites of a Chick-fil-A sandwich.  Andrew can only see the situation in terms of the food that was readily available from a boy who had come along in the crowd.  The disciples were in problem-solving mode, rather than in the mode of looking to Jesus as the answer to the problem.

Don’t we just as easily fail to see how God could handle the difficult circumstances in our lives?  “How are we going to pay these bills?”  “How on earth am I supposed to deal with this sickness?”  “How am I supposed to fight this nagging addiction and temptation?”  If you’re not dealing with something like this, you’re either lucky or lying.  Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?”  Jesus asks you, “Where shall we find the answer to this problem.”  And just like Philip, instead of looking to him for the answer, our default mode is to ask how we are supposed to solve the problem.

When you and I face the real problems and challenges of life, perhaps we need to remember how Jesus dealt with our biggest problem and challenge.  The apostle Paul once wrote, “[God], who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). There is simply no way that you or I could have dealt with the insurmountable guilt and the eternally enormous payment that we owe God because of our sinful condition and the way we allow sin to show up every day of our lives.  But God didn’t tell us to look for the solution.  He sent his Son, Jesus, to be the solution.  Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross was and remains the only answer to our guilt and the perfect payment for our sin.  And if that is how God dealt with our biggest problem—providing a perfect solution that frees us from hell and places us in his heavenly family forever—then do you think that the Lord might be able to take the struggles and sicknesses and temptations and troubles we face and make them work out for our good on his divine timetable?  Read the sign of Jesus’ miracle carefully, and remember that he is able to provide for all of your needs.

II.

I wonder what the disciples thought when Jesus told the crowd to sit down.  Some scholars estimate that the crowd of 5,000 men included another 10,000 to 15,000 women and children.  Other scholars suggest that the crowd that followed Jesus such a distance was not likely to include families, and so the total number might be 6,000 to 8,000 people.  To a great extent, it doesn’t matter, because feeding 6,000 people or 20,000 people with no cash and barely any food on hand requires a miracle.  And that’s just what happened. “Jesus 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.  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over.  Let nothing be wasted.’”

The disciples distributed food to the people, and they ate their fill.  Notice that John dispels any ideas that this was a non-miracle.  Contrary to popular theory, this was not a case where everyone pulled out the sack lunches they were carrying with them and had an impromptu community potluck.  If it was, John wouldn’t have said what he did in verse 13: “They … filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.”  I realize these sorts of things don’t happen every day of the week, and so modern minds are tempted to misread this miraculous sign.  But modern minds also need to remember that eyewitness testimony is always more reliable than theories that people come up with 18 or more centuries after an event takes place.

Furthermore, if Jesus had only led people to share their sack lunches with each other, I doubt we would read about the reaction that occurred after the miracle.  After 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.’  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

The crowd saw the miracle.  The crowd understood what had just taken place.  The crowd even made an accurate confession: “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Unfortunately, the crowd didn’t read the miraculous sign carefully enough.  They interpreted the miracle and its meaning on their own terms.  They wanted to forcibly turn Jesus into a king of their own choosing—a king who would restore the nation of Israel to its former glory and provide them everything they desired.  If they had read the sign carefully and remembered the Scriptures honestly, they would have realized that Jesus did not come to be an earthly king but to be their spiritual Savior and Redeemer from sin.

We might be tempted to wag our finger at that first century crowd and criticize them for missing the point of Jesus’ miracle.  But the crowd’s mistake is all too often repeated in our own lives.  Isn’t it easy to turn Jesus into the kind of “king” we want him to be?  And so we seize Jesus and make him carry our political party’s platform, even as those with a different perspective do the exact same thing with him.  We seize Jesus and turn him into the great moral teacher who inspires us with parables and sayings that we turn into baptized versions of Aesop’s fables.  We seize Jesus and turn him into the wise old ancient sage who was full of good practical advice that is worth pondering today.  And in all of this, our sinful flesh fails to see Jesus for who he really is: “the Prophet who is to come into the world” as God had promised and confront sin head-on on our behalf.

Thank God that Jesus did not come to be the Savior we wanted but the Savior we needed.  He didn’t come to provide for us on our terms, but to provide for us on his own divine terms.  He did not come to seek the power and prestige of political positioning; he came to willingly seek the shame and torment of the cross.  He did not come to show us how to get ourselves right with God; he came to be our righteousness in every moment of his perfect life.  Jesus did not come to give us advice with his words; he came to give us forgiveness and eternal life with his sacrificial actions on the cross and his conquering victory on Easter morning.  Jesus was not the kind of Savior that many in his day wanted, and he is not necessarily the Savior that many people today want.  But that does not change the fact that he is exactly the Savior every one of us needs—a Savior who was perfect in our place, who was punished to take our guilt and sin away, who was preserved from permanent death by his resurrection, and who now promises you and all believers of a permanent place in paradise.

Conclusion

I remember a unique assignment I was once given in grade school about reading directions carefully.  The teacher handed us a worksheet.  The worksheet said to read all the directions and questions first before starting the work.  Some students didn’t follow the directions, started filling out the worksheet, and after they answered all the questions, they read this at the bottom of the page: “Now that you have read all the directions and questions first, write your name on the top of the page, ignore the questions, and turn the page in.”  Suddenly there was a lot of erasing going on!  That’s one way to teach kids the importance of reading directions carefully!

It is just as important to read the miraculous signs of Jesus’ ministry carefully.  If we fail to, we may turn Jesus into something other than the Son of God and Savior of the world.  But John’s Gospel account of the feeding of the five thousand helps us to read the sign carefully and correctly.  And when you do, the Holy Spirit will reveal to you a Jesus who is greater and more powerful than the one your mind would create, and a God more gracious and forgiving than our hearts could imagine.  Read the sign carefully.  You’ll be glad you did!  Amen.

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